By Tyson Thorne

January 8, 2019

Intro Obadiah Large

The story of Obadiah begins more than a millennia earlier, in the womb of a woman named Rebekah (Genesis 25.24-26), and finds the fruition of its prophecy almost a couple hundred years later by the hands of Rome (70 AD). What appears on the surface of this, the shortest book in the Old Testament (all of 21 verses), is merely the tip of the proverbial iceberg. One has to dig a little deeper to uncover the rich history and incredible fulfillment of prophecy which this narrative rests atop. It is a story twelve hundred years in the making.

The first element of this book begins when Jacob and Esau, twins, battled in the womb of their mother Rebekah to become the firstborn son of their father Isaac. By brute force Esau muscled his way out first, obtaining for himself the birthright of his family, a bright red complication and, one day, the blessing of his father. What Jacob could not accomplish physically, he could accomplish intellectually, however. One may recall the infamous occasion of Esau, the manly man, returning from an unsuccessful three day hunting trip, smelled a red stew which his brother Jacob had been fiddling with the better part of the day and begged for a single bowl.

“I’ll do one better, brother.” Said Jacob. “You can have as much as you like, if you will but give me the birthright.”

Esau hesitated only a moment. He had never been this hungry in his whole life and felt that if he didn’t eat he would surely die. Thinking, what good is a birthright to a dead man, Esau surrendered the title of First Born on the spot.

Esau though little more of this over the passing years, until, again through the conniving intelligence of Jacob and mother Rebekah, Jacob received the blessing by his father who was on his deathbed. The combination of these two events caused a family rift that would never be healed. Esau left home, burning in anger toward Jacob, and vowed to kill him if ever Jacob stepped foot on his soil. The household of Jacob, as many know, became the nation Israel, while the house of Esau became the nation Edom, mentioned in Obadiah.

Both nations built themselves apart from each other, and neither nation had anything to do with the other. Edomites continued to hold the grudge of their father Esau for centuries. In fact, it is recorded that as Moses lead the children of Israel out of Egypt and to the promised land, they came to the border of Edom. When they asked merely to pass through the country, their request was heatedly declined. As a nation, Edom had held on to the prejudices of their father, and would retain their hatred of their brothers throughout history, which brings us to the book of Obadiah.

Author & Date of Composition

There are a grand total of 11 other Obadiah’s mentioned in the Old Testament, including an officer in King David's service, a servant of King Ahab’s, a Levite who lived under King Josiah, and a civil leader who returned from Ezra to begin post-exilic restructuring of the nation. None of these men, however, or any of the other eight wrote the book bearing this name. Nothing much is known about the author of Obadiah, other than that his name means “Worshiper of YHWH.”

This lack of information creates problems in dating the composition of the book.  There are primarily two time periods which appear to fit the situation Obadiah describes. The first time period, between 853 and 841 B.C., is suggested by relating Obadiah’s situation to the Philistine and Arabian invasion of Jerusalem during the reign of King Jehoram (2 Kings 8.20-.22). There is strong evidence for this position. Obadiah was apparently quoted from several other prophets, including Jeremiah, Joel and Amos, suggesting a date before 830 B.C.  Second, the looting of Jerusalem is consistent with the description of “destruction” Obadiah records.

The later time period suggested (post-exilic) has many problems to overcome.  This dating relates the events to the Babylonian invasion, where the soldiers of Babylon completely pummeled and destroyed the city. In that conflict, no prisoners were taken as no one was left standing in the city. This event is not consistent with the events described in Obadiah, who doesn’t mention the destruction of the temple and all of Jerusalem. Further, Obadiah’s account tells of “fugitives,” of which there were none in the Babylonian conflict.

With these facts considered, a date sometime between 853 and 841 B.C. seems most probable.

The Book

Destruction of Edom, .1-.9. By this time in history, the nation Edom had been displaced from its green fields to a nearly impregnable hill country located in modern day Jordan. Edom prided herself in her great wealth (obtained by trading, looting, and iron and copper mining), and in her nearly impregnable geographic position. The hill country was a series of natural canyon lands, with a narrow entrance at both ends. Travelers had to pass through the canyon single file almost until they reached the city itself. This made fortification a simple matter. In response to Edom’s question, “Who can bring me down?” the Lord responds, “I will.”

Edom had wealth of all kinds. Aside from monetary wealth (of which she had plenty), she also had many solid alliances with neighboring countries, and possessed wise men and great soldiers. To debase her great wealth, the Lord promised that thieves would steal “…only as much as they want,” and that the tradesmen and neighbors would humiliate her by leaving behind scraps of food for her to eat. Nothing would be left. Rather, everything, including her treasures (probably hidden in caves) and even her land would be taken.

Finally, following her humiliation, her loss of physical wealth, her mighty men of wisdom and war would also fall under the sword of the Living God. All of this God promised to do because of Edom’s refusal to assist her brother Israel in his time of dismay.

What a false hope pride gives unbelievers who try to find security in their own strength apart from God.

Edom’s Crimes, .10-.14. She did not assist her brother Israel when neighboring countries invaded. Instead, Edom stood aloof, unwilling to lift a finger. Later, Edom would even cast lots to determine which invaders would ransack which parts of the country. This is reminiscent of Jesus’ words “Whatever you have done to the least of these, you have done to me,” and the words of John, “He who claims to love God yet hates his brother is a liar.” God firmly upholds throughout history that we are our brother’s keeper. (Incidentally, on a national scale, this truth has interesting ramifications for foreign policy.)

Edom’s sinful attitudes lead to sinful actions. Following the plundering of Israel, Edomites came down from the hillsides to gloat over the survivors, loot what wealth was left, kill any who attempted escape, and to hand the rest over to the invaders as prisoners.

God’s judgment on Israel’s enemies, .15-.16.  God’s judgments on Edom corresponded to her crimes. Edom looted Jerusalem, so she would be looted; Edom killed Judean fugitives, so she would be slaughtered;  she handed over survivors to the enemy, so Edom’s allies would turn on her; Edom rejoiced of Israel’s losses, so she would be covered in shame and destroyed. Interestingly, all this took place about 5 B.C. when the Nabeteans, worshipers of gods and goddesses of fertility and the celestial bodies, arrive and built an alliance with Edom, which had become a major trade route by this time.  Once the Nabeteans gained the trust of the Edomites, they suggested a party be held in Edom’s capital city Teman (named after Esau’s grandson) to celebrate the alliance. Once inside the city gates, the Nabeteans quickly killed the national guard, plundered the city, then chased most all the Edomites out the county. The fugitives fled to southern Judah, where they became known as Idumea, and would eventually join the Macabees in their revolt against Rome and be wiped out completely. The few Edomites who remained with the Nabeteans blended in. The Nabeteans then built up the canyon cities and filled it with stone carvings of amazing skill. Their  capital city is now an archeological site of great interest known today as Petra in modern day Jordan.

God kept his promise to Obadiah and fulfilled the prophecy of justice on Edom. It may have taken 850 years, but God’s judgment is inevitable. “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promises, as some think of slowness.” The coming of Jesus Christ will happen, maybe today, maybe 850 years from now, but rest assured God will keep his promise.

God’s blessings on the people of Israel, .17-.21. 

  1. Israel’s deliverance, .17-.18
  2. Israel’s delineation of territories, .19-.20
  3. Yahweh's kingdom established, .21

For those who trust Jesus Christ as their savior, the future holds immense hope. For those who do not trust God, the future is one of judgment. God will establish His kingdom with His people, and the rest will be banished forever. That’s a promise.

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