Obadiah is the shortest book in the collection of The Twelve. But short does not mean unimportant as it serves a very important function in the collection. The opening verse identifies the book as “the vision of Obadiah.” And the vision is introduced by saying, “Thus says the Lord YHWH concerning Edom.”
It is worth remembering, however, that the real audience of the book (like the audience of The Book of the Twelve) is not the people of Edom but the people of Judah.
It will help if we trace the story of Edom throughout Scripture to understand the place of this prophecy in that larger story of sibling rivalry. The people of Edom descend from Esau, the brother of Jacob/Israel. When Israel was in the wilderness and looking to enter into the Promised Land, the people of Edom refused to allow them to pass through their land. During the reign of King David, Edom was conquered by Israel and remained a vassal nation to Israel for a time and would again later be conquered by Judah for a time.
After the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, Edom took advantage of the situation and went on raids into Judah and Jerusalem. In the New Testament, we find Edom in the person of Herod. The Herod in Matt 2 is identified there as an “Idumean,” which is another spelling for Edomite. And so yet again Edom was trying to destroy Israel, now in the person of Jesus Christ.
I have mentioned before that Edom is the same consonants in Hebrew as Adam – thus Edom often represents the nations of humanity. Edom stands for the people who oppose God and God’s people.
The book is written to Israel to give them comfort when they see all around them their enemies triumphing over them and humiliating them and taking their possessions. The book is about the victory of God over the enemies of his people. God will triumph in the end. This is why we know that the Idumean (a.k.a. Edomite) Herod will not be able to kill the Christ child. That triumph began with the death and resurrection of Christ – the ultimate condemnation of his enemies and vindication of his people.
The Final Judgment Ahead of Time:
Conquering of the Land (none supposed to survive)
Exile of Israel and Judah (remnant survives)
*Destruction of the Edomites (v.18)* (none survive)
*Re-conquest of the Land (v.19-20)* (none survive)
Death of Christ (remnant survives)
Destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70 (remnant survives)
Obadiah is a typical oracle against a foreign nation. What makes it different is that other oracles against foreign nations are in the context of larger prophecies. Every prophetic book except Hosea and Haggai have them. By contrast, Obadiah in its entirety is an oracle against a foreign nation.
We do not know for certain whether Jeremiah 49 or Obadiah was written first, but we do know that there is some dependence of the one on the other. If I had to guess, I would say that Jeremiah is dependent on Obadiah because Jeremiah often does this with other prophets (and for other reasons it would just make sense for the borrowing to go this way and not the reverse).
Thus compare: “We have heard a report from YHWH, and a messenger has been sent among the nations: ‘Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!” (Obadiah 1:1) and “I have heard a message from YHWH and an envoy has been sent among the nations: ‘Gather yourselves together and come against her, and rise up for battle!” (Jeremiah 49:14).
And compare the next verse: “Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be utterly despised” (Obadiah 1:2) and “For behold, I will make you small among the nations, despised among mankind” (Jeremiah 49:15).
The next verse in Obadiah is in chiastic order: “The pride of your heart has deceived you,
You who live in the clefts of the rock,
In your lofty dwelling,
Who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?” (Obadiah 1:3).
But in Jeremiah it is in alternating order:
“The horror you inspire has deceived you,
And the pride of your heart,
You who live in the clefts of the rock,
Who hold the height of the hill” (Jer 49:16).
The text continues in both: “Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares YHWH” (Obadiah 1:4) and “Though you make your nest as high as the eagle’s, I will bring you down from there, declares YHWH” (Jer 49:16).
Continuing in Obadiah and returning to earlier verses in Jeremiah 49 we see more borrowing.
“If thieves came to you,
if plunderers came by night-
how you have been destroyed!-
would they not steal only enough for themselves?
If grape gatherers came to you,
would they not leave gleanings?” (1:5)
“If grape-gatherers came to you,
would they not leave gleanings?
If thieves came by night,
would they not destroy only enough for themselves?” (Jer 49:9).
And one more example of borrowing:
“…you have no understanding.
Will I not on that day, declares YHWH,
destroy the wise men out of Edom,
and understanding out of Mount Esau?” (Obadiah 1:7-8). In the next verse it mentions “Teman.”
Thus says YHWH of hosts:
“Is wisdom no more in Teman?
Has counsel perished from the prudent?
Has their wisdom vanished? (Jer 49:7).
Thus it looks like Jeremiah’s oracle concerning Edom borrows heavily from the oracle concerning Edom by Obadiah.
Who is Obadiah? We do not know. His name with the vowels traditionally used in the Hebrew text means “worshipper of YHWH” but with the vowels used in the LXX it means “servant of YHWH.”
We see the specific complaint regarding Edom in verses 10-14. “Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob…” (Obadiah 1:10). “On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them” (1:11). “But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune” (followed by parallel expressions, 1:12). Verses 13 and 14 tell Edom not to enter the gate of God’s people and loot his wealth as well as not to stand at the crossroads and cut off the fugitives.
The reason? “For the day of YHWH is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.”
And as you read on in the oracle you see this principle (lex talionis) worked out:
Edom had cut off the survivors of Israel and so they will be left without survivors.
Edom had taken possession of Jerusalem but one day Jerusalem would rule Edom.
Therefore, the judgment of Edom is about justice. As the people of Judah heard this they would be cheering because God is a just God.
But note too that the book shifts from the nations punishing Edom to the nations themselves being punished. And we see the reconquest of the Promised Land. Edom is among the nations who will be judged for their ‘crimes against humanity.’
As we saw with the book of Amos when looking at the surrounding nations, this little book would confirm you in your outrage against Edom. It is one of those evil surrounding nations. Thus the function of Obadiah in The Twelve is much the same as the function of those nations leading up to Israel in the opening chapters of Amos. Except in The Twelve we are leading up to Judah/Jerusalem. That is, you would be looking out at these evil nations all around you, including the brother of Israel (Edom), and agreeing with their just punishment only to find this is a prelude to the just judgment also of Judah.