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Bible Commentaries

Preacher's Complete Homiletical Commentary


- Zephaniah

by Editor - Joseph S. Exell

The Preacher’s Complete Homiletic
Minor Prophets

By the

Author of the Commentaries on Deuteronomy and Chronicles





THE WRITER. In all probability Zephaniah was a prince as well as a prophet, in virtue of his descent from Hezekiah, the pious king of Judah; who, aided and taught by another royal prophet, Isaiah, wrought a notable reformation in the faith and morals of the chosen people. In the title prefixed to this prophecy his pedigree is traced, through four descents, to a Hezekiah, and there abruptly terminates, as though, the name being well-known to fame, there was no need to carry it further. Ordinarily, only the name of a prophet’s father is given. The fact that, contrary to custom, Zephaniah’s pedigree is traced up to his great-great-grandfather, is an indication that this ancestor, Hezekiah, was a man whose name was held in memory and honour. We find no Hezekiah known to fame in the Hebrew annals, save Hezekiah the king; and therefore it is probable that the Hezekiah from whom Zephaniah was proud to descend, was that devout king who for a time arrested the downward current of the Hebrew story [Samuel Cox].

THE DATE. In the reign of King Josiah (641–610 B. C.), who, aided by Jeremiah and others, reformed public morals. This date is corroborated by statements in the Book itself. The fall of Nineveh and the overthrow of Assyria are predicted; he must therefore have prophesied before these events (625 B. C.) i.e. in the former half of the reign of Josiah. Idolatry was extensively abolished, but a remnant was left (ch. Zephaniah 1:4). “This exactly tallies with the state of things in Judah from the twelfth to the eighteenth year of Josiah; for though this monarch began, in the former of these years, to effect a reformation, it was not till the latter that it was prosecuted with more successful results” [Henderson]. At this time the state was corrupt as the religion. Princes and judges, priests and prophets, were alike in sin. Law was disregarded between man and man, and worship was profaned by Baal and Moloch. Prophets uttered not the word of God, but fine-spun deceits (Zephaniah 3:4; cf. Jeremiah 5:13). With the mass of the people religious feeling was extinct. Thousands lived in scepticism and perfect indifference, indulged in lust and love of money, and declared that God would neither reward men for virtue nor punish them for vice. “In short, the interior of the temple, which had been suffered to fall into a ruinous disrepair, was an apt symbol of the spiritual decay that was eating out the very heart of the national life, and unity, and strength.”

THE BOOK. Scope. Zephaniah does for the two, what had been done by Hosea for the ten, tribes of Israel. Hosea is the first, Zephaniah is the last, of the minor prophets before the captivity. The contents of the Book correspond to the position of the author. They have a retrospective and a prospective character [cf. Wordsworth]. In its general scope, it closely resembles the prophecy of Joel. It traverses the same large circle of thought. In both there is, first, a threatening of judgment; then, a call to repentance; and last, the promise of a golden age of concord and peace. In both the history of the chosen race swells and grows into the history of the world at large. In both the prophet starts from the history of the past, and presses on into the future, until he is met by apocalyptic visions of a regenerated race dwelling amid the sweet bounty and peace of a restored universe [S. Cox].

CONTENTS. I. The exordium (Zephaniah 1:1-6). Announcement of judgment upon the world and upon Israel, arising from the evil condition of the present. II. The description of the judgment (Zephaniah 1:7-18). (a) In reference to its objects (7–13); (b) In reference to its dreadfulness (14–18). III. An exhortation to seek God (Zephaniah 2:1-3). IV. An announcement of the judgment upon the heathen nations (Zephaniah 2:4-15). V. A repeated description of the remediless misery in Jerusalem (Zephaniah 3:1-7). VI. The promise of salvation (Zephaniah 3:8-20). (a) The salvation of the heathen following the judgment (1–10). (b) The purification of Israel (11–13). (c) The salvation of Israel (14–20) [Lange].

STYLE. The prophet borrows from the language and words of predecessors. This “arises,” says Pusey, “not as people have been pleased to say—from any declension in the originality of the prophets at his date, but from his subject.” It has been said, “If any one desire to see the utterances of the prophets in brief space, let him read through this brief Zephaniah.” At times he is concise and poetic, yet full and vivid in his pictures. “Joel,” says one, “is the most abstract of prophets, and touches the history of his time at points comparatively few; while Zephaniah abounds in minute and elaborate allusions to the poetical facts and events of his age. And hence, while Joel may be read with edification by the simple and unlettered, Zephaniah is well-nigh a sealed Book to them until a scholar unlooses the seals and opens the Book.” “The impressive, deeply impassioned severity of his style, well deserves that his Book should be designated as the dies iræ of the Old Testament” [Lange].