1. Title. Like the prophecies of other Minor Prophets, the book of Zephaniah is simply called by the name of the author. Zephaniah, Heb. Sephanyah, means “Yahweh has hidden,” or “Yahweh has treasured.” This name was borne by others in the OT (see 1 Chron. 6:36; Jer. 21:1; Zech. 6:10, 14).
2. Authorship. We know nothing of this prophet aside from what he says of himself in his book. It seems certain from ch. 1:1 that he came from a distinguished family. The fact that he traces his ancestry back to “Hizkiah,” or Hezekiah, may be taken as an indication that he refers to the king of Judah who bore that name, and thus implies his royal heritage (see on ch. 1:1).
3. Historical Setting. The prophet gives as the time of his prophecy (ch. 1:1) the reign of Josiah, king of Judah (640–609 b.c.). Inasmuch as Zephaniah predicted the overthrow of Nineveh (ch. 2:13), an event that occurred in 612 b.c., it is most likely he prophesied in the earlier part of Josiah’s reign. Perhaps he was contemporaneous with Habakkuk. See further on p. 23.
4. Theme. The book of Zephaniah, like that of Joel, focuses on “the day of the Lord.” For the meaning of this expression see on Isa. 2:12. Not only does the prophet reveal the coming judgment upon Israel; he also warns of punishment to come upon other nations. However, if Zephaniah alarms by his severe judgments, it is only that the people may repent, may “seek righteousness, seek meekness” (ch. 2:3), and thus escape the punishment.
I. Judgment Upon Judah for Her Sins, 1:1–18.
A. The superscription, 1:1.
B. The severity and extent of the judgment, 1:2–18.
II. An Appeal to Seek the Lord While Probation Lingers, 2:1–3.
III. Judgments Upon Various Nations, 2:4–15.
A. Upon Philistia, 2:4–7.
B. Upon Moab and Ammon, 2:8–11.
C. Upon Ethiopia, 2:12.
D. Upon Assyria, 2:13–15.
IV. Jerusalem Rebuked for Her Sins, 3:1–7.
V. Judgment Upon All Nations, 3:8.
VI. Promises of Restoration, 3:9–20.