St. Mark’s Adult Education Meeting Summary
“THE BOOK OF TWELVE (The Minor Prophets: Zephaniah and Nahum)”
Group Leader / Handouts: Mike Kreutzer, Rector
Sunday, April 02, 2006
The Book of the Twelve — Adult Forum Notes
Along with Nahum and Habakkuk, Zephaniah was a prophet of Judah’s last days.
He prophesied during the reign of Josiah, i.e. between 640 and 609, following the syncretistic rules of Manasseh (687-642) and Amon (642-640). His was the first prophetic voice in Judah since the time of Isaiah and Micah, c. 701
traces his heritage to “Hezekiah” (an unusual name at that time; possibly King Hezekiah, 715-687); possibly of royal descent: does not criticize the king directly; intimate knowledge of Jerusalem and the court circles; absence of any apparent concern for the poor of the land
Josiah had begun the most thoroughgoing reform in Judah’s history. In 622, while renovating the Temple, workers found “The Book of the Law”: probably some form of Deuteronomy. It had a profound influence on Josiah, and apparently on prophets like Zephaniah as well.
Three parts have been discerned:
1:2 – 2:3 condemns Judah for its religious syncretism and warns of the nearness of the Day of the Lord
2:4 – 3:8 extends the condemnation to other nations, especially to Israel’s historic enemies
3:8-20 promises comfort and consolation to those who wait patiently for God and serve one another
Elizabeth Achtemeier, Nahum – Malachi, asserts the unity of the book. Themes, images and terminology continue throughout the whole of it. She insists that it cannot be divided without missing the central message of the prophet – at least in its final form.
Yet, at the same time, she suggests that the first two chapters reflect a time early in Josiah’s reign, before the Deuteronomic reform began, that 3:1-17 may come from the time between 612 and 609 (after the fall of Nineveh and after the reform was failing), and that 3:18-20 were a later addition.
1: 1-3 total destruction (cf. Is. 4:23-25)
4-6 condemnation for idolatry, syncretism and indifference toward God; pagan practices may have included both ritual prostitution and even child sacrifice
7 “the day of the Lord”: a prominent theme in Joel, but one which ties together several parts of the Book of the Twelve; (Achtemeier, pp. 66-67) its characteristics include:
a) It is near
b) It is a day of God’s wrath and anger
c) It is a day of darkness and of gloom
d) The heavenly bodies are darkened
e) God is pictured as a warrior
f) It is a day of battle, of trumpet blast and battle cry
g) The enemies are dismayed and rendered impotent
h) God searches out his enemies to destroy them
i) The wealth of the enemies cannot save them and becomes useless
j) Human pride is destroyed
k) I may be that some are hidden in the Day or saved as a remnant
1: 10-11 destruction will begin at the northern gate and parts of Jerusalem, the commercial center
1: 12 image from winemaking; God is not going to do anything to us, either way
1: 13 curses drawn from the covenant curse in Dt 28:30,39
1: 14-18 basis for the “Dies irae”
2: 1-4 Judah is a “shameless nation”: cf. Jer 8:6-7
2 :5-15 judgment on the whole world: Philistia on the west (5-7), Moab and Ammon on the east (8-11), Ethiopia to the south (12), and Assyria to the north (13-15); Assyria was the most threatening, and considered to be the most evil, in the time of Zephaniah and many other of the prophets
their pride and arrogance shall destroy them; cf. Is. 2:12, 17):
“the Lord of hosts has a day
against all that is proud and lofty,
against all that is lifted up and high;…
And the haughtiness of man shall be humbled
and the pride of men shall be brought low;
and the Lord alone will be exulted in that day.”
7 & 9: the remnant of Judah shall possess their lands
3:1-20 Many of the phrases are found also in Jeremiah, suggesting the 612-609 timeframe. There is also a similar focus on the Deuteronomic Law.
3:1-8 Jerusalem “has listened to no voice, has not trusted in the Lord.” The officials, judges, prophets and priests are corrupt. God has repeatedly worked to call the people to himself, but they have paid no attention to him.
3:9-13 a new beginning; vs. 9 might picture a reversal of Gn 11:1-9; 11-13, future peace of Jerusalem
3:14-20 a message of hope: the people will be forgiven and restored. God dwells in their midst as their King (15).
Uses of Zephaniah in the Sunday readings of The Revised Common Lectionary
1:7,12-18 Year A, Proper 28
3:14-20 Years A, B & C, optional use in the Great Vigil of Easter
name means “comforter”; unknown outside of this book; unsure where “Elkosh” was
the only prophetic book to have two “titles”: “oracle” and “book” (1:1) and the only one to be called a “book”
celebrates the ongoing downfall of Assyria and anticipates the fall of Nineveh (in 612); probably written shortly before 612
Nahum, while rarely if ever used in worship, is valued for its literary style. Elizabeth Achtemeier (Nahum – Malachi, p. 5) quotes G. A. Smith: “Nahum’s language is strong and brilliant: his rhythm rumbles and rolls, leaps and flashes, like the horse and chariot he describes.” Yet she goes on to assert that Nahum is not a book about human beings, but a book about God. God is in charge, not the way that we think God should act.
1:11 and 3:18-19 frame the book. Both are direct addresses to Assyria. They speak of evil introduced and evil destroyed. The same Hebrew word (ra’ah) is used in 1:11 and in 3:19: evil (NSRV 1:11, “From you one has gone out who plots evil against the Lord”; 3:19, “For who has ever escaped your endless cruelty?”); frames the book; in between are four judgment oracles against Nineveh (1:12-15, 2:1-13, 3:1-7 and 3:8-13), each of which ends with a word of the Lord introduced by “Behold” (NRSV 1:15, “Look!”; 2:13, “See”’; 3:7, not translated; 3:13, “Look.”)
1:2-11 key to understanding (acc. to E. Achtemeier, p. 6) is the opening hymn, 1:2-11, which is from an earlier source and is the beginning of an acrostic
Uses of Nahum in the Sunday readings of The Revised Common Lectionary
Click HERE to see an historical outline of Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah.