The shortest book in the Tanakh (Hebrew Bible) was written by the prophet Obadiah (עֹֽבַדְיָ֑ה), whose name means Servant of the Lord. It derives from two Hebrew words: abad meaning servant and Yah short for Yehovah or the LORD.
Obadiah may have written this prophetic work soon after the inhabitants of Jerusalem were forced into captivity in Babylonia (586 BC).
The book has three major themes: the abuse of Israel, its restoration, and the Divine judgment of Edom.
Because Edom abused Israel, the Prophet Obadiah foresees the downfall of this neighboring nation that descended from Esau (the son of Isaac and brother of Jacob).
Genesis 36:8–9 confirms that Edom is another name for Esau, and Obadiah 1:9 reveals that a tribe of Edom was named after Esau’s grandson Teman (Genesis 36:15).
Despite being a brother nation of Israel, they had been in conflict with Israel since ancient times. That enmity arose between the twin brothers Esau and Jacob even in the womb (Genesis 25:23–26).
As an adult, however, Jacob reached out to Esau to make amends and establish peace. Esau accepted and they both embraced (Genesis 33:4).
Rivalry Between Edom and Israel
Hundreds of years after the days of Jacob and Esau, when the Israelites (descendants of Jacob) were on their way to Canaan, the Edomites (descendants of Esau) refused to give the Israelites passage through Edom (Numbers 20:14–21).
The Edomites did not forget or forgive. When Israel finally established herself in the Promised Land, King Saul fought with all those who had plundered them, including Edom (1 Samuel 14:47). David subsequently conquered Edom (2 Samuel 8:13–14), but did not completely destroy them.
The Edomites did not forget or forgive. When Babylon conquered Judah in 586 BC, Edom rejoiced at the fall of Jerusalem, calling out, “Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation.” (Psalm 137:7)
Instead of restoring brotherly love as Jacob and Esau did, they gloated over their brothers’ conquest, actually taking advantage of their distress by capturing and killing some of the fugitives (Obadiah 1–15), all of which contributed to Judah’s downfall.
For this treachery, God declared judgment and total destruction against Edom.
“Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.
“You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.
“You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor gloat over them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster.
“You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.” (vv. 10–14)
The Prophet Obadiah foresaw the end of Edom. It would be left with nothing (vv. 5–6), it would form useless alliances (v. 7), and it would suffer from unwise counselors (v. 8).
Obadiah’s prophecies about Edom came true. There is nothing left of this nation and no trace of the Edomites.
But this thin book is about more than Edom’s ultimate downfall. Edom is an example — a warning that the nations hostile to God’s people will be judged on the Day of the Lord (vv. 15–16).
“‘Just as you drank on My holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been. But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance. Jacob will be a fire and Joseph a flame; Esau will be stubble, and they will set him on fire and destroy him. There will be no survivors from Esau.’ The Lord has spoken.” (vv. 16–18)
However, Obadiah’s message is also about the restoration of those whom God made a covenant with through Jacob.
“I will remember My covenant with Jacob and My covenant with Isaac and My covenant with Abraham, and I will remember the land.” (Leviticus 24:42; see also Genesis 28:13)
The Restoration of Judah
The judgment of Edom and the nations stand in stark contrast to the eventual restoration of Judah.
“The day of the LORD draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you…. But on Mount Zion there will be those who escape, And it will be holy. And the house of Jacob will possess their possessions.” (Obadiah 1:15, 17)
In the prophesied restoration of Judah, she would enlarge her boundaries to include Judea as well as Samaria (vv. 19–20), and “the kingdom will be the Lord’s” (v. 21).
Today, that kingdom is occupied by the Palestinian people and is referred to as the “West Bank.”
Although the Edomites of Obadiah’s day are long gone, a case can be made that the Palestinians are the spiritual Edomites of today.
Though brothers (descendants of Ishmael, Abraham’s son), they have subjected Israel to continual violence. And just like Edom took advantage when Judah was in her time of need, the Palestinians, instead of reaching out with compassion during the Holocaust, lobbied for limits on the number of Jewish immigrants to Israel. — fugitives fleeing Europe to escape the gas chambers during the war and to rebuild their lives after the war were denied entry.
So this prophetic book is just as applicable to the people in the region today as it was over 2,500 years ago. God still promises Israel’s enemies that “as you have done, it will be done to you.”
Because of the lack of information about Obadiah, dating his book is problematic and in dispute.
Scholars look to the context of a prophecy to date the composition. Comparing Scripture with Scripture provides such context, especially as we look at Edom’s failure to help its brother nation, Israel.
Since Edom is to be destroyed for not helping Israel, we can look at the two major historical events in which Edom may have failed to help:
- The invasion of Jerusalem in 853–841 BC during Jehoram’s reign by the Philistines and Arabs (2 Kings 8:20–22 and 2 Chronicles 21:8–20), and
- The attack of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon and the resulting exile (Psalm 137).
Scenario one would make Obadiah a contemporary of Elijah (see 1 Kings 18:1–16); however, the Obadiah in Elijah’s day is not necessarily the same Obadiah who wrote this slender prophetic work.
Scenario two indicates that Obadiah was a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah. A comparison of Obadiah verses 1–6 resemble a number of verses in Jeremiah 49:7–22, which date to around the fourth year of the reign of Jehoikim (604 BC).
Some scholars speculate that one may have borrowed from the other or that they both borrowed from some other earlier, but lost work.
Nevertheless, this short book (only 291 Hebrew words) is the fourth book of the Trei Asar (The Twelve) or the Minor Prophets, whose arrangement is roughly chronological. These 12 prophetic books have been found together in a single scroll since at least 190 BC.
These so-called Minor Prophets (a term that refers to the length of each individual book) constitute the last book of all the Nevi’im [Prophets] and the last 12 books of the Old Testament in the “Christian” Bible arrangement.
Obadiah: The Problem With Pride
“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down.” (Obadiah 1:3–4)
The fate of the mountain dwelling nation of Edom, whose lineage ended about 2,000 years ago, teaches us of the destructive power of pride. As Proverbs 16:18–19 states: “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall. Better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud.”
Proverbs 6:16 names six things that the Lord hates and number one on the list is “a proud look.”
A proud look manifests in many ways:
It has a deceptive nature: “The pride of your heart has deceived you” (Obadiah 1:3). It deceives us into believing that we have qualities and a destiny that God never gave us. It creates “lofty eyes” as Proverbs 33:13 warns.
The people of Moab showed such loftiness (Jeremiah 48:29) and so did Satan when he deceived himself into declaring, “I will ascend to heaven … I will sit on the mount of assembly … I will make myself like the Most High.” (Isaiah 14:14)
In his book Mere Christianity, C.S Lewis called pride “the essential vice, the utmost evil, … the complete anti-God state of mind.” He was speaking of the hubristic pride that is self-aggrandizing, self-centered, and self-important. The prideful are narcissistic, haughty, and antisocial. A proud person does not esteem others, lacks empathy, and often feels superior.
Such pride has devastating consequences:
C.S. Lewis warns that “pride leads to every other vice,” such as lying, anger, theft, jealousy, which he says are “mere flea bites” compared to pride. (Mere Christianity)
We see that pride led a husband and wife named Ananias and Saphira to lie to their congregation — to make themselves appear more spiritual, more charitable, more honorable than they really were.
For such loftiness, God separated them from their congregation and from Himself (Acts 5:1–11).
If we feel separated from God, we might want to ask Him to not only show us our sins but any pride that is at their root so that we can repent and move forward in His grace.
We are comforted with the hope in James 4:6 that “God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble.”
Humility leads to favor with God but pride leads to tragedy: the lofty hearts of the Edomites brought down the Edomites, as it did with Satan when God evicted him from his favored position in Heaven, saying, “I threw you to the earth; I made a spectacle of you before kings.” (Ezekiel 28:17)
Obadiah, therefore, warns us to not be deceived by the favored position or possessions God has given to us since such things can easily evaporate.
When others are experiencing discipline or loss, let us pray for them, help them, even bless those who curse us and not gloat at their trouble. With humility, let us gently lead others in their distress toward God’s restorative mercy, as a good shepherd does.
To do so, we must place ourselves under God’s authority as we serve His purposes rather than our own.
Obadiah’s vision of restoration extends from his day to the coming Day of the Lord (vv. 15–17) at which time the Temple Mount will be recovered (vv. 19–20), and God will reign from Mount Zion:
“And saviours [moshiim/ מושיעים] shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD’S.” (v. 21)
Some have interpreted these saviours who come to Mount Zion to be Zerubbabel and Joshua, who returned with the Jewish People from Babylonian captivity; or Judah Maccabee and his men, who saved the people from Antiochus and his generals.
Nehemiah 9:27 also uses the word moshiim to describe saviours sent to deliver God’s people:
“You delivered them into the hands of their enemies, who oppressed them. But when they were oppressed they cried out to you. From heaven you heard them, and in your great compassion you gave them deliverers [saviours — moshiim/ מושיעים] who rescued them from the hand of their enemies.” (Nehemiah 9:27)
This thought is in line with the traditional belief that verse 21 refers to the time of the coming of the Messiah and the final destruction of Edom.
Jewish mystical writings in the Zohar state: “When the Messiah shall arise, Jacob shall take his portion above and below; and Esau shall be utterly destroyed, and shall have no portion and inheritance in the world, according to (Obadiah 1:18); but Jacob shall inherit two worlds, this world and the world to come; and of that time is it written, ‘and saviours shall come upon Mount Zion.’”
The Jerusalem Talmud also states: “In future times (the world to come, the days of the Messiah), is it not said, ‘and saviours shall come upon Mount Zion, to judge the mount of Esau?’”
These interpretations are also in line with Balaam’s prophecy concerning the fate of Edom and the coming of the Messiah:
“I see Him, but not now; I behold Him, but not near. A star will come out of Jacob; a scepter will rise out of Israel. He will crush the foreheads of Moab, the skulls of all the people of Sheth. Edom will be conquered; Seir, His enemy, will be conquered, but Israel will grow strong. A ruler will come out of Jacob and destroy the survivors of the city.” (Numbers 24:17–18)
Of course, Edom — a stand-in for the nations who oppose God’s plans, especially for Israel — will be judged in the Last Days when Yeshua returns.
And the day of His Second Coming is near.