Background of Zephaniah
The historical context assumed by the book of Zephaniah is the reign of Judean king noted for his reforms of Israel's worship in the time of Jeremiah More as indicated in the title verse (1:1). Josiah’s reign is described in 2 Kings 22:1-23:30 and 2 Chronicles 34:1-36:1. Starting in 640 B.C.E., it spans the latter days of Assyrian dominance. During the gap between Assyrian and Babylonian dominance in Judah was the name of Jacob's fourth son and one of the 12 tribes. More, Josiah engaged in a major reform and in territorial expansion. Josiah was killed by the Babylonian army in 609 B.C.E. The destruction of Assyria and Nineveh are mentioned in the oracles against the nations in the midsection of the book (2:31), but Babylon is not specifically named. Most interpreters read the book against the early period of Josiah’s reign and speculate that Zephaniah was one of the voices urging and perhaps supporting Josiah’s reform efforts. Read as a whole, the book of Zephaniah depicts a society in turmoil, with particular emphasis on the failures of the political and religious leaders. Against the backdrop of moral and religious collapse, Zephaniah announces a total destruction that is also understood as a massive cleansing. The surviving remnant will be transformed into a humble and lowly people with the Lord, their God, dwelling in their midst (3:12).