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9. Obadiah

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Notes On The Book Of Obadiah

I. Historical Background.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother. There was implacable hostility between the two groups from the time the Israelites were denied passage through Edomite territory. Much of the period of the monarchy showed Israel dominant over the Edomites. The area was important for two things: trade and copper.

The present day site of Petra was the original home of the Edomites. There they lived in the rocks and laid a foundation of culture that was later built upon by others. Probably around 580 B.C. the Edomites began to creep into the southern area of Judah now vacated by Nebuchadnezzar’s removal of so many of the people. On their heels and taking over Petra was a new peoples group called Nabatean. These Nabateans were Arabs, but they were speaking Aramaic. They left most of the rock carved structures seen in Petra. They also left many inscriptions.

The Edomites were subjugated in the Maccabean era by John Hyrcanus (134‑104 B.C.). He forced them to be circumcised and to accept the Jewish faith. The Greek name for this section was Idumea. Alexander Jannaeus appointed Antipater I as governor of Idumea. He was the grandfather of Herod the Great.1

II. The Setting of the Prophecy.

The prophet Obadiah is otherwise unknown and nothing of his family or background is given in his prophecy. The name means “Servant of Yahweh” and so would be a popular one. Ahab’s steward who met Elijah (1 Kings 18) was so named. There is insufficient historical data in the book to identify its historical setting. A major catastrophe has taken place in Judah that has led to exultation on the part of Edom. The most likely time for that catastrophe was the destruction of the city and temple by Nebuchadnezzar. It most certainly could have been earlier, but I believe it belongs to this horrible period of Judah’s greatest devastation.

III. Links with Other Prophecies.

Some of the contents of Obadiah are found elsewhere. Below are two sections compared with the 49th chapter of Jeremiah. Some links with Joel are apparent as well.2 The question is which material came first. Soggin, 3 is probably right that there was older material incorporated by both Jeremiah and Obadiah.

Comparison of Obadiah 1:14 and Jeremiah 49:1416
and Obadiah 1:59 and Jeremiah 49:711

We have heard a report from the

I have heard a message from

Lord, And an envoy has been sent

Lord, And an envoy is sent

among the nations saying,

among the nations, saying

Arise and let us go against her

Gather yourselves together and

for battle—Behold, I will make

come against her, And rise up

you small among the nations;

for battle! For behold I have

You are greatly despised.

made you small among the na-

tions, Despised among men. As

for the terror of you, The

The arrogance of your heart has

arrogance of your heart has

deceived you, You who live in

deceived you, O you who live

the clefts of the rock, In the

in the clefts of the rock, Who

loftiness of your dwelling place,

occupy the height of the hill,

Who say in your heart, Who will

bring me down to the earth?

Though you build high like the

Though you make your nest as

eagle, Though you set your nest

high as an eagle’s, I will

among the stars, From there I

bring you down from there, de-

will bring you down, declares

clares the Lord.

the Lord.

Is there no longer any wisdom in Teman? Has good counsel been

lost to the prudent? Has their wisdom decayed? Flee away, turn

back, dwell in the depths, O inhabitants of Dedan, For I will bring

the disaster of Esau upon him At the time I punish him.

If thieves came to you, If rob- 

If grape gatherers came to you,

bers by night—O how you will be 

would they not leave glean-

ruined—Would they not steal only

ings? If thieves came by  

until they had enough? If    

night, They would destroy only

grape gatherers came to you,   

until they had enough. But I

Would they not leave some glean-

have stripped Esau bare, I 

ings? O how Esau will be ran-  

have uncovered his hiding

sacked, And his hidden treasures 

places So that he will not be

searched out! All the men allied

able to conceal himself; His

with you Will send you forth to 

offspring has been destroyed

the border, And the men at peace 

along with his relatives And

with you Will deceive you and  

his neighbors, and he is no

overpower you. They who eat your

more, Leave your orphans behind,

bread Will set an ambush for you.

I will keep them alive; And

(There is no understanding in  

let your widows trust in Me.

him.) Will I not on that day,

declares the Lord, Destroy wise

men from Edom and understanding

from the mountain of Esau? Then

your mighty men will be dismayed,

O Teman, In order that everyone

may be cut off from the mountain

of Esau by slaughter.

IV. The Theology of the Book

Obadiah says basically that Edom, an implacable foe of Israel, who laughed and mocked when Judah was in the straits of Nebuchadnezzar’s siege, will one day receive divine retribution for her sins. Known for her wisdom (cf. Job 2:1), the wise men will perish from Edom, that is, she will not have proper counsel for the operation of her nation. No matter how high she makes her nest, she will be brought down and judged.

V. Outline of the Book.

A. The vision concerning Edom (1-14).

Edom’s fall is announced as an envoy is sent among the nations. Even though the arrogance of her heart has deceived her into thinking she is inaccessible because she lives in the heights of the rocks, God will bring her down to the earth and judge her (1‑5).

The completeness of her destruction is shown through the imagery of the grape gleaners and robbers. These would only take what was needed, but nothing will be left of Esau. His hidden treasures will be searched out. The wise men (for which they were famous) will be destroyed. Teman will also contain mighty men who will be dismayed (6‑9).

The reason for the judgment is their attitude and action toward Judah. The Edomites joined with Judah’s enemies to gloat over her misfortune. Edom is admonished not to loot the wealth of Judah (an indication that they did). They are admonished not to stand at the fork of the road to cut down the fugitives and to enslave survivors (10‑14).

B. The Day of the Lord is promised (15‑21).

The promised day of the Lord is set forth here in Obadiah also. It will be a time in which all things will be set right. Nations will be judged (along with Edom). Drinking the wine cup of Yahweh is a common enough imagery. They will drink and thus be judged.

Mt Zion however will be a holy place containing escapees from exile. The house of Jacob will be a fire and Edom will be the stubble. The roles will be reversed.

In the day of the Lord the Jews will re-inherit the land. They will inherit Esau’s territory, Philistia’s territory, Ephraim and Samaria will be repossessed as will Gilead. Jews in exile in Sepharad will possess the cities of the Negeb. (This place is really unknown, but the latest opinion is Sardis in which a bilingual inscription in Lydian and Aramaic was found naming the place sprd. This infers that a Jewish colony was located in that area. Wherever it is, the point of the prophecy is that exiled Jews will return to reclaim the land and “the kingdom will be the Lord’s.”)


1See I. Browning, Petra, London: Chatto & Windus, 1982.

2See LaSor, et al., O. T. Survey, 457.

3Soggin, (Introduction to the Old Testament, Old Testament Library, Philadelphia:  , 1976) p. 341.

Related Topics: History, Introductions, Arguments, Outlines, Prophets