Zephaniah is one of the 12 minor prophets who prophesied in the days of King Josiah, son of Amon of Judah. The meaning of his name is a perfect example for the name-fate connection we discussed above. The name Zephaniah, Tz’fan•ya, comes from the root TZ.F.N (Tzadik, Fey, Noon), which means encryption, code, cypher (or cipher. The core principle of prophecy is reading into the future. While prophesying, the prophet must break to code that limits all the others – seeing into the future. The name ‘Tz’fan•ya’ means ‘God’s encryption.’ In other words, God’s secrets.
This name is related to the word ‘tza•fon,’ ‘north,’ that we introduced several months ago. We mentioned that the word ‘tza•fon’ is more than just a mere direction. The root of this word is ‘tza•fan,’ the same as of Zephaniah). The connection between ‘north’ and ‘code’ is very apparent in the Bible and plays a major role in prophecy. Many prophecies, especially Jeremiah’s and Isaiah’s prophecies of wrath (in English they are noted sometimes as doom prophecies), speak about the direction from which the evil will come. It is always the north. The nature of the evil is spoken in general terms such as evil or smoke.
“Howl, O gate; cry, O city; you, the entire Philistia, melt in fear; for there shall come from the north a smoke”
The details of the evil often remain undisclosed, encoded in the north, and this is the heart of the connection between the two words. The evil is mentioned in grave, catastrophic magnitude:
“Raise up a standard toward Zion; flee, do not stay; for I will bring evil from the north, and a great destruction”
The prophet, Zephaniah, gives a partial clue about the identity of the evil north that will be punished eventually:
“And he will stretch out his hand against the north, and destroy Assyria; and will make Nineveh a desolation, and dry like a wilderness”
The mysterious identity of the northern evil is still playing a major role in current prophetic writings.