Book of Zephaniah

Introduction to the Book of Zephaniah

Book of Zephaniah
Zephaniah, painting by James Tissot. SuperStock / Getty Images

The day of the Lord is coming, said the book of Zephaniah, because God's patience has a limit when it comes to sin.

Sin ran rampant in ancient Judah and the nations around it. Zephaniah called the people out on their disobedience in an eerie foreshadowing of society today. People trusted in wealth instead of God. Political and religious leaders fell into corruption. Men exploited the poor and helpless.

The faithless bowed down to idols and foreign gods.

Zephaniah warned his readers they were on the brink of punishment. He delivered the same threat as other prophets, a promise carried over into the New Testament as well: The day of the Lord is coming.

Bible scholars debate the meaning of this term. Some say the day of the Lord describes God's ongoing judgment across hundreds or even thousands of years. Others say it will culminate in an abrupt, sudden event, such as the Second Coming of Jesus Christ. However, both sides agree the fury of God's wrath is caused by sin.

In the first part of his three-chapter book, Zephaniah issued charges and threats. The second part, similar to the book of Nahum, promised restoration to those who repented.  At the time Zephaniah wrote, King Josiah had started reforms in Judah but had not brought the entire country back to religious obedience. Many ignored the warnings.

God used foreign conquerers to punish his people. Within a decade or two, the Babylonians swept into Judah. During the first invasion (606 BC), the prophet Daniel was carried into exile. In the second attack (598 BC), the prophet Ezekiel was captured. The third assault (598 BC) saw King Nebuchadnezzar capture Zedekiah and destroy Jerusalem and the temple.

Yet as Zephaniah and other prophets foretold, the exile in Babylon did not last long. The Jewish people eventually came home, rebuilt the temple, and enjoyed some measure of prosperity, fulfilling the second part of the prophecy.

Basic Info on the Book of Zephaniah

The author of the book of Zephaniah, son of Cushi. He was a descendant of King Hezekiah, implying he came from a line of royalty. It was written from ​640-609 BC and was adressed to the Jews in Judah and all later Bible readers.

Judah, inhabited by God's people, was the subject of the book, but the warnings extended to the Philistines, Moab, Ammon, Cush, and Assyria.

Themes in Zephaniah

  • The day of the Lord is coming, a time of reckoning. Not only Judah, but pagan nations would suffer God's punishment.
  • God's offer of grace and salvation extends to all nations, not just the Jews. He calls everyone to turn away from false gods.
  • After punishment would come restoration. God's mercy on Israel was a common theme among the prophets. 

Key Verses

Zephaniah 1:14
"The great day of the LORD is near—near and coming quickly. Listen! The cry on the day of the LORD will be bitter, the shouting of the warrior there." (NIV)

Zephaniah 3:8
"Therefore wait for me,” declares the LORD, "for the day I will stand up to testify. I have decided to assemble the nations, to gather the kingdoms and to pour out my wrath on them—all my fierce anger. The whole world will be consumed by the fire of my jealous anger." (NIV)

Zephaniah 3:20
"At that time I will gather you; at that time I will bring you home. I will give you honor and praise among all the peoples of the earth when I restore your fortunes before your very eyes," says the LORD. (NIV)

Outline of the Book of Zephaniah

  • The prophet introduces himself and foretells total judgment. (1:1-3)
  • The day of the Lord will strike Judah and its neighbors. (1:4-18)
  • God warns Judah and the nations individually. (2:1-3:8)
  • The remnant will be restored. (3:9-20)