If the Hezekiah who was Zephaniah's great-great-grandfather, i.1, was, as is probable, the king of that name, then Zephaniah was a prince as well as a prophet, and this may lend some point to his denunciation of the princes who imitated foreign customs, i.8. He prophesied in the reign of Josiah, i.1, and the fact that he censures not the king but the king's children, i.8, points to the period when Josiah was still a minor (about or before 626 B.C.). With this coincides his description of the moral and religious condition of Judah, which necessitates a date prior to the reformation in 621. Idolatry, star-worship and impure Jehovah-worship are rampant, i.4, 5, 9. The rich are easy-going and indifferent to religion, supposing that God will leave the world to itself, i.12. The people of Jerusalem are incorrigible, iii.2, reckless of the lessons that God has written in nature and history, iii.5ff.; their leaders -- princes, prophets, priests -- are immoral or incompetent. The prophecy may be placed between 630 and 626, and the prophet must have been a young man.

To this idolatrous and indifferent people he announces the speedy coming of the day of Jehovah, whose terrors he describes with a certain solemn grandeur (i.). The judgment is practically inevitable, i.18, but it may perhaps yet be averted by an earnest quest of Jehovah, ii, 1-3. That judgment will sweep along the coast through the Philistine country, ii.4-7, and on to Egypt, and afterwards turn northwards and utterly destroy Assyria with her great capital Nineveh, ii.12-15. Again the prophet turns to Jerusalem, and for the sins of her people and their leaders proclaims a general day of judgment, from which, however, the humble will be saved, iii.1-13 (except vv.9, 10.). The book ends with a fine vision of the latter days, when the dispersed of Judah will be restored to their own land, and rejoice in the omnipotent love of their God, iii.14-20.

The prophecy presents a very impressive picture of the day of Jehovah, but it cannot all be from the pen of Zephaniah. Besides adopting a very different attitude towards Jerusalem from the rest of the prophecy, iii.14-20 clearly presupposes the exile, v.19, towards the end of which it was probably written. Ch. ii.11, iii.9, 10, containing ideas which are hardly earlier than Deutero-Isaiah, are also probably exilic or post-exilic. The oracle against Moab and Ammon, ii.8-10, countries which lay off the line of the Scythian march southwards from Philistia, v.7, to Egypt, v.12, are for linguistic, contextual, and other reasons, also probably late.

Prophecy has practically always an historical occasion, and the thought of the black and terrible day of Jehovah was no doubt suggested to Zephaniah by the formidable bands of roving Scythians which scoured Western Asia about this time, sweeping all before them (Hdt. i.105). They do not seem to have touched Judah; but it is not surprising that men like Jeremiah and Zephaniah should have regarded them as divinely ordained ministers of vengeance upon Jehovah's degenerate people.

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