AUTHOR, PLACE AND DATE OF WRITING
We know nothing about Zephaniah beyond what we read in 1:1 and what we can infer from the rest of the book. It is unusual that the prophet traced his ancestry back four generations; some suggest that he did this because the Hezekiah who was his great-great-grand_ father was in fact King Hezekiah of Judah. Unlike Micah, who focused on Judah's common people, Zephaniah was evidently at home in the political arena and in distinguished court circles.
The book is dated to the reign of Josiah, placing it within the span of 640-609 B.C. The reference to the "remnant of Baal" in 1:4 has been taken by many to suggest that the reform initiatives of Josiah were already well underway and that most of the conspicuous shrines to Baal had already been removed. Others assert that Zephaniah appears to allude to Deuteronomy in several places (e.g., Zep 1:13 echoes Dt 28:30 and Zep 1:17 resonates with Dt 28:29), implying that the Book of the Law (2Ki 22) had been found and read aloud by the time of Zephaniah's writing. This suggests that the prophecy may well have been written toward the end of the seventh century B.C.
Zephaniah wrote to the people of Judah to warn them of God's impending judgment, to urge them to repent and to offer them the hope of restoration.
CULTURAL FACTS AND HIGHLIGHTS
The focus of Zephaniah's message is "the day of the LORD," which the prophet conceived to be a day of judgment first for Judah (Zep 1) and only afterward for the other nations (ch. 2), although he also anticipated a final day of salvation (ch. 3). It is possible that Zephaniah recognized that Josiah's rigorous reform efforts had not fully penetrated to the hearts of the people. Sadly, any resurgence of covenant faithfulness that Josiah had inspired was doomed to be short-lived. Judgment was both deserved and unavoidable.
AS YOU READ
As with Habakkuk and several other Old Testament writing prophets, be aware of the stark contrast between the author's graphic images of horror and doom and his comforting words of hope for restoration.
DID YOU KNOW?
Zephaniah's themes include:
1. Judgment. Zephaniah's main theme was the imminent coming of "the day of the LORD" (1:7,14). That day would be one of universal judgment (1:2-3) as well as of specific judgment against Judah (1:4-6) and other nations (2:4-15). The book emphasizes that religious syncretism—a mixing of the worship of God with idolatry (1:4-6)—brings destruction (1:9-13) but that seeking God, and God alone, in humility results in salvation (2:1-3).
2. Restoration. Zephaniah assured his audience that judgment would be followed by restoration. God would purify his own (3:9), bring rejoicing to Jerusalem (3:14-17) and restore both his people and Jerusalem's glory (3:18-20).
II. The Day of the Lord Coming on Judah and the Nations (1:4-18)
III. God's Judgment on the Nations (2:1-3:8)
IV. The Promise of Redemption (3:9-20)
ZEPHANIAH 3 Biblical Cush lay south of Egypt. Most references to the term "Cush" probably refer to Lower and Upper Nubia, the region directly south of Egypt, with its northern limit at the First Cataract of the Nile and its southern boundary at the Sixth Cataract. Sometimes the term may have been used more broadly for parts of Africa south of Egypt, but Cush is not to be equated with mod-ern Ethiopia. Ancient sources confirm that Cush was a land of great wealth; in fact, the Egyptian name Nubia may come from the word nub, or "gold." Egyptian trade lists re-cord the precious minerals and other luxury items that traveled north from Cush along the Nile commerce routes. Among these commodities were gold, silver, cosmetics, balsam, frankincense and myrrh. Exotic animal products, such as ostrich eggs, rhinoceros horns and panther skins, were also available from or through Cush. Job 28:19 speaks of Cush as the source of the precious stone topaz.
Throughout Egyptian history Nubia and Egypt struggled against each other. For the most part Egypt was dominant—especially when Egyptian power was at its height under the New Kingdom' pharaohs.' Sometimes, however, Nubians extended their reach into Egypt—as during the Second Intermediate period.While the Hyksos ruled Lower (northern) Egypt, the Nubians penetrated from the south. The Nubians themselves, however, were thoroughly Egyptianized.
Cushites appear several times in the Old Testament. Numbers 12:1 recounts that Moses had a Cushite wife; 2 Samuel 18:21-31 mentions that David's army had a Cushite messenger; and 2 Chronicles 14:9 refers to a "Zerah the Cushite," who fought against Asa of Judah. From the Biblical perspective, however, the most significant Cushite or Nubian power was represented by the Twenty-fifth Dynasty of Egypt (c.780-656 B.c.). Under the Nubian pharaohs Piye (Piankhi), Shabaka, Shebitku and Tarhaqa (Biblical Tirhakah; 2Ki 19:9), the unified Egypt and Nubia became powerful and prosperous.
Shabaka, for example, carried out an extensive rebuilding campaign in Egypt, seeking to revive ancient pharaonic traditions such as building in the temple precinct at Karnak, near Thebes•, Also, the Nubian military pushed northward out of Egypt and confronted the Assyrians.Shebitku checked the expansion of Sennacherib at Eltekeh (in the coastal plain of Israel) in 701 B.C.
Although the Nubian-Egyptian forces were a power to be reckoned with, Isaiah warned Judah against placing any hope in them for protection from Assyria (Isa 20:3 — 6). Indeed, Nubian fortunes soon fell before the Assyrians. Tarhaqa, although an energetic and capable ruler, was defeated and driven back by Esarhaddon of Assyria, who actually captured Memphis in 671 B.c.5 After that point Nubian power in Egypt collapsed.