Authorship, date, and background Zephaniah, whose name means "he whom Yahweh has hidden, or protected," is the author of this book. He was the great-great-grandson of King Hezekiah and thus of royal blood. He was a prince as well as a prophet. He resided in Jerusalem and prophesied during the reign of Josiah (640 - 609 B.C.). The prophecies of the book were spoken sometime before 621 B.C. since the reform movement of Josiah (621 B.C.) had not yet occurred. Indeed, Zephaniah may have urged reform on King Josiah.
Judah had experienced revival in Hezekiah's day. Yet Isaiah the prophet had revealed that Judah would be taken onto captivity in Babylon under the Chaldeans. Zephaniah must have been familiar with this prophecy. Manasseh followed his father Hezekiah and was responsible for the erection of altars to Baal. He worshiped the hosts of heaven and made asherim. The people followed him and idolatry existed everywhere. The sins of Judah were as gross as the sins of the inhabitants of Canaan whom God dispossessed of their lands. The Assyrians took evil Manasseh captive to Babylon. He repented and was returned to his kingship, but he was not successful in reversing the he had inaugurated. His son Amon followed him and resorted to his father's old ways. He was assassinated when he had been king for less than two years.
Zephaniah's ministry was cast within the context of the evils of his day. God used him to shock the Judeans in their complacency and to point out their sins to them. He warned them of the impending judgment of God as well as the final day of reckoning at the Day of the Lord.
Characteristics and content Zephaniah open his book with the announcement of the final day of judgment. Judah is to be included in this judgment for she has trusted in her riches and been idolatrous. In the immediate future her houses will be destroyed and her goods taken. Repentance is urged upon the people. Then Zephaniah speaks of God's impending judgment on the surrounding nations. He will destroy Gaza and the Philistines. Moab and Ammon shall experience what happened to Sodom and Gomorrah. Ethiopia and the Assyrians and Nineveh will experience the wrath of God.
Zephaniah concentrates on the sins of Jerusalem, a city of violence and crime. She will not listen to God's voice; no one can tell her anything; she refuses correction; she does not trust in God nor seek him. Her leaders, her prophets and her judges, are guilty before God. Zephaniah does not stop with the promise of God's vengeance against Judah. He looks beyond that age to a time when God will restore the fortunes of his people. Blessings are promised, not only to the remnant from Judah, but also to the whole Israel of the Lord. At that time Jerusalem will be blessed; the Lord will disperse his people's enemies and the Lord himself, the King of Israel, will live among them. He glowingly ends his prophecy by asserting that God would reverse their captivity: "At that time I will bring you again, even in the time that I gather you: for I will make you a name and praise among all people of the earth, when I turn back your captivity before your eyes, saith the Lord" (3:20).