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Bible Dictionaries

Holman Bible Dictionary

Zephaniah, Book of

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The Book of Zephaniah, only three chapters in length, looks toward the punishment of all sinful nations, including Judah, followed by the restoration of Judah and the nations as well.

The Prophet Zephaniah The first verse tells all we really know about the prophet. His ancestry is traced back four generations to a man named Hezekiah. Some scholars think Hezekiah was the king of Judah by that name who reigned in the late eighth century during the ministry of Isaiah (2 Kings 18-20 ). If so, Zephaniah would have belonged to the royal line. That would perhaps explain why he did not condemn the king in Zephaniah 1:8; Zephaniah 3:3-5 , where he blames most of Judah's upper classes for their sins. Other scholars note that the name Hezekiah was quite common and that the ancestor is not identified as king. Further, Zephaniah's father was named Cushi, which could mean “Cushite” or “Ethiopian.” They suggest that Zephaniah's ancestry was traced four generations to demonstrate that he was indeed Israelite.

The Date of Zephaniah According to Zephaniah 1:1 Zephaniah's ministry occurred during the reign of Josiah (640-609 B.C.). Most scholars date the book in 630 or between 630,621. In 621King Josiah instituted a sweeping reformation of worship in Judah (see 2 Kings 22:3-23:25 ), which officially abolished the worship of Baal and the stars mentioned in Zephaniah 1:4-6 . Jeremiah also condemned those practices (Jeremiah 2:20-28; Jeremiah 8:1-3 ). Jeremiah 26:1 shows that the practices flourished again as early as the beginning of the reign of Jehoiakim (609 B.C.); it might be the case that such worship continued secretly between 621,609. If that were so, Zephaniah might have prophesied during those years. In short, it is a good guess that he preached between 630,621, but he might have flourished anytime during the reign of Josiah.

Contents of the Book Zephaniah looked toward a future punishment. In Zephaniah 1:2-6 he predicted punishment upon the whole world, including Jerusalem. Zephaniah 1:17-18 depict the inability of sinful humanity to escape God's punishment. The intervening verses further describe the punishment as the Day of the Lord, the Zephaniah 1:14-16 describe the time of God's approaching wrath. Punishment would come upon the nobles at the king's court, those who gained materially through violence, the merchants, and those who denied the power of God to reward good or punish evil.

The second chapter contains a series of threats against the Philistines (Zephaniah 2:4-7 ), the Moabites and Ammonites (Zephaniah 2:8-11 ), the Ethiopians (Zephaniah 2:12 ), and the Assyrians (Zephaniah 2:13-15 ). Zephaniah called all nations to repent and become righteous and meek. Zephaniah would not presume on God's grace by promising forgiveness, but he counseled turning to righteousness and meekness as the means for possibly avoiding punishment on the Day of the Lord.

The third chapter is marked by a change in perspective between versus 7,8. The first seven verses pronounce a woe upon Jerusalem for oppression within her walls. Her princes preyed like lions upon their people; her prophets committed treachery, and her priests polluted the Temple. God indicted the people not only for their sins, but also for their failure to receive instruction from his dealings with other nations.

Beginning with Zephaniah 3:8 , however, the tone is quite positive toward Israel. Many scholars think part or all of Zephaniah 3:8-20 was appended to the book by a later author. Whether written by Zephaniah or a later prophet, the verses complete the message of Zephaniah 3:1 . Zephaniah 3:8 and Zephaniah 3:14 admonish the people to wait for God to act and to rejoice for what He will do, respectively. Zephaniah 3:8-13 promise that God will punish the nations and convert them from idolatry. What is more, He promises to remove the haughty from Mount Zion, leaving behind a meek and humble people. Zephaniah 3:14-20 predict the cessation of punishment and oppression and the return of exiles. God Himself is called the king of Israel ( Zephaniah 3:15 ). His presence alleviates any reason to fear the nations. God will punish the oppressors and bring home the exiles. Thus the book ends with a message of hope, based on God's mercy.


I. Identification of the Messenger of God's Word (Zephaniah 1:1 )

II. God's Warning of Worldwide Judgment (Zephaniah 1:2-3:8 )

A. God's day of judgment is coming (Zephaniah 1:2-2:3 ).

1. His judgment will include all mankind (Zephaniah 1:2-3 ).

2. His judgment will include His own sinful people who forsake Him (Zephaniah 1:4-6 ).

3. The day of the Lord calls for awesome silence in the face of God's judgment (Zephaniah 1:7-11 ).

4. God's skeptics will see Him in action on His day (Zephaniah 1:12-13 ).

5. God's wrath will be poured out against sin on that day (Zephaniah 1:14-17 ).

6. Wealth is good for nothing on His day (Zephaniah 1:18 ).

7. God calls His humble people to seek Him before it is too late (Zephaniah 2:1-3 ).

B. God's judgment will subject His enemies and bless the remnant of His people (Zephaniah 2:4-15 ).

C. God's righteous justice will be impartial (Zephaniah 3:1-8 ).

III. God Promises to Form a New People (Zephaniah 3:9-20 ).

A. The nations will call on God (Zephaniah 3:9-10 ).

B. A purified remnant will worship Him in humility and with joy (Zephaniah 3:11-13 ).

C. God will reign as King to remove His people's fears (Zephaniah 3:14-17 ).

D. His oppressed people will be exalted (Zephaniah 3:18-20 ).

Paul L. Redditt

Copyright Statement
These dictionary topics are from the Holman Bible Dictionary, published by Broadman & Holman, 1991. All rights reserved. Used by permission of Broadman & Holman.

Bibliography Information
Butler, Trent C. Editor. Entry for 'Zephaniah, Book of'. Holman Bible Dictionary. 1991.

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