Zephaniah’s name means “The Lord has hidden.” He traces his lineage to four generations, the most extensive genealogy among the prophets but most likely to establish his royal pedigree. Most identify “Hizkiah” (1:1) as Hezekiah, the good king of Judah, whose piety shone brightly between the sins of his father (Ahaz) and the sins of his son (Manasseh). His identification with Hezekiah, whose religious reforms had such a positive impact on Judah, is a subtle link to Josiah, during whose reign he ministered and who like Hezekiah enforced a revival of true religion in the land.
Zephaniah 1:1 dates Zephaniah’s ministry “in the days of Josiah . . . king of Judah.” Josiah had a lengthy reign from 640 to 609 BC, but the prophet’s ministry did not cover that full period. Zephaniah 2:13, for instance, indicates that Nineveh had not yet fallen (612 BC). Many of the sins cited (e.g., 1:3-13) were common before but not after Josiah’s reforms. Second Chronicles 34:3-35:19 suggests that there were two stages to Josiah’s reforms: in his twelfth and eighteenth years (628 BC and 622/621 BC). Zephaniah’s preaching in all likelihood contributed to the revival. This would date his ministry to the first part of Josiah’s reign: 640-621 BC. This was a period of political, social, and spiritual corruption that brought the depraved and perverted nation to the brink of disaster. He would have been contemporary with the early days of Jeremiah.
The day of the Lord: judgment and salvation.
To warn sinners of impending, inescapable, and catastrophic judgment, and to encourage sinners to repent as the only possible hope for salvation.
The Contribution of Zephaniah to Redemptive Revelation
Zephaniah skillfully employs the theology of the day of the Lord in his preaching of the gospel. The day of the Lord designates those epochal interventions of God into time to accomplish His purpose of judgment against sinners or of blessing for His people. The Old Testament shows that there were multiple days of the Lord, all of which pointed to and were typical (picture prophecies) of the final day that marks the consummation of time, the final judgment of sinners, and the complete salvation of saints at the second coming of the Lord Jesus. To this end, Zephaniah’s message finds ultimate reference to Christ.
His dual focus of judgment and salvation also illustrates what it is to preach the whole counsel of God. The good news of salvation is attractive because of the bad news of judgment. Zephaniah’s message of the terror of the Lord opened the way for a call to repentance and for the unfolding of the mercy of God. His message also anticipates truths that are more fully developed and realized in the New Testament. His preaching of judgment foreshadows the preaching of Christ, the ideal prophet (Matt. 24). Zephaniah 2:11 looks to a time when Gentiles worship the true God, a time made possible by Christ (Eph. 2:14-22) and commenced in the New Testament church (Gal. 3:26-29). Zephaniah’s message of judgment and grace assures that God is in control of time and will vindicate His name in the final victory over sin and ultimate salvation for His people (3:19-20).
- The Day of the Lord: Universal Judgment (1:1-3:8)
- Judgment of the World (1:2-3)
- Judgment of Judah (1:4-2:3)
- Because of Sin (1:4-13)
- A Day of the Lord (1:14-18)
- Invitation to Repent (2:1-3)
- Judgment of Gentiles (2:4-15)
- Philistia (2:4-7)
- Moab and Ammon (2:8-11)
- Ethiopia (2:12)
- Assyria (2:13-15)
- Judgment of Jerusalem (3:1-7)
- Judgment of the World (3:8)
- The Day of the Lord: Gracious Salvation (3:9-20)
- Complete Transformation (3:9-13)
- Glorious Restoration (3:14-20)
Extracted from: Reformation Heritage KJV Study Bible Notes(Beeke, Joel R. 2015. Reformation Heritage Books).
See Today’s Bible Reading and Bible Study challenges below, which include the Book of Psalms and build on this overview with a chapter-by-chapter Bible reading plan and Bible study insights.