This is a continuation of my series on Journeying with Zephaniah. I am looking at the book through the lens of rhetorical structure. Today I want to focus on the books macro-structure, or overarching themes.
This book is enclosed by the speaking of God. In 1:1, the verse begins, hwhy-rbd, ¢â‚¬Å“the word of the Lord.¢â‚¬ The book ends in 3:20 with hwhy rma, “says the Lord”. It all comes from the Lord. Zephaniah may add some comment or speak for God, but the message is all from God. Because it is from God, it is a surety. It will happen just as he said.
This book also has two movements that climax in 2:1-3 and 3:10-20. From 1:2-1:18, there is the judgment of God upon all the earth and then upon Judah. In 2:4-3:7, there is judgment upon the area countries and upon the city of Jerusalem. So a pattern exists with judgment. But in between the judgement, there is hope. In 2:1-3, the hope is conditional. In 3:10-20, the hope is promised and unconditional. Therefore, the two movements are judgment then conditional hope, 1:2-2:3, then judgment and the promise of unconditional restoration in 2:4-3:20.
This book is intriguing in that it is constantly moving from the general to the specific. In 1:2-3, there is judgment upon the entire earth, and in 1:4-18, there is judgement upon the nation of Judah. Then, in 2:4-15, judgment comes upon specific nations, and in 3:1-7, judgment is on ¢â‚¬Å“the oppressing city.¢â‚¬ In 1:8-13, judgment is first spoken to the religious and political leaders, which represent the nation, then to specific people in specific places.
Another intriguing aspect of this book is the fluctuation of the speaker. At times, Yahweh is speaking, at others, Zephaniah, though not referred to as speaking, comments. At times he continues the judgment; at others, he simply seems to comment. It is noted that Paul Brand wrote a commentary on the book that explores the idea. Though not developed by this writer, it is an interesting fluctuation.
With all that, an outline of the book can be determined. It is as follows:
- Superscription – 1:1
- Judgement – 1:2-1:18
- Judgment against all the earth – 1:2-3
- Judgment against Judah – 1:4-18
- Offer of conditional hope – 2:1-3
- Judgment against the nations – 2:4-15
- Judgment against Jerusalem – 3:1-7
- Image of restoration – 3:8-9
- Promise of unconditional hope – 3:10-20