Tzefaniah ben Kushi – the ninth in the traditional listing by CHAZAL of the group of Prophets known as the “Trei-Asar,” the “Twelve.”
The Prophet’s lineage is listed backwards four generations until, according to the Ibn Ezra, a distinguished ancestor, Chizkiyah, presumably “Chizkiyahu HaMelech,” the righteous King, is encountered. From the chronology presented, it can be deduced that the average age that each of the four generations begat children was quite young (there could have been no more than sixty eight years for all the four generations), and furthermore, Tzefaniah was quite young when he assumed the role of Prophet.
RADAK mentions that Tzefaniah prophesied at the same time as two other prophets; namely, Yirmiyahu and the prophetess Chuldah. Yirmiyahu prophesied in the markets, Tzefaniah in the synagogues, and Chuldah prophesied to the women.
The Prophecy of Tzefaniah preceded, and to some degree, perhaps caused, the Repentance that was performed by the King Yoshiahu, about which it is said, “and like it no other king repented, with his whole heart, and with his whole soul and with all his might, and afterwards, there arose none like him.”
Nevertheless, because of all the accumulated evil of the Kings of Yehudah, Exile and Destruction were not averted, but only postponed. Nevuchadnezzar, King of Babylon and the Chaldes began the process of exiling the Jewish People in the time of Yehoyakim, continued it during the reign of Yehoyachin and completed it, along with his Destruction of the First Temple during the reign of King Tzidkiyahu.
“And it shall come to pass at that time
That I shall search out Jerusalem with candles,
And I will visit upon the men…
Who say in their heart,
‘The L-rd shall do neither good nor harm.’ ”
The idea of searching by candles is related to the idea that HaShem uses when He says, “For the Candle of HaShem is the soul of man, searching out all the innermost recesses of the body.” This is a reference to the conscience, built into the human being by the Creator.
Someone who believes that HaShem “does neither good nor harm” denies the doctrine of “Hashgachah Pratit,” Personal Supervision by G-d of the conduct of every human being, and the doctrine of “Sechar V’Onesh,” Reward and Punishment, the first of which affirms that HaShem is involved with the world that He Created, and the second of which affirms that he rewards and punishes according to the principle of “midah k’neged midah,” “measure for measure.”
“The Day of the L-rd is near,
It is near and hastens greatly;
The sound of the Day of the L-rd,
Wherein the mighty man cries bitterly.”
Here the expression “Day of the L-rd” refers to the Day of the Destruction of the Holy Temple and of the City of Yerushalayim. Sometimes it refers to the Final Day of Judgment. In general, it refers to a Day of Cataclysmic significance, affecting humanity as a whole.
Many descriptions are given of the terrible quality of the “Day of the L-rd.” One is “Yom Shoah u-M’Shoah,” a Day of Ruin and Destruction, one of the few occurrences of the word “Shoah,” used in our time to refer to the Holocaust, in the Bible.
In the middle of Chapter Two, there is a transition from the Day of Destruction of Yerushalayim to the ruin that HaShem will visit upon the enemies of Israel.
“I have heard the taunts of Moav,
And the jeers of the Children of Ammon,
Who taunted My People,…”
“Therefore, as I live,
Says the L-rd of Hosts, the G-d of Israel,
Moav shall be like Sodom,
And the Children of Ammon like Amorah…”
“This is the joyful city, dwelling securely,
Saying to herself, “I am, and there is none besides me…”
In the above verse, Tzefaniah refers to Nineveh, the Capital City of Babylon, saved form destruction once by the Prophet Yonah, when it did collective Repentance. But it has been a downward moral slide since then into every manner of evil and corruption and persecution of Israel. HaShem will bring it down from its height of arrogance to utter disgrace.
Once again, Tzefaniah refers to Yerushalayim. Our G-d plays no favorites.
“Woe to her who is filthy and polluted,
The oppressing city…”
The term used for “oppressing,” is “ha-Yonah,” with exquisite irony in choice of words, the name of the Prophet who sought to protect Yerushalayim is invoked to describe it in its evil state, immediately after discussing the City of Nineveh, that Yonah the Prophet would have sacrificed.
The Leadership of Israel is castigated by Tzefaniah across all levels – Officers, Judges, Prophets, Priests. A contrast is made with the Leadership of G-d, “Who does no evil.”
The assemblage of all the nations is described, where the wrath of HaShem will be poured out upon them, leaving only a remnant, who speak with a pure language.
Israel will still play a special role, even in this purified remnant of humanity:
“And I will leave over in your midst a humble and poor People,
And they shall take shelter in the Name of the L-rd.”
The in-gathering of the People of Israel to the Land of Israel is described, including the lame and the crippled,
“And at that time that I will gather you,
I will make you a name and a praise
Among all the peoples of the earth,
When I restore your captivities before your eyes,
According to the RAMBAM, Tzefaniah was a link in the Chain of “Mesorah,” and received the Tradition of Torah from Chavakuk and his court.