Author and His Times
Zephaniah (possibly in Hezekiah’s royal lineage) prophesied in Jerusalem, probably as a lead in to Josiah’s reform alongside Jeremiah. Although only two generations have passed since King Hezekiah’s reform, the nation was entirely converted to paganism under King Manasseh. The temple is being used to worship other gods, prophets were forbidden to speak on YHWH’s behalf, hedonism is rampant, and no one could find a copy of the law even if they wanted to. Josiah (640-609 BC) goes on to rediscover the Law, refurbish the temple, and destroy all the idols as the last good king in Judah. His reform did everything externally possible but failed to change the people’s hearts.
Assyria is falling in power; Babylon’s rise in power becomes imminent in 626 BC when King Assurbanipal of Assyria dies. 612 BC is the formal death of Nineveh, yet Babylon truly rules the world as of the turn in 626. One cannot underestimate the chaos and uncertainty that comes with times of shifting world powers.
I. (1) Judgment and Wailing for Judah
II. (2) Judgment of the Nations
III. (3) Redemption and Rejoicing for the Remnant
Hyperbole (purposeful exaggeration) is Zephaniah’s trademark. This book could serve as good revival literature considering the times he spoke to – Haggai may be better in this regard.
How to Read It
See Isaiah 13-23 for similar oracles against the nations. Read II Kings 22-23 and II Chronicles 34-35 for historical background to Zephaniah’s times. See notes on Joel for how to read the “Day of the Lord.” Noting chiastic structure may help comprehension (see How to Read the Bible Book by Book, 249).