March 1, 2009

Obadiah: The Judgment of Edom

1 The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom (We have heard a report from the LORD, And a messenger has been sent among the nations, saying, "Arise, and let us rise up against her for battle"): 2 " Behold, I will make you small among the nations; You shall be greatly despised.

3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, You who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Whose habitation is high; You who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to the ground?' 4 Though you ascend as high as the eagle, And though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down," says the LORD.

5 " If thieves had come to you, If robbers by night-Oh, how you will be cut off!-Would they not have stolen till they had enough? If grape-gatherers had come to you, Would they not have left some gleanings? 6 " Oh, how Esau shall be searched out! How his hidden treasures shall be sought after! 7 All the men in your confederacy Shall force you to the border; The men at peace with you Shall deceive you and prevail against you. Those who eat your bread shall lay a trap for you. No one is aware of it. 8 " Will I not in that day," says the LORD, "Even destroy the wise men from Edom, And understanding from the mountains of Esau? 9 Then your mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, To the end that everyone from the mountains of Esau May be cut off by slaughter.

10 " For violence against your brother Jacob, Shame shall cover you, And you shall be cut off forever. 11 In the day that you stood on the other side-In the day that strangers carried captive his forces, When foreigners entered his gates And cast lots for Jerusalem-Even you were as one of them. 12 "But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother In the day of his captivity; Nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah In the day of their destruction; Nor should you have spoken proudly In the day of distress. 13 You should not have entered the gate of My people In the day of their calamity. Indeed, you should not have gazed on their affliction In the day of their calamity, Nor laid hands on their substance In the day of their calamity. 14 You should not have stood at the crossroads To cut off those among them who escaped; Nor should you have delivered up those among them who remained In the day of distress.

15 " For the day of the LORD upon all the nations is near; As you have done, it shall be done to you; Your reprisal shall return upon your own head. 16 For as you drank on My holy mountain, So shall all the nations drink continually; Yes, they shall drink, and swallow, And they shall be as though they had never been.

17 " But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, And there shall be holiness; The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. 18 The house of Jacob shall be a fire, And the house of Joseph a flame; But the house of Esau shall be stubble; They shall kindle them and devour them, And no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau," For the LORD has spoken.

19 The South shall possess the mountains of Esau, And the Lowland shall possess Philistia. They shall possess the fields of Ephraim And the fields of Samaria. Benjamin shall possess Gilead. 20 And the captives of this host of the children of Israel Shall possess the land of the Canaanites As far as Zarephath. The captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad Shall possess the cities of the South. 21 Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion To judge the mountains of Esau, And the kingdom shall be the LORD's.

The book of Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament and has a narrow focus: God's judgment against Edom because of its opposition to the people of Jacob (i.e., Israel).

Jacob and Esau, were the twin sons of Isaac, son of Abraham, and Rebekah. Esau the firstborn and thus the eldest son and entitled to what was called the birthright-to inherit the land of his father Isaac. But in Genesis 25, we read that Esau, hungry and weary after a long day of hunting, asked Jacob to share the bread and lentil stew Jacob had prepared, and Jacob agreed, on the condition that Esau would transfer the birthright to him. So Esau sold his birthright to his younger brother Jacob for a meal of bread and lentil stew. The lentil stew was known as "red stew"-"edom" in Hebrew-and Esau became known as Edom.

The people of Edom were descendants of Esau. They settled in the land south of the Dead Sea, as far south as the Gulf of Aqaba. The region came to be called Edom and was perhaps 100 miles north to south and 40-50 miles east to west. The region is mountainous, and Edom built its cities high in the mountains and even carved dwellings into the cliffs for protection against invasion (see verses 3 and 4, above).

Travelers going from Egypt and North Africa went into Palestine via the route known as the King's Highway. It was the only caravan route between the two regions, and it ran through Edom. Edom opposed Israel, who were the descendants of Jacob, from the outset of the brothers' difficulties. In the exodus from Egypt, the Edomites refused to let the Israelites pass through:

Now Moses sent messengers from Kadesh to the king of Edom. "Thus says your brother Israel: 'You know all the hardship that has befallen us, how our fathers went down to Egypt, and we dwelt in Egypt a long time, and the Egyptians afflicted us and our fathers. When we cried out to the LORD, He heard our voice and sent the Angel and brought us up out of Egypt; now here we are in Kadesh, a city on the edge of your border. Please let us pass through your country. We will not pass through fields or vineyards, nor will we drink water from wells; we will go along the King's Highway; we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory." Then Edom said to him, "You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword." So the children of Israel said to him, "We will go by the Highway, and if I or my livestock drink any of your water, then I will pay for it; let me only pass through on foot, nothing more." Then he said, "You shall not pass through." So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory; so Israel turned away from him. (Numbers 20:14-21).

They also opposed King Saul, were subdued by David and Solomon, and over several centuries fought against Israel. Edom celebrated when the Babylonians conquered Judah and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 B.C., but the Babylonians conquered Edom shortly afterward. Some Edomites then settled in southern Palestine, but they were never regarded as a nation after the Babylonians forced them out of their land. They assimilated into the people of Israel and became known as the Idumean Jews. The best-known Idumean is Herod, the king who had the young male children murdered in an effort to kill Jesus because it was reported to Herod that He had been born king of the Jews. By 100 A.D., Edom, or the Idumeans, as a people group were lost to history, fulfilling the prophecy of Obadiah 18 ("And no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau, For the LORD has spoken").

We don't know anything about Obadiah other than his name and his short prophecy. His name means "servant of Yahweh." There are about 20 people in the Old Testament. named Obadiah. Jewish tradition identifies him as Obadiah, the servant of King Ahab, who hid 100 prophets of Israel from Ahab's wife, Jezebel (see 1 Kings 18:3-4). But he could have been any of a half dozen men of that name, or none of the men named Obadiah elsewhere in the Old Testament.

Likewise, the date of the writing of Obadiah is not known for sure. Bible historians date is approximately around 848-841 B.C. The text (verse 11) refers to an invasion and defeat of Jerusalem (vv. 10-14), which is most likely the invasion by the Arabians, Philistines, and Edomites, in the 840s B.C. In addition, the style of Hebrew language in Obadiah is what we might call "early Hebrew" used in that era.


The message of Obadiah


The subject of the book of Obadiah is the fall of Edom, because of its pride (verse 3) and the Edomites' cruelty against Israel, their brothers (verse 10). In addition, starting in verse 17, Obadiah prophesies the deliverance, restoration, and exaltation of Israel. From the text, the prophecy has jumped ahead to the last days, the restoration of Israel and the millennial kingdom. Just as God raised up judges to deliver His people Israel (Nehemiah 9:27 calls them "saviors" or "deliverers"), so He will establish leaders to help rule and administer in the millennial kingdom, which is what the Bible refers to as the "kingdom of the Lord."

Brief outline of Obadiah


The coming judgment of Edom (1-9): The decree has been made to the nations (1) that the Lord will bring down (destroy) Edom, which is deceived by its pride (2-4). Nothing will be left-everything will be taken (5-6). Edom will be betrayed by its allies (7). Neither wisdom (8) nor might (9) will save Edom. (The term "Teman" in verse 9 refers to a region in northern Edom.)

The reasons for judgment of Edom (10-16): for violence against the Israelites, Edom's brothers (10) and for failing to save the Israelites taken captive by their conquerors and for taking part in dividing the spoils of Jerusalem (11). Obadiah seems to draw a distinction here-the Edomites and Israelites were brothers, but Edom was the ally to the foreigners who conquered Jerusalem. The Edomites seem to have an accountability not just because they opposed Israel, but also because the Edomites and the Israelites were related (Jacob and Esau were brothers). For rejoicing about Israel's defeat, taunting the defeated Israelites ("speaking proudly"), and aiding in the capture of the Israelites who were trying to escape (12-14)
4), Edom, too, will be destroyed, just as they helped defeat Israel (15-16).

Restoration and deliverance (17-21): Obadiah looks now to the restoration after the Messiah returns to rule. Deliverance and holiness will be found in Mt. Zion (Jerusalem), not Edom (17). Israel will consume Edom (18). Israel will possess the land of Edom (19-20) (and by the time of Jesus, Edom had been part of Israel for two centuries). The Lord will ultimately rule Edom as part of His kingdom (21).

Fulfillment of Obadiah's prophecy

Short-term fulfillment: Edom was conquered by Babylonians in 600-580 B.C., by the Nabataeans (from the east) approx. 400 B.C.; and by Israel under Judas Maccabeus approx. 200 B.C. After that, the remnant of Edom-the Idumeans as they were now called-adopted the Jewish law and began to assimilate into Israel.

The ultimate fulfillment: Obadiah did not personally know the whole prophetic picture, but verses 17-21 are most widely interpreted as a prophecy of the millennial kingdom on earth that is yet to come. Like most prophets, Obadiah mixes the short-term and the long-term-the restoration of Israel, the coming "day of the Lord" (verse 15-"day of the Lord" is an end-times reference), and eventual world rule by the Lord Himself from Jerusalem. The Lord will establish His millennial kingdom, a theocracy in which He will rule His people directly on earth.