How to read Obadiah


    • Content a doom oracle against Edom for taking advantage of (probably) the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 588-86 B.C

    • Prophet: Obadiah, a prophet from Judah

    • Date of prophetic activity: probably just after the fall of Jerusalem (586 B.c.?)

    • Emphases: God's judgment on Edom for her sins against God's people; the defeat of those who think themselves unconquerable; Israel's deliverance and restoration on the day of the Lord


This fourth of the Book of the Twelve, which is also the shortest book in the Old Testament, is a single, unified prophecy against Edom that was probably spoken to various groups of Judeans to encourage them in the aftermath of their national tragedy. All the parts of a doom oracle are present: the announcement of doom-a prediction of Edom,s coming defeat (w. l-9); the reasons for doom-a review of Edom's crimes against his "brother" while Judah was helpless (vv. 10- 14); and the promised future (for Jacob, not Esau!)-on the day of the Lord Israel's sovereignty will be restored (w. 15--21).


Edom was Israel's most tenacious foe throughout the history of the two "brother" nations (v. 10; cf. Gen 25:24-34),so it should come as no surprise that Edom is the subject of more foreign-nation oracles than any other people (Isa 27:11- 1 2; 34:5- 15; Jer 4g:7 -22; Ezek 25:12-_14; 35: 1- 15; Amos I : t t -12; cf. Joel 3: l9; Mal l:2-5).

The principles for reading any foreign-nation oracle apply here. Yahweh is God not only of Israel but also of all the nations of the world; it reflects the "curse" side of the Abrahamic covenant ("I will curse those who curse you"); it is the prophet's engagement in the holy war, as a messenger of the Divine Warrior. If Israel's sins are great and deserve punishment, the treachery of Edom will also be punished, since it stands so completely over against God's own character of generosity and kindness. Moreover, if God is to deliver his people completely and permanently, he cannot leave their enemies free to strike again. Here again you find the typical final eschatological backdrop against which temporal judgments are to be understood.

You may want to read Psalm 137 alongside this oracle to capture the sense of how deeply Israel felt about Edom's treachery. You may also want to read Obadiah l-6 alongside Jeremiah 49:14-16 (for w. 1-4) and 49:9-10 (for vv. 5 -6); very likely Obadiah is restating and recasting Jeremiah's oracle as his starting point, an oracle that is probably well known to his hearers.


Verse 1

Title and Introduction

Before Yahweh actually speaks (w. 2-21), Obadiah presents himself as a messenger from the heavenly court who announces God's judgment on Edom in terms of the holy war.

Verse 2-9

Edom's Doom Announced

At God's command Edom will be conquered by a coalition of other nations (v. 1), and this in spite of its rocky, mountainous terrain in which it had rested secure for centuries (w. 2-+); their plunder will far exceed the usual level (w. 5-6). Note that, treachery for treachery, even Edom's old allies will turn against them and lead to their downfall (v. 7). Finally (w. 8-9), Yahweh declares the ineffectiveness of two groups in which it took great pride-its famed wise men (Job and his counselors were from apart of Edom) and its warriors.

Verse 10-14

The Reasons for Edom's Doom

The crime is treachery. When the Babylonians invaded Judah (2 Kgs 25), Edom quickly made a separate peace and then took advantage of Judah instead of helping its brother nation (Obad 11 -12), seizing Judean towns and farmlands (v. 13) and capturing Judeans fleeing from the Babylonians (v. 1 4; handing them over probably to be sold as slaves).

Verse 15-21

The Coming Day of the Lord

You will note that Edom's judgment is part of the coming day of Yahweh in which all nations will experience his wrath (v. 15). The judgment takes the form of the lex talionis ("eye for an eye"), when Esau's and Jacob's fortunes are reversed (vv 15b- 18), as the returning exiles repossess the promised land (w. lg-21; cf. Deut 30:1-10).

Obadiah reminds us of God's justice in punishing human sinfulness and of God's ultimate victory over earthly powers.