The 12 Minor Prophets are divided into two groups: pre-exilic and post-exilic. The first 9 are pre-exilic, writing before the Babylonians conquered and exiled Judah. The last 3 are post-exilic, writing during and after the return of Israel from Babylon to the Promised Land. Zephaniah is the last of the pre-exilic prophets, and can be said to “sum up” the messages of the previous 8. This is why Zephaniah seems unoriginal to some scholars, because he quotes the words and ideas of many previous prophets.
–David Guzik (and all comments in red)
Three books of the Minor Prophets are contemporary with Jeremiah’s ministry, especially in its early years. Zephaniah, Nahum, and Habakkuk reflect the circumstances and outlook in Judah during Josiah’s reign (630-609) and the days immediately following his death. They depict the imminent rise of Babylon and the subsequent collapse of Assyria. Above all, they set in bold relief the justice of God at work in Judah and the world. They discern the divine hand in the changing of the guard internationally, they call attention to the need for reform internally, and they anticipate divine reckoning with persistent rebellion where reform is rejected.
–Old Testament Survey, by LaSor, Hubbard, and Bush, c. 1982 (all from Fuller Theological Seminary)
The word of the Lord that came to Zephaniah son of Cushi son of Gedaliah son of Amariah son of Hezekiah, in the days of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah.
Zephaniah traces his family generations back to King Hezekiah. Such insider status may give him a close up view of the sins of the leadership in Jerusalem.
The Coming Judgment on Judah
2 I will utterly sweep away everything
from the face of the earth, says the Lord.
3 I will sweep away humans and animals;
I will sweep away the birds of the air
and the fish of the sea.
I will make the wicked stumble.
I will cut off humanity
from the face of the earth, says the Lord.
4 I will stretch out my hand against Judah,
and against all the inhabitants of Jerusalem;
and I will cut off from this place every remnant of Baal
King Josiah inherited a corrupt nation from his father Amon and grandfather Manasseh, a nation almost wholly given over to idolatry (2 Kings 21:3-7). Here God announces judgment against the idol worshipers in Israel. Apparently both the leadership and the people heeded this announcement of judgment, because in the days of Josiah this kind of gross idolatry was put away (2 Kings 23:4-15).
and the name of the idolatrous priests;
5 those who bow down on the roofs
to the host of the heavens;
those who bow down and swear to the Lord,
but also swear by Milcom;
6 those who have turned back from following the Lord,
who have not sought the Lord or inquired of him.
7 Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is at hand;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice,
he has consecrated his guests.
8 And on the day of the Lord’s sacrifice
I will punish the officials and the king’s sons
and all who dress themselves in foreign attire.
9 On that day I will punish
all who leap over the threshold,
who fill their master’s house
with violence and fraud.
10 On that day, says the Lord,
a cry will be heard from the Fish Gate,
a wail from the Second Quarter,
a loud crash from the hills.
11 The inhabitants of the Mortar wail,
for all the traders have perished;
all who weigh out silver are cut off.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
Remember the old Greek philosopher, Diogenes of Sinope? He was said to carry a lamp during the daytime, claiming to be searching for an honest man. Here is a picture of God, searching with a lamp, but looking for sinners, that He may confront them with the truth about Himself and their corrupt and apathetic lives.
and I will punish the people
who rest complacently on their dregs,
those who say in their hearts,
“The Lord will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”
13 Their wealth shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.
The Great Day of the Lord
14 The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
The term day of the Lord (used more than 25 times in the Bible) does not necessarily refer to one specific day; it speaks of “God’s time.” The idea is that now is the day of man, but the day of man will not last forever. One day, the Messiah will end the day of man and bring forth the day of the Lord.
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter,
the warrior cries aloud there.
15 That day will be a day of wrath,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
17 I will bring such distress upon people
that they shall walk like the blind;
because they have sinned against the Lord,
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
will be able to save them
on the day of the Lord’s wrath;
in the fire of his passion
the whole earth shall be consumed;
for a full, a terrible end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
The hymn “Dies Irae” was used in the Roman liturgy as the sequence for the Requiem Mass for centuries, as evidenced by the important place it holds in musical settings such as those by Mozart and Verdi.
A major inspiration of the hymn seems to have come from the Vulgate translation of Zephaniah 1:15–16:
- “Dies iræ, dies illa, dies tribulationis et angustiæ, dies calamitatis et miseriæ, dies tenebrarum et caliginis, dies nebulæ et turbinis, dies tubæ et clangoris super civitates munitas et super angulos excelsos.”
- “That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and distress, a day of calamity and misery, a day of darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds, a day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high bulwarks.” (Douay-Rheims Bible)