There were four minor prophets who spoke forth the Word of the Lord all more or less at the same time during the time of Judah’s destruction, at the end of the seventh and beginning of the sixth centuries BC. We have already looked at three of those prophets, now.
First, we read Nahum together, prophet to the north who had already been exiled.
Then we made our way through Obadiah’s fiery oracles, who some theologians tentatively date during the reign of Jehoram, in 848-841 BC. However, Jewish scholars place him right along with Habakkuk and Zephaniah as contemporaries of Jeremiah, Huldah, and Ezekiel during the reigns of the evil kings Jehoiakim and Joiachin in Judah, reigning from 608-597 BC.
We just finished reading Habakkuk together.
So now we come to the fourth minor prophet, Zephaniah, associated with the butterfly, iconic for the transformation of God’s people.
From his writings, if seems Zephaniah lived and preached in Jerusalem, and the collator of his material gave us a genealogy as an introduction to his prophetic work.
The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.Zephaniah 1:1 (NRSV)
Cushi, Zephaniah’s father, was most likely a Cushite, the ancient designation for Ethiopia—and, in fact, God later gave Zephaniah a vision of both judgment and restoration for Ethiopia.
There is another name that jumps out of Zephaniah’s family tree—his great grandfather Hezekiah, one of the few good kings of Judah, and also the great grandfather of the good King Josiah.
Scholars have had to pull clues from the oracles themselves to try to pinpoint Zephaniah’s timeframe. The first line of his book places Zephaniah during his cousin Josiah’s monarchy. Some have suggested this young aristocrat began his career very young, possibly receiving his earliest revelations right at the beginning of Josiah’s reign (640–609 BC), before his reforms were fully underway in 622 BC.
Yet there are also clues within his prophecies that seem to indicate a much later time, maybe even after 586 BC, when Judah was taken into exile.
Whatever his era, Zephaniah’s writing style closely follows Isaiah’s, indicating his education and training may have come from the School of the Prophets Isaiah had established two centuries before.
Interestingly, Zephaniah’s name means “God is Hidden,” and the scope of his book begins with revealing what had been happening in Judah.
Zephaniah’s oracles seem to fall into three divisions:
1. A Look Within, Zephaniah 1:1 2:3
2. A Look Without, Zephaniah 2:4 3:8
3. A Look Beyond, Zephaniah 3:9 20
With many thanks to a really wonderful resource on YouTube called “The Bible Project,” let us begin our study of Zephaniah with this overview.
[Zephaniah | The Jewish Museum, James Tissot / Public Domain]