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Introduction to OBADIAH

Author: Obadiah
Date: A little after 586 BC
Theme: GOD's judgment of Edom
Key Words: Day, Day of the LORD

Background: The relations between Israel and Edom were marked by mutual animosity throughout the entire period embraced by the Old Testament. The clash began when the brothers Esau and Jacob began their dispute (see Gen. 27; 32-33). Esau's descendants settled in the area called Edom, south of the Dead Sea, while Jacob's descendants remained faithful to the promise, inhabited Canaan and grew until becoming the people of Israel. From then on, the conflicts between the Edomites and Israelis multiplied. The events spoken of in Numbers 20:14-21 are an example of the existing hostility among both peoples.

One notable example of the rivalry was the refusal of the Edomites to let the Israelites cross their land as they traveled toward the land of Canaan during the Exodus (Num. 20:14-21).

This bitter rivalry makes up the background of Obadiah's prophecy. During a period of some twenty years, (605-586 BC), the Babylonians invaded the land of Israel and repeatedly attacked the sacred city of Jerusalem which was finally devastated in 586 BC. The Edomites saw these incursions as an opportunity to satisfy their thirst for revenge against Israel. Thus, they united with the Babylonians against their distant relatives and helped profane the land of Israel. Psalms 137:7, Lamentations 4:21,22 and Ezekiel 25:12-14 censure the participation of the Edomites in the destruction of Jerusalem.

Date: The background of the destruction of Jerusalem indicates that Obadiah's prophecy was produced shortly before 586 BC, the year that the sacred city fell into the hands of the Babylonians. It seems the message was announced during the exile of Judah, when Obadiah warned Edom of the imminent divine punishment and confirmed GOD's constant protection to Judah.

Author: The prophet who made the denunciation is only known as Obadiah, "servant and believer in Jehovah". No additional information is offered about his person. More than ten men bear the name of Obadiah in the Old Testament. See I Kings 18:3-16; I Chronicles 3:21; 7:3; 8:38; 9:16; 12:9. A tradition links the author of the prophecy with the Obadiah who is identified as King Ahab's butler. See I Kings 18:3-16. But Ahab reigned between 874 and 853 BC, a period that doesn't coincide with the date of Obadiah's prophecy.

Purpose: Obadiah's prophecy was directed to the people who lamented over the ruins of their beloved city of Jerusalem and for the death of their acquaintances, friends and relatives. The inhabitants of Judah who hadn't been led into captivity were few and were confined to a fragment of the territory that they claimed as their own. They would remain on the pile of debris to which their sacred city had been reduced. The book of Lamentations recreates the painful experiences of the people of Judah.

With this scenario as a background, Obadiah pronounces the consoling message that GOD has neither forgotten his people, nor overlooked the evil of the Edomites. The LORD would intervene to correct the situation, punish Edom and restore his people. His message confronts Edom with a severe word of condemnation, but comforts the people of Judah with the promise of GOD's continual protection, their future victory, and their restoration.

Content: Obadiah is the briefest of the Old Testament books. It begins with a foreword that identifies the prophecy as the "vision of Obadiah", and attributes the pronouncement to Jehovah the LORD (v.1).

The text of this book is divided into two principal sections. The first (verses 1-14) is directed to Edom and announces its inevitable fall. GOD made it descend from its pedestal of pride and false security (verses 2-4). The land and its people would be assaulted and plundered, the destruction would be complete and definitive (verses 5-9). Why? Due to the violence with which Edom proceeded against his brother Jacob (v.10), because Edom rejoiced in Israel's sufferings and united with the invaders to hurt and loot the city in the day of its disgrace (verses 11-13), and because the Edomites impeded the escape of the people of Judah, handing them over to the invaders (v.14).

The second principal section of the prophecy refers to the Day of the LORD (verses 15-21). This day will be the moment of retribution, of reaping that which has been sown. For Edom, it represents the announcement of its misfortune (verses 15,16), but for Judah it will represent the proclamation of its liberation (verses 17-20). Edom will be severely judged, but GOD's people will receive blessings and the glorious restitution of their land. Mount Zion will be raised above the mountain of Esau, and the kingdom will be GOD's (v.21). See also the note at the foot of verse 15.

Theological Contribution: The Book of Obadiah makes it clear that GOD takes his promises to His Covenant People seriously. He declared in the Book of Genesis that He would bless the rest of the world through Abraham and his descendants. He also promised to protect His special people against any who would try to do them harm (Gen. 12:1-3). This promise is affirmed in the Book of Obadiah. GOD is determined to keep faith with his people, in spite of their unworthiness and disobedience.

Special Considerations: Verses 1-9 of Obadiah and Jeremiah 49:7-22 express essentially the same idea. Many of the words and phrases in these two passages are exactly alike. Some scholars believe Jeremiah drew from the Obadiah passage to emphasize GOD's impending judgment on Edom. If this is true, it indicates the little Book of Obadiah was taken seriously by Jeremiah, one of the great prophetic figures in Israel's history.

This section and the one above were taken from the "Illustrated Bible Dictionary", published by Thomas Nelson Publishing.

Personal Application: It's logical that Obadiah refers to the relationship between Judah and Edom. How easily those whom we know best can become an object of our most bitter resentment. Edom should have stood on Judah's side in their conflict with Babylonia, but years of enmity made emotions replace good judgment. Those tricky relations are the inevitable result of the pride that impedes us from discovering our errors and constructs barriers that block the way to reconciliation. The Book of Obadiah calls us to face the unbelievable cost of pride, and to tell us that remaining anchored to it doesn't make sense when we are facing the wrath of GOD and trying to justify our arrogance. The book calls us to repent of our pride, seek reconciliation with those whom we have broken with, and to live a life of forgiveness and mercy. See Matthew 5:21-26.

Paul defines the principal theme of Obadiah in Galatians 6:7: "Don't deceive yourselves, GOD can't be fooled; everything that a man sows, he will also reap". Or, in the words of Obadiah, "As you do, it will be done with you" (v.15). Retribution is a reality. GOD is just, and will punish the injustices done toward others, whether it be cities or people. The LORD takes the promises he has made in the covenant very seriously. In Genesis 12:1-3 he promised to bless those who bless his people and curse those who curse them. The LORD has identified himself with his people so much, that cursing his people is cursing Him, rejecting his people is rejecting Him. Edom's end anticipates, then, the destiny of all those who abuse GOD's people. The LORD is determined to remain faithful to his people, even when they are unfaithful and disobedient.

And GOD will remain faithful, in spite of appearances. The profanation of Jerusalem and the tragedy of the people of Judah sent a message to the world of Obadiah's time: the GOD of Israel has been defeated by the gods of Babylonia, Edom and the other oppressive nations. But that was a false message, because appearances can be deceiving. In his sovereignty, GOD used the circumstances to achieve his purposes, to purify and protect his people. As LORD of all the earth, he announces the destruction of Edom, announces victory in the midst of the most dreadful defeat, and takes the future into his hands to thus realize his plan. The LORD who did such things for Israel, is the LORD who works for his people in our days.

Christ Revealed: The final verse of Obadiah makes reference to "saviors" through which GOD will exercise his dominion over the mountain of Esau. These will act as "judges" or "liberators" from their seat in Mount Zion or Jerusalem. The Hebrew judges were "saviors" of their people. They freed them from the oppression of strangers, provided help to widows and orphans and executed justice among their children. These saviors anticipated the definitive Savior, Jesus Christ Himself, the Messiah, who comes as the final Judge, as much to personify as to proclaim the most glorious news about the kingdom. Through Jesus, GOD puts into manifestation his lordship and dominion over all mankind. The message of salvation is directed especially to the afflicted and oppressed (see Luke 4:16-21).

The "Day of the LORD" (v.15) and the kingdom of GOD (v.21), proclaimed by Obadiah anticipates the coming of Jesus Christ to the world. The prophet's announcement that "the kingdom will be Jehovah's" (v.21) is a theme that occupies a prominent place in the teachings of Jesus Christ, who spoke of the "kingdom of GOD" on several occasions (see Luke 6:20; 9:27; 13:18-21) or the "kingdom of heaven" (see Matt. 5:3; 13:1-52). The nature of that kingdom, and the way that it will come doesn't adjust to Obadiah's image. Jesus brings a peaceful kingdom, a spiritual kingdom based on faith in the person of Christ. In reality, the "Day of the LORD" and the coming of his kingdom are inseparable from the person of Jesus Christ. Jesus' Second Coming fits the scene of Obadiah's prophecy better than his first coming. See the note for verse 15.

The Holy Spirit in Action: In no place does Obadiah make any specific reference to the Holy Spirit or the Spirit of GOD. However, his labor can be taken for granted. He inspired Obadiah's prophecy, showed him the "vision" (v.1) that uncovered the message contained in his book. Moreover, although it's not explicitly identified as such, the Spirit is behind the judgment against Edom, and the calling to the nations to rise up against the enemy of GOD's people. Although GOD uses human instruments to execute his judgment, the work of his Spirit is behind all, inspiring, warning and punishing according to GOD's plan.

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