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Studies in the Prophets


                Shortest book in the Old Testament
                It is a single oracle against the nation Edom
                No king or event is mentioned
What can we tell about the book?
The answer is not a great deal.
From time to time there was conflict between Israel and Edom
Edom versus Israel
It was even prefigured in Genesis where the characters Jacob and Esau were the ancestors of Israel and Edom (Genesis 25 and 36)
Num 20:14-21 Edom barred the way of Israel as they travelled to the Promised Land.  Nu 20:14-21.
Edom was a vassal to Judah in ninth century until it rebelled against King Joram. This led to a period of war between them 2Kings 8:20-22.
In the 8th century Judah again dominated Edom for a time but Edom was able to attack Judah in return. 2Kings 14:7 and 2 Chron 28:17.
In the same century Amos accused Edom of attacking  “His brother” (Israel and Judah) Amos 1:11-12.
It was also a willing trader of Israelite slaves (1:6,9)

History behind the oracle
In 587 Edomites joined in the destruction of Judah by the Babylonians  (Ps137:7..Lam 4:21-22… Ezekiel 25:12-14). I think it is likely that the oracle against Edom found here in Obadiah stems from that time and that incident

Obadiah 7 contains an allusion to a specific event, but again it does not give enough information to pin it down to a known situation.
I think there are similarities between the writings of Obadiah and the prophecies of Jeremiah, especially Jeremiah 49. It may well be that one is dependent on the other, or it may well be that it is a sort of common rhetoric chanted against the Edomites.
It is sufficient in my mind to suggest that the writings of Obadiah come from a period shortly after the Fall of Jerusalem in 587BC

1-4          A declaration of God’s judgement on Edom’s pride
5-10       An argument showing that the destruction of Edom will be complete
11-14     The central accusation about Edom plundering Judah
15-21     The Day of the Lord against the nations and Edom.  Israel regains the land.

Two things I would ask you to notice about this book, which I have to admit I do not rush to read:-

  1. The very careful way in which it is written. I always find on the very few occasions that I visit a synagogue service, that the scriptures are read too quickly. Unkind critics see this complaint about my limited ability to translate when it goes at speed, but Hebrew is a very poetic and beautiful language and the book of Obadiah is full of passion. You can see or detect it in the phrase “on the day or in the day between verses 10-14 and that culminates in verse 15 with “For the day of the Lord is near upon all  the nations”

10 For the violence done to your brother Jacob,
    shame shall cover you,
    and you shall be cut off for ever.
11 On the day that you stood aloof,
    on the day that strangers carried off his wealth,
and foreigners entered his gates
    and cast lots for Jerusalem,
    you were like one of them.
12 But you should not have gloated over the day of your brother
    in the day of his misfortune;
you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah
    in the day of their ruin;
you should not have boasted
    in the day of distress.
13 You should not have entered the gate of my people
    in the day of his calamity;
you should not have gloated over his disaster
    in the day of his calamity;
you should not have looted his goods
    in the day of his calamity.
14 You should not have stood at the parting of the ways
    to cut off his fugitives;
you should not have delivered up his survivors
    in the day of distress.

  1. 15 For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.
    As you have done, it shall be done to you,
  2. The intention of Obadiah is to encourage post-exilic Judah in the same way that other oracles against the nations do.

After 587BC  the people of Judah were keenly aware that they had suffered at the hand of God for their misdeeds. The prophetic warnings of many generations had come to pass. They could no longer pretend that their God would never act against them. Obadiah is part of a corpus of Old Testament literature that reminded them of this fact.

Certainly there was outrage against the nations who acted against them, but Edom (of all nations) …supposed in the order of things to have been a relative (a distant one possibly through Esau) should not have acted in the way it did. Probably that is why Obadiah spoke out in the way he did and why the prophecy found its way in to the book of the twelve.


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