I will tell you what motivated this study. I went to a “Bible Study” that to some degree was promoted by a Southern California Christian radio host. I think the man is sincere and I think the work God has done in him, throughout the years, is legitimate. So a group of men, under the flag and theme of this radio host, put out a call for men to come to their bible study by using Instagram. I thought I would check it out but quickly determined that this was not what I thought it was going to be. What I did take away was a new found interest in the Book of Zephaniah. The “pastor” of this group told us that he had been at a loss as to what to talk about, and felt that he was lead to Zephaniah. I honestly do not remember anyone teaching out of Zephaniah, and so as he found some legalistic aspects to focus on, I began skimming through the three chapters that comprise the book and quickly heard this inside my spirit, this book is talking about the last days. I felt so strongly that night that I need to do a study on who the man was and what he had to say. This is that effort.
The overview given by The Biblical Illustrator tells us this
“Of Zephaniah, we know absolutely nothing but what he himself mentions in the superscription of his Book. No information can be gathered from the contents of the prophecy, where the writer’s personal history is wholly unnoticed.” 1
That seems like a hard way to start, especially when we have some particular information about Zephaniah.
Dake’s Bible2 gives us this information.
Date and place: The prophetic words were written in Palestine about 679-648 B.C.
Author: Zephaniah the prophet.
Proof of authorship: We have the testimony of the book itself that Zephaniah wrote it.
Zephaniah 1:1 NET. This is the prophetic message that the LORD gave to Zephaniah son of Cushi, son of Gedaliah, son of Amariah, son of Hezekiah. Zephaniah delivered this message during the reign of King Josiah son of Amon of Judah:
Theme: Judgment of God upon both Jews and Gentiles for their many sins; and His goodness to the godly of both classes. The book opens with a message regarding immediate judgment upon Judah by Babylon, then depicts their judgment in the future day of the Lord (Zep_1:1-18). Zep_2:1-15 is devoted to immediate judgments of God upon Gentiles by Babylon-Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Ethiopia, and Assyria. The prophet then returns to the immediate judgment upon Judah by Babylon, and also makes predictions regarding Israel in the future day of the Lord, in the reign of the Messiah (Zep_3:1-20).
Purpose: To make it clear to Judah that unless they would consecrate to do the will of God judgment would surely come, and to encourage the godly of the nation regarding the fact that final and complete restoration under the Messiah would come.
I have looked at more than just the commentaries I mention here. And yet, these authors convey, in few words, what I have seen with consistency in most. One thing I wanted to add here: several authors indicated that Zechariah’s father and grandfather were prophets. In the Jewish mindset that meant that you were most likely to be a prophet as well. Don’t you wish it worked that way? The Apostle Paul tells us that it is a gift and that we are to long for it. I am not sure why, but it helps to make life more interesting, especially when people say to you, how did you know that. I suppose I am just more willing than some others. I don’t try to make it something to brag about, hardly anyone believes you anyway.
Albert Barnes commentary spells out another fact about Zephaniah.
“Zephaniah was called to his role not long after Habakkuk. Since his time was near to that of Habakkuk, so his subject was also related. Both lived when, for the sins of the reign of Manasseh, God had pronounced an irreversible sentence of destruction upon Jerusalem.”3
Dr. John Gill states
“He is the last of the minor prophets that prophesied before the Babylonish captivity. His name, according to Jerom, signifies either “the Lord’s watchtower”, or “watchman”; or else “the secret of the Lord”; or, “his hidden one”; deriving his name, either from hpu, which signifies to “look out”, as a watchman from his tower; or from Npu, “to hide”; which latter derivation is best; and some interpret it “a revealer of the secrets”, or “hidden things, of the Lord”4
With the knowledge of the time in which he operated, and, the Babylonian captivity, I can piece together some of the events that would have motivated the man. People don’t seem to understand something about the prophet, or the prophetic, there are humans involved, and unless you can lock yourself in a closet and do little else but commune with God, then you will be affected by the world around you. In other words, you cannot separate the man from the message.
An example of what I am saying can be gleaned from Daniel’s life.
When he was taken captive, he was the cream of the crop. Educated, trained in several facets of life, which may have included diplomacy. If nothing else, in time, he would have been a Pharisee or a ruling member of the Jewish council. Daniel would have been of marrying age and therefore may have had a young lady picked out to be his wife. Captivity changed all that rapidly. Nebuchadnezzar would have had the young man castrated immediately, this act served a multitude of purposes, such as removing all hope of ever going back home to a normal life. Jewish law disallowed a castrated man from ever serving in the temple or entering for that matter; and, it ended his hopes of being married.
Another example and one that is even more prominent is Jonah.
We do not know if Jonah had been an eyewitness to what the Assyrians were capable of, or the stories he heard were very graphic; because of this ugly history of abuse toward Israel Jonah hated the Assyrians. These feelings of hatred were so intense that Jonah was willing to commit suicide to avoid bringing the prophetic message to them. What was Jonah’s message? It offered no hope, and he gave none; at the end of forty-five days, Nineveh will be overthrown. All of Jonah’s feelings and emotion can be summed up in one verse. This particular verse comes after the Ninevehites repented, hoping that God would change His mind or relent. Well, God did, and we find Jonah lamenting that decision.
Jonah 4:2 NET. He prayed to the LORD and said, “Oh, LORD, this is just what I thought would happen when I was in my own country. This is what I tried to prevent by attempting to escape to Tarshish! — because I knew that you are gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in mercy, and one who relents concerning threatened judgment.
I could expound upon other aspects of Jonah’s saga, but they rely on history and logical speculation. The question you should ask is, why would a people so warlike, fearless, and bloodthirsty, give such immediate attention to a man like Jonah? The answers are there if you are interested and willing to dig just a little.
What kind of mental picture is painted about Zephaniah?
Nothing so ominous. Living between 679-648 BC, he would have been primarily influenced the Assyrian empire, just as Jonah was. We are told that Zephaniah operated prophetically under the rule of Josiah; yet, a timeline shows Josiah’s influence to be from 640 – 609 BC and would, therefore, have no impact on Zephaniah’s life. He did, however, live under Manasseh’s rule. So the question you have to ask is, who and what had the greater and certainly more painful influence on Zephaniah, and most importantly, the people of Israel?
So how did we get to Manasseh?
2 Kings 20:19-21 NET. Hezekiah said to Isaiah, “The LORD’s word which you have announced is appropriate.” Then he added, “At least there will be peace and stability during my lifetime.” 20) The rest of the events of Hezekiah’s reign and all his accomplishments, including how he built a pool and conduit to bring water into the city, are recorded in the scroll called the Annals of the Kings of Judah. 21) Hezekiah passed away and his son Manasseh replaced him as king.
Dr. J. Vernon McGee in his commentary said this of Hezekiah.5
“This may seem like an awful thing for me to say, but Hezekiah should have died when the time came for him to die. Three things took place after God extended his life that were foolish acts: he showed his treasures to Babylon, which will cause great trouble in the future; he begat a son, Manasseh, who was the most wicked of any king; he revealed an arrogance, almost an impudence, in his later years. His heart became filled with pride. 2Ch_32:25 tells us, “But Hezekiah rendered not again according to the benefit done unto him; for his heart was lifted up: therefore there was wrath upon him and upon Judah and Jerusalem.” You see, it might have been better if Hezekiah had died at God’s appointed time.”
Since we are now aware of Manasseh’s reign, let’s see what we can learn of the damage he did.
Smith’s Bible dictionary informs us of Manasseh.
“The thirteenth king of Judah, son of Hezekiah, 2Ki_21:1, ascended the throne at the age of twelve, and reigned 55 years, from B.C. 608 to 642. His accession was the signal for an entire change in the religious administration of the kingdom. Idolatry was again established to such an extent that every faith was tolerated, but the old faith of Israel.”6
From Easton’s dictionary, we get this.
“Though he reigned so long, yet comparatively little is known of this king. His reign was a continuation of that of Ahaz, both in religion and national polity. He early fell under the influence of the heathen court circle, and his reign was characterized by a sad relapse into idolatry with all its vices, showing that the reformation under his father had been to a large extent only superficial (Isa_7:10; 2Ki_21:10-15). A systematic and persistent attempt was made, and all too successfully, to banish the worship of Jehovah out of the land.”7
Now I can begin to understand some of the issues that perplexed the man giving the prophetic word. Manasseh had turned Israel into an idolatrous wasteland and was attempting to remove the worship of Jehovah out of the land. Sounds a bit like the world we live in today; no wonder he declares with such zest how God will wipe all flesh from the land.
Here it is August 26, 2018. Pastor Greg Laurie recently completed his massive gospel campaign at the Anaheim Stadium. However, even Pastor Greg had to deal with some controversy, as just before the series of meetings some whiner cried loud enough and caused them to change several of the billboards that pictured Pastor Greg holding a Bible. If you are a follower of Christ then you know that the Bible offends many people, including some “Christians”.
Here in California, our state assembly is working on the last actions necessary to pass Assembly bill AB 2943 which will make books (primarily the Bible) and other methods (such as counseling) that convey the idea of gender modification (a return to the sexual identity and orientation you were born with, whether it be in thought or deed,) illegal. That means that the Bible may become an unlawful piece of literature.
I don’t know about you, but it sounds more and more like there is a systematic and persistent attempt being made to banish the worship of Jehovah out of the land (just as in the days of Manasseh), and I see it happening all across this nation called America.
Some may read this and get angry; others will consider a piece like this and decide it’s time to get off their behinds and get proactive.
Do I know for certain that these are the things that motivated Zephaniah? No, but sin and debauchery have not changed, it merely spreads quicker in the modern world.
1The Biblical Illustrator By Joseph S. Exell, M.A.
2Dake’s Study Notes (Finis Dake) Copyright © 1961, 1963, 1989, 1991 by Finis Jennings Dake. All rights reserved in the U.S.A. and Other Countries.
3Albert Barnes’ Notes on the Bible, published 1847-85
4John Gill’s Exposition of the Bible; Dr. John Gill, D.D., (1697-1771); Published in 1746-1766, 1816; public domain.
5Thru the Bible Commentary By J. Vernon McGee; Thomas Nelson Publishers Nashville; Copyright 1981 by J. Vernon McGee
6Smith’s Bible Dictionary, By Dr. William Smith. Published in 1863; public domain.
7Easton’s Bible Dictionary. M.G. Easton M.A., D.D., Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Published in 1897; public domain.