Biblical prophets fell silent early in the 7th century BC, after the siege of Jerusalem and the death of reformist king Hezekiah. At least, publicly. Scholars believe disciples of Isaiah of Jerusalem preserved his tradition through the dark decades of King Manasseh’s reign. Son and successor of Hezekiah, Manasseh profaned the temple and allowed worship of Canaanite, Phoenician, Assyrian, and Aramean gods. Judah became essentially a pagan colony within the Assyrian empire.
Finally a new wave of prophets arose in Jerusalem, giving voice to the moral outrage of the many Israelites who remained faithful to Yahweh. Zephaniah, Nahum, and Obadiah focused on the future restoration of Jerusalem, Judah, and the Davidic monarchy. They prophesied primarily during the reign of King Josiah, Manasseh’s grandson, circa 640-609 BC. It was a time of religious reform and political upheaval involving the decline of Assyria and rise of a new superpower, Babylon. The long-predicted downfall of Jerusalem in 587 ushered in the Babylonian Exile.
Here, briefly, are the three prophets, the years they were active, and the situation that most concerned them:
• Zephaniah: 640-625 BC. Judgment first against idolatrous Judah and Jerusalem, and later universal judgment and destruction.
• Nahum: 615-612 BC. Destruction of Nineveh, capital of the hated oppressor Assyria.
• Obadiah: 587/586 BC. The betrayal of neighboring Edom in Babylon’s destruction of Jerusalem.