Obadiah is the fourth in the row of the twelve minor prophets whose books in the Dutch Bibles are at the end of the Old Testament. The book that bears his name is the smallest book we have in the Bible. You have to know the order of the minor prophets by heart to find this book without too much trouble.
But we would have missed a lot if we didn’t have his message in the Bible. His message is as powerful and valuable as those of the other prophets. Uniquely, he does not address his message to God’s people, but to a people that is extremely hostile to God’s people. It is striking that this hostile people is a brotherly nation. This gives a special meaning to Obadiah’s message.
Let us listen to the message of this man of God. We will discover that also his message contains a lot that is recognizable and current for us.
“For judgment [will be] merciless to one who has shown no mercy” (Jam 2:13a). This verse of James can well be placed as an inscription above the book of Obadiah. It powerfully represents the contents of the book. Perhaps we are wondering if the indignant prophetic sound of Obadiah is consistent with the New Testament message of forgiveness. But equally, we may wonder if we ourselves are not prisoners of what someone once called ‘a kind of sugar-coated Christendom’.
Do we still know the indignation for things that simply cannot be done, things about which God is angry? Obadiah is totally upset about Edom’s arrogance and gloating towards Israel, a brother nation after all. But Edom is a brother nation in another sense than Moab and Ammon. Moab and Ammon are descendants of Lot, the son of a brother of Abraham. It is also a different brother nation than the Ishmaelites because the latter are descended from Abraham, but not via Sara. Edom is a son of Isaac, the promised son of the pleasure of the LORD. Closer to Israel is not possible. Then it turns out: the closer the bond, the deeper the gap. As we progress in our reflections on this book, the correctness of Obadiah’s position against Edom will become more and more clear.
Obadiah, where he prophesied and about what
Obadiah means ‘servant of the LORD’. In the Old Testament several people listen to that name (1Kgs 18:3-16; 1Chr 12:9; 2Chr 17:7). Among them is the prophet of whom we have a book – in this case better: a message – in the Bible. He cannot be identified with any other Obadiah. The only time we encounter his name is in this book of the Bible. In order to find out more about him we will have to look at the contents of his message.
When we read that message, the place of action turns out to be the city of Jerusalem and its immediate surroundings, the mountainous land of Judah. Zion, the holy mountain of God (Oba 1:16,17,21), is the center of it. Nevertheless, the prophecy of Obadiah does not have Jerusalem or Judah as its subject, but Edom. Edom is told that it will be punished for what it has done to the children of Judah, after Jerusalem has been taken.
When did Obadiah prophesy
Obadiah is one of the first of the minor prophets. It is assumed that he prophesied during the reign of Jehoram (848-841 BC). Some historical biblical data plead in favor of this assumption. In the time of Jehoram the Philistines and the Arabs invaded Judah and plundered Jerusalem (2Chr 21:16-17; Joel 3:3-5; Amos 1:6). Under Jehoram, the Edomites free themselves from the domination of Judah (2Kgs 8:20-22). Another clue can be found in the comparison with what Jeremiah says about Edom in his prophecy (Jer 49:7-22). This is very similar to what Obadiah says.
Although the minor prophets are not strictly chronologically arranged, the place he occupies also gives an indication that he belongs to the older prophets. The minor prophets can be divided into main groups in such a way that the prophets who prophesied before the exile are mentioned first, while the three prophets who close the row of twelve have prophesied after the return from exile.
Edom, that is Esau
To better understand the prophecy, it is useful to look at the origin of Edom. Esau was named Edom in connection with the sale of his birthright (Gen 25:30). On that occasion he reveals his true nature. With his deed he shows his contempt for the gift of God. He prefers the immediate satisfaction of a bodily need. He is rejected because he rejects the gift of God (Heb 12:16-17).
Esau personally is never cursed. He has even received a blessing from Isaac (Heb 11:20), although the Name of God does not appear in it (Gen 27:39-40). If he would have served his younger brother Jacob, as God had determined at his birth (Gen 25:23b), there would also have been a blessing for him.
Only after a long history of revelation of hatred and enmity against his brother did God say that He hated him (Mal 1:3). This hatred of God does not concern Esau personally, but Esau in his offspring. Three times it says in the list of descendants of Esau that Esau is Edom (Gen 36:1,19,43). Edom is the name of the offspring of Esau as a people.
Edom’s hate against Israel
The first enmity of Edom reveals itself in Numbers 20. The Israelites are on their way to the promised land and must pass through the land of Edom. The request for this is refused by Edom with much display of power (Num 20:14-21). Despite all the courtesy of Moses and the people, Edom continues to show his enmity. They listen to nothing but the wicked and proud whisperings of their own hearts. They have always cherished this basic attitude of enmity.
Later, David submits them through Joab (2Sam 8:14). Under Jehoram they become apostate (2Kgs 8:20-22). As Judah and Israel decline more and more, Edom becomes more and more arrogant and rejoices in the evil that strikes God’s people (Psa 137:7). In Psalm 83, we see how Edom is part of the last alliance against Jerusalem with the intention of wiping the name of Israel off the earth (Psa 83:5-9). Ezekiel 35 also speaks of this everlasting hatred of Edom and shows that it has been public from the beginning (Eze 35:1-6).
Some descendants of Esau
Edom’s hatred of God’s people is sharply marked in his offspring. Amalek, for example, is a grandson of Esau (Gen 36:12). The descendants of Amalek are the first to attack Israel after the exodus from Egypt (Exo 17:8). The LORD says of them that He will “utterly blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Exo 17:14). He will do so through His own people (Deu 25:17-19).
There are still some Edomites who distinguished themselves. There is Haman, the Agagite (Est 3:1-10; 8:3,5; 9:24), who is inspired by only one thing and that is the extermination of the Jewish people. The name Agag is the title of the kings of Amalek. We also hear of ‘Doeg the Edomite’, who murders eighty-five priests of the LORD and exterminates the priestly city of Nob (1Sam 22:17-19). Edom’s hatred of God’s people and his murderousness also characterizes Herod’s family. Herod the Great is an Edomite. He is notorious for his infanticide in Bethlehem. His son Herod Antipas had John the baptist beheaded. Another son, Herod Agrippa I, kills James and also wanted to kill Peter.
God stands up for His people
The previous prophets, Hosea, Joel and Amos, spoke to Judah and Israel. They have presented to the people their unfaithfulness to God and the punishments that God therefore had to give. Obadiah does not address Judah or Israel. He does speak about Judah, but says nothing to their detriment. If God had spoken to his own people through Obadiah, He should have done so in the same way as the other prophets. But He speaks to Edom. That is why He ignores the failure of His own people and speaks according to His own intention.
It is as with His speaking through Bileam (Numbers 23-24). While Moses says in several speeches to Israel that they are rebels, God makes Bileam say in the presence of Balak: “He has not observed misfortune in Jacob; Nor has He seen trouble in Israel; The LORD his God is with him, And the shout of a king is among them” (Num 23:21). When God positions Himself against His people, He acts with them according to His righteous demands. He reminds them of their deviation and chastises them for their sins. But before the enemy, God always stands up for His people (Psa 105:12-15).
No enemy has the right to humiliate, despise, or plunder God’s people. If that happens, He shows what His people mean to Him and that no one can touch the “apple of His eye” with impunity (Zec 2:8). It is like with a disobedient child. The parents will punish the child for his behavior. But if someone else want to harm their child, they will stand up for him.
It is as if God is challenged by the attitude of the enemy to give a testimony of what His people mean to Him. Every attack of the enemy brings forth what is in God’s heart for His own. When God opens His heart over His own in their value to Him above those who are hostile to Him and His people, we hear the most beautiful and exalted things.
It is beautiful to see that on the cross. That is where man’s enmity has become most manifest. On the other hand, there is also the great manifestation of Who God is as light and love, especially in the face of man who rejects Him in His Son. The “chief” of sinners, Paul (1Tim 1:15), can thus become someone to whom God communicates His most glorious mysteries (Eph 3:2-11).
Edom, symbol of hate
In the hatred of Edom another general principle is expressed. In Edom, we see the hatred and enmity of the flesh toward God (Rom 8:7-8) and what belongs to God. Edom is the symbol of hatred for what God chooses. As long as Edom is not confronted with God’s people, it does not become public. But as soon as that confrontation is there, what is dormant present emerges in all intensity.
This can also be seen in the preaching of the gospel. People who appear to be neat shoppers suddenly express themselves in biting mockery or snarling annoyance when you offer them a gospel tract. No one knows himself until he comes into contact with what is of God. That is the true and decisive test for the soul. Christ is the perfect criterion and the perfect standard because only He is the perfect revelation of God.
Division of Obadiah
Obadiah’s prophecy can be divided in detail as follows:
I The message of the LORD (Obadiah 1:1)
II The humiliation of Edom (Obadiah 1:2-9)
a. Edom’s character (Obadiah 1:2-4)
1. Edom’s future smallness (Obadiah 1:2)
2. Edom’s current pride (Obadiah 1:3-4)
b. Edom’s disaster (Obadiah 1:5-9)
1. Edom’s plundering (Obadiah 1:5-6)
2. Edom trapped (Obadiah 1:7)
3. God’s initiative (Obadiah 1:8-9)
III The indictment against Edom (Obadiah 1:10-14)
a. The reason for the indictment (Obadiah 1:10)
b. The statement of the indictment (Obadiah 1:11-14)
1. The indictment described (Obadiah 1:11)
2. The indictment repeated and supplemented (Obadiah 1:12-14)
IV. The day of the LORD (Obadiah 1:15-21)
a. The judgment on Edom (Obadiah 1:15-18)
b. The occupation of Edom and other territories (Obadiah 1:19-20)
c. The kingship of the LORD (Obadiah 1:21)
A more global division is in three parts:
I The downfall of Edom and its destruction (Obadiah 1:1-9), with
1. the council of the LORD to make Edom small by hostile nations and to cast him from his certain height of rock castles (Obadiah 1:1-4); and
2. a painting in bright colors of how Edom is completely plundered by enemies and abandoned and deceived by his allies and friends and goes down powerless (Obadiah 1:5-9).
II The cause of his downfall (Obadiah 1:10-14).
III The exercise of righteousness over the nations and Edom and the establishment of the kingdom in Israel and its restoration and victory (Obadiah 1:15-21).