Date: Shortly before 621 B.C.
Zephaniah was the first of a series of prophets sent by God to the southern kingdom of Judah before its fall in 587 B.C. and after the fall of the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C. Isaiah and Micah had lived to see the fall of Samaria, the capital of the northern kingdom, but had died before Zephaniah’s time. Zephaniah was followed by Jeremiah, Habakkuk, and Ezekiel, all of whom had a special message to Judah in the South. Regrettably, that nation, too, paid no attention to the warnings sent from God.
The historical situation went something like this. After the death of Hezekiah, a righteous king in Judah, his son Manasseh ascended the throne. He was a thoroughly evil man who rejected his father’s ways and allowed wholesale corruption back into the land. He was also instrumental in reintroducing pagan religious practices like Baal worship, astrology, spirit worship, and child sacrifice. Manasseh persecuted the prophets and suppressed the true worship of God. Jewish legend has it that he was party to executing the prophet Isaiah, although this cannot be proven one way or another. His son Ammon was just as bad, but his grandson Josiah (639-609 B.C.) tried to reverse the trend toward disaster. In 621 B.C Josiah made sweeping reforms, partly because of Zephaniah’s warnings.
Theological Themes in the Book of Zephaniah
Zephaniah concentrated on denouncing the evil that abounded in the land, with the dire warning that if Judah did not repent, all would be lost. He also brought further insight to the concept of the “day of the Lord.” Popular opinion assumed that the day of the Lord meant vindication for them in the face of their enemies. Zephaniah told them it meant judgment first for them and then for their foes. The prophet ended with a promise of restoration (3:9-20), looking beyond a mere return to the land to a time of universal blessing for the whole earth.
Outline for the Book of Zephaniah
- General prophecy of God’s judgment Zephaniah 1:1-2:3
- Judgment on specific nations Zephaniah 2:4-3:8
- Future blessings promised Zephaniah 3:9-20