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Introduction to the Book of Obadiah

Julian Spriggs M.A.

The Book of Obadiah is the shortest book in OT, with only twenty-one verses. There are ten distinct predictions forming seventeen verses, or 81% of the whole book.

Obadiah the prophet

Obadiah’s name means 'Servant of Yahweh'. There are thirteen different people mentioned in the Bible as Obadiah, making it one of the commonest names. We have no way of knowing who the Prophet Obadiah was. Obadiah prophesied against the nation of Edom. He was probably a contemporary of Jeremiah and Ezekiel.

Historical background

The date of Obadiah is difficult to determine, as there are few clues. There are two main views, based on times when Edomites plundered Jerusalem:

1) During the reign of Jehoram (843-840 BC)

Some people suggest a date of approximately 844 BC, connecting the book in with 2 Chr 21:16f and 2 Kg 8:20, during the reign of Jehoram. There is no mention of destroyed temple or description of the fall of Jerusalem. The nations mentioned in the book are not neighbours from the time of the exile, but earlier foes such as the Philistines. Obadiah rebukes the same sins as Amos did in the eighth century.

2) During the reign of Zedekiah (597-586 BC)

More often the book is dated sometime after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BC. Verses 11-14 appear to fit most naturally with the destruction of Jerusalem, when Edom was particularly hostile to Judah, and rejoiced over her fall (Ps 137:7, Ezek 25:12-14, 35:1-15, Lam 4:21).

Other suggestions are during the reign of Amaziah (803-775 BC - 2 Chr 25:11-12,23-24) or during the reign of Ahaz (741-726 BC - 2 Chr 28:16-21). Whatever the date we know that Jerusalem was plundered and sacked (probably either by Philistines in 844 (2 Chr 21:16f) or Babylon 586 BC) and Edom had delighted in this and shared in the plunder. The Edomites are particularly rebuked for standing aloof while Jerusalem was being attacked, siding with the attackers, gloating over Judah's misfortune, rejoicing on the day of their ruin, boasting in day of their distress. They also entered Jerusalem and looted goods, cut off the fugitives from the city and delivered up survivors in day of distress (v11-14)

Outline of Book

v1-9 The overthrow of Edom is certain
v3-4 They will be shaken from their security
v5-6 They will be plundered by their enemies
v7 They will be deserted by their allies
v8-9 They will be stripped of wisdom and might

v10-14 The reason for Edom's downfall
v10 Edom's hostility to Jacob her brother
v11 Edom's alliance with Judah's foes
v12-14 Edom's part in Judah's overthrow

v 15-16 Edom will be judged

v17-21 Israel will be restored

The nation of Edom

Various names are used for Edom in the OT. The most common is Esau, Mount Esau or The House of Esau. Another is Seir or Mount Seir (Gen 36:8), named after the mountainous region in the north-west of Edom. Sometimes one of the cities of Edom is used to indicate the whole nation. These include Teman, Dumah, Dedon, Bozrah and Selah (Petra).

The land occupied by the Edomites is south and east of the Dead Sea. It is a rocky mountainous ares, east of the Arabah (100 miles (160 km) North to South, 20 miles (30 km) East to West). Much of the land was inhospitable, but there were good areas to cultivate. The trade route connecting Mesopotamia and Egypt called 'The King's Highway' passed through the southern extremity of this region, thus adding to the treasury of Edom. Edomites went out on raiding parties, then returned to impregnable strongholds.

The Edomites were descended from Esau, the older twin brother of Jacob (Gen 36:1,8-9). Even before the children were born to Rebekah, she was told that, two nations are in your womb ... the elder shall serve the younger" (Gen 25:22f). Esau sold his birthright for some food (Gen 25:27-34) and became the type of all irreligious people who are insensitive to spiritual values, as described by the author of Hebrews, "See to it that no one fail to obtain the grace of God, that no root of bitterness spring up and cause trouble, an by it the many become defiled, that no one be immoral or irreligious like Esau ... For you know that afterwards, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears". (Heb 12:15-17).

Esau had occupied this area around the time when Jacob came back from Haran (Gen 32:3) and was well established by the time of the Exodus and living by a monarchic pattern. Jacob was forbidden to travel through Edom, so had to go round the country (Num 20:20-21). God had given Edom their land and Israel was not to take them.

Saul had conflict with Edom but David subdued them putting garrisons throughout the land (2 Sam 8:14). This opened up the way for Solomon to build a port at Ezion-Geber on the Gulf of Aqaba, and exploitation of the copper and iron mines in that territory.

Edom joined other nations to fight against Jehoshaphat (2 Chr 20). Edom rebelled in the reign of Jehoram (848-841 BC) and became independent for forty years (2 Chr 21:16, 2 Kg 8:21).

Amaziah started the re-conquering Edom and Uzziah, his successor, completed the conquest, he restored the port at Elath, but a few years later Edom formed an alliance with Israel and Syria and carried captives away from the southern Kingdom in 735 BC and gained independence (2 Kg 16:5-6, 2 Chr 28:16-17). Judah never recovered Edom.

In 732, Tiglath-pileser III of Assyria subdued Edom to be a vassal state. This lasted for one century. It quietly accepted Babylonian suzerainty in 604 BC. Edom joined Nebuchadnezzar in the overthrow of Jerusalem in 586 BC and were overjoyed (Ps 137:7, Lam 4:21-22, 2 Chr 36:11-21, Ezek 35:5,12,15).

In the era after the exile Edom came under Arab control and by the fourth century had been overrun by the Nabataeans who made their capital in Petra, carved in cliffs in mountain canyons. Some Edomites moved into the area south of Judah forming the Idumaean peoples, others were absorbed by the Arabs.

Judas Maccabeus had a victory over the Idumeans in the Akrabattene in 164 BC. John Hyrcanus occupied all of Idumaea about 120 BC and compelled its people to adopt Judaism.

The Idumeans naturally came under the Romans when Rome took over Palestine. One result was that from these peoples came Antipater, the father of Herod the Great, as governor of the country in 63 BC. His son founded in 37 BC the final dynasty of Palestinian rulers.

After the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 the Idumeans disappeared from history thus ending the Edomites.

Summary of history of Edom

Date BC OT Reference Event
Gen 25:21-26
Gen 30
Jacob and Esau born
Esau called Edom = Red
1900 Gen 32:3
Gen 36:5-8
Esau inland of Edom (Seir)
Moved through lack of space
1400 Num 20:14-21 Edom refused Israel safe passage
c.1020 1 Sam 14:47 Saul fought Edom and had victories
c.1000 2 Sam 8:13
1 Kg 9:26
David put garrisons in Edom
controlled port city
c.940 1 Kg 11:14 Edom rebelled against Solomon
c.865 1 Kg 22:47
2 Kg 3:7-9
Jehoshaphat subdued Edom
c.844 2 Kg 8:20 Edom rebelled against Jehoram First Option for date of Obadiah
c.844 2 Chr 21:16-17 Philistines and Arabs invade Judah and carry away captives (Jehoram)
c.770 2 Kg 14:7-10
2 Chr 25:14
Amaziah defeated Edom (and worshipped Edom's gods)
c.760 2 Chr 26:2 Uzziah restored Elath (Edom) to Judah
c.720 2 Chr 26:2
2 Chr 28:16
Under Ahaz Edom regained independence
Ahaz called on Assyrian help because of Edom's continued attacks
732 Tiglath Pileser III of Assyria took Edom and Syria
604 Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon took Edom Second option for date of Obadiah
587 Ps 137:7
Ezek 35:5
Edom allied with Babylon when they captured Jerusalem
5th cent Came under Arab control. Edomites moved to Negeb and became Idumeans
4th cent Overrun by Nabataeans
164 1 Macc 5:1-5
Jos Ant 13.8.1
Idumea defeated by Judas Maccabeus
120 Jos Ant 13.9.1
John Hyrcanus occupied all of Idumea and forced them to become Jews
63 Came under Pompey's rule (Rome)
Antipater became Governor of Judah
37 Herod the Great became king of Judah
AD 70 Idumeans disappear from history

Other prophesies against Edom

Amos 1:11-12
Is 21:11
Is 34:5-17
Jer 49:7-22
Lam 4:21-22
Joel 3:19
Ezek 25:12-14,35
Ezek 35:1-15,47
Ps 137
(Mal 1:3)