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Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature
Zephaniah, Book of
the ninth in order of the minor prophets, both in the Hebrew and Greek copies of the Scriptures (Jerome, Prolog. ad Paul. et Eustoch.). Besides his genuine prophecy, there was in the ancient, Christian Church an apocryphal book ascribed to Zephaniah the prophet, and quoted by some of the fathers under the name of his Ἀνάληψις or Προφήτεια Ea. (See APOCRYPHA).
I. Author. —
1. The name of this prophet has been variously explained. Disputes upon it arose as early as the times of Jerome, for in his Commentary on this book he says, "Nomen Sophoniae, alii speculam, alii arcanum Dei, transtulerunt." The word was thus derived either from צָפָה he watched, or צָפִן, he hid, with the common affix יָה i.e. Jah. The old father made it a matter of indifference which etymon he adopted, as both, according to him, give virtually the same sense the commission of a prophet being virtually that of a watchman or seer, and the burden of his message some secret revealed to him by God. Abarbanel (Praef. in Ezekiel) adheres to the latter mode of derivation, and the Pseudo-Dorotheus, following the former, translates the prophet's name by the Greek participle σκοπεύων . Hiller and Simonis differ also in a similar way; Hiller, taking the term from צפן, renders it "abscondidit se, i.e. delituit Jehovah" (Onomast. s.v.), as if the name had contained a mystic reference to the character' of the age:in which the prophet lived, when God had withdrawn himself from his apostate people; but Simonis (Ononmast. V. 7.) gives the true signification, one sanctioned by Gesenits— "abscondidit, i.e. custodivit Jehovah," Jehovah hath guarded, the verb צפן being used of divine protection in Psalms 27:5 and Psalms 83:4. The name seems to have been a common one among the Jews.
2. Parentage. — 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." This formal record of his lineage has led many to suppose that Zephaniah had sprung from a noble stock (Cyril, Prcef. ad Zephaniah), and the occurrence of the highest name in the list, which in the Hebrew text is spelled and pointed in the same way as that rendered Hezekiah in the books of Kings and Chronicles, has induced some to identify it with that of the good king Hezekiah, and to pronounce the prophet a cadet of the royal house of Judah. Kimchi is very cautious in his opinion, and leaves the point undecided but Aben-Ezra, ever ready to magnify his nation, at once concludes that Zephaniah was descended from Hezekiah; and his opinion has been followed by Huet- (Denonstrat, Evangel. Propos. 4:303), and partially by Eichhorn (Einleit. § 593).
The conjecture has little else to recommend it than the mere occurrence of the royal name. But it was not a name confined to royalty; and had it been the name of the pious monarch to which Zephaniah's genealogy is traced, certainly his official designation, "king of Judah," would have been subjoined in order to prevent mistake. Such an addition is found in connection with his name in Proverbs 25:1 and Isaiah 38:9. It forms no objection to this statement to affirm that the phrase "king of Judah" is added to Josiah, and to avoid repetition may have been omitted after Hizkiah, for such regard to euphony such finical delicacy, is no feature of Hebrew composition. The argument of Carpzov (Introd. p. 414), copied by Rosenmuller (P7rovmium in Zephaniah), against the supposed connection of the prophet with the bloodroyal is of no great weight. These critics say that from Hezekiah to Josiah, in whose reign Zephaniah flourished, are only three generations, while from Hezekiah to Zephaniah four are reckoned in the first verse of the prophecy.
But as Hezekiah reigned twenty-nine years, and his successor sat on the throne no less than fifty-five years, there is room enough in such a period for the four specified descents; and Amariah, though not heir to the crown, may have been much older than his youthful brother Manasseh, who was crowned at' the age of twelve. 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 descent of the prophet from king Hezekiah, therefore, is not in itself improbable, and the fact that the pedigree terminates with that name points to a personage of rank and importance. Late critics and commentators generally acquiesce in this hypothesis, viz. Eichhorn, Hitzig, F. Ad. Strauss (Vaticinia Zephaniae [Berlin, 1843]), Hivernick, Keil, and Bleek (Einleitun. in das Alte Testament). The Jews absurdly reckon that here, as in other superscriptions, the persons recorded as a prophet's ancestors were themselves endowed with the prophetic spirit. The so- called Epiphanius (De Vitis Prophet. ch. 19) asserts that Zephaniah was of the tribe of Simeon, of the hill Sarabatha, ἀπὸ ὄρους Σαραβαθά . 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 re-establishing the worship of Jehovah in the land.
II. Date — It is recorded (ch. 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 (Isaiah 38:13-15) 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 burned 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 (Die 12 kleinen Prophet.) and Movers (Chronii p. 234) place him; while Eichhorn, Bertholdt, and Jiger incline to give him a somewhat later date.
At all events, he flourished between the years B.C. 642 and 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 (Henderson, On the Minor Prophets, p. 326). 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 0o 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 market-places, the latter exercising her honorable vocation in the college in Jerusalem (Carpzov, Introd. p. 415). Koster (Die Propheten, 3) endeavors to prove that Zephaniah was posterior to Habakkuk. His arguments from similarity of diction are very trivial, and the more so when we reflect that all circumstances combine in inducing us to fix the period of Habakkuk (q.v.) in the reign of Jehoiakim, immediately before the Chaldaean invasion. In the present book Nineveh is represented as in a state of peace and prosperity, while the notices of Jerusalem touch upon the same tendencies to idolatry and crime, which are condemned by the contemporary Jeremiah. It is not impossible, moreover, that the prophecy was delivered about the time when the Scythians overran the empires of Western Asia, extending their devastations to Palestine. The king's children, who are spoken of in ch. 1, 8 as addicted to foreign habits, could not have been sons of Josiah, who was but eight years old at his accession, but were probably his brothers or near relatives. The remnant of Baal (ch. 1, 4) implies that some partial reformation had previously taken place, while the notices of open idolatry are incompatible with the state of Judah after the discovery of the Book of the Law.
III. Contents. — In ch. 1 the utter desolation of Judaea is predicted as a judgment for idolatry, and neglect of the Lord, the luxury of the princes, and the violence and deceit of their dependents (Isaiah 38:3-9). The prosperity, security, and insolence of the people are contrasted with the horrors of the day of wrath; the assaults upon the fenced cities and high towers, and the slaughter of the people (Isaiah 38:10-18). Ch. 2 is a call to repentance (Isaiah 38:1-3), with prediction of the ruin of the cities of the Philistines, and the restoration of the house of Judah after the visitation (Isaiah 38:4-7). Other enemies of Judah, Moab, Ammon, are threatened with perpetual destruction, Ethiopia with a great slaughter, and Nineveh, the capital of Assyria, with desolation (Isaiah 38:8-15). In ch. 3 the prophet addresses Jerusalem, which he reproves sharply for vice and disobedience, the cruelty of the princes and the treachery of the priests, and for their general disregard of warnings and visitations (Isaiah 38:1-7). He then concludes with a series of promises, the destruction of the enemies of God's people, the restoration of exiles, the extirpation of the proud and violent, and the permanent peace and blessedness of the poor and afflicted remnant who shall trust in the name of the Lord. These exhortations to rejoicing and exertion are mingled with intimations of a complete manifestation of God's righteousness and love in the restoration of his people (Isaiah 38:8-20).
It has been disputed what the enemies are with whose desolating inroads he threatens Judah. The ordinary and most probable opinion is that the foes whose period of invasion was "a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities and against the high towers" (ch. 1, 16), were the Chaldaeans. Hitzig especially, Cramer too, and Eichhorn, supposed the prophet to refer to a Scythian invasion, the history of which they imagine has been preserved by Herodotus (1, 105). But the general style of the oracle, and the sweeping vengeance which it menaces against Assyria, Philistia, Ammon, and Cush, as well as against Judah, by some great and unnamed power, point to the Chaldaean expedition which, under Nebuchadnezzar, laid Jerusalem waste, and carried to Babylon its enslaved population. The contemporary prophecies of Jeremiah contemplate the musterings, onset, and devastations of the same victorious hosts, The former part of Zephaniah's prediction is "a day of clouds and of thick darkness," but in the closing section of it light is sown for the righteous, "The king of Israel, the Lord, is in the midst of thee; he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love."
IV. Style. — We cannot by any means award so low a character to Zephaniah's style is done by De Wette (Einleit. § 245), who describes it as being often heavy and tedious. It 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 sire 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 dad themselves in strange apparel, and those who in some superstitious mummery leaped upon the threshold (Bochart, Hieroz. c. 36). Nota few verses occur in the course of the prophecy which, in tone and dignity, are not unworthy to be associate with the more distinguished efforts of the Hebrew bards. A few paronomasiae occur (Zephaniah 1:15 and Zephaniah 2:1-4), and Occasionally there is a peculiar repetition of a leading word' in the formation of a climax (Zephaniah 2:15). Jahn (Introd. § 132) and Eichhorn assert that Zephaniah has borrowed to a considerable extent from the earlier prophets, especially from Isaiah; yet, the similarity of such passages as Isaiah 34:11 to Zephaniah 2:14, or Isaiah 47:8 to Zephaniah 2:15, or Isaiah 18:1 to Zephaniah 3:10, or Isaiah 16:6 to Zephaniah 2:8, is not sufficient evidence that Zephaniah was Isaiah's imitator.
The clauses of resemblance are idiomatic in nature, and seem to have been of proverbial force and currency, so that both prophets may have taken them from the national usus loquendi. Coincidences of expression have also been noted between Zephaniah and some of his contemporaries, particularly Jeremiah (Eichhorn, Einleit. § 595; Rosenmü ller, Prosem. 6). Between Zephaniah 1:5 and Jeremiah 8:2 we can perceive little similarity of language, though the same superstitious custom is referred to, and a comparison of Zephaniah 1:12 with Jeremiah 48:11 leads to such a conclusion as we have already stated, as the phrase common to both passages — "settled on the lees" — must have been one in wide circulation in a wine country like Judaea. It was altogether groundless, therefore, in some of the older critics, such as Isidore and Schmidius (Prolegom. in Sophon.), to style Zephaniah the abbreviator of Jeremiah. Resemblances have also been traced between Zephaniah and Amos, and between him and his successor Ezekiel; but to call these imitations is rash indeed, if we reflect on the similarity of the topics discussed, and the peculiar range of imagery and phraseology which is common to Hebrew prophetic poetry, and which was the stereotyped language of the inspired brotherhood. The language of Zephaniah 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 Test.; but clauses and expressions occur which seem to have been formed from his prophecy (Zephaniah 3:9; Romans 15:6, etc.). He was, in fine, as Cyril of Alexandria terms him (Prawfat. in Soph. tom. 3), "a true prophet, and filled with the Holy Ghost, and bringing his oracles from the mouth of God."
The chief characteristics of this book are the unity and harmony of the composition, the grace, energy, and dignity of its style, and the rapid and effective alternations of threats and promises. Its prophetical import is chiefly shown in the accurate predictions of the desolation, which has fallen upon each of the nations denounced for their crimes; Ethiopia, which is menaced with a terrible invasion, being alone exempted from the doom of perpetual ruin. The general tone of the last portion is Messianic, but without any specific reference to the person of our Lord.
There has often been noticed in this prophecy a general or universal character, rather than specific predictions, though these are not entirely wanting. This tendency is in harmony with the position which Zephaniah was called to occupy in the course of divine providence; for he lived at the commencement of the period: of the universal empires, which are represented by Daniel in detail, and exhibited as introductory to the kingdom of the Son of man. The Chaldaean monarchy was rising with marvelous rapidity to universal empire, and was in preparation by the Lord to be the scourge of his own people as well as of the heathen nations; and in connection with their work Zephaniah saw the coming of the day of the Lord, the day of judgment, when all the earth should be devoured With the fire of his jealousy (ch. 1, 18; 3, 8). But as earlier prophets, especially Joel and Isaiah, had already foreseen and declared this in connection with the work of the Assyrian monarchy, which only made a commencement and left the completion to its rival and heir at Babylon we find the language and imagery of these earlier prophets continually referred to, adopted, or elaborated anew by Zephaniah and his contemporary Jeremiah, with whom he has much in common.
V. Commentaries. — The following are the special exegetical helps on this entire book exclusively: Luther, Commentarius (in Opp. vol. 4; also in Germ. in Werks); Bucer, Commentarins (Argent. 1528, 8vo); Selnecker, Auslegun (Leips. 1566, 4to) Casar, Predigten (Wittenb.: 1603, 8vo); Tarnovius, Commentarius (Rost.'1623, 4to); Larenus, Tuba (Mediob. 1653, 8vo); Gebhardus, Vindicatio (Gryphan. 1701-2, 4to) Hocke, Auslegung [includ. Nah. and Hab.] (Frankf. 1710, 4to); Noltenius, Commentarious [on ch. 1] (Fr. ad 0. 1719-24, 4to); Gebhardi, Erklarung (Fr. am O. 1728, 4to); Cramer, Scythische Denkmaler (Kiel, 1777, 8vo); Anton, .Interpretatio [on ch. 3] (Gorl. 1811, 4to) Colln, Observationes (Vratisl. 1818, 4to.); Ewald, Erklarung (Erlang. 1827, 8vo); Strauss, Commentarius (Berol. 1843, 8vo); Robinson, Homilies (Lond. 1865, 8vo);' Reinke, Erlä uterung (Leips. 1868). (See PROPHETS, MINOR).
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McClintock, John. Strong, James. Entry for 'Zephaniah, Book of'. Cyclopedia of Biblical, Theological and Ecclesiastical Literature. https://www.studylight.org/encyclopedias/eng/tce/z/zephaniah-book-of.html. Harper & Brothers. New York. 1870.