Re-thinking the Day of YHWH and Restoration of Fortunes in the Prophet Zephaniah: An exegetical and theological study of the Prophet Zephaniah 1:14-18; 3:14-20
By Rev. Dr. Michael Ufok Udoekpo
The Prophecy of Zephaniah is a compendium of prophetic thoughts on the nature of YHWH’s relationship with His People, Israel. This message is encapsulated in the concept of the Day of YHWH (hwhy ~wy) by Zephaniah, which bears an imprint of past prophetic traditions. The study of this concept, its origin, meaning and significance has attracted the attention of exegetes, theologians and historians of religions for centuries. Many believe that this concept, based on covenant theology, existed popularly in the minds of the members of the community of Israel, when YHWH would fight and conquer enemies on their behalf. Others understood it merely as an eschatological concept. While many historically trace it to Israel’s cultic life of the New Year Festival and to the ancient Holy War context, others believe it to be theophanic, or that Zephaniah borrowed this concept from past prophetic traditions, and actualizes it mostly when he wants to emphasize the fuller and salvific notion of a God who judges, and punishes (Zeph 1:14–18), but also as one who loves, shows mercy, inspires hope and restores the fortunes (tWbv/ šebȗt bWv/ šȗb), of the remnants who repent from sin (3:14-20).
This book examines selected passages of these past prophetic traditions, especially in the Minor Prophets other than Zephaniah. Although thematic and literary relationships of Zephaniah with the rest of the Twelve, the DH and Psalm 126 are stressed, Zephaniah’s creative adaptation and contextualization of the Day of YHWH is emphasized. Taking the judgment and wrath narrated in Zephaniah 1:14–18 as its point of exegetical departure, the dissertation studies diachronically and synchronically in great detail how YHWH intervened in human activities in various ways (1:7; 8–9,12; 2:13; 3:18, 19–20), on His Day, so imminent (v14). In Zephaniah YHWH is the sovereign of creation of animals and humans (vv 2–3); YHWH also judges and punishes (vv 8–13). This judgment is of course swift (v14) and devastating (v 15). It penetrates all kinds of human barriers and fortifications (v 16), and renders those who refuse to repent as worthless (v 17). YHWH’s judgment reaches to the ends of the earth (Zeph 2; 3:8). It touches to redeem the poor and the rich of all cultures (2:11; 3:9–10).
The work also exegetically and theologically explores the fact that, related to judgment in Zephaniah’s Day of YHWH is the notions of hope, salvation and the restoration of fortunes (3:14-20). It suggests that in Zephaniah the joyful cheers (yNr) of the people in 3:14–20, reverses the bitter cry of the warrior (rwBG ~v xrc rm): the wrath (hrb[), the distress and tribulation (hqWcmW hrc), the ruin and desolation (hawvmW hav), the darkness and gloom (hlpaw $vx), the terrible clouds (lpr[w !n[), the cry of the war with trumpet blast (h[WrtW rpwv) and the hostility (rrc) of Zephaniah 1:14–18.
Since the socio-political, cultural, moral and religious problems encountered by Zephaniah in the late pre-exilic period (609-640 B.C.E.) are also the challenges to the Church and the pluri-religious society of our times (poverty and war, terrorism and syncretism, divisions and injustices, relativism, racism and discrimination, political instabilities, abuse of fundamental human rights, pride of self-sufficiency by political empires and dictators and natural tragedies), the book forcefully re-evaluates the theological and pastoral relevance of this dialectical experience of Judgment (1:14–18) and restoration (3:14–20), which has, as its basis repentance, in the face of God’s love and mercy.