Book of Obadiah Explained
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The Book of Obadiah
The book is named after the prophet who received the vision (1:1). Obadiah means “servant of the Lord” and occurs 20 times in the Old Testament, referring to many other Old Testament individuals. Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament and is not quoted in the New Testament.
Obadiah’s prophecy is written in Hebrew poetry, and the reader needs to be mindful of parallelism in interpreting it. (The balance between two or more similar words, phrases or clauses is called parallelism in grammar.)The structure of the Hebrew parallelism portrays the intense emotion with which the prophecy was delivered.
Nothing is known for certain about the author. Other Old Testament references to men of this name do not appear to be referring to this prophet. His frequent mentions of Jerusalem, Judah, and Zion suggest that he belonged to the southern kingdom (verses 10-12, 17, 21). Obadiah was probably a contemporary of Elijah and Elisha.
He evidently preferred to be remembered in his prophetic role rather than as an individual, because he chose to relate no details of his personal life or history. Twelve other men in the Old Testament are known by this name.
If the authorship of the prophecy were certain, the historical setting would be certain. Conservatives tend to date the prophecy early, and liberal critics tend to date it late during the Chaldean period after the fall of Jerusalem to the Chaldeans in 586 B.C. Such critics also attempt to deny the prophecy’s integrity and unity.
The general nature of the prophecy makes the setting of this book compatible with a wide range of dates from the ninth to the early sixth centuries B.C. Accordingly scholars of all persuasions disagree over the date of Obadiah’s prophecy. However, no definitive reason exists to deny the integrity and essential unity of the book.
As well, the prophecy is elastic enough in its fulfillment to embrace all of the times of Edom’s destruction, whether by the Chaldeans, who laid Edom waste (Jer. 49:7-22; Ezek. 35), and the Maccabees, Rome (A.D. 70), or ultimately when Christ executes the judgment of God on Edom and her allies (Isa. 63:1-6).
The purpose of Obadiah’s prophecy is to pronounce God’s judgment on Edom (Esau) (verse 1) because of his actions toward his brother Judah (Jacob) (verses 10-14. The theme of the prophecy, then, is the doom of Edom.
Though the date of writing is difficult to determine, we know it is tied to the Edomite assault on Jerusalem described in verses 10-14. Obadiah apparently wrote shortly after the attack. There were 4 significant invasions of Jerusalem in Old Testament history:
(1) By Shishak, king of Egypt, ca. 925 B.C. during the reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chron. 12);
(2) By the Philistines and Arabians between 848-841 B.C. during the reign of Jehoram of Judah (2 Chron. 21:8-20);
(3) By Jehoash, king of Israel, ca. 790 B.C. (2 Kings 14; 2 Chron. 25); and
(4) By Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, in the fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
Of these 4, only the second and the fourth are possible fits with historical data.
Obadiah is a case study of the curses/blessings in Gen. 12:1-3, with two interrelated themes:
(1) The judgment of Edom by God for cursing Israel. This was apparently told to Judah, thereby providing reassurance that the Lord would bring judgment upon Edom for her pride and for her participation in Judah’s downfall;
(2) Judah’s restoration. This would even include the territory of the Edomites (verses 19-21; Isa. 11:14).
Obadiah’s blessing for Judah includes the near fulfillment of Edom’s demise (verses 1-14) and the far fulfillment of the nations’ judgment and Israel’s final possession of Edom (verses 15-21).
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