About the book of Obadiah
This is the shortest book in the *Old Testament. Obadiah means ‘the servant of *Yahweh’. Or it means ‘the person who gives honour to *Yahweh’. There are many people with this name in the *Old Testament. This Obadiah is not the same as the other ones.
The date depends on the answers to two problems.
a) Verses 1-9 are like Jeremiah 49:7-22. There are three ideas about why they are similar.
i) Jeremiah repeated what Obadiah wrote. If this is true, then Jerusalem’s *destruction (Obadiah verse 11) is the same as in 2 Chronicles 21:16. There, the writer describes how the *Philistines and the *Arabs attacked *Judah. They entered it with their army. They carried off all the possessions in the king’s palace. They also took his sons and his wives. This happened in 843 *B.C.
But the events in Obadiah verses 11-14 are more terrible than what happened then. In 2 Chronicles 21, the writer does not mention the people that lived in *Edom. The writer in 2 Kings does not say anything about the event either.
ii) Obadiah used the text of Jeremiah 49:7-22. In both Obadiah verse 1 and Jeremiah 49:14, someone sends a message that the nations should attack ‘her’. However, in Jeremiah the word ‘her’ refers to Bozrah (a town). But in Obadiah it refers to *Edom (a country.) Maybe Obadiah used the verse from Jeremiah and he did not change the grammar. Usually people used a female form of a *verb to describe people in a country. They did not use it to describe the country itself. Armies *captured Jerusalem in 586 *B.C. If Obadiah used Jeremiah’s text, then verse 11 would mean that time. The *people that lived in *Edom behaved like that then. In Psalm 137:7, the writer talks about this. ‘*Lord, remember what *Edom’s *people did. They cried out on the day when Jerusalem fell. “Tear it down! Tear it down to the ground!” ’
iii) Both writers repeated an earlier *prophecy. This is possible but we cannot prove it. If they did it, then again Obadiah meant Jerusalem’s *capture in 586 *B.C.
b) We must make a decision. Are the *verbs in verses 2 and 6-10 in the past tense? Or are they in the *prophetic perfect? (This means when people used the past tense to describe future events. *Prophets did this because they were so sure that the events would happen. A well-known example of this is when Isaiah describes Jesus’ *suffering in Isaiah chapter 53.) We know that the *Arabs did not *capture *Edom until the 5th century *B.C. The *Nabateans *captured it again in the 3rd century *B.C. So it is likely that Obadiah used the *prophetic perfect. If so, he wrote his book soon after *Israel’s enemies had *captured Jerusalem in 586 *B.C. During that period he would be the only *prophet who *prophesied in *Judah.
This name has its origins from Esau, Jacob’s brother. These two were not good friends. They struggled with each other in the womb. (The womb means the part of the body where a baby grows before birth.) The writer of Hebrews 12:16-17 says: ‘Esau was not *spiritual. (This means that he did not have a relationship with God.) He gave his rights as the oldest son to Jacob. He exchanged them for one meal. Afterwards he wanted to *inherit his rights. But his father refused to give them to him. He could not change what he had done. He tried to do so and he was weeping.’
*Edom’s *people lived in Seir. This is an area of mountains south and east of the Dead Sea. Two important trade routes went through it. Because its *people controlled these roads, they got a lot of money. But other people also attacked it. Its two chief cities were Bozrah and *Sela. *Sela is near the famous city of Petra. People cut this city out of red rock. It is still possible to see part of it today.
After *Israel’s *people had left Egypt, they wanted to go through *Edom. But *Edom’s *people did not allow *Israel’s people to go through (Numbers 20:14-21). Saul attacked *Edom and he defeated its army (1 Samuel 14:47). David killed many of *Edom’s *people. He made its other people his slaves (2 Samuel 8:13-14). Solomon built his ships at a port called Ezion-geber in *Edom. ‘Hadad, the king of *Edom, was an evil enemy of *Israel. He caused great *suffering.’ (See 1 Kings 11:22.) *Edom attacked *Judah at the time of King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20). ‘During the rule of Jehoram, *Edom’s *people opposed the authority of *Judah’s rulers. *Edom became a *kingdom that other countries did not control.’ (See 2 Chronicles 21:8.) Later King Amaziah *captured *Edom again and he killed 20 000 of *Edom’s *people (2 Chronicles 25:11-12). When Ahaz was king of *Judah, *Edom’s soldiers attacked it. They *captured many people. Now *Edom was completely free (2 Chronicles 28:17).
From 734 *BC *Assyria’s rulers controlled *Edom and then *Babylon controlled *Edom. Then the power of *Edom’s *people became weaker. *Arabs controlled *Edom and then the *Nabateans controlled it. Many of *Edom’s *people moved to southern *Judah. People then called this area Idumea. (This is where the *Arabs and many of *Edom’s *people lived.) The kings called Herod came from this country. They were *Israel’s kings at the time of the *New Testament. They did not behave in a good way about *spiritual truth. (In this way they were like Esau.) We can see this from their reaction to Jesus.
The *prophets said many times that *Edom’s *people were doing wrong. Here are some examples of this. ‘My sword descends in *judgement upon *Edom’ (Isaiah 34:7). ‘You *people of *Edom, he will punish the bad things that you have done. He will show your evil actions to everyone’ (Lamentations 4:22). ‘I will punish *Edom for the injuries that it has done to other nations’ (Ezekiel 25:12-14). ‘*Edom will be a desert’ (Joel 3:19). ‘Who is this that is coming from *Edom? A person that steps on *grapes has red on his clothes. But why are your clothes red like that? I walked upon the nations angrily with heavy steps’ (Isaiah 63:1-6). Here *Edom means the *people. And it means their ideas that are against God. The *Messiah will destroy them, and this will be part of his success. In Malachi 1:2-5, the writer looks back to *Edom’s *destruction. ‘I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau. I have changed his mountains into a desert.’
The message of the book
The writer gave a message of hope to God’s *people. He told them that they would see God’s *judgement. God ruined *Edom. *Edom’s *people had laughed when other nations ruined *Judah. *Edom’s *people thought that they were greater than the other nations. They thought that other nations would not ruin them. They forgot that *Israel’s *people’s God had power over all. When God carried out his *judgement of the nations, then *Israel’s *people would see God’s *justice. Then he would give back to *Judah’s *people what other nations had taken from them. God did not leave his *people alone when other nations defeated them. He continued to support them because of his promise to them.
God wanted to help his *people because he was the king over the nations. He was not only the king over *Israel. He controls events. He uses people to carry out his plans for good and also his plans for punishment. *Edom and *Babylon no longer exist. *Israel’s *people do exist. *Israel’s (Jacob’s) *people went through *suffering. This was one way that God was preparing them. Then God brought them back to what they were. *Edom’s (Esau’s) *people thought that they were better or more important than other nations. They did not do what God said. This led to *destruction.
Today there are many powerful enemies of God. Obadiah said that God would still support his *people. He would allow them to have freedom. He said that one day ‘the *kingdom would be the *Lord’s’.
‘He hoped that God would bring back his own *people. This meant something greater than pride in his country. In his *people’s success he sees the beginning of God’s *kingdom.’ (J. A. Thompson)
Plan of the book
The book is in two parts.
Part one: *Prophecy against *Edom, verses 1-14
Verse 1 Title and message
Verses 2-4 First *prophecy: *Pride brings *destruction.
Verses 5-7 Second *prophecy: People steal things. They are not loyal.
Verses 8-9 Third *prophecy: The day of *Judgement
Verses 10-14 Reasons for God’s *judgement of *Edom
They did nothing to help *Judah.
They laughed at *Judah’s *destruction.
Part two: *Israel and the nations, verses 15-21
Verses 15-18 The situation will completely change.
Verses 19-21 The *kingdom will come.
The book is in two parts but it has one message. Verse 15 links the two parts. In that verse, Obadiah warns people. He says, ‘The day of the *Lord is near for all nations.’ The ‘day of the *Lord’ is a special time when God will punish the nations. He warns *Edom’s *people that they will not escape. ‘People will do to you what you have done to other people.’ Obadiah repeats the word ‘day’ in verses 8, 11, 12, 13 and 15. God ‘cuts down’ *Edom in verse 9. *Edom’s army ‘cuts down’ *Judah in verse 14. *Yahweh speaks in verses 1, 4 and 8. And he acts in verses 15 and 21. Crime and punishment go together, as Obadiah says in verse 15. Proud people will become humble. Some people are glad that people steal. But then they will realise that people steal from them.
v1 The *vision of Obadiah. The *Lord of all says this about *Edom.
We have heard a message from the *Lord.
He sent someone with a message to the nations.
He said, ‘Get ready! Let us go to war against its *people.’
The word ‘vision’ refers to special words that God uses. He uses them to speak to people. It means that here Obadiah will speak the words of God. The *prophecy is about a terrible event that would happen to *Edom. Obadiah repeats what Jeremiah said in his *prophecy (Jeremiah 49:14). The nations that were once friends with *Edom’s *people would attack their country. Obadiah received a message about *Edom. At the same time, he heard that this attack would happen.
v2 I will make you low in position among the nations.
Everyone will think that you have no value.
v3 Your *pride has made you believe something. But that thing is not true.
You live in *Sela. You live there in the hiding place in the rock. (A hiding place is where people hide themselves. They go there so that other people cannot see them.)
Your home is high in the mountains.
You say to yourself,
‘Nobody can ever pull me down.’
v4 You fly very high like an eagle (a big strong bird with large wings).
Your nest seems to be above the stars,
but I will pull you down.
God is going to make *Edom small in size and in value. The *people thought that they were better than other people. They thought that armies could not attack their home. An eagle is a big strong bird with large wings. As an eagle flies high, so *Edom’s *people were high above their enemies. They were high above them as the stars are high in the sky. *Sela (verse 3) was the chief city of *Edom’s *people. They had cut the city out of rock. It was high up in the rock, so they could hide themselves there. They believed that nobody could *capture it.
They forgot that God was above them. He could easily pull them down. As we read in Proverbs 16:18, ‘*Pride leads to *destruction.’ People wanted to be like God. As a result, they did not obey God. This was the first wrong thing that they did. Many people today think that they are better than other people. Because of this, they think that they are safe. They forget the greatness of God.
v5 Let us suppose that thieves came to you.
Perhaps they came during the night.
They would steal only as much as they wanted.
(What terrible events will come to you!)
Perhaps people that pick *grapes came to you.
They would leave a few *grapes.
v6 Look how people have taken things from Esau.
They have stolen all the valuable possessions that he hid.
v7 Your friends have not been loyal to you. They have made you leave your country.
There are *people that were at peace with you. But now they have ruined you.
The friends that ate with you have made a plan. By that plan, they want to *capture you.
How foolish you were to trust them!
Here the writer imagines that thieves have attacked *Edom’s *people. These *people would know what would happen after that. Thieves that picked *grapes would leave some for the foreigners and poor people (Deuteronomy 24:21). But the *prophet interrupts his *prophecy with a cry of great fear. Then he declares that other people will completely destroy *Edom. Nobody and nothing will remain there.
This will not happen to *Israel. *Israel’s *people will receive punishment, but God will not completely destroy them. Here the *prophet is using the rhythm of a song for a funeral. This shows how terrible the punishment is. *Edom’s *people believed that their friends would help them. But in fact, their friends turned against them. This is like what Judas did to Jesus. He was a ‘friend’ of Jesus. But he was not loyal to Jesus. In verse 6 there is a reference to Esau. This links with the use of his brother Jacob’s name in verse 10. This verse shows how the nations should have behaved towards each other. Their *relationship should have been like the *relationship between brothers should be.
Verses 6-7 are in the *prophetic perfect. Obadiah writes about these events as if they had already happened. This is because he was so certain that they would happen.
v8 The *Lord says this.
On that day I will destroy the wise men of *Edom.
I will also destroy the wise men in the mountains of Esau.
v9 I will make the soldiers of *Teman very afraid.
I will kill every man in the mountains of Esau.
‘That day’ means the day of *judgement for *Edom. *Edom’s *people were a proud nation. They thought that they had greater wisdom than anyone else. Eliphaz, who tried to advise Job, was from *Teman. (We can read about this in the book called Job.) *Edom’s *people thought that their army was better than any other army. But God would destroy it. There would be a day of *Judgement for *Edom. Similarly, there will be a final Day of *Judgement for everyone. On that day, God will destroy everything in which people trust. This includes their wealth, their wisdom and their armies. And it includes help that they receive from other nations. ‘The mountains of Esau’ means the country called *Edom.
v10 Because you used force towards your brother Jacob,
you will be deeply ashamed.
I will completely destroy you.
v11 You stood on the other side
when strangers carried off his wealth.
You were as bad as those foreigners that broke down the gates.
They divided up Jerusalem among themselves.
This explains why God would punish *Edom’s *people. Here ‘Jacob’ means all of Israel’s people. In Deuteronomy 23:7, God told *Israel’s *people not to hate a person from *Edom. However, *Edom’s *people hated *Israel’s *people. *Edom’s *people used force against them. They hurt *Israel’s *people and they killed them. *Israel’s *people remembered that *Edom’s *people had attacked Jerusalem. (Look at Psalm 137:7.) Jesus told the story of the Good Samaritan. A Samaritan was a person who lived in Samaria. Samaritans and *Jews were enemies. This Samaritan helped the *Jew when people from the *Jew’s own country did not help him (Luke 10:30-35). The priest and the Levite, who were *Jews, ‘went by on the other side’. They did not help the man in trouble. (A Levite was a person from the family of Levi. The Levites helped the priests.) *Edom’s *people were like the priest and the Levite. They did not help *Israel’s *people when these were in trouble.
v12 On that day, your brother had a bad experience. But you should not then have considered him as worse than you.
On that day, when *Judah’s *people were destroyed, you should not have laughed at them.
On that day, they had their trouble. But you should not then have said how great you were.
v13 On that day, my *people were suffering *disaster.
But you should not then have entered their city.
You should not have considered them as worse than you.
You should not have seized their wealth.
v14 You should not have stood at the place where the roads cross each other. You were waiting there in order to kill people. Those were the people that tried to escape.
Nor should you have given to the enemy those that were still alive.
Hebrew is the language that the *Jews spoke. In the Hebrew Bible, these verses are commands. That is, ‘You should not consider them as worse…’ and so on. Actually they describe the events at the *capture of Jerusalem. So we have translated them here in the past tense. Because Obadiah has written the verses as commands, these events seem more terrible. *Edom’s *people have been told not to do certain things. But in fact, they have done them! Notice how they have moved from thoughts to actions. First, they ‘considered them worse’ and they ‘laughed at them’. Then they ‘entered the city’ and they ‘seized their wealth’. When we do wrong, the same thing happens. Jesus said that anger was as bad as murder! Some of *Judah’s *people tried to escape from their enemies. But *Edom’s *people tried to kill them. Or they handed them over to those enemies. These were the worst crimes that *Edom’s *people did.
Notice the use of the word ‘day’. This can mean ‘a good or bad event in connection with some place or person’. This leads on to the next section. That section refers to the Day of the *Lord. This is the final *judgement. God will decide then who is right or wrong.
v15 The day of the *Lord is near for all nations.
People will do to you what you have done.
What you have done will happen to you.
v16 As you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink in the same way. They will not stop.
They will drink. And they will continue to drink. They will become as if they had never been born.
v17 But some on Mount Zion will escape
and it will be a holy place.
The *people of Jacob will possess what their family gave them.
v18 The family of Jacob will be like a fire.
The family of Joseph will be like a flame.
They will destroy the family of Esau as if it were stubble. (‘Stubble’ means plants’ short stems that remain in the ground after people have cut off the top part of the plant.)
Nobody in the family of Esau will continue to live.
I, the *Lord, have spoken.
The day of the *Lord is when God punishes people. He does this because they have not obeyed his laws. This punishment may be an invasion (when an enemy enters a country). It may be a natural *disaster (a fire or when the earth shakes, for example). It will come upon the *Jews and the Gentiles (people that are not *Jews). The final Day of the *Lord is the Last *Judgement, when Christ comes again. Then God will punish those that oppose him. And he will save those that trust him. We cannot see in the Bible exactly when this day will come.
People will do to *Edom’s *people what *Edom’s *people did to other people. *Edom’s *people drank with pleasure when their enemies *captured the ‘holy hill’. (This is another name for Jerusalem. In verse 17 Mount Zion is also another name for Jerusalem.) Now *Edom’s *people and the other nations will suffer punishment by God. And they will suffer his anger. In the end it will be as if they had never been born. Mount Zion (Jerusalem) will be a place where some will escape. These will be the people that trust God. Joel was a *prophet who lived after Obadiah. In Joel 2:32 he repeated these words. ‘God will rescue everyone that calls the *Lord’s name for help. Because “on Mount Zion and in Jerusalem some will escape”. The *Lord has said this. Those that God calls will live.’ Mount Zion would be a holy place and it would be a safe place. This is because God would be there. It would be a mountain where there was *blessing. It would be very different from the mountain where Esau’s *pride was. *Israel’s *people would again possess the land that God had promised to them. This happened when Ezra led them back to Jerusalem from the foreign country called *Babylon. (The king of *Babylon sent him to help the *Jews make their home in Jerusalem.) They built again the place where they praised God. The names ‘Jacob’ and ‘Joseph’ mean all the 12 families of the sons of Jacob. Those families will be the agents of God’s anger. God will use them to ruin *Edom. (‘Fire’ and ‘flame’ here mean God’s anger.) Some of *Israel’s *people had escaped from Jerusalem. And they were still alive. *Edom’s *people tried to kill them. But in the end, none of *Edom’s own *people would remain alive.
The message for the modern reader is clear. When Jesus comes again, God will kill his enemies. *Edom’s *people are an example of God’s enemies. But he will rescue those that call him for help. He will keep them safe for ever. They will enjoy all the *blessings that God has promised them. Jesus Christ has drunk from the ‘cup’ of God’s anger. He did this for them. Jesus said, ‘Can you drink the cup of *suffering that I must drink?’ (Mark 10:38).
‘Christ’s death “joined in one body all the separated *people of God” (John 11:52). The “*Israel of God” (Galatians 6:16) will stand complete.’ (D. W. B. Robinson)
v19 People from southern *Judah will live in Esau’s mountains. People from the plains will own the country of the *Philistines. They will live in the fields of Ephraim and Samaria. The *people in the family of Benjamin will own Gilead. v20 The group of *Israelites in Canaan had to leave their own country. They will own the land as far as Zarephath. The people in Sepharad that came from Jerusalem had to leave their own country. They will own the towns of southern *Judah. v21 People that free other people will go from Mount Zion. They will go to rule Mount Esau. The *Lord himself will be the king.
These verses are not written in poetry. They explain how much land *Israel will own. Southern *Judah is the Negev. This is the desert south of Beersheba. The people from there will live in *Edom. The people from the plains will live in the *Philistines’ country. This is the Shephelah. It is the low land west of Hebron towards the sea. (The *Philistines had often helped *Edom to oppose *Israel.) People from the plains will also live in Ephraim. (Ephraim is the country of the family of Joseph’s second son.) And they will live in the central part of the *Philistines’ country and Samaria. (Samaria was the chief city of the northern *kingdom of *Israel.) The family of Benjamin (Jacob’s youngest son) will completely control Gilead. (This is the land to the east of the river Jordan.) Verse 20 is very difficult to understand. We can translate the word ‘group’ as ‘Halah’. This is a place in *Assyria. Those people that had to leave their own country went there in 722 *B.C. We could then translate the first part of verse 20 in this way. ‘The *people from Halah that had to leave their own country, will return. (In the beginning they lived in *Israel, the northern *kingdom.) They will overcome Phoenicia as far north as Zarephath.’ (Zarephath was a small town in Phoenicia. It was between the towns called Tyre and Sidon. Phoenicia was the country to the north-west of *Israel.) Therefore when they return they will have more land. The second part of verse 20 refers to the *Jews. Their enemies removed them from their own country in 586 *B.C. We are not sure what Sepharad means. Some people think that it is Sardis in Asia Minor. Perhaps some of the second group went there. When they return they will own southern *Judah, the area called the Negev. The *kingdoms of *Israel and *Judah will unite to rule the country.
People will free Jerusalem (Mount Zion) and they will rule over Mount Esau. Mount Esau is like all the nations that oppose God. The *Lord (*Yahweh) will be the king.
In fact the *Israelites have never obtained all these lands. These verses may refer to how the good news about Jesus will spread. They also refer to the time that the writer of Revelation 11:15 describes. ‘The *kingdom of the world has become the *kingdom of our *Lord and his *Messiah. He will be the king for ever and ever.’
Obadiah is a difficult book to understand. However, the message is very important for today. In this book, we learn that God will completely defeat his enemies. God says to the *Messiah, ‘Sit here on the right side of me. I will put your enemies under your feet.’ (See Hebrews 1:13.) Punishment will come upon *Edom’s *people. It is like the punishment that will come upon *Babylon’s *people. In Revelation 18:5, 6 the writer says, ‘God remembers their wicked acts. Do the same to them as they have done to you.’ In his book, Obadiah also teaches that one day God will let his *people return. He will be the King over all. There will be a new Jerusalem. ‘The royal seat of God will be in the city. It is also the royal seat of the Lamb (a name that Jesus had). God’s servants will serve him’ (Revelation 22:3). Compare this with Obadiah verses 17 & 21. Of course, Obadiah did not know all that we know. However, he explained all this in a manner that his readers could understand.
Arabs ~ People that lived in desert areas. These areas were to the south and east of Israel.
Assyria ~ this is now northern Iraq. Its chief city was Nineveh. Its armies *captured *Israel, the northern kingdom. The Babylonians (people from *Babylon) defeated them in 612 *B.C.
B.C. ~ B.C. 600 means the year that was 600 years before Jesus came to earth, and so on.
Babylon ~ this was a large powerful country in southern Iraq with culture and education.
blessing ~ a good thing that God does for us; God’s protection.
capture ~ take control of a place or a person.
destruction ~ when people or God completely ruin something.
disaster ~ when something very bad happens.
Edom ~ the name that people gave to the *people that were from Esau’s family; the name of these *people’s country.
grape ~ a small juicy fruit that people use to make wine.
inherit ~ to receive money or property because of the death of its previous owner.
Israel ~ the nation that grew from Jacob’s family; the country where they lived, the northern *kingdom.
Israelites ~ the *people of Jacob’s family, who lived in *Israel.
Jew ~ a person who is from the family of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Judah ~ the southern *kingdom, to the south of *Israel.
judgement ~ when someone decides whether something is right or wrong; or punishment because someone has not obeyed God’s law.
justice ~ when someone does what is fair and right.
kingdom ~ a country or group of people that a king rules.
Lord ~ a name for God. It means ‘master’.
Messiah ~ a servant whom God has specially chosen; that is, Jesus.
Nabateans ~ these were the family of the son of Ishmael. They moved from place to place. Their chief city was Petra, which they cut out of red rock.
New Testament ~ the last part of the Bible. In it, we learn about Jesus and the church.
Old Testament ~ the first part of the Bible. In it we learn about *Israel. And we learn about the preparations for Jesus to come.
people ~ a nation or persons living in a particular place or country.
Philistines ~ people who lived in a country next to *Israel and *Judah.
pride ~ when people feel that they are better or more important than other people.
prophecy ~ a message from God. It often refers to the future.
prophesy ~ to speak a message from God.
prophet ~ a person who speaks a message from God.
prophetic ~ something that describes what will happen in the future.
relationship ~ a connection or friendship between people. It is often between people that are in the same family.
Sela ~ this word means ‘rock’. People built a city there, 1000 feet above Petra.
spiritual ~ A spiritual person has a *relationship with God. This is because that person often prays and he or she often reads God’s message, the Bible.
suffering ~ when someone is sad or when they have pain in their body or mind.
Teman ~ the name of Esau’s grandson; also a town in the north of *Edom. Its people were very wise.
verb ~ a word that shows an action, event or state.
vision ~ a dream; sometimes a dream that comes to a person who is awake; special words that God uses to speak to people. Here it means that here Obadiah will speak the words of God.
worship ~ when someone shows love or honour to God.
worshipper ~ someone who shows love or honour to God.
Yahweh ~ God’s name in Hebrew (the language that people spoke in *Israel and *Judah). It means ‘I am’ or ‘always alive’.
David Baker ~ Obadiah ~ Tyndale Commentaries
H. L. Ellison ~ Men Spake from God ~ Paternoster Press
D. W. B. Robinson ~ Obadiah ~ New Bible Commentary Revised 1970 ~ IVP
New Bible Dictionary
Bibles ~ Good News Bible, New International Version of the Bible