the Fourth Week of Lent
Whedon's Commentary on the Bible Whedon's Commentary
by Daniel Whedon
Zephaniah 1:1, supplies the only direct information concerning the person and life of the prophet Zephaniah. In addition, a few facts concerning his life may be gathered from his utterances.
The name Zephaniah means Jehovah hides, or Jehovah has hidden.
Concerning it G.A. Smith says, “It suggests the prophet’s birth in the ‘killing time’ of Manasseh,” when so many faithful servants of Jehovah had to lay down their lives for the faith (2 Kings 21:16). His ancestry is traced back four generations (Zephaniah 1:1): “Zephaniah the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hezekiah.” It is not customary in the Old Testament to carry back a man’s ancestry so far (compare Isaiah 1:1; Jeremiah 1:1; Hosea 1:1); and from the exception to this general rule in the case of Zephaniah it has been inferred that the last mentioned, Hezekiah, must have been a prominent man indeed, no other than King Hezekiah of Judah, the contemporary of Isaiah and Micah (compare Isaiah 36-39; Jeremiah 26:18). Two objections have been urged against this identification: 1. It is said that if Hezekiah were the king bearing that name the title “king of Judah” would not have been omitted. But the omission can readily be explained on the ground that “king of Judah” follows immediately afterward in connection with Josiah’s name; a repetition would have made the sentence awkward. 2. The second objection is based upon the fact that in the ruling line only two generations are named between Hezekiah and Josiah, namely, Manasseh and Amon, while between Hezekiah and Zephaniah are three names, Amariah, Gedaliah, Cushi. However, Manasseh had a very long reign, and he was forty-five years of age when Amon was born (compare 2 Kings 21:1; 2 Kings 21:19); consequently there is room enough for an additional generation in another line of the same family. If Zephaniah was of royal blood his condemnation of the royal princes (Zephaniah 1:8), with whose conduct he was evidently familiar (Zephaniah 1:8 ff.), becomes of great interest. In a similar manner did Isaiah, who in all probability was of royal blood, condemn without hesitation the shortcomings and vices of the rulers and the court.
An ancient tradition declares that he was of the tribe of Simeon, which would make it impossible for him to be of royal blood; but the origin and value of the tradition are uncertain. He undoubtedly lived in the southern kingdom; that he lived in Jerusalem is made probable by the statement in Zephaniah 1:4, “I will cut off from this place,” as well as by his intimate knowledge of the topography of the city (Zephaniah 1:10-11). For how long he continued his prophetic activity we do not know, but it is not improbable that, as in the case of Amos, his public activity was short, and that, after delivering his message of judgment in connection with a great political crisis, he retired to private life, though his interest in religious reforms may have continued (2 Kings 23:2).
The Time of Zephaniah’s Prophetic Activity.
1 . Date. The title (Zephaniah 1:1) places the prophetic activity of Zephaniah somewhere in the reign of Josiah, that is, between 639 and 608. Most scholars believe that the title was added at a later time by the collector of the Minor Prophets, but, almost without exception, they accept the statement as historically correct. The most important exception is Koenig, who dates the prophecy in the decade following the death of Josiah; but his arguments in favor of that date find their sole strength in improbable interpretations; for example, he thinks that Zephaniah 2:15, presupposes the fall of Nineveh as an accomplished fact; that the condemnation of the Ethiopians (Zephaniah 2:12) whom he seems to identify with the Egyptians was called forth by the carrying away of Jehoahaz (2 Kings 23:34); that Zephaniah 3:8, points to the advance of Nebuchadnezzar against Jerusalem in 597.
Neither these nor his other arguments are conclusive against the correctness of the tradition embodied Zephaniah 1:1; on the contrary, all the internal evidence points toward the reign of Josiah as the period of Zephaniah’s activity. The reign of Jehoiakim seems to be made impossible by Zephaniah’s silence concerning the king in his condemnation of the corrupt court practices (Zephaniah 1:8-9). The omission is hardly accidental; but if it is intentional it points to a time when the throne was occupied by a virtuous and religious monarch such as was Josiah.
But if the prophet’s activity continued for a short time only, the question arises whether it can be located more definitely within the period of thirty-one years covered by Josiah’s rule. This king’s reign naturally falls into two parts, separated by the great reform of 621. Does the work of Zephaniah belong to the earlier or later period? On this point scholars disagree, the majority favoring the earlier date.
The more important arguments in favor of the late date are: (1) Deuteronomy 28:29-30, is quoted in Zephaniah 1:13; Zephaniah 1:15; Zephaniah 1:17, in a manner which shows that the former book was well known; but the Law was not known until 621, because it was lost. (2) The “remnant of Baal” points to a period when much of the Baal worship had been removed, but that means subsequent to the reform of 621. (3) The condemnation of the “king’s sons” (Zephaniah 1:8) presupposes that at the time of the utterance they had reached the age of moral responsibility; this again points to the later period.
These arguments are inconclusive. (1) It is always difficult to prove which one of two similar passages is dependent on the other (see p. 136); in this case the resemblances between Deuteronomy and Zephaniah are of such a general character that dependence of either passage on the other seems improbable. (2) The expression in Zephaniah 1:4, was equally appropriate before 621. As suggested on Zephaniah 1:4, “the remnant” may be equivalent to every vestige, that is, everything there is of it; and the threat may be equivalent to “I will cut off Baal till not a trace of it is left” (compare Hosea 2:17); which leaves it undecided whether or not a partial destruction had already taken place. But even if “remnant” is understood in the sense of “that which survived” it does not take us necessarily to a period subsequent to 621. While the religious reform reached its climax in that year, a beginning was undoubtedly made before that time, and there seems no reason for doubting the essential correctness of 2 Chronicles 34:3-4, which states that in the twelfth year of his reign (about 627) Josiah “broke down the altars of the Baalim”; hence at any time subsequent to 627 one might speak of a “remnant of Baal.” A third possible interpretation is to regard “Baal” as a type of all false worship, then again the expression might be used before 621. (3) The third objection is touched upon in the comments on Zephaniah 1:8, where it is shown that the expression king’s sons may be equivalent to royal princes, referring not to Josiah’s children at all. The last two objections lose all their force if the LXX. readings are substituted in the first place, “the names of Baal” (compare Hosea 2:16-17); in the second, “the house of the king.”
On the other hand, there are several considerations pointing to the earlier date: (1) The youth of the king would make it easy for the royal princes to go to the excesses condemned in Zephaniah 1:8-9. (2) The idolatrous practices condemned by Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:3-5) are precisely those which were abolished in 621, and, while traces of them may have remained here and there, the wholesale condemnation of Zephaniah is inexplicable during Josiah’s reign after that date; only the reign of Jehoiakim would warrant them again (but see above). (3) The temper described in Zephaniah 1:12, is explicable before 621 and after the death of Josiah in 608, but not between 621 and 608, when religious enthusiasm was widespread. (4) While the latter part of Josiah’s reign lacks a suitable occasion for the prophecy, it finds a natural background during the earlier part. The tone of the entire prophecy makes it evident that a serious crisis was at hand at the time of its delivery, that an enemy was threatening the borders of Judah and of the surrounding nations. During the latter part of the seventh century B.C. Judah was threatened by three different nations: by the Scythians (about 625), by the Egyptians (about 608), and by the Chaldeans, when Jehoiakim was on the throne, near the close of the century. If the prophecy belongs to the reign of Josiah the Chaldeans, who did not become a prominent factor in Asiatic history until after the death of Josiah, need not be considered. Schwally thinks that the Egyptians fill the horizon of the prophet; but (1) the description is so vague and yet the terror so great that it seems more likely that the approaching foe was not as familiar to the prophet as the Egyptians must have been. (2) Though powerful, the Egyptians were not strong enough during the closing years of the seventh century to inspire the expectation that they would penetrate to distant Nineveh. Josiah thought that even he with his small army could check the advance of Pharaoh-necho. (3) It is not improbable that the Ethiopians in Zephaniah 2:12, represent, or at least include, the Egyptians. If so, the latter cannot be the dreaded enemy. For these reasons A.B. Davidson is probably right when he says, “An historical nation like Egypt, which had always lain within Israel’s horizon, was not fitted to be the executor of Jehovah’s judgment upon the known world.”
If this is true, the foe must be the Scythians, but this again points to the early part of Josiah’s reign, for the Scythians swept over western Asia about 625 B.C. The mystery of the origin of these wild hordes “clothed them with just that vague terribleness which characterizes Zephaniah’s description.” At the time the prophecy was delivered their advance against Egypt seems to have been still in the future, but imminent (compare Zephaniah 1:14); hence the prophet’s activity may be placed between 630 and 625, perhaps in 626. If this date is correct Zephaniah and Jeremiah began their ministries in the same year; it is, indeed, thought by many that the earlier utterances of the latter (for example, Jeremiah 4:5 to Jeremiah 6:30) had their origin in the Scythian crisis.
2 . Political Condition. The political situation in Judah during the reign of Manasseh is touched upon in connection with Micah (see p. 359). This king was succeeded by his son Amon, who reigned two years. Since the author of Kings is silent concerning the political events during his reign, we may suppose that the political situation remained undisturbed. For some reason dissatisfaction broke out among his servants, and he was assassinated, perhaps, indirectly, at least, through the influence of the prophetic party. Josiah, a boy eight years old, came to the throne. Fifty verses in 2 Kings 22, 23, are devoted to his reign, but little is said concerning political events. He seems to have remained loyal to his Assyrian lord to the very end, even when the latter’s prestige had begun to vanish; and this loyalty cost him his life. When it became evident that Assyria was doomed, her old-time rival, Egypt, was anxious to claim a part of her territory before anyone else could do so. The energetic Necho “went up against the king of Assyria to the river Euphrates.” Prompted by a sense of duty, and trusting that Jehovah, for whose worship he had done so much, would fight with him, “king Josiah went against him,” hoping to check his advance. In the old battlefield of Palestine, the Plain of Esdraelon, near the old town of Megiddo, they met, and, in the simple words of the author of Kings, “Pharaoh-necho slew him at Megiddo, when he had seen him.” During the reign of this king Zephaniah prophesied.
The most important political events outside of Judah proper, but seriously affecting the fortunes of the latter, were the overthrow of the Assyrian empire, beginning with the declaration of independence by Nabopolassar of Babylon in 625 and ending with the fall of Nineveh in 607-606 (see on Nahum, p. 432), and the appearance of the Scythians in western Asia.
Many questions concerning these Scythians remain still unanswered (see Encyclopaedia Biblica, article “Scythians”), but this much is clear, that they were a non-Semitic race of barbarians which swept in great hordes over western Asia during the seventh century B.C. According to Herodotus they were masters of western Asia from the Caucasus to the borders of Egypt for twenty-eight years (about 635-607), when they threatened to invade Egypt; but the Pharaoh, Psammetichus, prevailed upon them by rich gifts to desist from the undertaking. Though the Greek historian may exaggerate in details, the inscriptions leave no doubt as to the essential accuracy of his statements. However, Breasted ( A History of Egypt, p. 580) thinks that it was not the gold of Egypt but the strong arm of Psammetichus which drove them from his borders. A vivid description of the ravages of these barbarians is given by Rawlinson: “Pouring through the passes of the Caucasus whence coming or what intending none knew horde after horde of the Scythians blackened the rich plains of the south. On they came like a flight of locusts, countless, irresistible,…
finding the land before them a garden, and leaving it behind them a howling wilderness. Neither age nor sex would be spared. The inhabitants… would be ruthlessly massacred by the invaders, or, at best, forced to become their slaves. The crops would be consumed, the herds swept off or destroyed, the villages and homesteads burned, the whole country made a scene of desolation. Their ravages would resemble those of the Huns when they poured into Italy, or of the Bulgarians when they overran the fairest provinces of the Byzantine empire.”
Well might Zephaniah tremble when he heard of the approach of these merciless, bloodthirsty barbarians.
3 . Moral and Religious Condition. Though his utterances are few and brief, Zephaniah does not leave us in doubt concerning religious and moral conditions in Judah in his day. For additional information we may turn to the early discourses of Jeremiah, and to 2 Kings 21-23, where we find a picture of conditions during the reigns of Manasseh, Amon, and Josiah. Social injustice and moral corruption were widespread: “Woe to her that is rebellious and polluted! to the oppressing city!” (Zephaniah 3:1.) “Her princes in the midst of her are roaring lions; her judges are evening wolves; they leave nothing till the morrow” (Zephaniah 3:3). “They rose early and corrupted all their doings” (Zephaniah 3:7). Luxury and extravagance might be seen on every side; fortunes were heaped up by the unjust oppression of the poor: “The princes and the king’s sons, and all such as are clothed with foreign apparel.… Those that leap over the threshold, that fill their master’s house with violence and deceit” (Zephaniah 1:8-9).
The religious situation was equally bad. The reaction under Manasseh came near making an end of Jehovah worship (2 Kings 21:0); Amon followed in the steps of his father, so that the outlook was exceedingly dark when Josiah came to the throne. Fortunately the latter seems to have been under prophetic influence from the very beginning, and, assisted by the faithful nucleus within the nation, he undertook a sweeping religious reform, which reached its culmination in the eighteenth year of his reign. When Zephaniah preached, this reform was still in the future (see above), and his utterances give some idea of the corrupt state of religion. The Baalim were worshiped and the high places were flourishing (Zephaniah 1:4); the hosts of heaven were adored upon the housetops (Zephaniah 1:5); a half-hearted Jehovah worship, which in reality was idolatry, was very widespread (Zephaniah 1:5); great multitudes had turned entirely from following Jehovah (Zephaniah 1:6).
When the cruel Manasseh was allowed to sit undisturbed upon his throne for more than fifty years, many grew skeptical and questioned, whether Jehovah took any interest in the affairs of the nation; they began to say in their hearts, “Jehovah will not do good, neither will he do evil” (Zephaniah 1:12). Conditions could hardly be expected to be otherwise when the religious leaders had become misleaders: “Her prophets are light and treacherous persons; her priests have profaned the sanctuary; they have done violence to the law” (Zephaniah 3:4). The few who, amid the general corruption, remained faithful would be insufficient to avert the awful judgment upon the nation, though they themselves might be “hid in the day of Jehovah’s anger” (Zephaniah 2:3).
The Book of Zephaniah.
1 . Contents. The Book of Zephaniah falls naturally into two parts of unequal length: the first part (Zephaniah 1:2 to Zephaniah 3:7) contains, almost exclusively, denunciations and threats; the second (Zephaniah 3:8-20), a promise of salvation and glorification.
Following the title (Zephaniah 1:1) the prophecy opens with a message of judgment upon all, and upon Judah in particular. Jehovah is about to sweep away, in a great world judgment, both man and beast (Zephaniah 1:2-3); the heaviest blow will fall upon Judah and Jerusalem (Zephaniah 1:4), because they have not sought Jehovah nor walked in his way. Instead of worshiping him they have practiced various kinds of idolatry (Zephaniah 1:4-6); instead of loving justice and mercy they have oppressed the poor and robbed the needy (Zephaniah 1:8-9). The judgment is imminent (Zephaniah 1:7). When it comes, cries of agony and despair will be heard everywhere (Zephaniah 1:10-11). No one will escape, for Jehovah will “search the city with lamps,” to find the guilty and deliver them up to the destroyer (Zephaniah 1:12 a). Even the skeptical and indifferent will be aroused by the terrible character of the judgment (Zephaniah 1:12-13). In the closing verses of chapter i Zephaniah returns to the imminence and terribleness of the day of Jehovah. It “is near and hasteth greatly” (Zephaniah 1:14); it is a day of darkness without a ray of light (Zephaniah 1:15), a day of battle (Zephaniah 1:16). The calamity will throw the inhabitants into helpless confusion, so that they will stagger like blind men and fall an easy prey to the enemy (Zephaniah 1:17), who will show them no mercy (Zephaniah 1:18 a). All this will come to pass, because Jehovah has determined to “make an end, yea, a terrible end, of all them that dwell in the land” (Zephaniah 1:18 b).
The message of judgment is followed by an exhortation to repentance (Zephaniah 2:1-3). Aroused by the indifference of the listeners, the prophet pleads with them to give some expression of repentance (Zephaniah 2:1), else they will be swept away like chaff before the wind (Zephaniah 2:2). One way of escape is offered to the meek, namely, to “seek Jehovah.” If they do this they may be “hid in the day of Jehovah” (Zephaniah 2:3).
The next section (Zephaniah 2:4-15) contains threats of judgment upon five nations. Philistia will be destroyed so completely that no inhabitant is left (Zephaniah 2:4-7); for their pride and arrogance Moab and Ammon will become like Sodom and Gomorrah (Zephaniah 2:8-10). The terrible manifestations of Jehovah’s power will reveal the nothingness of the deities worshiped by other nations, and all men will render homage to the God of Israel (Zephaniah 2:11). Ethiopia in the south will feel the divine wrath (Zephaniah 2:12); but the severest blow will fall upon Assyria and its capital, Nineveh (Zephaniah 2:13-15).
In Zephaniah 3:1, the prophet turns once more to Jerusalem, the rebellious and polluted, the city of oppression. He strikes here the same notes as in chapter 1, condemning moral and religious apostasy. Her princes are thieves, her prophets deceivers, her priests blasphemers (Zephaniah 3:1-4). Jehovah has spared no efforts to win back the apostate city, but in spite of his efforts her inhabitants continued to corrupt all their doings (Zephaniah 3:5-7).
Since all warnings have failed, the judgment, which will involve Judah with the other nations, is inevitable (Zephaniah 3:8). But within the doomed nation is a faithful remnant that will escape destruction. This remnant is exhorted to remain loyal amid the confusion and convulsions to come, because the future has brighter things in store for it. The judgment will result in the conversion of a choice portion of the nations of the earth (Zephaniah 3:9-10); this company with the redeemed and purified remnant of Judah will find refuge and peace in Jehovah (Zephaniah 3:11-13).
The closing section (Zephaniah 3:14-20) pictures the joy of the redeemed daughter of Zion. She is exhorted to rejoice and be glad, because Jehovah has redeemed her and now rules in the midst of her (Zephaniah 3:14-17). The book closes with a promise that Jehovah will deliver her from all her foes, remove her reproach, gather her dispersed children, and make her “a name and a praise among all the nations of the earth” (Zephaniah 3:18-20).
2 . Outline. TITLE THE AUTHOR OF THE PROPHECY Zephaniah 1:1
A. THREATS OF A UNIVERSAL JUDGMENT Zephaniah 1:2 to Zephaniah 3:7
I. The day of Jehovah a day of terror to all Only one way of escape Zephaniah 1:2 to Zephaniah 2:3
1. The world judgment Zephaniah 1:2-3
2. The judgment upon Judah and Jerusalem Zephaniah 1:4-18
(1) The causes of the judgment Zephaniah 1:4-9
(a) The religious apostasyZephaniah 1:4-6; Zephaniah 1:4-6
(b) The social and moral corruptionZephaniah 1:7-9; Zephaniah 1:7-9
(2) The wail of the inhabitants Zephaniah 1:10-13
(3) The imminence and terror of the judgment Zephaniah 1:14-18. Exhortation to repentance Zephaniah 2:1-3
II. Judgment upon the nations Zephaniah 2:4-15
1. Philistia Zephaniah 2:4-7
2. Moab and Ammon Zephaniah 2:8-11
3. Ethiopia (= Egypt?) Zephaniah 2:12
4. Assyria Zephaniah 2:13-15
III. Woe upon the polluted city of Jerusalem Zephaniah 3:1-7
1. The city’s religious and moral apostasy Zephaniah 3:1-4
2. Jehovah’s futile attempts to win her affection Zephaniah 3:5-7
B. THE TRANSFORMING EFFECTS OF THE JUDGMENT AND THE SUBSEQUENT GLORY Zephaniah 3:8-20
I. The world judgment and its effect Zephaniah 3:8-13
1. The inevitableness of the judgment Zephaniah 3:8
2. Its effect upon the nations Zephaniah 3:9-10
3. Its effect upon Judah Zephaniah 3:11-13
II. The joy of the redeemed daughter of Zion Zephaniah 3:14-20
1. Exhortation to rejoice and be glad Zephaniah 3:14-17
2. Jehovah’s glorious promise Zephaniah 3:18-20
3. Teaching. Leaving aside for the present the question of integrity, we may consider here the teaching of the entire Book of Zephaniah. Its theology resembles closely that of the earlier prophetic books. Jehovah is the God of the universe, a God of righteousness and holiness, who expects of his worshipers a life in accord with his will. Israel is his chosen people, but on account of its rebellion against him it must suffer severe punishment. Wholesale conversion seems out of the question, but a remnant may be “hid in the day of Jehovah’s anger,” and this remnant will be exalted among the nations. In his emphasis of these and similar truths, Zephaniah follows in the footsteps of his predecessors, and especially, as Smend has pointed out, in those of Isaiah; he adds little, but attempts with much spiritual and moral fervor to impress upon his contemporaries the fundamental truths of the religion of Jehovah.
There are, however, a few points in the teaching of the Book of Zephaniah which deserve special mention: 1. The emphasis upon the day of Jehovah (see on Joel 1:15, and p. 148). Earlier prophets had spoken of it; Amos (Amos 5:18-20) had described it in language similar to that employed by Zephaniah (Zephaniah 1:15), but the latter surpasses all his predecessors in the emphasis he puts upon this terrible manifestation of Jehovah. His entire teaching centers around this day, and in the Book of Zephaniah we find the germs of the apocalyptic visions which became so common in later prophecies of an eschatological character. Concerning this day he says that (1) it is a day of terror (Zephaniah 1:15); (2) it is imminent (Zephaniah 1:14); (3) it comes as a judgment for sin (Zephaniah 1:17); (4) it falls upon all creation, man and beast, Hebrew and foreigner (Zephaniah 1:2-3; Zephaniah 2:4-15; Zephaniah 3:8); (5) it is accompanied by great convulsions in nature (Zephaniah 1:15); (6) from its terrors a remnant consisting of redeemed Hebrews and foreigners will escape (Zephaniah 2:3; Zephaniah 3:9-13). 2. Though the prophecy closes with a sublime picture of the glories of the Messianic age, not one word is said concerning the person of the Messianic king. Whatever is accomplished is accomplished by Jehovah himself. 3. The vision of the book is world-wide. The terrors of the day of Jehovah will fall upon all, and in the same manner, from all the nations of the earth converts will be won to Jehovah, who will bring offerings to him (Zephaniah 3:9-10). 4. “Men shall worship him, every one in his place” (Zephaniah 2:11). This is a step in advance of the expectation expressed in Micah 4:1; Isaiah 2:2, “all nations shall flow unto it,” that is, Jerusalem. This prophet moves in the direction of the utterance of Jesus, “The hour cometh, when neither in this mountain, nor in Jerusalem, shall ye worship the Father” (John 4:21).
The Integrity of the Book.
The originality of every verse in chapters 2 and 3 and of several verses in chapter i has been questioned by one or more scholars. The most recent writer, Marti, assigns to Zephaniah the following verses, in the order here given: Zephaniah 1:7; Zephaniah 1:2-3 (in part), 4, 5, 8 (in part), 11 (in part), 12, 13 (in part), 14-16, 17 (in part), Zephaniah 2:1-2 (in part), 4, 5-7, 12-14. To these verses, he thinks Zephaniah 3:1-7, were added during the postexilic period; other additions were made in the second century B.C. when the book passed through the hands of a redactor; Zephaniah 2:11, and Zephaniah 3:9-10, he considers the latest additions. Stade, who seems to have been the first to express doubts concerning the integrity of the book, questions Zephaniah 2:1-3; Zephaniah 2:11; Zephaniah 3:1-20. Schwally is doubtful concerning Zephaniah 2:1-3, and denies to Zephaniah 2:5-12; Zephaniah 3:1-20. Budde rejects Zephaniah 2:4-15; Zephaniah 3:9-10; Zephaniah 3:14-20. Wellhausen is suspicious of Zephaniah 2:3, and rejects Zephaniah 2:7 (in part), 8-11; Zephaniah 3:1-20. In addition to a few sentences in chapter i Nowack questions Zephaniah 2:7 (in part), 8-11, 15; Zephaniah 3:9-10; Zephaniah 3:14-20. G.A. Smith rejects Zephaniah 2:8-11; Zephaniah 3:9-10; Zephaniah 3:14-20. A.B. Davidson says concerning chapter 2, “It is possible that verses 4-15 have in various places been expanded,” but he believes that in substance they come from Zephaniah. He expresses doubts concerning Zephaniah 3:9; Zephaniah 3:14-20. Driver ( Encyclopaedia Biblica) is inclined to reject Zephaniah 2:11; Zephaniah 3:9-10, and he has doubts concerning Zephaniah 3:14-20, more especially 18-20.
An examination of these and other views shows that the passages questioned or rejected with greatest persistency are Zephaniah 2:1-15 (especially 8-11); Zephaniah 3:9-10; Zephaniah 3:14-20, and these demand more detailed consideration.
1 . The principal objection to Zephaniah 2:1-3, is the presence in Zephaniah 2:3, of the expressions “meek of the land” and “seek meekness.” It is claimed that “meek” and “meekness” as religious terms are postexilic. There can be no question that the words occur more frequently in postexilic psalms and proverbs than in pre-exilic writings, but it cannot be proved or even shown to be probable that the words might not have been used in Zephaniah’s day. The word “meek” occurs in Numbers 12:3 (compare Isaiah 11:4), and meekness, or a humble attitude toward Jehovah, is unquestionably emphasized during the pre-exilic period as a divine requirement (Exodus 10:3; Isaiah 2:9 ff.; Micah 6:8). A second objection is found in the difference of tone between these verses and chapter 1. The latter, from beginning to end, speaks of the terrors of judgment; Zephaniah 2:1-3, weakens this threat by offering a way of escape. This objection, raised also in connection with other passages of similar character (see pp. 35, 215), is unwarranted. Judgment cannot have been the last word with the prophets; with them the purpose of judgment is always disciplinary; they are accustomed to offer hope to a remnant. This being the case, Zephaniah 2:1-3, seems to form the necessary completion of chapter 1. It is not impossible that the text of these verses has suffered (see on Zephaniah 2:1-2), but there seems no good reason for denying them to Zephaniah.
2 . The section Zephaniah 2:4-15, contains several distinct oracles, which may be considered separately. For verses 13-15 a date preceding the fall of Nineveh seems most suitable; the threat against Philistia (4-7) also is quite intelligible in the days of Zephaniah, for the Scythians passed right through the Philistian territory. If Ethiopia stands for Egypt, verse l2 also can easily be accounted for as coming from Zephaniah, for the enemies, who were going along the Mediterranean coast, must inevitably reach Egypt. What could hinder them from continuing their ravages there? But even if the country south of Egypt is meant no difficulty exists. Zephaniah was expecting a world judgment, and Ethiopia might properly be named as representing the far south. Was there anything to prevent the Scythians from advancing thither?
There remains the threat against Moab and Ammon in Zephaniah 2:8-11. The following reasons are advanced against the originality of these verses: 1. The mention of these countries is not expected, because they were far removed from the route taken by the Scythians. 2. The “reproaches” of Zephaniah 2:8; Zephaniah 2:10, presuppose the destruction of Jerusalem (compare Ezekiel 25:3; Ezekiel 25:6; Ezekiel 25:8). “It surprises,” says Wellhausen, “that the Moabites and Ammonites should have mocked and looked down upon the Jews as early as the days of Josiah.” 3. The attitude of the prophet toward Judah (9, 10) is the exact opposite of that expressed in chapter 1. 4. The Kinah verse, which predominates in the rest of the section, is absent from verses 8-11. 5. Verse 12 is the natural continuation of verse 7. In reply it may be said: 1. It is by no means certain that the “reproaches” presuppose the calamity of 586 B.C.; they may refer to expressions of hostility such as are alluded to again and again in the Old Testament (Numbers 22 ff.; Judges 3:12 ff; Judges 10:7 ff.; 1 Samuel 11:1-5; 2 Samuel 8:2; Amos 1:13-15; Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 16:6; Isaiah 25:10; Jeremiah 48:29; Deuteronomy 23:3-8). If the prophecy came from a period subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem silence concerning Edom would be very strange. “It is highly improbable,” says Davidson, “that a threat of judgment on the nations, uttered during the exile, would fail to include Edom.” 2. While it is true that Moab and Ammon were not in the direct line of advance of the Scythians toward Egypt, it is worthy of note that Zephaniah speaks of a world judgment. To execute it the Scythians were forced to deviate from the advance toward Egypt. But if he expected a world judgment was it not quite natural that he should name, among the nations doomed, these long-time enemies of the ? Hebrews 3:0. The present Hebrew text is not in the Kinah verse, and to those who demand in the prophets consistency in the use of specific poetic meters this fact will be conclusive evidence against the authenticity of these verses. But one may ask (1) whether we have a right to demand this consistency in oratory; (2) whether the apparent inconsistency may not be due to a corruption of the text, or to a later expansion of authentic utterances? 4. An interruption of the thought is noticed only by those who assume that the prophet meant to enumerate the nations in the order in which he expected the Scythians to reach their territory. From Philistia they would naturally pass on to Egypt, hence verse 12 should follow verse 7. But is the assumption warranted? 5.
The third objection is urged also against verse 7. In chapter 1 the people of Judah are condemned unconditionally; in Zephaniah 2:7-10, they are pitied and are promised the territory of their oppressors. It should be noted, however, that the promise is to the “remnant of the house of Judah” (verse 7), to a “residue of my people” and a “remnant of my nation” (verse 9); but if the prophet expected the preservation of a remnant, is there any reason why he might not make to it these promises?
From these remarks it can be seen that the five arguments against the originality of verses 8-11 are by no means conclusive. Nevertheless, it cannot be denied that verse 12 would form a natural continuation of verse 9; and since verses 10, 11 do differ in other respects from those preceding (see comments), suspicion of the originality of these two verses cannot be suppressed.
3 . Zephaniah 3:1-8, resembles in spirit and substance chapter 1 to such an extent that objections to the originality of these verses cannot be taken seriously, but verses 1-8 carry with them verses 9-13, which describe the purifying effects of the judgment announced in vv. 1-8. The present text of verse 10 may be corrupt, but if it is emended as suggested below, there remains insufficient reason for questioning verses 10, 11.
4. Zephaniah 3:14-20, is a section similar in tone to Micah 7:7-20, and the remarks concerning the latter (p. 368) are applicable to these verses. The buoyant tone of the passage forms, indeed, a marked contrast to the somber, quiet strain of verses 11-13; the judgments upon Judah appear to be in the past (verse 15); verses 18-20 seem to presuppose a scattering of the people of Judah, while the purifying judgment of verses 11-13 falls upon the people in their own land; hence there is much justice in Davidson’s remark that “the historical situation presupposed is that of Isaiah xl ff. ” On the other hand, it must be borne in mind that the passage is highly poetic, that it presents an ideal picture of the future, in the drawing of which imagination must have played some part; and it may be difficult to assert that the composition of this poem was entirely beyond the power of Zephaniah’s enlightened imagination. But, while the bare possibility of Zephaniah’s authorship may be admitted, the two facts mentioned above make it not improbable that Zephaniah 3:14-20, contains a “new song from God,” added to the utterances of Zephaniah at a period subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem.