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Obadiah Summary


The tiny book of Obadiah introduces itself as a message from God, in the same way as Nahum, Isaiah, and Micah: this is a "vision." The common name "Obadiah" is the Hebrew 'Obadyah, literally meaning, "a worshipper of Yahweh." Nothing in this book connects the author to any other biblical figure.

Obadiah is unique in several ways. It is the shortest book in the Old Testament, at only 21 verses. Unlike most prophets, Obadiah does not speak to Israel. Instead, he gives his message to one of Israel's hated enemies: the nation of Edom. Despite being so short, and directed at a foreign people, it still covers all of the basic themes of Old Testament prophecy. If the prophets of Israel had spoken through movies, instead of writings, Obadiah would be a teaser trailer!

Since the book is so short, the historical context is critical. The father of the nation of Israel, Jacob, had a rocky relationship with his brother, Esau (Genesis 27:41). Esau's descendants became the Edomites, who settled in the mountains of Seir, southeast of the Dead Sea. References to Esau, Mount Esau, Mount Seir, and so forth are all references to the people of Edom. For centuries prior to Obadiah's prophecy, Edom had harassed Israel. They blocked Israel's Exodus from Egypt (Numbers 20:17-21), and warred with Israel off and on under many different kings (2 Samuel 8:14; 2 Kings 8:20-22). Partly because of their constant hostility, no other nation is threatened with judgment in the Old Testament as often as Edom.

The nation of Edom was blessed with terrain, resources, and trade. The mountains and cliffs made for easy defense. Abundant minerals meant there was plenty of mining for wealth. Edom was also located along major trade routes, so they had friendly relations with many of the surrounding nations. This success seems to have gone to the Edomites' heads: they are often accused of arrogance and pride, as well as treachery and violence.

Obadiah's prophecy was probably written around 586 BC, during an especially dark time for Israel. Around 588 or 587 BC, the Babylonian empire, under Nebuchadnezzar, attacked for the third time in as many decades (Daniel 1:1-4; 2 Kings 24:8-20; 2 Kings 25:1-7). This time, they not only took many of the people as captives, they also sacked Jerusalem and burnt the temple. Edom did not come to help their "brother" nation. In fact, they actually helped the Babylonians. Edom blocked the road and caught Jewish fugitives, handing them over to Babylon. In payment, they were allowed to loot Jerusalem along with the other invaders. Most of the specific accusations made in the book of Obadiah revolve around this incident.

Unfortunately for Edom, Obadiah's prophecy would be fulfilled fairly quickly. Not long after, one of Edom's supposed allies, the Nabateans, sprang a trap. While supposedly attending a banquet, the Nabateans surprised the Edomite soldiers and routed them. The nation which had been so strong, and laughed at Israel's misery, was suddenly destitute and driven from their homes. The book of Malachi, written after Israel had returned home from the Babylonian captivity, describes the cities of Edom as ghost towns (Malachi 1:2-5).

Edomites who survived this invasion settled south of Hebron, where they faded into obscurity. Known later as Idumeans, they were bullied by most other nations, including Israel, and later Rome. Herod the Great, who tried to have Jesus killed as an infant (Matthew 2:16-18), was Idumean-an Edomite. The remaining Edomites joined with Jews in rebellion against Rome in AD 70, and were essentially obliterated. As a nation, they became extinct.

The very end of Obadiah includes predictions which look forward to the end times, when the territory of Edom will be occupied by Israel, and ruled directly by God.