Read the Passage: Obadiah 1-21
Author and Date: Obadiah, the thirty-first book in the Old Testament, is the fourth of the Minor Prophets. Note that Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, containing only 440 words. The Minor Prophets are the twelve last books in the Old Testament and are “minor” not because their message is any less important than the Major Prophets (i.e., Isaiah, Jeremiah, Daniel, and Ezekiel), but because their writings are generally shorter than the other prophetic books and the authors are not as prominent figures in the Old Testament narrative. The name Obadiah means “servant of the Lord” and occurs more than twenty times in the Old Testament, referring to thirteen different men; yet, the prophet known as Obadiah only appears in the book that bears his name. The prophet Obadiah includes no autobiographical information in his prophecy, and since neither the prophet nor his book is cited elsewhere in the Bible, very little is known about the man. The content of the book of Obadiah leads to the conclusion that Obadiah resided in or near Jerusalem, and likely wrote around 840 BC, which would make him a contemporary of the prophets Elijah, Elisha, and Joel—although this date is uncertain.
Theme and Purpose: Obadiah’s purpose in writing is to declare God’s coming judgment upon the nation of Edom. The reason for this divine judgment was Edom’s participation in and rejoicing over an attack on and defeat of Jerusalem. The attack in question is likely an invasion by the Philistines and Arabians from 848–841 BC during the reign of King Jehoram (cf. 2 Kings 8:20–22; 2 Chron. 21:8–20). An alternative possible attack is the Babylonian invasion of 605–586 BC, which would mean that this book was written in the mid-sixth century BC. Yet, the Philistine and Arabian attack is a more likely scenaerio, since Jerusalem was completely destroyed in 586 BC, along with the Temple, which Obadiah curiously does not mention. Furthermore, every other prophet who mentions the Babylonian invasion of Judah mentions the Babylonians by name, which Obadiah does not. This leads to the conclusion that Obadiah likely lived and wrote in the 9th century BC.
Background: Edom – The country of Edom, roughly 40 miles wide and 100 miles long and located southeast of the Dead Sea, was founded by Esau, the brother of Jacob. Indeed, the name Edom means “red” and likely refers to Esau’s selling of his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of red stew (cf. Gen. 25:30). Gen. 26:34; 28:9 records that Esau married two Canaanite women, as well as a daughter of Ishmael, and Gen. 36:1–43 reports that Esau left Canaan shortly after Jacob returned to the Promised Land. Much later, after Israel’s exodus from Egypt, Edom refused the nation passage into the land of Canaan; yet, God instructed Israel to treat the Edomites kindly at that time (cf. Num. 20:14–21; Deut. 23:7–8). Note that Edom experienced periodic freedom and oppression throughout the Old Testament era, finally being forced to abandon their land in the 5th century BC and relocate to southern Palestine, where they became known as Idumea. Interestingly, Herod the Great was an Idumean, thus Herod’s persecution of the Jews in the Gospels was, in a sense, a continuation of Israelite-Edomite hostility that extended back to the feud between Jacob and Esau. Along with Israel, the Idumeans revolted against Rome and were annihilated in AD 70 as they sought to defend Jerusalem from their Roman oppressors.
Obadiah’s Message (1–9)
In Obad. 1–9 the prophet declared God’s judgment upon the Edomites. Speaking metaphorically, Obadiah notes there is an international conspiracy against Edom about which he had heard (cf. Obad. 1). Note that Edom was located along a mountainous ridge to the southeast of Israel. Because of their inaccessible location, the Edomites believed that their land, and especially their capital city of Petra, was impregnable. Yet, the Lord declared that he would bring them down to the ground despite their lofty heights (cf. Obad. 3–4). Furthermore, Obadiah declared that the attack on Edom would not be like a usual attack, rather it would leave nothing intact. Such language shows the severity of the impending judgment. Note that the prophet Isaiah gave a similar message of judgment against Edom (cf. Isa. 34:1–35:10), as did Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 49:7–22), and Ezekiel (cf. Ezek. 25:12–14).
God’s Rationale (10–16)
In Obad. 10–16 the prophet reveals the reason for the impending divine judgment—that is, Edom’s past and continual persecution of Israel. As was noted earlier, the exact occasion in view here is not clear, yet this is largely irrelevant, for Edom had been at odds with Israel from the very founding of both nations under Jacob and Esau (cf. Gen. 25:23; 1 Ki. 11:14; 2 Chron. 25:11). In this passage Obadiah cites four reasons for God’s present indictment of Edom: first, Edom stood and watched Israel being attacked (cf. Obad. 11); second, Edom rejoiced over Israel’s downfall (cf. Obad. 12); third, Edom plundered the city of Jerusalem (cf. Obad. 13); and fourth, Edom prevented the escape of Jewish refugees (cf. Obad. 14). In Obad. 15–16 the prophet notes that Edom’s transgression would result in her destruction in the coming “day of the Lord” (Obad. 15). God declares that it would be like Edom never existed.
Edom’s Fate (17–21)
In Obad. 17–21 the prophet described the results of the impending divine judgment. In short, Obadiah notes that Israel would be delivered from the oppression of Edom (cf. Obad. 17, “But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance”), there will be no survivors left from the land of Edom (cf. Obad. 18, “No survivor shall remain of the house of Esau”), and that Israel, or possibly other surrounding nations, will eventually possess the land of Edom (cf. Obad. 19–21, “The South shall possess the mountains . . . the lowland . . . the fields . . . the land . . . [and] the cities”). Note that of all the nations that surrounded Israel, Edom was one of the smallest people groups, yet Edom is mentioned the most in regard to divine judgment in the Old Testament (cf. Ps. 83:5f; 137:7; Isa. 11:14; 21:11f; 34:5; 63:1f; Jer. 49:7f; Lam. 4:21f; Ezek. 25:12f; 35:1f; Joel 3:19; Amos 1:11f; 9:11f; Mal. 1:2f).
- Why does God often use insignificant people to accomplish his work?
- How does God usually bring about divine judgment: naturally or supernatually?
- Why would God send prophets to speak to one of the pagan nations?
- Have you ever been tempted to rejoice over the judgment of another?
- Unlike many of the prophets, there is no call for repentance in Obadiah. Why?