INTRODUCTION TO Zephaniah
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Before analyzing the test of any book of the Bible, it is well to learn the historical background.
Also, it is best to make a "skyscraper" view of its general contents. Accordingly, this introduction is divided into two parts: background and survey.
- Zephaniah is undoubtedly the author. He is believed to be of the royal line of Judah. (1:1) Unlike other prophets the books opens with his lineage, the fourth generation descendant of Hezekiah. Where Micah's prophecies were from the common people's point of view, Zephaniah's prophecies concern the court in Jerusalem and of the whole world.
- Jeremiah, Nahum, and Habakkuk were contemporary prophets. Zephaniah predicted Judah's fall. Jeremiah predicted the fall of Jerusalem. Habakkuk spoke of Babylon's invasion. Nahum declared Nineveh's fall.
- Date and Place of Writing
- Zephaniah prophecies started during Josiah's reign. (1:1) Josiah reigned the Kingdom of Judah from 640-609 B.C. Zephaniah's prophecies probably continued through the Assyrian king Ashurbanipal’'s death in 627 B.C. Though Zephaniah ministry continued probably into the exile, his written prophecies end at Jerusalem's fall.
- After Ashurbanipal’'s death Assyrian's quick fall as the region's power house seemed like the beginning of a time of new peace and expansion for Judah. King Josiah was able to gain control over parts of Samaria. (2 Kings 23:15-20) When the remains of the Philistines were defeated by a formerly unknown people from a region north of Assyria, Judah gained control of former Philistine territory. (2:4-7; Isaiah 14:28-32; Jer. 47; Amos 1:6-8; Zech. 9:5-7) Few Judean believed that Babylon would defeat first Assyria, then the Egyptians, and finally Judah.
- Zephaniah would see Judah fall to Egypt and then Babylon. His fate after Judah's fall in unknown.
- Zephaniah addresses three groups; Judah especially Jerusalem, the whole world, and God's remnant.
- The word of the Lord from Zephaniah is addressed to Jerusalem, Judah's capital. Zephaniah addresses their sins. If they don't repent, judgement will come.
- Zephaniah also addresses the sins of the Gentile nations. Though he mentions the whole world he goes into detail concerning the fall of some of the nations around Israel.
- Zephaniah also gives great hope to God's remnant. He paints a beautiful picture of the coming reign of the Lord and the tranquillity that endures through it.
- Occasion and Purpose
- Judah's sin and idolatry continued during Zephaniah's generation in spite of reforms made by King Josiah. The reforms were too little, too late. The people as a whole did not follow Josiah's reform and instead hung onto former King's Manasseh and Amon's evil ways. Mighty armies surrounded Judah and constantly threatened them.
- Thebes was destroyed at the hands of Ashurbanipal’'s Assyrian army in 663 B.C. Judah had lost much of its cities and fortresses at the hands of the Assyrians.
- Assyrian king Ashurbanipal died in 627 B.C. leading to Assyrian's quick fall as the Middle East's power house. The brief freedom from their enemy may have made Judah believe the prophecies about their coming destruction were not true. The Lord through Zephaniah would try to correct that view.
- In the 620s B.C. the Scythians (outlandish barbarians) invaded Canaan. They came quickly on horses from land just north of then Assyria (modern southern Russia). They destroyed the Philistine cities of Ashkelon and Ashdod, going along the Mediterranean Sea and right past Judah. They went as far as the Egyptian boarder who paid them off to stop them from destroying them. The appearance of a new powerful force from seemingly nowhere provided the backdrop to Zephaniah's prophecy.
- Nineveh fell in 612 B.C. at the hands of the Babylonians. Prophets like Micah generations earlier had predicted that Babylon would be God's hand of judgment against Judah.
- In 609 B.C., three years after Nineveh fell Judah's king was so confident of Judah's success he attacked Egypt whose army was moving northward to engage in war in the land of Assyria. Egypt didn't want to battle with Judah. But Judah's king didn't back off and engaged Egypt in battle. Judah lost and became subject to Egypt.
- For several years at this time Egypt and Babylon battled each other hoping to gain control of the entire Middle East.
- In 605 B.C. Babylon attacked and defeated Egypt at the battle of Carchemish (2 Kings 24:1-7) making Judah subject to Babylon. After the battle of Carchemish, Nebuchadnezzar, as crown prince of Babylon, advanced to Jerusalem and then quickly left for Babylon to be crowned king when his father died. Then he returned to Jerusalem. Nebuchadnezzar spared King Jehoiakim, who had rebelled against him when he left to be made king. However, Nebuchadnezzar carried off several of the princes of Judah, among them was Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
- Judah continually rebelled against Babylon trying to break free of Babylon's grip, against the word's of the Lord through Jeremiah and other prophets. Each time Judah lost and Babylon's grip on Judah tightened. More Jews (first called so at this time) were taken into exile including Ezekiel.
- Form and Style
- The entire book's three chapters are prophecies from the Word of the Lord.
- The entire book is in poetic form.
- Place Among the Old Testament Books
- Zephaniah is one of the smaller books of the Old Testament with only three chapters. Scholars have placed it with the other eleven minor prophets.
- Just because scholars have classified twelve of the prophetic books as minor does not mean that their message is any less important than the four major prophets. In fact the New Testament quotes the minor prophets more than the major prophets.
Zephaniah predicted Judah and Jerusalem's fall. They were to be God's chosen, but they did not keep his covenant and ignored his prophets. They will be punished in the Day of the Lord. He also writes of the blessing of the Day of the Lord. Zephaniah states that Jerusalem and Judah will be restored. The message to us is that each generation, each person must accept to live in the new covenant of Jesus or face his wrath.
Zephaniah 1:2-2:3 concerns judgment against Judah. Zephaniah 2:4-15 concerns judgement against the nations. Zephaniah 3:1-7 concerns judgement against Jerusalem, the capital city of Judah. 3:8 can be considered a conclusion to the judgements as 1:2-3 was its opening statement; both being similar. The rest of the book deals with salvation, restoration, and God's remnant.
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