Obadiah : A Brief Study
This shortest book in the Old
Testament, with only twenty one verses, embraces the divine inspiration and
centers on the doom of the kingdom of Edom (v. 1-16) and the restoration of Israel
(v.17-21). It is believed to be written during
the Babylonian captivity, as the Chaldean attack on Jerusalem in 586 BC was a battle participated by Edom. Many parallel verses found in the other
prophetic books support this period of writing (v. 2-4 to Jer
49:14-16; Eze 35:15; vs 10
to Joel 3:19). Little is known of the
author Obadiah (Hebrew: 'servant of God').
The key subject
of this book, the Edomites, were the
descendants of Esau, also known as 'Edom'. The name first appeared in Genesis 25:30
when, for a bowl of red porridge, Esau sold his birthright. Later, together with his family, he emigrated to the wilderness of Seir,
dispossessed the original inhabitants, the Horites
and became the dominant group in the area.
Geographically, the kingdom of
Edom is situated south east of Judah: bounded in the north by the wilderness of
Judah, the Dead Sea and River Zered; the east by the
Syrian desert; the west by the Sinai Penisula and the
south by the Gulf of Aqabah. Most of the country is rugged and
mountainous, with peaks rising to 3500 feet.
Along its eastern plateau lays the famous king's highway where Moses'
request to the Edomites for a passage through was
turned down (Num 20:14-18). Its
well-known cities include Sela (the capital), Petra, Teman and Bozrah. The region is rich in copper and iron and the
country enjoyed great economic affluence.
The book opens with a declaration
of war against the kingdom
of Edom. The sovereign Lord has sent an envoy to stir
the nations against her (v. 1). A battle
is to be fought, and the outcome is decreed: Edom shall be subdued (v. 2). The reasons for her destruction are revealed
as the vision continues. "The pride
of your heart has deceived you" thus said the Lord (v. 3). The ‘clefts of the rock’ and ‘eagle nests’
probably refer to Petra, a city built on a plateau, whose only approach is
through a mile long rocky cleft between cliffs more than 700 feet high. This fortified city seems impenetrable,
hence the Edomites' boast "who will bring me
down to the ground?" (v. 3b) "I will", replies the Lord. Though Edom may exalt as the eagle and
nests among the stars, He will throw her down (v. 4). Unlike thieves who may steal no more than
they can carry, Edom's
outcome will be total ruins; her destruction complete (v. 5, 6). She will be despised and wiped out of history
by those who were once her allies (v. 7).
Her wealth and famous philosophers (eg. Eliphaz the Temonite - Job 2:11) cannot save her. Her pride will destroy her (v. 8, 9).
Embodied in Edom's arrogance is her ignorance
of God, the Creator of the universe.
Prosperity and education have blinded her from acknowledging the source
of all wisdom. They have become her
stumbling blocks in faith. Although
sharing the same ancestry as Israel
(descendants of Jacob), the Edomites have turned away
from the worship of Yahweh. Alas, they
have forgotten that no nation can survive without the providential care.
The next charge against the Edomites is "for the violence done to your brother
Jacob" (v. 10). Indeed, the family
feud that began with the two brothers Esau and Jacob has continued over the
centuries. Their descendants remain
enemies and the Edomites never failed to grasp any
opportunity to attack (II Chr 28:16, 17). Notwithstanding this, the Israelites were
forbidden to bear any ill-feelings against them (Deut 23:7). But Edom's bitter hatred persists
through the generations. Hence, when
"strangers carried off his (Israel)
wealth and foreigners entered his gates" (v. 11), presumably referring to
the destruction of Jerusalem
by Nebuchadnezzar, the Edomites have looked on with
pleasure (v. 12) and rejoiced. Worse,
they plunder their possessions (v. 13) and aid the enemies: intercepting the
fleeing Israelites at the crossroads and either killing or delivering them to the
pursuers. Such inhumanity will not go
unpunished (v. 15). The day of the Lord
will come when the wicked will be judged and the righteous blessed. On that day, "as you have done, it shall
be done to you, your deeds shall return on your own heads" (v. 15).
As history later reveals, the
prophecy is fulfilled shortly after the Chaldean
destruction of Jerusalem. The armies of Nebuchadnezzar passed down the valley of Aqabah and
crushed the Edomites.
The nation lost her separate identity around 150 BC and she finally
disappeared from history around 70 AD when Titus, the Roman General destroyed Jerusalem.
The closing verses of the book (v.
17-21) prophesy the Lord's gracious promise to Israel. When the time comes, she
will be restored to her former glory (v. 17, 18). As well as recovering her lost lands, she
will also gain the lands of the Philistines and the Edomites
(v. 19, 20). As for the house of Esau,
the Lord declares, there will be no survivors (v. 18).
The vision of Obadiah, centering
upon Edom and Israel,
descendants of the brothers Esau and Jacob, holds significant spiritual
teachings for believers today. The
lifestyles o" the brothers typify man's two inner natures: the carnal as
represented by Esau and the spiritual by Jacob.
The former loves the outdoors and is seldom at home. Jacob meanwhile is a quiet and homely person
who spends his days among the tents (Gen 2S:27). As true believers in the household of God, we
shall imitate the peaceful and quiet Jacob, and stay in God's house (ie the church) to study His words. Although venturing into the world for our
livelihood is unavoidable we must remember to return to the church. Unlike Esau, we shall not be engrossed in the
pleasures of this world and yield to the carnal desires within us.
It is an unquestionable fact that
man's two inner natures are always in conflict.
The carnal seeks for materialistic and lustful satisfactions which
incite to sin, bearing the price of death (Jas 1:14, 15). The case of Esau bears an important warning
for present day believers. He had looked
down upon his birthright and sold it to satisfy his physical needs. His subsequent regret was to no avail; God
had rejected him. The door of grace was
closed. Likewise, have we looked lightly
upon our status as the children of God and continued to walk in the ways of the
The restoration of Israel is a
prophecy of the revival of the Church in the last days. She will prosper and preach the gospel of
salvation to all nations. Like a fire,
the words of God will move the hard-hearted, burn their dross and purify them
as fine gold. Equipped with the armor of
God, it is our responsibility as members of His household to carry out this
"Do you love me?" (Jn
This is the question raised by
Jesus after His resurrection. He
repeated it twice and each time Peter gave an affirmative reply. Being Christians we too would answer
"yes" immediately. But when
asked the second time, many may hesitate saying "I am not sure". This reluctance reflects our insufficient
works. For how can we say we love God if
we do not submit to His will and follow His commandments? It is not too late to confess our sins and
admit our weaknesses. Our merciful Lord
will surely listen to our cries. When we
are asked the third time, let us answer "I didn't but I will".