The book of Zephaniah is an interesting and challenging little book. It was written by Zephaniah somewhere between 640-620 B.C. Most commentaries and scholars will date this book around 640-610 B.C. Based upon the message of Zephaniah, I think it is safe to say that Josiah’s reforms have not happened yet and that took place around 620 B.C. Josiah ascends the throne around 640 B.C. (2 Kings 22:1; 2 Chron. 34:1) at the ripe old age of 8 and according to 2 Chronicles 34, Josiah didn’t begin the reforms until his 12th year as king (2 Chron. 34:3-5). It wasn’t until the 18th year of his reign that the Book of the Law of God was found in the temple (2 Chron. 34:8-35:19) and it was at that point that the reforms really began in earnest. Thus, we should date Zephaniah sometime after 640 B.C. and before 620 when the reforms began.
He was a prophet of royal descent. According to Zeph. 1:1, he was the 4th removed descendant of Hezekiah. He was the former king of Judah and the last good king until Josiah comes on the scene. This would mean that Zephaniah and Josiah were loosely related in some way. Zephaniah’s name literally means “Jehovah hides” and gives us some insights into the message God intended for Israel. Overall the message is that God is going to punish Israel and her enemies for their actions and unfaithfulness but in the end, He will hide judgment for the faithful.
There is a lot of significance in taking note of the practices that are condemned by Zephaniah. In the religious sphere, these include apostasy from God and the worship of false gods (Zeph. 1:4-9). Several false gods are mentioned in this little book. The remnant of Baal and her priests (1:4), those who swear by Milcom (Lev. 18:21; 20:2; 1 Kings 11:7 – also called Molech, the false god of the Ammonites which demanded child sacrifice), and “everyone who leaps over the threshold” (Zeph. 1:9; 1 Sam. 5:5 – a reference to the Philistine god Dagon). The children of Israel have thoroughly left God, and worshipping Him, out of their daily lives. To make matters worse, he speaks about the lack of integrity of civic leaders and religious leaders, who are exploiting others just to get ahead (Zeph. 3:3-4).
What seems to hit the hardest in the book is the apathy of so many (Zeph. 1:12). Like wine that is left on its dregs (the sediment sometimes found at the bottom of bottles of wine), God says they have become complacent in their faith. They still claim to believe in God but by their words, they are denying it. In fact, they are denying that He will do anything good or bad to them. Thus, all that remains for them is judgment.
In Zeph. 1:15-16 (and throughout the book), he expresses the idea that God is coming in judgment and it’s going to be bad. It will be a day of wrath, distress, anguish, ruin, and devastation. In a sense, it is as if God is planning on reversing the creation order and wiping them from the face of the earth as He did during the flood of Noah (Gen. 6-8).
Nearing the end of the book (Zeph. 3:14-20), God, as is typical of His great mercy and love, encourages the faithful of Israel. He encourages them to sing and shout, to rejoice and exult with all their heart because He was going to take away His judgments against them. In a sense, God is going “to hide” (Zephaniah = Jehovah hides) their sins and remove His judgments against them.
Throughout this little book, we are reminded that our God expects more than just words. He expects us to live like we believe what we claim to believe. He also reminds us that apathy and complacency are never acceptable to Him and will be punished. Perhaps most important, He teaches us that He is a gracious and loving God who longs to hide our sins and punishment that is so rightly deserved.
Let me encourage you to read this little book and let God’s message push you to believe what you claim to believe.