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Obadiah: A Brief Study
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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 world?

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 mission.

            "Do you love me?" (Jn 21:l5-17).

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".