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Old Testament: Obadiah

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Mount Zion (Modern)Obadiah, one of the twelve Minor Prophets, announces judgment on the nation of Edom for its sins against Judah and Jerusalem. Specifically, the prophet denounces Edom for gloating over the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E., and accuses Edom of looting Jerusalem and handing over her fugitives. For these sins, says the prophet, Edom itself will be destroyed. This prophetic book, the shortest book in the Old Testament, ends by speaking of the "day of the LORD," when the nations will be defeated, Israel will be restored, and "the kingdom shall be the LORD's."

So What?

Though a very short book, Obadiah gives us the classic prophetic vision of judgment and hope. Jerusalem has fallen; Edom and the other nations seem to be victorious, but that is not the end of the story. The "day of the LORD" is coming, when the nations will be judged, and Judah and Israel will be restored. Such is a powerful vision of hope for a people in exile.

Where Do I Find It?

Obadiah is the thirty-first book of the Bible, the fourth book of the so-called "minor" (or shorter) prophets, the group of twelve prophetic books that close the Old Testament.

Who Wrote It?

The book is attributed to a prophet named Obadiah, but we have no biographical information about him. The name Obadiah seems to have been fairly common, as eleven other people by that name are mentioned in the Old Testament. None of them can easily be identified with the writer of this exilic book.

When Was It Written?

The description of Jerusalem's fall in Obadiah 11-14 places the date for the book's composition after 587 B.C.E. Given the detailed description of the Edomites' actions during the calamity, it seems likely that Obadiah was written not long after the events described, that is, sometime during the Babylonian exile (587-538 B.C.E.).

What's It About?

The book of Obadiah recounts the downfall of Jerusalem in 587 B.C.E., condemns Edom for its part in the catastrophe, and holds out hope for "the day of the LORD," when Israel and Judah will be restored, and Edom will be destroyed.

How Do I Read It?

Obadiah is a prophetic book, rooted in particular historical circumstances but looking to a future time when God's reign will be established on earth. You should read it, therefore, both with some knowledge of its historical background and with an understanding of its future vision. Obadiah is concerned both with the events of 587 B.C.E. and with a coming age that is in God's hands. Like most prophetic books then, Obadiah calls its readers to have faith in God as they find themselves in an already-and-not-yet time, a time between what has already happened and what God has promised is yet to come.

AUTHOR: Kathryn Schifferdecker, Associate Professor of Old Testament

I. Introduction (Obadiah 1-4)
The prophet Obadiah speaks an oracle of the Lord against Edom. Though Edom feels secure living in "the rock" (the Hebrew word for "rock"--Sela--was also the name of a prominent Edomite city), the Lord will bring Edom down.

II. Judgment on Edom (Obadiah 5-9)
Edom's allies will betray her, and the Lord will destroy both wisdom teachers and warriors in Edom.

III. Edom's Sins against Judah (Obadiah 10-14)
The prophet lists the reasons for Edom's punishment: Edom gloated over Judah's downfall, looted Judah's goods, and handed over her fugitives to the enemy.

IV. The Day of the Lord (Obadiah 15-18)
The "day of the LORD" approaches, when all the nations will be punished for their sins; but Judah and Israel ("the house of Joseph") will be restored and will consume Edom as fire consumes stubble.

V. The Restoration and Expansion of Israel (Obadiah 19-21)
Obadiah's book ends with a vision of Israel and Judah restored and their territory expanded. Those on Mount Zion (in Judah) will rule over those on Mount Esau (in Edom) and the kingdom will belong to the Lord.

AUTHOR: Kathryn Schifferdecker, Associate Professor of Old Testament

Obadiah 11-14 establishes the background for the book in the events of 587 B.C.E., when the Babylonians captured Jerusalem and took its people into exile. Though the Babylonians are not mentioned by name in Obadiah, the description of the "day of their calamity" (v. 13) matches the events of Jerusalem's destruction. Obadiah implicates the Edomites as partners in that destruction. This identification of Edom as an accomplice of Babylon is echoed in other biblical texts (Psalm 137; Lamentations 4:21-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; 35:5 [Mount Seir is in Edom]). The actions of the Edomites are viewed as particularly wicked because of the fraternal relationship that existed between Israel and Edom; Israel traced its ancestry to Jacob, Edom to his brother Esau (Genesis 36). This brief prophetic book is written, then, after 587 B.C.E., both to condemn the Edomites and to announce the coming restoration of Judah and Israel.

AUTHOR: Kathryn Schifferdecker, Associate Professor of Old Testament

Judah/Jacob and Edom/Esau. Obadiah condemns Edom for collaborating with Babylon in the destruction of Jerusalem. Edom's actions are condemned in the harshest terms because they are understood as the betrayal of a fraternal relationship between the two nations. Traditionally, Judah and Edom understood themselves as kindred nations, descended from the twin brothers Jacob and Esau. In the oracle against Edom, Obadiah therefore refers to Judah as "your brother" or "Jacob" (vv. 10, 12), and refers to Edom as "Esau" (verses 6, 9, 18, 19).

Obadiah's relationship to Jeremiah. Obadiah 1-6 echoes significant portions of Jeremiah 49:9-16. These similarities indicate literary dependence of one text on the other. Scholars disagree as to which way the dependence runs, however. Some argue that Jeremiah is dependent on Obadiah; others argue the reverse. A third possibility is that both prophetic books are quoting an earlier prophetic oracle against Edom.

AUTHOR: Kathryn Schifferdecker, Associate Professor of Old Testament

The Day of the Lord. Obadiah, like other prophets, speaks of "the day of the LORD," an approaching time of judgment for sin and restoration of God's people. (See Isaiah 13:6; Ezekiel 30:3; Joel 1:15; 2:1, 11, 31; Amos 5:18, 20.)

Retributive justice. In Obadiah 15, the prophet says to Edom, "As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head." Just as Edom betrayed its brother Jacob (v. 10), so its own allies will betray it (v. 7). Just as Edom handed over Judah's "survivors" to the enemy (v. 14), so it will have no "survivor" (v. 18). God will punish Edom and all the nations according to their sins.

AUTHOR: Kathryn Schifferdecker, Associate Professor of Old Testament