St. Petersburg, Russian State Museum/Photo: AKG-Images

“I will blot out from the earth the human beings I have created—people together with animals and creeping things and birds of the air” (Genesis 6:7), the Lord warns before the Flood. Monkeys, mammoths, birds, lizards and creeping snakes join the people who desperately cling to the rocks in this painting of The Flood by Russian seascape artist Ivan Konstantinovich Ayvazovsky (1817–1900).

The prophecies of Zephaniah start with a similar warning: “I will utterly sweep away everything from the face of the earth, says the Lord. I will sweep away the humans and animals; I will sweep away the birds of the air and the fish of the sea” (Zephaniah 1:2–3). The similarities have led scholars to assume that Zephaniah is basing his vision of destruction on the passage in Genesis. But there are telling differences: Whereas Genesis mentions “animals, birds and creeping things,” Zephaniah refers to the creatures of earth, air and sea—that is, to all living things. Zephaniah is repeating the common ancient belief that Israel’s wickedness could compromise all of creation.