In the Bible’s shortest book, almost as brief as Abraham Lincoln’s famous Gettysburg Address, Obadiah says the country of Edom is about to go extinct.
This warning might run 500 words or more in English. But in Hebrew, it’s just 291 words in 21 verses.
The book of Obadiah preserves the message delivered on what is said to be orders from God.
Not kissing cousins
Edom’s people were related to the Jews. Hard to tell, based on charges leveled against them by Obadiah and other prophets: “Those people are tagged for destruction” (Isaiah 34:5).
God, apparently through a vision to Obadiah, accuses the people of Edom with:
- Collaborating with invaders who decimated Jerusalem
- Gloating over the fall of the Israelite nation
- Arresting people of Judah as they tried to escape
- Turning them over to the enemy
- Pillaging Jerusalem’s ruins for leftover valuables
Obadiah never identifies the invading nation.
Jerusalem, over the years, had been attacked by many nations, including Egypt, Syria, Israel of the north, Assyria, and Babylon—which was the attack that finally destroyed Jerusalem and the Temple.
Babylon was the likely invader here, many scholars say. But Obadiah wasn’t focused on the invader. His message identifies only one enemy by name, and it’s Edom.
Obadiah said their doomsday was now on God’s calendar.
“You killed the people of your brother, Jacob.
For that, I’m shutting you down forever” (1:10).
One difference, though. Obadiah said the Jewish nation would rise from the ruins. Edom, he said, would stay dead.
“Obadiah” might not have been the writer’s name.
That Hebrew word means “servant of God,” or “worshiper of God,” or as some might say today, “a man of God.”
For that reason, some scholars say they wonder if Obadiah should be spelled obadiah—as though the word is a title and not a name. (Malachi raises the same question for the last book of the Old Testament.) Yet “Obadiah” was a legit name. There were about a dozen Obadiah’s in the Bible.
Most scholars don’t tag dates to this book. That’s because the only clue we get about the timing is the name of Edom. It’s doomed but not yet dead. It’s still alive but with the future of a nest of bunnies in the backyard of a dog breeder.
The charges Obadiah levels against Edom sounds like they could track with the fall of Judah in 586 BC. That’s when Babylonians invader destroyed cities throughout the nation. Then they knocked down Jerusalem’s walls and looted and leveled the Temple King Solomon built.
Jerusalem has been destroyed only twice that we know of: Babylonians in 586 BC and Romans in 70 AD. But the city has been attacked and pillaged dozens of times—by Egyptians, Assyrians, and Babylonians. King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, himself, invaded Judah three times—and came away with some valuables every time. The third time was a charm; he took it all.
Edom was the bullseye of Obadiah’s prophecy of doom. Edom was Esau’s nation and Israel’s neighbor to the southeast, headquartered in what is now the country of Jordan. The central spin of the mountainous territory is roughly 20 miles wide and 100 miles long (30 by 160 km), from the Zered River in the north to the Red Sea’s Gulf of Aqaba in the south. The caravan route called the King’s Highway, on the threshold of the Arabian Desert, ran through part of Edom. West of the mountains is the massive trench south of the Dead Sea, the Wadi Arabah. Wadi is a word for a riverbed that in this part of the world is usually dry. It runs along the border of Israel and Jordan.
Edom’s apparent founder, Esau, left his father, Isaac, who lived in what is now Israel. Esau moved to Edom, a nation possibly named after him. “Edom” means red. It might take its name from the red rocks in the area. But some guess it came from Esau, who was born “looking red, covered in hair like a tiny fur coat” (Genesis 25:25).
But Esau also made “red” famous for another reason. He traded his rights as the oldest son—which included a double share of the family estate—for a bowl of stew his brother made. Esau said, “Give me some of that red stuff” (Genesis 25:30).
This prophecy reads like a “You’re gonna die” warning to Edom. But some say it’s more likely a hopeful promise of justice for the Jewish people.
Edom had collaborated with invaders who decimated Jerusalem. For this, Obadiah said God would end them:
“All that will be left of Edom
Is the shame of what you did” (1:10.)
And that’s what we’re reading about now.
Some scholars say this message isn’t just about Edom. They say it’s also about any nation that mistreated the Jewish people.
“There’s a day coming, and it’s almost here,
When God will deal with the nations.
What you’ve done to others will be done to you.
What you gave is what you’ll get” (1:15).