Book of Obadiah

From New World Encyclopedia

Books of the

Hebrew Bible

Torah | Nevi'im | Ketuvim
Books of Nevi'im
First Prophets
1. Joshua
2. Judges
3. Samuel
4. Kings
Later Prophets
5. Isaiah
6. Jeremiah
7. Ezekiel
8. 12 minor prophets

The Book of Obadiah is a prophetic book of the Hebrew Bible (and the Christian Old Testament), where it holds the honor of being the shortest book. Due to its length, the book is situated in the collection of the twelve minor prophets. Its authorship is generally attributed to a prophet named Obadiah, whose name means “servant (or worshiper) of the Lord,” but about whom nothing else is known.

The text of the Book of Obadiah is singularly focused on one theme: the divinely sanctioned destruction of the Edomites, a race that had previously turned its back on the Israelites in their time of need.

Historical context

The date of composition is disputed among scholars and is difficult to determine due to the lack of personal information about Obadiah, his family, and his historical milieu. The date of composition must therefore be determined based on the prophecy itself. In the text, the narrator foresees that Edom is to be destroyed due to its failure to defend its brother nation (Israel) when the latter nation had been under attack. There are two major historical contexts within which the Edomites could have so neglected their erstwhile allies: first, it could be referring to the period between 853–841 B.C.E., when Jerusalem was invaded by Philistines during the reign of Jehoram (recorded in 2 Kings 8:20-22 and 2 Chronicles 21:8-20); conversely, it could also describe the Hebrew kingdom in 605–586 B.C.E. when Jerusalem was attacked by King Nebuchadnezzer of Babylon, which led to the Babylonian exile of Israel.[1] The earlier period would make Obadiah a contemporary of the prophet Elisha, and the later would place Obadiah as a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. The literary style of the text, especially when taking into account certain parallels with the Book of Jeremiah, has led to a general scholarly consensus that Obadiah should be dated to the later period.[2]

Rather than assuming that this textual parallel implies that one text borrowed from the other, it is also possible that Obadiah and Jeremiah together were drawing on a common source presently unknown to us. There is also much material found in Obadiah 10-21 which Jeremiah does not quote, and which, had he had it laid out before him, would have suited his purpose admirably.[3] While the modern scholarly consensus favors placing the text in the early sixth century (ca. 600 B.C.E.),[4] this does not represent a unilateral agreement.[5] Thus, it must be stressed that this historical enigma has not been unambiguously resolved.

Topical Overview

The first nine verses in the book foretell the total destruction of the land of Edom at the hand of the Lord. Obadiah writes:

Though you soar like the eagle
and make your nest among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,"
declares the Lord.
If thieves came to you,
if robbers in the night—
Oh, what a disaster awaits you—
would they not steal only as much as they wanted?
If grape pickers came to you,
would they not leave a few grapes?
But how Esau will be ransacked,
his hidden treasures pillaged! (1: 4-6) (NIV).

The Lord will allow all allies of Edom to turn away and help chase Edom out of its land.

The reason for God's promotion of such a harsh punishment can be found in verses ten through fourteen, which explains that when Israel was attacked, Edom refused to help them. In this, they acted like an enemy. What exacerbates this offense is that Edom and Israel share a common blood line through their founders, the brothers, Jacob and Esau. Because of this gross neglect of a relative, Edom will be covered with shame and destroyed forever.

The final verses, fifteen through twenty-one, depict the restoration of Israel and the wiping out of the Edomites. Verse eighteen says that there will be no survivors from the house of Esau once the destruction is complete. Israel will become a holy place and its people will return from exile and inhabit the land once inhabited by the Edomites. The final verse of the prophecy places the Lord as King who will rule over all the mountains of Edom:

This company of Israelite exiles who are in Canaan
will possess the land as far as Zarephath;
the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad
will possess the towns of the Negev.
Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion
to govern the mountains of Esau.
And the kingdom will be the Lord's (1: 20-21) (NIV).[6]


The overwhelming theme found in Obadiah is the wrathful, though just, character of God in his destruction of Israel's enemies. Unlike some other prophets, Obadiah does not present a “turn or burn” message, simply an account of the inexorable doom that the Edomites have brought upon themselves through actions against God' people. "To balance the theological crisis created by the destruction of Jerusalem, the religious and political center of the Yahwistic community, Obadiah used a developed theology of divine justice. God would intervene and punish those who had been involved in the plunder of Jerusalem: Edom. In vv. 2-9, Edom's destruction is announced. In vv. 10-14, the nature of Edom's crimes is developed. Verse 15 emphasizes [that] the punishment [is] warranted by Edom's betrayal of Judah and offense against God."[7] This perspective forwards the agenda Deuteronimistic Theology by arguing that God's justice would be manifested in and through history.[8] Futher, Obadiah shows that judgment falls even within the family of God, as Israel and Edom descended from twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. One can therefore expect that Obadiah's purpose was to make it known that according to his God, Yahweh, if members of the same family were to treat each other in the same manner as Edom treated the Israelites, they too may be subject to the wrath of God.[9] A Christian with a knowledge of the New Testament of the Bible would say that although God’s grace and forgiveness abound in situations, there are consequences which result from bad decisions.

Additionally, the Book of Obadiah is important for developing the teleological view of history understood to culminate in the return to a Israelite homeland: Zion. As such, the text represents an important instance of the "Day of the Lord" motif common to the later prophetic period.[10] As Koch suggests,

This Day is now imminent, and Obadiah yearns for it on Israel's behalf, seeing it in the context of a popular eschatology. ... In a second daying, Edom's doom is linked with a victorious Isrealite advance against all the nations which had robbed them of land (vv. 16-18). A later addition describes in detail the regions which are going to be recovered. This addition is worth mentioning because it closes with the expectation that Yahweh will manifest his royal dignity on a renewed Mount Zion (vv. 17-21). This expectation emerges for the first time in the middle of the sixth century, and is an early form of the later hope for a manifestation of the kingdom of God on earth.[11]

Another theme that can be drawn from Obadiah's writings, one that may be relevant for Christians as a faith group, is the notion of "intimate conflict." Just as there is perpetual conflict between the two nations of Israel and Edom, who once struggled together within a single womb, Christians may understand from New Testament teaching that there is a similar conflict found within their very lives. Paul’s Epistle to the Galatians in the New Testament presents the idea that the spirit of God and the flesh are in a continual struggle within a person (cf. Romans 8:6-9, Colossians 3:5), just like the two nations in Obadiah’s prophecy. Either the spirit or the flesh will ultimately overcome and the other will fail (just as Israel overcame and Edom failed). It is the Christian perspective that the spirit will ultimately prevail in the resurrection of the dead (e.g. Romans 8:23) with the coming of a renewed heavens and earth (e.g. 2Peter 3:13).

Scholarly issues

Aside from the scholarly debate surrounding the date of the prophecy which is discussed above, there is also discussion surrounding verse eighteen which says that once judgment has been carried out, “There will be no survivors from the house of Esau” (NIV). The problem arises when that statement is compared with Amos 9:12. According to Obadiah, there will not remain even a remnant after Edom’s judgment; however, Amos talks about such a remnant whose possession will be given to Israel.[12] Some scholars have suggested that Amos’s reference to Edom is symbolic of all nations who were once enemies of Israel and not meant to literally mean Edomites in the flesh.[13] This is certainly the perspective of Luke as he recites the passage from Amos in Acts 15:17. Edom is symbolic of the remnant of men and Gentiles who will eventually bear God’s name. Moreover, Frederick A. Tatford in Prophet of Edom’s Doom says that Obadiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled, as today there is currently no trace of anyone who may be identified as an Edomite.[14]

There is also scholarly discussion about the captivity of Israelites in Sepharad mentioned in verse twenty. It is believed that, in ancient times, "Sepharad" was a name for the modern day land of Spain. Sepharad is also the name of Spain in Rabbinical (and modern) Hebrew. The same verse also speaks of Tzarfat which is identified with France and is the name of France in Rabbinical (and modern) Hebrew. However, it seems more likely that this passage refers to communities in Asia Minor (most often Sardis in Lydia (Asia Minor)). Despite this, the location of Sepharad remains undetermined.[15]

Parallels within Scripture

Although there are no direct parallels from Obadiah found within the New Testament, there are some thematic parallels, as have already been discussed. Elsewhere in scripture, we can note that verses 1-8 appear with minor changes in the Book of Jeremiah 49:7-16,[16] and that the style and language found in Obadiah is very similar to the Book of Joel.[17] Finally, Obadiah frequently uses the term "the Day of the Lord," which also appears in the Book of Joel, as well as in Isaiah 13, Amos 5, Zephaniah 1, and Malachi 3.


  1. Some additional options are outlined in Elliot's dated (but still relevant) article, where he summarizes: "The following dates have their respective advocates : 1. Hofmann, Delitzsch, Keil and Kleinert place him in the reign of Jehoram, between B. C. 889-884. 2. Caspari, Taeger, Hengstenberg, Haevernick and others place him in the reign of Uzziah. 3. Vitringa, Carpzov, and Kueper, in the time of Ahaz. 4. Aben Ezra, Luther, Calovius, Michaelis, Schurrer, Rertheau, Holzapfel, and very many moderns place the date of the prophecy immediately after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. 5. Hitzig and Eichhorn place it soon after 312 B.C.E." (321). Also see Raabe, 49-51 for a detailed, modern analysis.
  2. The textual parallel in question is between Obadiah 1:1-9 and Jeremiah 49:7-22. Raabe, 22-31.
  3. Raabe performs a detail syllable-to-syllable comparison of Obadiah 1:1-9 and Jeremiah 49:7-22, noting that certain verses share over fifty percent of their vocabulary and syntax (22). As a result of his analyis, Raabe hypothesizes that Obadiah's composition followed Jeremiah's.
  4. Bandstra, 367; Pagán, New Interpreter's Bible, 436; Koch, 83-84; Raabe, 51.
  5. As above, refer to Elliot (331-334) for an overview of these positions.
  6. Secondary summaries of the text, with analysis, can be found in: Pagán, 438-440; Raabe, 18-22; Peckham, 678-682.
  7. Pagán, 441. See also: Raabe, 58.
  8. Peckham, 687.
  9. Raabe notes that, in addition to the text's metaphorical significance, it could also be directed at the historical Edomites, many of whom dwelt in Southern Judah as expatriates (57).
  10. Pagán, 411.
  11. Koch, 84. See also: Pagán, 441-442; Raabe, 3 (and passim).
  12. Raabe, 41-46.
  13. Raabe notes that Edom plays this role in many other biblical books, including Isaiah (35-36), Ezekiel (38-40), and Amos (42). [Note: Numbers is parentheses refer to page #s in Raabe's book, not to biblical verses].
  14. Tatford, Prophetic Witness (1973). ISBN 0900725311
  15. The various possibilities for the location of Sepharad, which have been debated since the early Rabbinic period, are summarized in great detail in Raabe, 266-268. See also: Pagán, 456; Elliot, 324.
  16. Raabe, 22-31.
  17. Marks, 230-231.

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Bandstra, Barry L. Reading the Old Testament: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible, 2nd ed. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth Publishing Company, 1999. ISBN 0534527272
  • Elliott, Charles. "The Date of Obadiah." The Old Testament Student. 3(9) (May, 1884): 321-324.
  • Hailey, Homer. A Commentary on The Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1972. ISBN 0801040493
  • Koch, Klaus. The Prophets: The Babylonian and Persian Periods. Philidelphia: Fortress Press, 1982. ISBN 0800617568
  • Lang, Bernhard. Monotheism and the Prophetic Minority: An Essay in Biblical History and Sociology. Sheffield, England: Almond Press, 1983. ISBN 0907459307
  • Marks, Herbert. "The Twelve Prophets." In The Literary Guide to the Bible. Edited by Robert Alter and Frank Kermode. Cambridge, MS: The Belknap Press of Oxford University Press, 1987. ISBN 0674875303
  • McComiskey, Thomas Edward. The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Book House, 1993. ISBN 0801063078
  • Pagán, Samuel. "Obadiah." In The New Interpreter's Bible. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1994-2004. ISBN 0687278201
  • Raabe, Paul. Obadiah: A New Translation with Introduction and Commentary. The Anchor Bible 24D. New York: Doubleday, 1996.
  • Peckham, Brian. History and Prophecy: The Development of Late Judean Literary Traditions. New York: Doubleday, 1993. ISBN 0385423489

External links

All links retrieved November 18, 2023.


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