AN INTRODUCTION TO THE BOOK OF OBADIAH
Obadiah [OH-buh-DI-uh; "servant of Yahweh"] Nothing is known of Obadiah beyond his name. Even the date of his prophecy is debated. The book describes a violation of Jerusalem by the Edomites (Oba10-14).
Jerusalem was in fact attacked several times, first in the ninth century B.C. (2 Ki 8:20-22; 2 Chr 21:16,17), again in the eighth century (2 Chr 28:16-18), and lastly in the early sixth century B.C. by the Babylonians. Any or all of these occurrences could have been the background against which Obadiah speaks. Jewish tradition fixes on the earliest date, about 844 B.C., while many modern scholars prefer the later date, noting the bitterness toward Edom that other prophets expressed about this time (Jer 49:7-22; Lam 4:21; Ezek 25:12-14; 35:1-15). Whatever the date, Obadiah announces God's judgment on the Edomites, a people descended from Esau, for their delight in the fall of Jerusalem and their attacks on fleeing Jews.
The Edomites remained persistent antagonists of Israel from the ninth century B.C. onward. After the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., the Edomites migrated heavily into southern Judah. Their territory became known as Idumea, the Greek form of Edom. They remained under foreign domination through the periods of the Persians, Maccabeans, and Romans. The Edomites disappeared as a people after the destruction of Jerusalem in A.D. 70.
In this book of Obadiah the Edomites are doomed for their hostility towards God’s people, amounting to hostility towards Yahweh himself. The Edomites had captured Judean lands in the southern part of Canaan, in the wake of Babylon’s elimination of the Judean military and political forces. The fate of these Edomites is sealed, like other nations that occupied Israeli territory. They will die out as a soverign people and the Israelites will repossess the promised land under Yahweh’s blessing. The present appearant defeat of Israel will only provide a temporary and false hope for Edom. The final fate of Edom is the same as for all the heathon and the wicked: death. Conversely, the eventual and final reward for God’s people is life eternal in abundance, which is how we should relate to the book of Obadiah.
The book has been often compared to Jer 49, especially Obad 1-6 with Jer 49:9-16. Many scholars argue for a dependancy between Jeremiah and Obadiah, that one preceded the other, but both were probably written close in time to each other. There is no agreement, however, amongst the scholars as to which came first. It is clear that there are a number of key introductory issues that are very much debated. As a rule, schaolerly debate on scripture increases inversely with to the data available. We must admit that we simply do not presently have enough factual data to settle certain issues about Obadiah and must therefore recognize this in the various positions we find that scholars may hold.
Details of the Overview:
I. TITLE OF THE BOOK:
A. In Hebrew the book is titled hydbu meaning "servant of Yahweh." This may have been a popular name as with Ahab's steward who met Elijah (cf. 1 Ki 18)
B. In Greek the book is titled OBDIOU, a transliteration of the Hebrew name and title
II. AUTHOR: Nothing is known historically about the author from the book or from other background materials. Obadiah is found 21 times in 19 verses in the Bible. It was a common name. Therefore, just the name itself does not provide any significance as to who the author was.
III. DATE: Sometime around the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (586/85 B.C.), either prior to or just after. A date can only be established in terms of likelihood rather than certainty. We can narrow the date by observing the actual occurance of the 5th century conquest of Edom which is predicted in Obadiah.
IV. HISTORICAL SETTING:
A. Josiah brought about the final spiritual revival for Judah when he came to the throne in 622 B.C.
B. The Babylonian empire arises; the Assyrians are defeated and the Assyrian Empire Falls
· Nineveh, the capital, was destroyed in 612 B.C by the Medes and the Chaldeans
C. A realignment of Power in 609 B.C. and later 1. Judah: When Assyria fell and Babylon arose Judah, under Josiah, removed itself from Assyria's control and existed as an autonomous state until 609 B.C. when it lost a battle with Egypt on the plain of Megiddo.
D. Egypt joined with Assyria to fight the Babylonians at Haran
1) Judah tried to stop Egypt's (Pharaoh Neco II) alliance but was defeated on the plain of Megiddo with the loss of their king, Josiah (cf. 2 Chron 35:20- 24).
E. Egypt ruled Judah:
a) Egypt (Necho) replaced Josiah's son, Jehoahaz, after three months with Jehoiakim (who was another son of Josiah) as a vassal king (2 Ki 23:34-35)
b) Egypt (Necho) plundered Judah's treasuries
c) Egypt (Necho) took Jehoahaz into captivity in Egypt
F. In 605 B.C. Judah's king, Jehoiakim, changed his loyalty to the Babylonians rather than the Egyptians and became Nebuchadnezzar's vassal king (2 Ki. 24:1)
G. In 601 Egypt defeated the Babylonians
1. Judah's king, Jehoiakim, switched loyalty from Babylonia to the Egyptians (2Ki 24:1)
2. On December of 598 Babylonia made an attack on Jerusalem leading to Jehoiakim's death and the surrender of the city by his successor, Jehoiachin, in March of 597
3. Nebuchadnezzar, replaced Jehoiachin after only three months of reign, deported him and 10,000 other leaders9 from the city, looted the city, and placed Zedekiah Judah's vassal king (cf. 2 Ki 24:12-16)
H. Zedekiah was a weak king who repeated the errors of those before him; he was convinced by Egypt to revolt with a coalition of other states (Tyre and Ammon) against Babylon (588 B.C. against the advise of Jeremiah) and Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
I. The Edomites joined in Babylon's destruction of Judah (Psalm 137:7; Lam 4:21-22; Ezek 25:12-14; 35:5, 12-15).
Edom [EE-duhm; "red"] The rough mountainous territory S of Moab and largely E of the Arabah, extending about 100 miles (160 km) from the Zered river valley, at the base of the Dead Sea, to the Gulf of Aqabah. Its inhabitants, the Edomites, were descendants of Esau (or Edom). Its chief cities were Sela, Bozra, and Teman. Num 20:14-21; Josh 15:1; Josh 15:21; 2 Sam 8:13-14; 2 Ki 8:20-22; Jer 49:7
Israel had many enemies in its history. These enemies were primarily Babylon, Egypt, and Assyria, but also the many smaller neighboring states of Aram, Philistia, Moab, Ammon, Phonicia (also called Tyre and Sidon), and Edom. Edom was particularly tenacious and constantly hostile towards Israel from the beginning (after the exodus) and to the end (after the exile). Hence Edom and the others were mentioned in prophecy against them. Edom, however, is particularly noteworthy because of its historical position as a brother nation to Israel (Gen. 25), having also descended from Jacob’s Easau. Therefore, leaving aside Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, Edom is the subject of more separate oracles against foreign nations (seven) and more brief or passing hostile references (four) in the prophetic books than any other nation.
VI. PURPOSE OF THE BOOK:
A. To proclaim judgment upon Edom for rejoicing over the fall of Jerusalem
B. To proclaim through the judgment of Edom that all of the nations will be judged for their hostility to God's people
C. To proclaim a message of hope for Judah
The Inevitability of
The Sumons To The Nations For Destruction (1:1)
The Lord has sent a messenger among the nations to stir them up to war against Edom. The Lord has spoken, so it is certain. Destruction is coming. Edom’s arrogance against Judah assumed that Judah had no allies.
Introductions of prophetic books take on various forms. Ten give relative chronological information in some manner, while Obadiah and five others are entirely undated. This introduction is unique in that it utilizes the compound “Lord Yehweh”, which is not very commonly used in the prophetic books except for Ezekial and Amos, where it is very common.
The Source of Destruction is God (1:2-4)
God's perspective (2a,4b)
God was going to be the source of their destruction. Edom wanted to be a powerful nation. They sought to control the trade routes. But they were never a force to be worried about. They thought they were secure in their stronghold, but God says they will be brought down.
There are two curse types described about Edom: decimation and dishonor. God says he will make them small in 2a and He will bring them down in 4b. This is contrasted with what is in between these statements in vs 3.
Note the language style used here in that Yehweh speaks directly to Edom typical of oracles against foreigtn nations. Yehweh speaks in the first person and uses the “prophetic perfect” as in “I have made you/I will make you” to emphasize that the punishment is virtually accomplished already.
Edom's pride (3)
To work your way into the more lush areas of Edom, you have to enter through narrow rocky terrain at an area called Petra (rock). If you had a million man army, you would have to enter one man at a time. So the Edomites were very secure in their stronghold.
Edom’s arrogance is being condemned, similarly to that found in Ezekiel. The rock location has fooled the nation of Edom into thinking that it is secure. In ancient times, height was always a very significant military advantage. The capital of Edom, Sela, has a meaning related to the word “rock”. Sela was located on a high plateau, surrounded by steep cliffs and approachable only via the southeast, which was well defended.
Yehweh’s power (4)
Since Yehweh’s power is unlimited, it does not matter how high Edom is and how well defended it is. Edom will surely fall. Most of the main cities of Edom were built in impenetrable high rock formations that were accessable only via narrow, vulnerable gorges. Even so, Yehweh had already shown Sela vulnerable in 775B.c. (2Kings 14:7) in the successful campaign of Amaziah (king of Judah) against the Edomites. Sela could have remained in the control Judah until the Egyptian attack of 605 or the Babylonian attack of 598 B.C.
The Thoroughness Of The Destruction (1:5-6)
More thorough than a robber at night (5a) A robber only takes the valuables. God wasn't going to leave anything in His destruction of Edom. More thorough than a grape gatherer during the day (5b) When you do harvesting by hand, there are always a few berries or grapes left. But not when God is through with you. There won't be anything left of Edom.
During the harvest of the grapes there is never enough time to harvest every single grape. The crop ripenning occurs so fast that overly careful picking of the first part of the crop would allow the rest to spoil. In contrast to thes two rhetorical questions, Edom will be stripped bare.
In verse 6, the term Esau is used for Edom as is also done throughout the rest of the book (v. 8,9,18,19,21). It is also used this way in Malachi 1 and other OT places.
The Means of Destruction: Edom's Allies (1:7)
Edom was not a strong military power. Therefore, its ability to plunder Jerusalem was its dependance on its alliance with a more powerful state, especially Babylon. This verse is a prediction of the future, again in the prophetic perfect. This type of defeat (by one who is trusted) is one that typifies helplessness, whereby the victim was never forewarned or aware of its pending doom. The Nabateans were caravan drivers whom the Edomites trusted and traded with. They were their business partners. They were allowed into the city, but they turned against the Edomites and conquered them.
The Objects of Destruction (1:8-9)
Yehweh will intervene and eliminate good decision making by the leaders of Edom. Essentially without leadership, the people will be helpless. God would destroy the wise men and the mighty men in Edom. During the coup, the leaders were killed first and eventually everyone else was slaughtered or deported.
Teman was a major city in northern Edom named after the grandson of Esau. Saying that if Teman’s soldiers are afraid, the nation as a whole (“mountains of Esau”) will be destroyed.
The Reason for Destruction
The Underlying Sin: Violence to His Brother— Judah (1:10)
These two nations began with Jacob and Esau. They should have been allies whenever foreign nations attacked one or the other, but we will see Edom’s response was when Judah was attacked. What Edom is being judged for is failure to obey one of the underlying principles of the law. The summary of the law was to love God and to love your neighbor. Even though Edom was not under the law of Moses, they still were responsible before God because their conscience should have told them they were violating the law of love.
Here for the first time the theme of the Edomite-Israelite kinship is brought forward (see also v. 12, 17,18) by the use of the words “your brother Jacob.”
The Specific Actions: (1:11-14)
Now Obadiah explains how they failed to show love for their neighbors.
Indifference to Judah's troubles (11)
When Judah was being attacked by Gentiles, Edom should have come to help his brother, but he stood aloof. He acted like a stranger (the Hebrew here is “like one of them”). They condoned the evil that was taking place. This shows us an interesting principle: It is common in our day to not want to get involved and there are many stories about people standing around, watching a crime be committed and not doing anything about it. This is not an amoral action, it is immoral. James says, “The one who knows the right thing to do and does not do it is sinning” (James 4:17).
Rejoicing over Judah's troubles (12)
They had an attitude such as, “better them than us.” This is also part of the condoning of sin, but it shows a progression towards a more advanced stage of evil. They aren’t just indifferent, they are glad that it is happening to Israel.
The specific mention of Judah’s destruction helps to date this book to the Babylonian conquest of the early 6th century. We can rule out the Assyrian conquest of the Israelites that had already taken place in 722 B.C.
Looting Judah's possessions (13)
This is like people who loot a city after a hurricane or something. If you can have degrees of evil, this is one of the lowest forms of theft. It is taking advantage of another's calamity.
Again in the middle of this verse Edom is condemned for gloating over Judah’s destruction. It is likely that Edom did not enter Jerusalem until after the Babylonians had already plundered it and abondoned it. The possibility exists that Edom plundered smaller towns along the way to/from Jerusalem that the Babylonians may have passed up.
We know from 2Kings 25:1-8 that Jerusalem was under seige from the Babylonians for nearly two years from 588-586 B.C. Its possible that while the Babylonian troops were concentrating on Jerusalem, the Edomites may have attacked smaller cities in southern Judah.
1 NOW in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, *Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, camped against it and *built a siege wall all around it.
2 So the city was under siege until the eleventh year of King Zedekiah.
3 On the ninth day of the fourth month *the famine was so severe in the city that there was no food for the people of the land.
4 *Then the city was broken into, and all the men of war fled by night by way of the gate between the two walls beside *the king's garden, though the Chaldeans were all around the city. And they went by way of the Arabah.
5 But the army of the Chaldeans pursued the king and overtook him in the plains of Jericho and all his army was scattered from him.
8 *Now on the seventh day of the *fifth month, which was the nineteenth year of King Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, Nebuzaradan the captain of the guard, a servant of the king of Babylon, came to Jerusalem.
Oppressing Judah's people (14)
When the Israelites fled from their enemies and headed to the south, Edom was there to capture the fugitives and then they sold the survivors as slaves.
The Day of the Lord
What is the Day of the Lord? In this context, it is the time when God will judge the enemies of Judah. In other contexts, it is the time when God will judge all those who have opposed His people. Still other times it refers to a final time when God will pour out His wrath on the earth to those who are unrepentant and remain after the Jesus Christ returns and raptures His church. It is an espression than generally refers to a time period rather than a single day as its name literally states.
When is it?
We need to understand what the prophets often had in mind as they spoke or wrote their visions.
The Day of the Lord occurs at the 2nd coming of Christ when He comes in judgment on the nations for their rebellion against God and mistreatment of God's people. It is a little confusing as your read the prophets to determine which part of their prophecy is going to be fulfilled in the near future and which will be fulfilled during the tribulation or the millennium.
Perhaps this is what is happening in our next few verses because in one sentence Obadiah is talking about Edom and the next he is talking about all the nations. The references to Edom's destruction would be the near fulfillment and the references to all the nations would be the far fulfillment. Edom’s fate is not isolated but is part of a larger general judgement “against all the nations”, which will be on a world wide scale.
1:15 begins by saying that the Day of the Lord draws near on all the nations (far fulfillment). Then it focuses on Edom with a singular “you” (near fulfillment). Just as Edom had cut off Jerusalem, so they would be cut off.
1:16f changes to plural “you” which leads one to believe this is really referring to the ultimate Day of the Lord when all the nations will drink the cup of God's wrath. Just like drinking too much makes you reel and stagger so does the wounded and dying soldier stagger around before he falls. Notice that they will “drink continually.” They will drink and drink ... They are really going to be staggering. The Edomites’ seizing of the Judean territory and their plunder of the Judean cities is symbolized by drinking. Now, however, all the nations (including Edom) will drink continually as Yehweh (in effect) gets them drunker and drunker until they die in a stupor. See also Isa 51:17-23; Jer 25:15-29; Ezek 23:31-34; Hab 2:16.
In 1:17 we see that Israel will be delivered and restored. Judah’s mountain sanctuary (“holy place”) will be a place of perpetual “escape” from harm. It will also once again exclusively belong ot Israel i.e. the house of Jacob. This prophecy refers to all of Jerusalem, not just the temple area. All of Jerusalem will be a holy place for God’s people to dwell.
1:18-21 returns back to the nearer fulfillment concerning Edom and we see that they will be completely destroyed with no survivors. This is poetic or ironic justice on Edom who tried to destroy the survivors of Jerusalem in verse 14. This has already come to pass. The Nabatians kicked them out of their city. The Hasmonians forced them to convert to Judaism and there is no one left today identified as an Edomite. There are no survivors. This is in contrast to Edom who tried to destroy the survivors of Jerusalem in verse 14.
Verse 18: Destruction by fire is a divine type of punishment and the Isrealites are depicted metaphorically as its means of applying it against Edom. Joseph is Jacob’s most prominent son, though not the oldest.
The statement “For Yehweh has spoken” should not be taken as a message of closure, since its placement within prophecy is routinely found.
19: Restoration of the land to its rightful inhabitants is a basic justice.
Conclusion and Application
You can see in Obadiah most of the major categories of the prophetic message:
· Promise of Judgment
· Reasons for Judgment
· Description of Judgment
· Future Deliverance or Restoration
About the only thing missing is the call for repentance.
What are some personal applications we can make?
(1) Pride deceives and leads to more sin.
(2) Sin follows a downward path. We saw how Edom progressed in his sins against Judah. At first it was just complacency, but then it was the promotion of evil and finally participation in the evil. It shows us how dangerous complacency is. It doesn't stop there. Are we complacent about anything?
(3) God will keep His word. Obadiah said Edom's judgment would be complete and appropriate. They would get what they deserved. And in fact they did.
(4) God will punish sin. We are introduced to the Day of the Lord. He sees what nations are mistreating His people and He will judge them accordingly. It shows us that God is in control. This is really important for us to believe when we face tough times.
(5) God will protect His own. God is good and He loves us and will take care of us.
These last two ideas, that God is in control and that God is good are extremely important to living the Christian life. These principles were repeated often in the OT and again in the NT.
Prophecy is good because it helps me see that God is in control and God is going to preserve His people.