One important aspect of the ancient TaNaK order of the Hebrew Bible is that the 12 prophetic works of Hosea through Malachi, sometimes referred to as the Minor Prophets, were designed as a single book called The Twelve. Obadiah is the fourth book of The Twelve.
Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament with a mere 21 verses, and at first glance, it doesn’t look very promising. It’s a series of divine judgment poems set against the ancient people of Edom, a nation neighboring Israel on the other side of the Dead Sea. However, there’s way more going on in this little book than you might think.
First of all, here is the back story. The people of Edom are unique because they shared a common ancestry with the Israelites. They both belonged to the family of Abraham. Abraham’s son Isaac and his wife Rebekah had two sons called Jacob and Esau. Genesis 25-27 tells the story of these brothers who, to say the least, had a tense relationship. The brothers later received the names “Israel” and “Edom,” which eventually became the names of their families who replayed the same difficult relationship of their ancestors. Israel and Edom had enormous tensions throughout the centuries (Num. 20:14-20), despite their ancient family ties.
That family bond, however, was betrayed and shattered during the tragic events of Jerusalem’s fall to Babylon (2 Kgs. 25). When Israel was invaded and conquered, the people of Edom apparently took advantage by plundering Israelite cities, capturing and even killing their captives (Ps. 137:7; Lam. 4:22; Ezek. 35; Amos 1:6-9). Now, in other prophetic books, Israel’s other neighbors were held accountable for such violence, and here Obadiah does the same with Edom.
Many Jewish and Christian traditions hold that the book of Obadiah is a collection of messages from the prophet Obadiah. However, authorship is not explicitly stated within the book.
The events described in Obadiah take place in Israel and Edom, a nation neighboring Israel to the south of the Dead Sea.
The book of Obadiah is written in poetry.
The Day of the Lord
God’s justice and judgment over Israel’s evil
The promise of the restored Kingdom of God
Obadiah is divided into three parts. Obadiah 1:1-14 outlines accusations against the leaders of Edom, and then Obadiah 1:15 shifts focus to the Day of the Lord. Finally, Obadiah 1:16-21 concludes with the hope for the restoration of God’s Kingdom.
Obadiah 1:1-14: Against the Leaders of Edom
The book of Obadiah is made up of two halves, the first of which is a series of accusations against the leaders of Edom for their pride and self-exaltation. They say to themselves, “We live in the heights, at home with the stars. Who can bring us down?” (Obad. 1:3-4) It is this pride that led the Edomites to not just stand idly by when Babylon came to destroy Jerusalem but to actually participate in the destruction. So God says through Obadiah that Edom will be brought down from their heights and destroyed. “As they have done to Israel, so it will be done to them” (Obad. 1:15).
Now, right when you think you’re about to hear how Edom will meet its doom, the topic suddenly shifts. In verse 15, we hear that “the Day of the Lord is near, against all nations.” Why this sudden shift of focus from Edom to all nations?
This verse acts as a hinge piece, linking the first half of this book to the second, in which Obadiah announces the Day of the Lord not only for Edom but all nations. Obadiah says that all nations who act like Edom will face God’s justice, and they too will fall from their prideful heights and come to ruin.
The combination of these two sections shows us why Obadiah is so interested in this tiny southern neighbor of Israel in the first place. He sees Edom’s pride and fall as an example or image of how God will one day confront the pride among all nations and bring about their fall. It’s hardly coincidental that in Hebrew, the word Edom is spelled with the same three letters (םדא) as the word for humanity (adam). Even though these are different words, the wordplay shows that, for Obadiah, Edom’s behavior is typical of all the nations and deserves to face justice.
Obadiah 1:16-21: Hope for the Restoration of God’s Kingdom
However, as in all the prophetic books, God’s judgment is never his final word. Look back at the conclusions of the two previous books, Joel and Amos. Joel had painted a picture of what happens after the Day of the Lord against all nations. He said that God would perform a new act of salvation in Jerusalem, that all who humbled themselves and called upon him would be delivered (Joel 2:32, 3:17). Amos said that after the Day of the Lord had judged Israel’s evil, God would one day raise up the house of David and build a new Kingdom for Israel that would include “Edom and all the nations that bear my name” (Amos 9:12). The book of Obadiah has been placed right after Joel and Amos to expand upon these very promises about the hope of God’s Kingdom over all the nations. God will restore his Kingdom over the new Jerusalem and repopulate it with a faithful remnant. From there, God’s Kingdom will expand to include all the territory and nations surrounding Israel.
The little book of Obadiah contributes to the larger portrait of God’s justice and faithfulness that we find in the prophets. The ancient pride and betrayal of the people of Edom became an example of the human condition and the ways in which people betray and hurt each other and God’s good world. There’s still hope, however, as Edom’s downfall points to the day when God will deal with the evil in our world and bring his Kingdom of peace over all nations.
The pride and betrayal of the people of Edom become an example of the human condition and the ways in which people betray one another and harm God’s good world. God will deal with the evil in our world and bring all nations into his Kingdom of peace.