Yes, I am indeed studying for a MA on the Hebrew text of Zephaniah. Actually, it would be more accurate to say that I am trying desperately to make sure it is completed 5 years after it was due to be handed in. It hasn’t been easy fitting in amid all the parish business, but in a masochistic way I am glad I have kept up with it.
First of all, it has kept me honest with my Biblical Hebrew and it is so useful to be able to read the Bible in its original languages. Sometimes the translations are not as accurate as they ought to be. Did you know, for example, that 15 verses of Zephaniah start with the word “for” and yet the NIV only translates 7 of them? (I kind of thought not…)
Secondly, it has forced me to examine a part of Scripture that otherwise I would have known very little about. We don’t tend to read the minor prophets very much, for all kinds of good reasons. And yet when we hear them read in church, we affirm they are the “word of the Lord”. So how do we understand a book like Zephaniah as Holy Scripture and what does it matter to us anyway?
Thirdly, this study has forced me to grapple honestly and openly with the full nature of the God we worship. If there’s one verse we know at all from Zephaniah it’s chapter 3, verse 17. The LORD your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing. But that comes at the end of the book which for the first two and half chapters seems to be focused almost exclusively on judgement. How is it we find the threat of judgement and the promise of grace in the same book?
And fourthly, if any prophet can be said to be the prophet of the inner-city, it is Zephaniah. His interest is almost entirely on Jerusalem and he clearly knew the people and the places of the city very well. There have been times when I have been able to imagine him walking up and down the streets of Plymouth preaching a very similar message to the one he preached all those centuries ago and encouraging the small and faithful remnant of God’s people to stand firm and wait for the Lord’s salvation.
So, yes, it’s a rather esoteric subject to be working on, but as I have gone deeper in Zephaniah I know it’s enriched my own walk with God and I hope it’s been of benefit to the wider church. I occasionally have this wild idea of moving on to Jeremiah next. If so, then I’d better hurry up, as it contains 52 chapters!