|Minor Prophets: Major Messages
The Book of Zephaniah
1. A slow unhurried reading of Zephaniah is essential. Reading the chapter before looking at the notes, while working with the notes, and after finishing with the notes will give each researcher a powerful sense of the series of meanings within each chapter. It is important to be comfortable with all the names and places in the prophecy and to understand the announcements the prophet makes on behalf of the Lord. When possible, historical information will be included in the notes to increase reading comprehension and enhance application.
2. Our study of each chapter of Zephaniah will begin with quotes from a work of the Writings called Summary Exposition of the Prophets and Psalms. This work includes a verse-by-verse overview of all three chapters of Zephaniah that provide general information about the internal sense. Our research will help move us from the generals to the particulars of the internal sense.
3. Another important reference tool is Searle’s General Index to Swedenborg’s Scripture Quotations. This reference is used to find passages in the Writings where a verse(s) from the Word is either explained specifically or used to illustrate a doctrinal point that we can use in our study. There is also another use of this work. As we study, each researcher will be led by the Lord’s Providence in myriad ways, according to specific needs or states. Knowing how to use this book will help each of us to explore relevant topics and look up related passages to increase our knowledge of the three-fold Word.
4. You will soon discover that not every verse, word, name, etc. is directly quoted in the Writings. But there are often other references to the same name, place, or thing in the explanation of a different verse of the Word. The hope is that reflection on these other doctrinal explanations will help us see possible applications to our study of Zephaniah. We will need to use "derived doctrine" often. Please don’t run away from this maligned term. If we use it properly and admit openly that it is derived doctrine, we bring no harm to the internal sense.
5. Keep some kind of notebook handy during your study times. Write out insights, questions, and any summaries you find helpful in organizing your thoughts about each chapter. The goal of this study guide is not to give a detailed summary of the internal sense but to start each researcher’s quest for deeper insight.
6. At the end of each chapter in the study guide, you will find a study review. The review includes a summary of each section to help you reinforce and build on your understanding of several of the key points.
7. Begin each study unit with a devotional prayer asking the Lord to guide and direct your thoughts. Certainly beginning in this sphere has the power to inspire and open our minds with a higher spiritual priority that will keep us in the company of the Lord’s angels. As the Writings teach, we must seek to love truth for truth’s sake. Such an approach will free each reader from preconceived ideas that might limit his or her ability to "see" the intent and message of the Lord’s Word.
As we prepare to study the literal and spiritual senses of the Book of Zephaniah, let’s look at some historical facts that will help us enter into the eternal message of the Lord’s Word. First, let’s consider the following questions:
Who was Zephaniah?
Zephaniah gives us a glimpse of his heritage. Four generations are mentioned:
Zephaniah may be the only minor prophet of the Lord to have royal family connections. Scholars identify him as the great-great-grandson of Hezekiah, the twelfth monarch of the kingdom of Judah. Hezekiah reigned for 29 years and was considered a good king in that he sought to lead his people in the ways of the Lord. Some scholars have dubbed Zephaniah "the royal prophet." It is believed that he was born during the reign of King Manasseh and that he worked as a prophet during the reign of Josiah.
If Zephaniah is truly of royal lineage, is this of any spiritual significance? This is a question worthy of speculation, but I found no direct teachings to help us answer this question. My inclination is to follow the teachings regarding the correspondence of "kings" and the "sons of kings," and of "hidden" or "concealed" when spoken of in reference to the Lord.
Kings represent goods and truths having the upper hand. Kings also represent the dominant evils and falsities against which the Lord fought. (Arcana Caelestia [AC] 1661-1664) Kings signify divine truth and divine good in and from the Lord, as noted in Apocalypse Explained (AE) 446 .
Zephaniah’s name means Jehovah hides; Jehovah has hidden or concealed; Jehovah of darkness. We are not given direct teachings as to why the Lord would call a prophet, at this precise moment, whose name means hidden, concealed, or darkness. We can reflect on possible reasons. Was Zephaniah kept, or protected by the Lord, from the influence and disorders of his times? Or, could it be a representation of the state and spiritual condition of the people to whom he spoke? Had the falsity of the church obscured the light of heaven, concealing or hiding truth in the darkness of ignorance? The idea of something hidden is clearly borne out in Chapters 2 and 3, where the Lord draws out from hiding the meek from among the haughty. The hidden are the remains the Lord uses to restore a New Church.
What kings of Judah preceded Zephaniah’s prophecy, and what king was ruling during the time of his prophecy?
The kings of Judah preceding Zephaniah’s prophecy are the first three in boldface type below. Zephaniah’s prophecy came during the reign of Josiah. During the period beginning with Hezekiah and ending with Jehoahaz, spiritual issues fluctuated according to the leadership of the king. Here is a list of all of the kings (and one queen) of Judah for your reflection:
The Rulers of Judah
Rehoboam reigned 17 years
Abijah reigned 3 years
Asa reigned 41 years
Jehosphaphat reigned 25 years
Ahaziah reigned 1 year
Athaliah (queen) reigned 6 years
Joash reigned 40 years
Amaziah reigned 29 years
Uzziah reigned 52 years
Jotham reigned 16 years
Ahaz reigned 16 years
Hezekiah reigned 29 years
Manasseh reigned 55 years (695–642 BC)
Amon reigned 2 years (642–640 BC)
Josiah reigned 31 years (640–619 BC)
Jehoahaz reigned 3 months
Jehoiakim reigned 11 years
Jehoiachin reigned 3 months
Zedekiah reigned 11 years
Manasseh became the king of Judah at the age of twelve. For many years, Manasseh permitted cults to exist in Jerusalem and the land of Judah to appease the cult-followers among the people. He allowed and participated in human sacrifices. He even offered one of his own sons as a sacrifice. This is horrific to think about.
When Manasseh was taken prisoner by the Assyrians, he "found religion." He realized he had been disobedient to the Lord. He returned to Jerusalem, where he sought to mend his ways before he died. Some reforms were started, but they ended quickly when Manasseh died and his son Amon assumed the title of king. Amon reintroduced idolatry and immorality, corrupted his office, and concentrated more on accumulating personal wealth than on working for the good of others.
Josiah, a son of Amon, loved the ways of the Lord and sought to reform the kingdom. At the suggestion of the high priest Hilkiah, Josiah ordered the repair of the Temple. During the repairs, a lost book of the law (Deuteronomy) was found. Josiah, when he heard the reading of the book, ordered it to be read to the people. He also took positive steps to clean up the spiritual disorder in Judah. Josiah closed down dozens of shrines, destroyed idols, and centralized all worship in the city of Jerusalem.
Both Jeremiah and Zephaniah were shown by the Lord that the "reforms" were not genuine. Reform was only a surface or cosmetic change in the hearts of the people. The population complied with reforms because the king promoted them. They went along with the popular views of the kingdom. How deeply did the people of Judah believe in the mission?
Jehoahaz’s reign of three months answers this question for us. His tolerance of evil during that brief reign brought cults, idols, and disorder back to their former state of importance in the nation.
What spiritual issues did Zephaniah address on behalf of the Lord?
Chapter one of Zephaniah carries a message of judgment. The strong words of the Lord are spoken to Judah so that she might see her errors and work for a deeper reformation. The Lord promises to "consume," "punish," "search," and "bring distress" to the unrepentant evil ones.
Chapter two stresses that the Lord will not tolerate the abuse or maltreatment of His Word and church. He promises that the meek (the remnant) will be hidden, cared for, and rescued by Him. The meek are hidden among the haughty.
Chapter three is a magnificent story of the end of the rebellion, the restoration of order, and the rejoicing that will come back to the church. Zephaniah prophesies that there will be a new song sung. The Lord will be in the midst of the church. It will be a time of exhilarating confidence and assurance. The former barrenness will be replaced with productivity.
What hope did Zephaniah bring to Judah from the Lord?
This question is asked purposefully in light of the preceding summation of the three chapters of Zephaniah. So many scholars highlight the gloom and doom of the first chapter. They don’t focus enough on the book’s movement to hope and restoration. The third chapter of Zephaniah is a powerful message of hope, restoration, singing, productiveness, new birth, and the Lord’s return to the center of His New Church.
Don’t we need the prophecy of the "royal prophet" today to bolster our wavering faith? Doesn’t this minor prophet named Zephaniah seem extremely relevant for our times, too?
Please read the study guide with an eye to the past, the present, and the future. As always, we need to begin each chapter, verse, or line with a prayer. The Lord told the Pharisees and the Scribes that they had eyes to see and saw not. He told them they had ears to hear but heard not.
Then He looked at His disciples and promised that their eyes would see and their ears would hear. May our prayer be that we will see and hear the positive promises of the Lord as we study the prophecy spoken by Zephaniah.
It is to be hoped that the meek will come out from among the haughty popular opinions of the evil. It is the goal of the Lord that we learn a new song. The Lord tells us that all of the years in which we have felt bound and unproductive will end. The Lord promises births. We need growth and confidence in the regeneration work He calls us to undertake. It isn’t impossible. We can achieve the innocence of wisdom promised in the doctrines of the New Church.
So let’s sing a new song and be done with the monotony of hell’s tune. We are the "apple of the Lord’s eye." Freedom is reserved for and awaiting those who are meek and faithful.