This is part of an on-going series on the Minor Prophets; a bible study I wrote two years ago. For more information on this study, including permission to use it for your own group, please read the introduction.
WHEN WAS ZEPHANIAH WRITTEN?
Zephaniah was written during the reign of King Josiah (Zephaniah 1:1). The approximate date is 630-625 BC, when King Josiah was a teenager.
Zephaniah was written at a crucial time in Israel’s history. To get the full picture, we’re going to do a bit of a history lesson. Below is a timeline with references from the history books of II Kings and II Chronicles. It’s really worth checking some of this stuff out, because it paints the picture of the state of the nation when Zephaniah gave his prophecy.
724 BC – King Hezekiah takes the throne, aged 25 (II Kings 18-20, II Chronicles 29-32)
695 BC – King Manasseh (son of Hezekiah) takes the throne, aged 12 (II Kings 21:1-18, II Chronicles 33:1-20)
642 BC – King Amon (son of Manasseh) takes the throne, aged 22 (II Kings 21:19-26, II Chronicles 33:21-25)
640 BC – King Josiah (son of Amon) takes the throne, aged 8 (II Kings 22-23, II Chronicles 34-35)
632 BC – Josiah at age 16 begins to seek God
628 BC – Josiah at age 20 begins to clean up Israel, campaigning against idol worship
621 BC – Josiah at age 27 orders the renovation of the temple, and the Book of the Law is found. The Law is read, to
Josiah and then to all Israel, and Passover is celebrated again.
609 BC – King Josiah died at age 39, 23 years before the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC
Hezekiah and Josiah were important and influential kings, abolishing idol worship, seeking God, and turning Israel back to him. Sandwiched between them were two bad kings, Manasseh and Amon, who did the opposite – promoting idol worship, practicing divination, witchcraft and all sort of other things like that. Two years into Amon’s reign his own staff plotted against him and had him assassinated. They were later executed for their hand in his murder, and Amon’s son, only 8 years old, was made king. By 630 BC, Israel had been spent 65 years steeped in idol worship (with a brief exception toward the end of Manasseh’s reign, when God got his attention by having him captured and he turned back to God). This was a significant low point in Israel’s moral/spiritual history.
As Josiah grew up, he began to seek God. He was only 16, and had been king for 8 years. This was the start of something big. As king. Josiah had significant influence over the actions of the nation. When he sought God, and returned to him, he brought all Israel with him. We might not all direct an entire people with our actions, but we all have influence of some kind over someone. Josiah was young, and he made a difference. So can we all.
WHO IS ZEPHANIAH?
There is a lot more to Josiah’s story but right now we’re focussed on Zephaniah. Zephaniah was definitely written when Josiah was king, most likely when Josiah was a teenager – so right around the time things were stirring in him.
Zephaniah gives a length genealogy at the introduction to his prophecy, not just his father’s name as was the normal convention. He traces his lineage back to Hezekiah, the last good king before Josiah. There is a theory that identifying himself as a great-grandson of Hezekiah, a man of royal blood, would have made his prophecy more compelling to his audience. It’s also possible that he wanted his audience to be clear of his strong Jewish heritage, since his father’s name (“Cushi”) is translated as “Ethiopian”.
Some scholars believe that if Zephaniah really was of royal descent, he may well have had access to and/or influence over his first cousin, the boy-king Josiah. Josiah was a teenager at the time Zephaniah received these prophecies from God – they may well have affected the direction his rule was to take.
Zephaniah was NOT king of Israel. He listened to God, however, and obeyed him. The words he gave moveda king, affected a nation, and were in time read by billions more.
WHAT IS ZEPHANIAH ABOUT?
As with many prophets, Zephaniah spoke against sin in Israel, warned of God’s impending judgment (against Israel and other nations) and also shared a message of hope – the restoration of intimate relationship between God and his people. It is not, however, a case of “heard one doom-and-gloom prophet, heard ‘em all”. There are several treasures in Zephaniah well worth uncovering.