The name means Jehovah has concealed, or Jehovah of darkness.
(1.) The son of Cushi, and great-grandson of Hezekiah, and the ninth in the order of the minor prophets. He prophesied in the days of Josiah, king of Judah (B.C. 641-610), and was contemporary with Jeremiah, with whom he had much in common.
The Book of Zephaniah, which contains his prophecies, consists of:
(a) An introduction (1:1-6), announcing the judgment of the world, and the judgment upon Israel, because of their transgressions.
(b) The description of the judgment (1:7-18).
(c) An exhortation to seek God while there is still time (2:1-3).
(d) The announcement of judgment on the heathen (2:4-15).
(e) The hopeless misery of Jerusalem (3:1-7).
(f) The promise of salvation (3:8-20).
(2.) The son of Maaseiah, the "second priest" in the reign of Zedekiah, often mentioned in Jeremiah as having been sent from the king to inquire (Jer. 21:1) regarding the coming woes which he had denounced, and to entreat the prophet's intercession that the judgment threatened might be averted (Jer. 29:25, 26, 29; 37:3; 52:24). He, along with some other captive Jews, was put to death by the king of Babylon "at Riblah in the land of Hamath" (2 Kings 25:21).
(3.) A Kohathite ancestor of the prophet Samuel (1 Chr. 6:36).
(4.) The father of Josiah, the priest who dwelt in Jerusalem when Darius issued the decree that the temple should be rebuilt (Zech. 6:10).
The ninth of the twelve Minor Prophets of the Canon of the Old Testament; preached and wrote in the second half of the seventh century B.C. He was a contemporary and supporter of the great Prophet Jeremias. His name (Heb. Zephanja, that is "the Lord conceals", "the Lord protects") might, on the analogy of Gottfried, be most briefly translated by the words God protect. The only primary source from which we obtain our scanty knowledge of the personality and the rhetorical and literary qualities of Sophonias, is the short book of the Old Testament (containing only three chapters), which bears his name. The scene of his activity was the city of Jerusalem (i, 4-10; iii, 1 sqq.; 14 sqq.).
The date of the Prophet's activity fell in the reign of King Josias (641-11). Sophonias is one of the few Prophets whose chronology is fixed by a precise date in the introductory verse of the book. Under the two preceding kings, Amon and Manasse, idolatry had been introduced in the most shameful forms (especially the cult of Baal and Astarte) into the Holy City, and with this foreign cult came a foreign culture and a great corruption of morals. Josias, the king with the anointed sceptre, wished to put an end to the horrible devastation in the holy places. One of the most zealous champions and advisers of this reform was Sophonias, and his writing remains one of the most important documents for the understanding of the era of Josias. The Prophet laid the axe at the root of the religious and moral corruption, when, in view of the idolatry which had penetrated even into the sanctuary, he threatened to "destroy out of this place the remnant of Baal, and the names of the . . . priests" (i, 4), and pleaded for a return to the simplicity of their fathers instead of the luxurious foreign clothing which was worn especially in aristocratic circles (i, 8). The age of Sophonias was also a most serious and decisive period, because the lands of Anterior Asia were overrun by foreigners owing to the migration of the Seythians in the last decades of the seventh century, and because Jerusalem, the city of the Prophets, was only a few decades before its downfall (586). The far-seeing watchman on Sion's battlements saw this catastrophe draw near: "for the day of the Lord is near" is the burden of his preaching (i, 7). "The great day of the Lord is near, it is near and exceeding swift: . . . That day is a day of wrath, a day of tribulation and darkness and obscurity, a day of clouds and whirlwinds" (i, 14-15).
The book of the Prophet naturally contains in its three chapters only a sketch of the fundamental ideas of the preaching of Sophonias. The scheme of the book in its present form is as follows:
(a) i, 2-ii, 3. The threatening of the "day of the Lord", a Dies irae dies illa of the Old Testament. The judgment of the Lord will descend on Juda and Jerusalem as a punishment for the awful degeneracy in religious life (i, 4-7a); it will extend to all classes of the people (i, 7b-13), and will be attended with all the horrors of a frightful catastrophe (i, 14-18); therefore, do penance and seek the Lord (ii, 1-3).
(b) ii, 4-15. Not only over Jerusalem, but over the whole world (urbi et orbi), over the peoples in all the four regions of the heavens, will the hand of the Lord be stretched--westwards over the Philistines (4-7), eastwards over the Moabites and Ammonites (8-11), southwards over the Ethiopians (12), and northwards over the Assyrians and Ninivites (13-15).
(c) With a special threat (iii, 1-8). The Prophet then turns again to Jerusalem: "Woe to the provoking, and redeemed city. . . She hath not hearkened to the voice, neither hath she received discipline"; the severest reckoning will be required of the aristocrats and the administrators of the law (as the leading classes of the civil community), and of the Prophets and priests, as the directors of public worship.
(d) iii, 9-20. A consolatory prophecy, or prophetic glance at the Kingdom of God of the future, in which all the world, united in one faith and one worship, will turn to one God, and the goods of the Messianic Kingdom, whose capital is the daughter of Sion, will be enjoyed. The universality of the judgment as well as of the redemption is so forcibly expressed in Sophonias that his book may be regarded as the "Catholic Epistle" of the Old Testament.
(e) The last exhortation of Sophonias (iii, 9-20) also has a Messianic colouoring, although not to an extent comparable with Isaias.
III. CHARACTER OF THE PROPHET
Sophonias' prophecy is not strongly differentiated from other prophecies like that of Amos or Habacuc, it is confined to the range of thought common to all prophectic exhortations: threats of judgment, exhortation to penance, promise of Messianic salvation. For this reason Sophonias might be regarded as the type of Hebrew Prophets and as the final example of the prophetic terminology. He does not seek the glory of an original writer, but borrows freely both ideas and style from the older Prophets (especially Isaias and Jeremias). The resemblances to the Book of Deuteronomy may be explained by the fact that this book, found in the Josian reform, was then the centre of religious interest. The language of Sophonias is vigorous and earnest, as become the seriousness of the period, but is free from the gloomy elegiac tone of Jeremias. In some passages it becomes pathetic and poetic, without however attaining the classical diction or poetical flight of a Nahum or Deutero-Isaias. There is something solemn in the manner in which the Lord is so frequently introduced as the speaker, and the sentence of judgment falls on the silent earth (i, 7). Apart from the few plays on words (cf. especially ii, 4), Sophonias eschews all rhetorical and poetical ornamentation of language. As to the logical and rhythmical build of the various exhortations, he has two strophes of the first sketch (i, 7 and 14) with the same opening ("the day of the Lord is near"), and closes the second sketch with a hymn (ii, 15)--a favourite practice of his prototype, Jeremias. A graduated development of the sentiment to a climax in the scheme is expressed by the fact that the last sketch contains an animated and longer lyrical hymn to Jerusalem (iii, 14 sqq.). In Christian painting Sophonias is represented in two ways; either with the lantern (referring to i, 12: "I will search Jerusalem with lamps") or clad in a toga and bearing a scroll bearing as text the beginning of the hymn "Give praise, O daughter of Sion" (iii, 14).