Introducing the Book of Obadiah

The book is referred to as “the vision of Obadiah” (see compare prophetic headings). Obadiah is not identified with any of the biblical persons of the same name.[1] The name Obadiah means “servant of Yahweh,” and may be a derived name (like Malachi) to identify the book within the book of Twelve.

General Structure of the Book of Obadiah[2]

Who will celebrate the downfall of the people of God and not be damned?[3]

I           The day of judgment against Edom (1-14, 15b)

A         The nations will gather against Edom (1-9)

B         Edom doom is rooted on rejoicing over the crisis of Jerusalem (10-14)

11-14 Notice the tenfold use of “in the day” (beyom) in 11-14 (along with key uses of day in verses 8 & 15). Compare the tenfold use of day in Zephaniah 1:14-18. 

15b seems to proverbially close the section preceding it (2-14), and 15a seems to introduce the latter part of the book (16-21). Thus, verse 15 may be an editor’s splicing together of these prophetic oracles to make the book of Obadiah.[4]

II         The day of Yahweh for all nations—judgment and salvation (15a, 16-21)

15a In Obad 1 the nations are the instrument of judgment against Edom; and in Obad 15 the doom of Edom is the doom of the nations.

C         The nations will be drunk with judgment (16-18)

D         The remnant of God’s people will be established in his kingdom (19-21)

The oracles in the book of Obadiah have significant parallels elsewhere in the Hebrew scriptures. The book, like these other contexts, is rooted upon Edom’s rejoicing over a crisis of the southern kingdom of Judah. Though we do not have a narrative of the event it is remembered in various poems and oracles.
Remember, O Yahweh, against the Edomites
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!” (Ps 137:7 NRSV).
Rejoice and be glad, O daughter Edom,
you that live in the land of Uz;
but to you also the cup shall pass;
you shall become drunk and strip yourself bare.
The punishment of your iniquity, O daughter Zion, is accomplished,
he will keep you in exile no longer;
but your iniquity, O daughter Edom, he will punish,
he will uncover your sins (Lam 4:21-22 NRSV).
Thus says the Lord GOD: Because Edom acted revengefully against the house of Judah and has grievously offended in taking vengeance upon them, therefore thus says the Lord GOD, I will stretch out my hand against Edom, and cut off from it humans and animals, and I will make it desolate; from Teman even to Dedan they shall fall by the sword. I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel; and they shall act in Edom according to my anger and according to my wrath; and they shall know my vengeance, says the Lord GOD (Ezek 25:12-14 NRSV).
Because you [Edom] cherished an ancient enmity, and gave over the people of Israel to the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, at the time of their final punishment. . . . You shall know that I, the Lord, have heard all the abusive speech that you uttered against the mountains of Israel, saying, “They are laid desolate, they are given us to devour” (Ezek 35:5, 12 NRSV).
Also see Isaiah 34:8-17; Jer 49:16; Ezek 36:1-7; Joel 3:19; Amos 1:6, 9, 11-12 (for similar talk of other nations, on Tyre see Ezek 26:1-2; on Ammon and Moab see Zeph 2:8-10).
Among the most significant parallels are between Jeremiah’s oracle against Edom within his “oracles against the nations.”[5]
Obadiah (NRSV) Jeremiah 49:7-22 (NRSV)
Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom:
We have heard a report from the Lord,
and a messenger has been sent among the nations:
“Rise up! Let us rise against it for battle!”
2 I will surely make you least among the nations;
you shall be utterly despised.
3 Your proud heart has deceived you,
you that live in the clefts of the rock,
whose dwelling is in the heights.
You say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”
4 Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down, says the Lord.
14 I have heard tidings from the Lord,
and a messenger has been sent among the nations:
“Gather yourselves together and come against her,
and rise up for battle!”
15 For I will make you least among the nations,
despised by humankind.
16 The terror you inspire
and the pride of your heart have deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
who hold the height of the hill.
Although you make your nest as high as the eagle’s,
from there I will bring you down, says the Lord.[6]
5 If thieves came to you,
if plunderers by night
—how you have been destroyed!—
would they not steal only what they wanted?
If grape-gatherers came to you,
would they not leave gleanings?
9 If grape-gatherers came to you,
would they not leave gleanings?
If thieves came by night,
even they would pillage only what they wanted.
6 How Esau has been pillaged,
his treasures searched out!
10 But as for me, I have stripped Esau bare,
I have uncovered his hiding places,
and he is not able to conceal himself.
His offspring are destroyed, his kinsfolk
and his neighbors; and he is no more.
7 All your allies have deceived you . . . .
there is no understanding of it.
8 On that day, says the Lord,
I will destroy the wise out of Edom,
and understanding out of Mount Esau.
7 Thus says the Lord of hosts:
Is there no longer wisdom in Teman?
Has counsel perished from the prudent?
Has their wisdom vanished?

It is possible, as many scholars think, that Obadiah serves as a basis for Jeremiah 49. It is also possible that Obadiah is based, in part, on Jeremiah’s oracle. Or, perhaps Jeremiah and Obadiah were working from a common source. In any event the importance is not which came first, by the interconnection of a common message of condemnation against Edom by the preachers of Judah.[7]

Whereas Jeremiah 49 places the oracle against Edom in the context of the oracles against the nations, like Amos does in Amos 1:11-12, Obadiah uses Edom’s sins as an incitement against the nation. And, moreover, Edom’s judgment symbolically as the day of judgment against all nations.

[1] See James M. Kennedy, “Obadiah,” ABD, 1: 1-2.
[2] Based on my own reading and indebted to Childs, Introduction; Peter R. Ackroyd, “Obadiah, Book of,” ABD 5: 2-4.
[3] Notice the reoccurring theme of arrogance and delight over the downfall of the people of God (Obad 3, 11, 12, 13, 14).
[4] See Childs, Introduction to the Old Testament as Scripture, 413; Ackroyd, 5: 2.
[5] See Childs, 412-13, 416; Ackroyd, 5: 3.
[6] Compare Jer 49:22 “Look, he [Yahweh] shall mount up and swoop down like an eagle, and spread his wings against Bozrah, and the heart of the warriors of Edom in that day shall be like the heart of a woman in labor.”
[7] Also compare: Obad 16 “For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, all the nations around you shall drink; they shall drink and gulp down, and shall be as though they had never been” = Jer 49:12 “12 For thus says the Lord: If those who do not deserve to drink the cup still have to drink it, shall you be the one to go unpunished? You shall not go unpunished; you must drink it”; and Obad 18 “The house of Jacob shall be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau; for the Lord has spoken” = Jer 49:18 “As when Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighbors were overthrown, says the Lord, no one shall live there, nor shall anyone settle in it.”

Also see introduction to the prophets, and see bibliography on the prophets.

Copyright 2011