Obadiah has the dubious distinction of being the shortest book in the Old Testament. It is comprised of a single oracle, spoken by a prophet of that name. There is no additional information about this prophet, even though the name "Obadiah" is frequently found in the Old Testament, identifying at least a dozen different persons. If scholars include the name "Obed," which is possibly a shortened version, there are six more, including David's grandfather. The name, then, which means "servant of Yahweh," is commonly known, although the individual is not.
Nor is there any certainty about the date of the book's writing. Most scholars assign it to the early exilic period, possibly the 580s BCE or around that time. Its placement among the Twelve Minor prophets between Amos and Jonah would suggest an earlier date (ca 850 BCE), but that is dependent upon whether the Minor Prophets are arranged chronologically. While there seems to be some hint of this, other scholars argue for a thematic or catchword arrangement.
Because the oracle, at first glance, appears to be nothing more than a ranting against Edom for violence committed against Judah, scholars have tried to identify such an event. If successful, then presumably, they could locate the book in its proper period of time. Unfortunately, this has proved to be difficult. 2 Kings records an Edomite revolt against Jehoram in the ninth-century (8:20-22), but there is little information about the occasion. Likewise, little is known about a Nabatean conquest of Edom that took place in the fifth century. (Some scholars think this was actually the fulfillment of the oracle, rather than the occasion for it.) Ultimately, they have resorted towards favoring the early exilic date.
The nation of Edom was located to the south-southeast of the southern edge of the Dead Sea, and was well established by the 13th century. It was founded before the Israelites ever set foot in the Promised Land. A very important trade route ran through the area, bringing prosperity and an international flavor to the nation. It was part of the territory controlled by David and Solomon, and latter kings were judged on whether or not they were able to hold on to Edom.
The Edomites, of course, were descendants from Esau, and their relations with Judah oftentimes reflected the animosity and deceitfulness that characterized the relationship between Esau and Jacob. Deuteronomy 23:7 forbade the Israelites from hating the Edomites (based on their common heritage). However, it appears that Edom had violated that relationship somehow (perhaps by joining in the destruction of Jerusalem, or at least relishing in the pillaging of it – though this, too, is speculation), and Obadiah was sent to announce God's judgment against them.
Yet this book is much more than merely an oracle of judgment. It is a witness to the sovereignty of God. All the nations (not just Edom) had believed themselves to be independent (conquering and looting at will). Judah, on the other hand, felt abandoned by God and languished in her despair. But Obadiah proclaimed that God is Lord over all, and the day would come when those warring nations would be destroyed. Then Judah would be vindicated. The book purports to be a vision, but it is not a vision in the normal sense. It is filled with word pictures, describing future events whereby Edom would be destroyed by various nations. Their military strongholds, their pride of arrogance would be shattered. The prophet sees these events as judgment for Edom's sins against Judah – their participation in a sort of fratricide, if you will. These words are spoken through the eyes of someone who has already experienced God's judgment; there is no gloating but rather a deep respect for God's justice. Even though some of the surrounding nations had been God's instrument of chastisement for Judah, they, in turn, are accountable for their excesses.
The book is centered on two main themes: the first is the destruction of Edom; the second is the justification of Judah. Like those before him, this prophet also mentions the "Day of the Lord," meaning the day of God's judgment. Although these messages of judgment against a foreign nation are hard for us to hear, in point of fact, they are oracles of hope for Judah. Judah (currently destroyed and in exile) can look forward to a time when the perpetrators will reap their just rewards and those who have suffered will be exalted and restored.
Edom's coming defeat – 1-21
- Words of the Lord about Edom
- Images of high and low: Pride brought low
- The nation will be vastly reduced in size and influence
- Their pride in their strength and self sufficiency has deluded them
- God is done with that
- The proud will be humbled; the lowly will be exalted
- A vision of the Judgment against Edom
- Edom's goods have all been plundered
- Edom will be betrayed by those whom she trusted
- No one will come to rescue her
- Destruction of Wise men
- Those Edomites with understanding will all perish
- The nation will no longer be noted for its wisdom, but rather for its shame in doing violence to Judah
- The charges against Edom
- They acted like strangers and did not help when Judah was conquered
- They took advantage of the situation, gloating and profiting from Judah's pain
- They moved in like vultures
- They also attacked fugitives and survivors in their day of trouble
- The coming of the Day of the Lord
- Their deeds will be returned upon their own heads
- Conquests of Judah and Edom both point to the "Day of the Lord"
- Judah always assumed the "Day" would bring defeat for enemies
- Now, they realized they were also being judged for their disobedience
- Metaphor of "drinking" the cup of wrath is oftentimes used as experience of judgment – all nations will experience this
- A remnant for Judah
- Judah has experienced judgment in the form of exile to Babylon
- But it will not be the end for Judah – a remnant will be left
- North and south will be reconciled
- In the end, they will consume Edom – and there will be none left
- Kingdom of Israel
- People of Israel will once again occupy the land
- The northern nation would be restored and reunited with Israel
- No one would threaten Israel's borders
- God would ultimately control all nations "and the kingdom will be the Lord's"
With these resounding words, the book of Obadiah comes to a close. The message to Edom is one of judgment for its excesses against Judah. God demands justice in his dealings with the nations. For Judah, there is a message of hope. The prophet knew firsthand the pain of judgment and this message of hope would enable them to carry on and create a new future. Clearly, the prophet affirms God's sovereignty throughout history. Regardless of events, God is moving mankind toward the fulfillment of His purpose. Even though people are responsible and accountable for their own actions, everything that happens works toward that divine goal. That goal is the kingdom of God.
Achtemeier, Elizabeth. "Minor Prophets I." New International Biblical Commentary. Peabody, MA: Hendrickson Publishers, 1996.
Craigie, Peter. "Twelve Prophets." Daily Study Bible Series. Philadelphia, PA: Westminster Press, 1984.
Gaebelein, Frank. "Obadiah." Expositor's Bible Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing. 1985.
Mills, Watson and Richard Wilson. Mercer Commentary on the Bible. Macon, GA: Mercer University Press, 1995.
Stuart, Douglas. "Hosea-Jonah." Word Biblical Commentary. Dallas, TX: Word Books, 1987.