Lessing, R. Reed & Andrew E. Steinmann. Prepare the Way of the Lord: An Introduction to the Old Testament. St. Louis: Concordia Publishing House, 2014. Chapter 36, “Zephaniah” pp. 525-532.
Zephaniah’s name means “Yahweh watches over” (Lessing 2014, 525). Lessing suggests this may have had a personal significance to the author, who lived during the years of Manasseh but who survived the rampant persecution of that time. Zehaniah’s work extends back into the reign of Hezekiah, which began in 716 B.C.
Form critics consider that Zepahniah’s statements of judgment and hope were written by different people (Lessing 2014, 525). This discounts the idea that one prophet may have several emphases. The structure of the book suggests to Lessing that there is careful authorship. It moves smoothly and carefully from Nineveh to Jerusalem (Lessing 2014, 526).
From a historical standpoint, Lessing notes that between Isaiah and Zephaniah we have no prophetic books (Lessing 2014, 527). The hostility of Manasseh and Amon (697-641) would probably account for this. During this time, alliances with Assyria placed additional pressure on Judah. The hostility of Manasseh was broken down with the reign of Josiah, who considered God’s Word more seriously. Josiah’s reforms were brought to an end in 609. Following that time, the Babylonians gained ascendancy (Lessing 2014, 528). Lessing dates Zephaniah’s prophecies in 611 or 610 (Lessing 2014, 528).
Zephaniah’s prophecies focus on a Day of Yahweh, a time of stern judgment (Lessing 2014, 528). God’s plan is to sweep away the entire world. The failures and sins of Judah include false worship and indifference. Lessing does see that God’s grace and mercy are also present in this time of God’s fury (Lessing 2014, 529). The imagery is like that of Noah’s flood, in which the world itself was not destroyed. God will deal with the idolatry of his people. There is no role for coercion in the people of God (Lessing 2014, 530).
Christ is seen in Zephaniah as God promises restoration to come. God’s people will not always be sugject to his wrath (Lessing 2014, 531). The task at hand is not only rescue from captivity. It is restoration. God’s anger does stop sin. But it also brings restoration and grace.