Introduction to Obadiah
The one-chapter prophecy of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. There is no clear evidence, either internal or external, concerning the date of writing. Most conservative scholars believe it is one of the earliest, perhaps the very first prophetic book. Others, especially liberals attribute it to the period after the destruction of Jerusalem.
Obadiah was presumably a prophet of Judah, although this is not absolutely certain. There are several other men named Obadiah (Servant of Jehovah) in the Bible, but none of them are the same as the author of the book.
The main theme of the book is a pronouncement of coming judgment on Edom, the nation descended from Esau, Jacob’s brother. Though closely related to the Israelites, the Edomites were almost perpetually at enmity with them, even participating with another (unnamed) enemy nation in an invasion and destruction of Jerusalem (Obadiah 11-15). Since there is no mention of the Babylonians in this situation, it is possible that the reference is to a much earlier invasion of Jerusalem by the Edomites (as described in II Chronicles 28:17) in the days of Ahaz.
In any case, the ultimate doom of Edom is pronounced in view of both her arrogant pride (Obadiah 3-4) and also because of her “violence against thy brother Jacob” (Obadiah 10). Although the complete judgment on Edom was long in coming, eventually Edom and the Edomites disappeared from history, whereas Israel has continued throughout all the ages.
1 Obadiah. Obadiah (“the servant of Jehovah”) is considered by many to be the first prophet chronologically (although his prophecy is the smallest chapter in the Old Testament), but there are at least a dozen Obadiahs mentioned in the Bible. None of the other men can be identified as the prophet Obadiah, so his identity and date of writing are unknown.
1 concerning Edom. Obadiah’s entire one-chapter prophecy deals with God’s coming judgment on Edom, the nation founded by Jacob’s twin brother, Esau. The fulfillment took place precursively later at the time of the Babylonian invasion, when Nebuchadnezzar decimated the Edomites and their land. The nation was eventually overrun by others and finally became desolate. However, the ultimate fulfillment will be when the confederacy invading Israel in the last days (Psalm 83; Ezekiel 38), which includes the Muslim Arabs now occupying Edom’s ancient land, is defeated and its influence destroyed.
3 clefts of the rock. Edom’s main city was the famous “rock city,” Sela, or Petra, considered almost impregnable because of the very narrow gorges which were its only access routes. Edom also controlled the chief trade routes between Asia and Egypt, becoming very prosperous.
10 against thy brother Jacob. Bible commentators have often written about Jacob and Esau as though Esau were the innocent victim of Jacob’s cupidity. However, a careful reading of the record will indicate that Esau and father Isaac were at fault in attempting to deprive Jacob of his God-ordained leadership of the chosen nation of Israel (see notes on Genesis 25–27). Esau’s resultant determination to slay Jacob, plus the influence of his pagan wives (Genesis 26:34-35; 27:41,46; 28:6-9), carried over into the attitude of all his descendants toward the children of Israel (note Ezekiel 35, especially verse 5). Finally, because of Edom’s continual harassment of Israel, God judged them with a decree of national extinction.
15 day of the LORD. If, as many scholars believe, Obadiah was the first of the writing prophets, this would be the first use of the important phrase, “the day of the LORD,” which is applied so frequently in Scripture to the judgments of the last days. Although Obadiah’s theme here is specifically the coming judgment on Edom, his vision goes far beyond that, applying it to “all the heathen”—that is, all the Gentile nations.
17 possess their possessions. The children of Esau, as well as those of Ishmael, Lot, and others, have thus far kept “the house of Jacob” from obtaining their divine inheritance, as promised by God to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, as well as David. Eventually, however, God’s Word will be vindicated, and Israel will “possess their possessions” in the coming age of Christ’s kingdom.
21 mount of Esau. The “mount of Esau” was Mount Seir, whereas “Mount Zion” could be called the mount of Jacob. Thus the age-long enmity between Jacob and Esau could be personified as a rivalry between Mount Seir and Mount Zion. “Yet I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau” (Malachi 1:2-3). Such was God’s evaluation of this rivalry, leading finally to Esau’s (Edom’s) destruction.