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Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature


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Zephani´ah, the ninth in order of the Minor Prophets. The name seems to have been a common one among the Jews. Contrary to usual custom, the pedigree of the prophet is traced back for four generations—'the son of Cushi, the son of Gedaliah, the son of Amariah, the son of Hizkiah,' As there was at least another Zephaniah, a conspicuous personage at the time of the captivity, the parentage of the prophet may have been recounted so minutely to prevent any reader from confounding the two individuals. The so-called Epiphanius asserts that Zephaniah was of the tribe of Simeon, of the hill Sarabatha. The existence of the prophet is known only from his oracles, and these have no biographical sketches; so that our knowledge of this man of God comprises only the fact and the results of his inspiration. It may be safely inferred, however, that he labored with Josiah in the pious work of reestablishing the worship of Jehovah in the land.

It is recorded (Zephaniah 1) that the word of the Lord came to him 'in the days of Josiah, the son of Amon, King of Judah.' We have reason for supposing that he flourished during the earlier portion of Josiah's reign. In the second chapter () he foretells the doom of Nineveh, and the fall of that ancient city happened about the eighteenth year of Josiah. In the commencement of his oracles also, he denounces various forms of idolatry, and specially the remnant of Baal. The reformation of Josiah began in the twelfth, and was completed in the eighteenth year of his reign. So thorough was his extirpation of the idolatrous rites and hierarchy which defiled his kingdom, that he burnt down the groves, dismissed the priesthood, threw down the altars, and made dust of the images of Baalim. Zephaniah must have prophesied prior to this religious revolution, while some remains of Baal were yet secreted in the land, or between the twelfth and eighteenth years of the royal reformer. So Hitzig and Movers place him; while Eichhorn, Bertholdt, and Jaeger incline to give him a somewhat later date. At all events, he flourished between the years B.C. 642and B.C. 611; and the portion of his prophecy which refers to the destruction of the Assyrian Empire must have been delivered prior to the year B.C. 625, the year in which Nineveh fell. The publication of these oracles was, therefore, contemporary with a portion of those of Jeremiah, for the word of the Lord came to him in the thirteenth year of the reign of Josiah. Indeed, the Jewish tradition is, that Zephaniah had for his colleagues Jeremiah and the prophetess Huldah, the former fixing his sphere of labor in the thoroughfares and marketplaces, the latter exercising her honorable vocation in the college in Jerusalem.

The book consists of only three chapters. In Zephaniah 1, the sins of the nation are severely reprimanded, and a day of fearful retribution is menaced. The circuit of reference is wider in Zephaniah 2, and the ungodly and persecuting states in the neighborhood of Judaea are also doomed; but in Zephaniah 3, while the prophet inveighs bitterly against Jerusalem and her magnates, he concludes with the cheering prospect of her ultimate settlement and blissful theocratic enjoyment.

The style of this prophet has not the sustained majesty of Isaiah, or the sublime and original energy of Joel: it has no prominent feature of distinction; yet its delineations are graphic, and many of its touches are bold and striking. For example, in the first chapter the prophet groups together in his descriptions of the national idolatry several characteristic exhibitions of its forms and worship. The verses are not tame and prosaic portraiture, but form a series of vivid sketches. The poet seizes on the more strange peculiarities of the heathen worship—uttering denunciations on the remnant of Baal, the worshippers of Chemarim—the star-adorers, the devotees of Malcham, the fanatics who clad themselves in strange apparel, and those who in some superstitious mummery leaped upon the threshold. Not a few verses occur in the course of the prophecy which, in tone and dignity, are not unworthy to be associated with the more distinguished effusions of the Hebrew bards. The language is pure: it has not the classic ease and elegance of the earlier compositions, but it wants the degenerate feebleness and Aramaic corruption of the succeeding era. Zephaniah is not expressly quoted in the New Testament; but clauses and expressions occur which seem to have been formed from his prophecy (; , etc.). He was, in fine, as Cyril of Alexandria terms him, 'a true prophet, and filled with the Holy Ghost, and bringing his oracles from the mouth of God.'





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Kitto, John, ed. Entry for 'Zephaniah'. "Kitto's Popular Cyclopedia of Biblical Literature".

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