Book Of Obadiah

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The Book of Obadiah is found in both the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament of the Christian Bible, where it is the shortest book, only one chapter long. Its authorship is generally attributed to a person named Obadiah, which means “servant (or worshipper) of the YHWH”. Obadiah is classified as a "minor prophet" in the Christian Bible due to the brevity of the writing (only 21 verses) and the content (prophetic material). An Old Testament prophet was [professedly] not only a person who was given divine insight into future events, but a person whom the Lord used to declare his word.

Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. The theme of the book is the destruction of Edom. Consequent upon the overthrow of Edom is the enlargement of the borders of Judah and the establishment of the kingship of Yahweh. Thus far all scholars are agreed; but on questions of authorship and date there is wide divergence of opinion.

The first nine verses in the book foretell total destruction in the land of Edom at the hand of the Lord. Obadiah writes that this destruction will be so complete that it will be even worse than a thief who comes at night, for not even a thief would destroy everything. The Lord will allow all allies of Edom to turn away and help chase Edom out of its land. What is the reason for such a harsh punishment? Verses ten through fourteen explain that when Israel (the Lord’s chosen people) was attacked, Edom refused to help them, thus acting like an enemy. What is even worse is that Edom and Israel share a common blood line through their founders who were brothers, Jacob and Esau. Because of this gross neglect of a relative, Edom will be covered with shame and destroyed forever. The final verses, fifteen through twenty-one, depict the restoration of Israel and the wiping out of the Edomites. Verse eighteen says that there will be no survivors from the house of Esau once the destruction is complete. Israel will become a holy place and its people will return from exile and inhabit the land once inhabited by the Edomites. The final verse of the prophecy places the Lord as King who will rule over all the mountains of Edom.

Consists of one chapter, “concerning Edom,” its impending doom (Obadiah 1-16), and the restoration of Israel (Obadiah 1:17-21). This is the shortest book of the Old Testament.

There are on record the account of four captures of Jerusalem,

(1) by Shishak in the reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25);

(2) by the Philistines and Arabians in the reign of Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:16);

(3) by Joash, the king of Israel, in the reign of Amaziah (2 Kings 14:13); and

(4) by the Babylonians, when Jerusalem was taken and destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar (586 BC).

Obadiah (Obadiah 1:11-14) speaks of this capture as a thing past. He sees the calamity as having already come on Jerusalem, and the Edomites as joining their forces with those of the Chaldeans in bringing about the degradation and ruin of Israel. We do not indeed read that the Edomites actually took part with the Chaldeans, but the probabilities are that they did so, and this explains the words of Obadiah in denouncing against Edom the judgments of God. The date of his prophecies was thus in or about the year of the destruction of Jerusalem.

Edom is the type of Israel's and of God's last foe (Isaiah 63:1-4). These will finally all be vanquished, and the kingdom will be the Lord's (Compare Psalm 22:28).


Contents

Historical Context

The date of composition is disputed among scholars and is difficult to determine due to the lack of personal information about Obadiah, his family, and his historical milieux. The date of composition must therefore be determined based on the prophecy itself. Edom is to be destroyed due to its lack of defense for its brother nation, Israel, when it was under attack. There are two major historical contexts within which the Edomites could have committed such an act. These are during 853 – 841 BC when Jerusalem was invaded by Philistines and Arabs during the reign of Jehoram (recorded in 2 Kings 8:20-22 and 2 Chronicles 21:8-20 in the Christian Old Testament) and 605 – 586 B.C. when Jerusalem was attacked by King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, which led to the Babylonian exile of Israel. The earlier period would place Obadiah as a contemporary of the prophet Elisha, and the later would place Obadiah as a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, both of whom were prophets in the respective time periods. The later period appears to be the scholarly consensus as Obadiah 1-9 parallels Jeremiah 49:7-22. The passage in Jeremiah dates from the fourth year of the reign of Jehoiakim (604 BC), and therefore Obadiah 11-14 seems to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (586 BC). It is more likely that Obadiah and Jeremiah together were drawing on a common source presently unknown to us than Jeremiah drawing on previous writings of Obadiah as his source. There is also much material found in Obadiah 10-21 which Jeremiah does not quote, and which, had he had it laid out before him, would have suited his purpose admirably. Despite everything, however, there are a number scholars who support both dates and even some who support dates other than the two major possibilities presented. Therefore, any date for the composition Obadiah must be held tentatively.

Themes

The overwhelming theme found in Obadiah is the destruction of enemies of God’s people. Unlike some other prophets, Obadiah does not present a “turn or burn” message, simply a message of inevitable doom as a consequence of previous actions. A Christian with a knowledge of the New Testament of the Bible would say that although God’s grace and forgiveness abound in situations, there are consequences which result from bad decisions. Even more than all this, Obadiah shows that judgment falls even within the family of God, as Israel and Edom descended from twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. One can therefore expect that Obadiah's purpose was to make it known that according to his God, Yahweh, if members of the same family were to treat each other in the same manner as Edom treated the Israelites, they too may be subject to the wrath of God.

There is a second theme which lies under the surface of Obadiah's writing which may be relevant for Christians as a faith group. Just as there is perpetual conflict between the two nations of Israel and Edom who once struggled together within a single womb, Christians may understand from New Testament teaching that there is a similar conflict found within their very lives. The Epistle of Paul to the Galatians in the New Testament presents the idea that the spirit and the flesh are in constant conflict within a person. Coming from within a single being, just like the two nations in Obadiah’s prophecy, either the spirit or the flesh will ultimately overcome and the other will fail (just as Israel overcame and Edom failed). It is the Christian perspective that the spirit will ultimately prevail when the flesh becomes obsolete at the time in which Christians believe God will establish his new kingdom on earth.

Scholarly Issues

Aside from the scholarly debate surrounding the date of the prophecy which is discussed above, there is also discussion surrounding verse eighteen which says that once judgment has been carried out, “There will be no survivors from the house of Esau” (NIV). The problem arises when that statement is compared with Amos 9:12. According to Obadiah there will not remain even a remnant after Edom’s judgment; however, Amos talks about such a remnant whose possession will be given to Israel. Some scholars have suggested that Amos’s reference to Edom is symbolic of all nations who were once enemies of Israel and not meant to literally mean Edomites in the flesh. This is certainly the perspective of Luke as he recites the passage from Amos in Acts 15:17. Edom is symbolic of the remnant of men and Gentiles who will eventually bear God’s name. Moreover, Frederick A. Tatford in Prophet of Edom’s Doom says that Obadiah’s prophecy is fulfilled today as there is currently no trace of anyone who may be identified as an Edomite.

There is also scholarly discussion about the captivity of Israelites in Sepharad mentioned in verse twenty. It is believed that, in ancient times, "Sepharad" was a name for the modern day land of Spain. Sepharad is also the name of Spain in Rabbinical (and modern) Hebrew. The same verse also speaks of Tzarfat which is identified with France and is the name of France in Rabbinical (and modern) Hebrew. These may have referred to places in the Middle East and later came to refer to countries in Europe. This may be due to the fact that Rabbinic literature identifies Edom with the Roman Empire. If there was a Jewish colony of captives there, however, nothing is otherwise known of it; nor are any circumstances evident which would point to the existence of a colony of sufficient importance to be referred to in Obadiah. Therefore the location of Sepharad remains without a conclusive determination.

Parallels within Scripture

Although there are no direct parallels from Obadiah found within the New Testament, there are thematic parallels which were discussed previously. Elsewhere in scripture, we can note that verses 1-8 appear with minor changes in the Jeremiah 49:7-16, and the style and language found in Obadiah is very similar to the Book of Joel, particularly the end. Obadiah frequently uses the term "the Day of the Lord," which also appears in the Book of Joel, as well as in Isaiah]] 13, Amos 5, Zephaniah 1, and Malachi 3.

1. Contents of the Book:

(1) Yahweh summons the nations to the overthrow of proud Edom. The men of Esau will be brought down from their lofty strongholds; their hidden treasures will be rifled; their confederates will turn against them; nor will the wise and the mighty men in Edom be able to avert the crushing calamity (Obadiah 1:1-9).

(2) The overthrow of Edom is due to the violence and cruelty shown toward his brother Jacob. The prophet describes the cruelty and shameless gloating over a brother's calamity, in the form of earnest appeals to Edom not to do the selfish and heartless deeds of which he had been guilty when Jerusalem was sacked by foreign foes (Obadiah 1:10-14).

(3) The day of the display of Yahweh's retributive righteousness upon the nations is near. Edom shall be completely destroyed by the people whom he has tried to uproot, while Israel's captives shall return to take possession of their own land and also to seize and rule the mount of Esau. Thus the kingship of Yahweh shall be established (Obadiah 1:15-21).


2. Unity of the Book:

The unity of Obadiah was first challenged by Eichhorn in 1824, Obadiah 1:17-21 being regarded by him as an appendix attached to the original exilic prophecy in the time of Alexander Janneus (104-78 BC). Ewald thought that an exilic prophet, to whom he ascribed Obadiah 1:11-14 and Obadiah 1:19-21, had made use of an older prophecy by Obadiah in Obadiah 1:1-10, and in Obadiah 1:15-18 of material from another older prophet who was contemporary, like Obadiah, with Isaiah. As the years went on, the material assigned to the older oracle was limited by some to [[Isaiah 1:1-9 and by others to Isaiah 1:1-6. Wellhausen assigned to Obadiah 1:1-5, Obadiah 1:7, Obadiah 1:10, Obadiah 1:11, Obadiah 1:13, Obadiah 1:14, Obadiah 1:15, while all else was regarded as a later appendix. Barton's theory of the composition of Obadiah is thus summed up by Bewer: “Obadiah 1:1-6 are a pre-exilic oracle of Obadiah, which was quoted by Jeremiah, and readapted with additions (Obadiah 1:7-15) by another Obadiah in the early post-exilic days; Obadiah 1:16-21 form an appendix, probably from Maccabean times” (ICC, 5). Bewer's own view is closely akin to Barton's. He thinks that Obadiah, writing in the 5th century BC, “quoted Obadiah 1:1-4 almost, though not quite, literally; that he commented on the older oracle in Obadiah 1:5-7, partly in the words of the older prophet, partly in his own words, in order to show that it had been fulfilled in his own day; and that in Obadiah 1:8, Obadiah 1:9 he quoted once more from the older oracle without any show of literalness.” He ascribes to Obadiah 1:10-14 and Obadiah 1:15. The appendix consists of two sections, Obadiah 1:15, Obadiah 1:16-18 and Obadiah 1:19-21, possibly by different authors, Obadiah 1:18 being a quotation from some older prophecy. To the average Bible student all this minute analysis of a brief prophecy must seem hypercritical. He will prefer to read the book as a unity; and in doing so will get the essence of the message it has for the present day.

3. Date of the Book:

Certain preliminary problems require solution before the question of date can be settled.

(1) Relation of Obadiah and Jeremiah 49.

(a) Did Obadiah quote from Jeremiah? Pusey thus sets forth the impossibility of such a solution: “Out of 16 verses of which the prophecy of Jeremiah against Edom consists, four are identical with those of Obadiah; a fifth embodies a verse of Obadiah's; of the eleven which remain, ten have some turns of expression or idioms, more or fewer, which recur in Jer, either in these prophecies against foreign nations, or in his prophecies generally. Now it would be wholly improbable that a prophet, selecting verses out of the prophecy of Jeremiah, should have selected precisely those which contain none of Jeremiah's characteristic expressions; whereas it perfectly fits in with the supposition that Jeremiah interwove verses of Obadiah with his own prophecy, that in verses so interwoven there is not one expression which occurs elsewhere in Jer” (Minor Prophets, I, 347).

(b) Did Jeremiah quote from Obadiah? It is almost incredible that the vigorous and well-articulated prophecy in Obadiah could have been made by piecing together detached quotations from Jeremiah; but Jeremiah may well have taken from Obadiah many expressions that fell in with his general purpose. There are difficulties in applying this view to one or two verses, but it has not been disproved by the arguments from meter advanced by Bewer and others.

(c) Did both Obadiah and Jeremiah quote from an older oracle? This is the favorite solution among recent scholars, most of whom think that Obadiah preserves the vigor of the original, while Jeremiah quotes with more freedom; but Bewer in ICC, after a detailed comparison, thus sums up: “Our conclusion is that Obadiah quoted in Obadiah 1:1-9 an older oracle, the original of which is better preserved in Jeremiah 49.” The student will do well to get his own first-hand impression from a careful comparison of the two passages. With Obadiah 1:1-4 compare Jeremiah 49:14-16; with Obadiah 1:5, Obadiah 1:6 compare Jeremiah 49:9, Jeremiah 49:10; with Obadiah 1:8 compare Jeremiah 49:7; with Obadiah 1:9 compare Jeremiah 49:22. On the whole, the view that Jeremiah, who often quotes from earlier prophets, draws directly from Obadiah, with free working over of the older prophets, seems still tenable.

(2) Relation of Obadiah and Joel.

There seems to be in Joel 2:32 (Hebrew 3:5) a direct allusion to Obadiah 1:17. If Joel prophesied during the minority of the boy king Joash (circa 830 BC), Obadiah would be, on this hypothesis, the earliest of the writing prophets.

(3) What Capture of Jerusalem Is Described in Obadiah 1:10-14?

The disaster seems to have been great enough to be called “destruction” (Obadiah 1:12). Hence, most scholars identify the calamity described by Obadiah with the capture and destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in 587 BC. But it is remarkable, on this hypothesis, that no allusion is made either in Obadiah or Jeremiah 49:7-22 to the Chaldeans or to the destruction of the temple or to the wholesale transportation of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to Babylonia. We know, however, from Ezekiel 35:1-15 and Psalm 137:7 that Edom rejoiced over the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in 587 BC, and that they encouraged the destroyers to blot out the holy city. Certain it is that the events of 587 accord remarkably with the language of Obadiah 1:10-14. Pusey indeed argues from the use of the form of the direct prohibition in Obadiah 1:12-14 that Edom had not yet committed the sins against which the prophet warns him, and so Jerusalem was not yet destroyed, when Obadiah wrote. But almost all modern scholars interpret the language of Obadiah 1:12-14 as referring to what was already past; the prophet “speaks of what the Edomites had actually done as of what they ought not to do.” The scholars who regard Obadiah as the first of the writing prophets locate his ministry in Judah during the reign of Jehoram (circa 845 BC). Both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles tell of the war of rebellion in the days of Jehoram when Edom, after a fierce struggle, threw off the yoke of Judah (2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10). Shortly after the revolt of Edom, according to 2 Chronicles 21:16 f, the Philistines and Arabians broke into Judah, “and carried away all the substance that was found in the king's house, and his sons also, and his wives; so that there was never a son left him, save Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons.” Evidently the capital city fell into the hands of the invaders. It was a calamity of no mean proportions.

The advocates of a late date call attention to three points that weaken the case for an early date for Obadiah:

  • (a) The silence of 2 Kings as to the invasion of the Philistines and Arabians. But what motive could the author of Chronicles have had for inventing the story?
  • (b) The absence of any mention of the destruction of the city by the Philistines and Arabians. It must be acknowledged that the events of 587 BC accord more fully with the description in Obadiah 1:10-14, though the disaster in the days of Jehoram must have been terrible.
  • (c) The silence as to Edom in 2 Chronicles 21:16 f. But so also are the historic books silent as to the part that Edom took in the destruction of Jerusalem in 587. It is true that exilic and post-exilic prophets and psalmists speak in bitter denunciation of the unbrotherly conduct of Edom (Lamentations 4:21, Lamentations 4:22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Psalm 137:7; Malachi 1:1-5; compare also Isaiah 34 and Isaiah 63:1-6); but it is also true that the earliest Hebrew literature bears witness to the keen rivalry between Esau and Jacob (Genesis 25:22 f; Genesis 27:41; Numbers 20:14-21), and one of the earliest of the writing prophets denounces Edom for unnatural cruelty toward his brother (Amos 1:11 f; compare Joel 3:19 (Hebrew 4:19)).

(4) The Style of Obadiah.

Most early critics praise the style. Some of the more recent critics argue for different authors on the basis of a marked difference in style within the compass of the twenty-one verses in the little roll. Thus Selbie writes in HDB: “There is a difference in style between the two halves of the book, the first being terse, animated, and full of striking figures, while the second is diffuse and marked by poverty of ideas and trite figures.” The criticism of the latter part of the book is somewhat exaggerated, though it may be freely granted that the first half is more original and vigorous. The Hebrew of the book is classic, with scarcely any admixture of Aramaic words or constructions. The author may well have lived in the golden age of the Hebrew language and literature.

(5) Geographical and Historical Allusions.

The references to the different sections and cities in the land of Israel and in the land of Edom are quite intelligible. As to Sepharad (Obadiah 1:20) there is considerable difference of opinion. Schrader and some others identify it with a Shaparda in Media, mentioned in the annals of Sargon (722-705 BC). Many think of Asia Minor, or a region in Asia Minor mentioned in Persian inscriptions, perhaps Bithynia or Galatia (Sayce). Some think that the mention of “the captives of this host of the children of Israel” and “the captives of Jerusalem” (Obadiah 1:20) proves that both the Assyrian captivity and the Babylonian exile were already past. This argument has considerable force; but it is well to remember that Amos, in the first half of the 8th century, describes wholesale deportations from the land of Israel by men engaged in the slave trade (Amos 1:6-10). The problem of the date of Obadiah has not been solved to the satisfaction of Biblical students. Our choice must be between a very early date (circa 845) and a date shortly after 587, with the scales almost evenly balanced.

4. Interpretation of the Book:

Obadiah is to be interpreted as prediction rather than history. In Obadiah 1:11-14 there are elements of historic description, but Obadiah 1:1-10 and Obadiah 1:15-21 are predictive.

Literature.

Comms.: Caspari, Der Prophet Obadjah ausgelegt, 1842; Pusey, The Minor Prophets, 1860; Ewald, Commentary on the Prophets of the Old Testament (English translation), II, 277 ff, 1875; Keil (ET), 1880; T.T. Perowne (in Cambridge Bible), 1889; von Orelli (English translation), The Minor Prophets, 1893; Wellhausen, Die kleinen Propheten, 1898; G.A. Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, II, 163 ff, 1898; Nowack, Die kleinen Propheten, 1903; Marti, Dodekapropheton, 1903; Eiselen, The Minor Prophets, 1907; Bewer, ICC, 1911. Miscellaneous: Kirkpatrick, Doctrine of the Prophets, 33 ff; Intros of Driver, Wildeboer, etc.; Selbie in HDB, III, 577-80; Barton in JE, IX, 369-70; Cheyne in EB, III, 3455-62; Peckham, An Introduction to the Study of Obadiah, 1910; Kent, Students' Old Testament, III, 1910.

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