Prophets of the Bible – Obadiah

Obadiah

The prophet and his prophecy

The author’s name is Obadiah, which means “servant (or worshiper) of the Lord”. It was a common name; his father’s name and the place of his birth is not given. The Book of Obadiah is the shortest in the Old Testament and contains a message of judgment against the land of Edom, which lay immediately south of the Dead Sea. It was hostile mountainous terrain, making it ideal for defending against enemies. Its inhabitants were descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob whom God had renamed Israel. They were cousins to the Israelites, but they had a long history of animosity towards them – from refusing to let them pass through their territory as they approached the Promised Land to taking land from them as Judah was conquered and exiled by the Babylonians. Just as the two books preceding Obadiah, Joel and Amos, take a global, future approach, so Obadiah considers Edom’s pride as an example of the human condition and Edom’s downfall pointing to the coming of God’s kingdom over all nations.

Background and context

The date and place of composition are disputed. Dating the prophecy is mainly a matter of relating “In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them” and their indifferent, hostile response (1:11-14) to one of two specific events in Israel’s history: the invasion of Jerusalem by Philistines and Arabs during the reign of Jehoram (853-841 B.C.) or the Babylonian attacks on Jerusalem (605-586). Just as with Joel with possible backgrounds, separated by centuries, it doesn’t matter as far as understanding of the prophecy goes. What does matter is a long history of antagonism between Israel and Edom, going way back to Jacob and Esau:

  1. Genesis 25:22-25 – the birth of Jacob and Esau
  2. Genesis 33:4 – two brothers reconciled, despite a tetchy relationship
  3. Numbers 20:14-21 – Edom won’t let Israel pass on their journey
  4. Deuteronomy 2:4,5 – instructions for when passing through Edom
  5. Joshua 24:4 – Edom, God’s gift to Esau
  6. 1Samuel 22:18 – Deog the Edomite – an enemy
  7. Jeremiah 49:10 – God’s punishment of Edom is foretold
  8. Ezekiel 35:2-4 – Prophesy against Mount Seir
  9. Amos 1:11 – Edom pursues his brother
  10. Malachi 1:2-4 – Edom is thrown down
  11. No reference – The family of Herod were Edomites

A synopsis of the Book

  1. Title and introduction (1)
  2. Judgement on Edom (2-14)
  • Edom’s destruction announced (2-7)
    • The humbling of her pride (2-4)
    • The completeness of her destruction (5-7)
  • Edom’s destruction reaffirmed (8-14)
    • Her shame and destruction (8-10)
    • Her crimes against Israel (11-14)
  1. The Day of the Lord (15-21)
  2. Judgement on the nations but deliverance for Israel (15-18)
  3. The Lord’s Kingdom established (19-21)

The message of the Prophet

Obadiah’s short, far seeing message is that Edom, proud over her security, confident in her alliances, had gloated over Israel’s devastation by foreign powers. Edom’s participation in that disaster, not just as an indifferent onlooker but cheering on, assisting in and benefitting from attacks on Israel, will bring on God’s wrath. She will be utterly destroyed; it will be a devastating demise, and Mount Zion and Israel delivered, with God’s kingdom ultimately triumphing. Since Edom is related to the Israel, their hostility is all the more reprehensible. Edom is fully responsible for her failure to assist Israel and open aggression. Edom, snug in its mountain strongholds, will be dislodged and sacked.

  • Their huge pride will be their downfall and they will be pushed out of their land (1-7)
  • Their despicable treatment of the Israelites will lead to them being cut down (8-14)
  • As they have done, it will be done to them when Mount Zion is delivered and the Lord redistributes the lands of the nations (15-21)

While Obadiah’s prophecy is specifically directed towards Edom, it might also be taken as a warning for any nation opposed to Israel and, in keeping with other prophets, it looks forward to the Day of the Lord scenario and Israel’s future blessing: “For the day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head … But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions … And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s. Israel will prosper because God is with her” (1:15,17,21).

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