Robert Carroll and Stephen Prickett

in The Bible: Authorized King James Version

Published in print February 1998 | ISBN: 9780192835253
Published online April 2009 |

Series: Oxford World's Classics


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Zephaniah is described as a black man (son of Cushi = ‘Ethiopian’) and is placed in the time of King Josiah in the late seventh century bce. The book is a collection of individual utterances relating to ‘the day of YHWH’: ‘The great day of the Lord is near, it is near, and hasteth greatly, even the voice of the day of the Lord: the mighty man shall cry there bitterly. That day is a day of wrath, a day of trouble and distress, a day of wasteness and desolation, a day of darkness and gloominess, a day of clouds and thick darkness, A day of the trumpet and alarm against the fenced cities, and against the high towers’ (1: 14–16). This theme is echoed in the medieval Latin hymn about the Day of Judgement, Dies irae, dies illa, used in the Mass for the dead and a regular feature for musical settings of the Requiem. So many of the prophetic books (Isaiah, Amos, Joel, etc.) reiterate this topos that it must be taken as the main link between the different prophetic writings, representing the fundamental outlook of prophecy in the second temple period. It has the advantage of ambiguity: meaning either, as in Amos, the destruction of Israel and Jerusalem, instead of the popular expectation of their salvation, or, as in Zephaniah, the destruction of other nations and the vindication of Israel and Jerusalem. Zephaniah consists of threats against Judah and Jerusalem (1: 2–2: 3), more against foreign nations (2: 4–3: 8), and a series of promises about the restoration of the Diaspora to Jerusalem (3: 9–20). The possibility of surviving the terrible day of YHWH is mooted: ‘Seek ye the Lord, all ye meek of the earth, which have wrought his judgment; seek righteousness, seek meekness: it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the Lord's anger’ (2: 3; cf. the similar ‘it may be’ of Amos 5: 15). What will survive the destructive anger of YHWH is only ‘the remnant of Israel’ (3: 13; cf. Isa. 10: 20–3). Other nations cannot hope to survive in any sense, but their lands will provide the remnant with living space: ‘Therefore as I live, saith the Lord of hosts, the God of Israel, Surely Moab shall be as Sodom, and the children of Ammon as Gomorrah, even the breeding of nettles, and saltpits, and a perpetual desolation: the residue of my people shall spoil them, and the remnant of my people shall possess them … Ye Ethiopians also, ye shall be slain by my sword. And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness’ (2: 9, 12–13). The ultimate goal of the day YHWH is the salvation of Israel and Zion: ‘Sing, O daughter of Zion; shout, O Israel; be glad and rejoice with all the heart, O daughter of Jerusalem. The Lord hath taken away thy judgments, he hath cast out thine enemy: the king of Israel, even the Lord, is in the midst of thee: thou shalt not see evil any more. In that day it shall be said to Jerusalem, Fear thou not: and to Zion, Let not thine hands be slack. The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing’ (3: 14–17).

Chapter.  596 words. 

Subjects: Religious Studies ; Biblical Studies

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