Obadiah: A Message of God’s Justice

Lesson Focus:  This lesson will encourage you to humbly take an active part in helping others in times of need, especially when they have been victimized.

God’s Action Is Certain:  Obadiah 1-4.

[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: "Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!" [2]  Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be utterly despised. [3]  The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who 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, declares the LORD.  [ESV]

[1-4]  The Edomites trace their origin to Esau, the firstborn twin son of Isaac and Rebekah, who struggled with Jacob even while in the womb. Esau settled in a region of mostly rugged mountains south of the Dead Sea called Edom. Edom occupied a land dominated by vast wilderness, narrow valleys and rugged mountains. Her cities, perched among these natural fortresses, were endowed with an impenetrable defense. Great wealth was bestowed on her as well. An extensive copper mining and smelting industry provided considerable wealth. The struggle and birth of Jacob and Esau form the ultimate background to Obadiah’s prophecy. Although the need to subdue a mutual enemy occasionally required a joint effort, the descendants of Esau seemed to hold the descendants of Jacob in perpetual contempt. When Israel came out of Egypt, Edom denied her passage through her land [Num. 20:14-21], requiring Israel to travel vast distances around her. In spite of this violation of fraternal relations, Israel was instructed by God to be kind to Edom [Deut. 23:7-8]. Yet Edom harbored a perpetual hatred toward Israel throughout her history. The prophecy opens with a relatively simple yet dignified introduction. While divine revelation was given through various means, this message came by means of a vision. Lest there be any lingering doubt as to the origin, the prophet continues with a common phrase for announcing divine oracles, Thus says the Lord God. The message of Obadiah was not generated from a heart of unholy vengeance but came supernaturally from the Lord God Himself by means of a revelatory vision. Lord God is literally “Adonai Yahweh”, the former name means ‘master, owner’ and in this context announces God’s sovereign ownership of the world and history. He is the Overlord of the nations. The latter name, which speaks of eternal existence and eternal presence, embraces a definite covenant perspective in which the covenant relationship with Israel is reiterated. The oracle concerns Edom, Israel’s relative, neighbor and intermittent enemy. The Edomites are addressed directly; however, the immediate recipients of the message are the inhabitants of Judah. As ones who had recently experienced the ransacking of their city, the looting of their wealth, and the slaying of their fugitives, the words serve as an encouragement and promise of hope. This small book is both a warning to nations and individuals who do not serve the Lord and as a lesson for those who follow Him. The message from Yahweh comes to Obadiah as a representative of his people: we have heard a report from the Lord. The identity of the messenger who has been sent is probably an angel. Though on occasion the prophets personally confronted the dignitaries of foreign nations, it is doubtful that a personal emissary was sent to rally the nations against Edom. Israel’s suffering at the hands of Edom and others at this time in her history would render such efforts doubtful. Although Obadiah utilizes the prophetic perfect (has been sent) to describe the messenger’s mission, the context of the prophecy indicates that Edom’s ruination is still future. By employing a past tense verb to describe an event yet future, a sense of certainty is given to the coming demise of Edom. The demise will come from among the nations, apparently referring to a coalition of neighboring states whom the Lord will arouse against them. Let us rise against her for battle is the succinct message so urgently proclaimed by the messenger. The twofold use of the verb rise depicts the urgency of the moment and begs for an immediate response. The term rise up frequently denotes an initial call to military action and reflects an element of stealth and the expectation of victory. Although the prophet is delivering the message to his own people, the oracle is directed against Edom in the first person from the Lord Himself. He begins with Behold, arresting with urgency and immediacy the attention of the hearers. When used, it often unveils some surprise or the unexpected, marking the importance of the statement that is to follow. As a result of her judgment, Edom will be small among the nations and utterly despised. This indicates that Edom will be reduced to insignificance, both numerically and politically. The attitude of the nations toward Edom will not stop at a neutral indifference and insignificance; rather, their disdain and contempt for her will encompass an active and open hostility. Edom’s strategic location, nestled comfortably in the rugged mountains between the deep Arabah that extends in a southerly direction from the Dead Sea and the Arabian desert, gave her a feeling of military impregnability and invincibility. Deep, terrifying gorges emanating from peaks reaching 5,700 feet surrounded her like a fortress, generating a proud, false security. While other nations were more vulnerable, both economically and militarily, Edom’s setting generated a heart of self-assured pride. Obadiah depicts Edom’s pride as inflated self-exaltation, suggesting an exaggerated, unwarranted presumption. Her excessive arrogance had deceived her. The source of Edom’s self-deception is noted by their dwelling place in the clefts of the rock. Ancient cites were built on the tops of hills for increased security and fortification. Few cities, if any, could match the imposing fortifications and protections Edom enjoyed. An exaggerated arrogance, fueled by a presumption of invincibility and a heart of deception, propels Edom to defiantly flaunt a challenge to any who will listen, Who will bring me down to the ground? The rhetorical question loudly shouts the defiant answer that no one can! The arrogant challenge of verse 3 is answered in verse 4. The imagery is clearly that of birds nesting in the remote, inaccessible cracks and crevices of the sheer mountain walls surrounding Edom like a walled compound. A popular motif in ancient Near East, the eagle in the Old Testament illustrates strength, swiftness, loftiness, and tireless flight. Nesting among the stars heightens the metaphor, reminding the inhabitants of Edom, who already dwell on the heights, that even if they were able to dwell among the stars they would be unable to elude their sentence of judgment. In bold contrast to Edom’s boast in verse 3, Yahweh replies, I will bring you down [4]. Even when making their abode in the highest and most inaccessible place, they would be accessible to the hand of the Sovereign of the universe; He would bring them down. Lest the certainty of the Judge’s sentence is doubted, the prophet punctuates the matter with an emphatic, declares the Lord.

God’s Action Is Near:  Obadiah 10-15.

[10]  Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. [11]  On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. [12]  But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress. [13]  Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; do not gloat over his disaster in the day of his calamity; do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity. [14]  Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives; do not hand over his survivors in the day of distress. [15]  For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.  [ESV]

[10-15]  In the opening portion of the prophecy, Obadiah vividly sets forth the certainty and extent of Edom’s judgment. Though the natural fortifications of her mountainous location were impressive, they would not provide the needed protection from her divinely empowered enemies. Her vast storehouse of riches, accumulated from the incessant flow of merchant caravans through her land, would be inadequate to purchase the loyalty of her allies. Her famed wisdom and military strength would be insufficient to protect her inhabitants, Edom would be overrun. Now the prophet turns to enumerate and explain the charges leveled against her, providing the evidence that underlies the judicial sentences of verses 2-9 and verses 15-21. Verse 10 is transitional, setting the stage for the more specific charges of verses 11-14. The first indictment begins with the general statement: Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob. The gravity of Edom’s offenses is magnified by the fact that they were committed against your brother. By referring to Israel as Jacob, the prophet intentionally draws the reader’s attention back to the birth of the twins and the origin of their struggles. As the subsequent verses demonstrate, Edom had a long history of treating Israel with disdain and hatred. Although the prophet introduces the charges here only generally, addressing the crimes specifically in the subsequent verses, the strength of the term violence should not be underestimated. It is almost always used for violence resulting from sinful actions, and is often used for describing extreme wickedness. Consequently, Edom will be covered with shame. A proud nation that enjoyed immense abundance would become the laughing-stock of the nations. Not only would she experience the loss of honor and prestige, but you shall be cut off forever. As a result of her crimes, Edom will no longer exist as a nation. Having charged the descendants of Esau with the general crime of violence toward their ancestral twin brother Jacob [10], the prophet now gets up close and personal, unveiling and amplifying the specific charges of the indictment against them. He begins by repeating the phrase on the day. It is a repetitive theme trumpeted throughout the immediate context, repeated ten times within the confines of these four verses. It is an obvious reference to Judah’s suffering when strangers and foreigners invaded the city of Jerusalem. Rather than identify these intruders, the prophet instead chooses to refer to them as anonymous infiltrators, thereby accentuating the true nature of Edom’s absence of brotherly kindness and duty. Even when Israel was suffering at the hands of complete strangers, she would not even come to her aid. Though Edom did not actually participate in the crimes, you were like one of them indicates that Edom was not without guilt. They were fully cognizant of their brotherly duty and responsibility, but they had chosen to ignore their duty. The first indictment is that Edom stood aloof. Rather than maintaining a truly neutral position of observation, as the terms initially suggest, the context [12-14] indicates that Edom stood aloof in a hostile sense. Obadiah describes what happened on that terrible day. Edom stood aside, waiting like vultures to enrich themselves after the enemy had carried off Judah’s wealth. The initial indictment [11] charges Edom with standing aloof, disregarding her brother’s desperate need of assistance. Now the accusation is explained with greater specificity. As the charge that they too were as one of them [11] hints, they rejoiced at the downfall of Judah. The eight rhetorical prohibitions each begin with the Hebrew negative, expressing not a general prohibition but a specific, individual circumstance prohibition. The prophet thrusts himself (figuratively) into the midst of the Edomites, passionately admonishing them, apparently to no avail: do not gloat … do not rejoice … do not boast … do not enter … do not gloat … do not loot … do not stand … do not hand. Judah’s day is identified by the three subsequent descriptions: the day of his misfortune … the day of distress … the day of their calamity. The sequence of parallel thoughts continues to reverberate through the indictment of Edom. With each stanza, the prophet’s repetitive warnings increase in intensity. The three prohibitions in verse 13 are each followed by the recurring phrase the day of their calamity or disaster. The prohibitions represent an escalation in Edom’s role. In the previous verses, Edom spied on the military action from afar, maliciously gloating over her brother’s calamity. In the following verse, her involvement is a secondary one in which she maintains her distance. However, the present verse reveals a more active role – entering the city and looting the wealth. The Edomites, realizing that the enemy had left the city vulnerable and defenseless, now see their chance to enrich themselves handsomely. Having entered the city, they begin gorging themselves on the enemies’ leftovers, all the while continuing to gloat over their disaster. The combination of disaster and calamity in this middle prohibition makes a two-fold reference to Judah’s misfortune, highlighting the depths of her distress. Because of the calamity, Edom was given to rejoicing over her good fortune and Israel’s misfortune, Though the Edomites did not participate with the desolation of Judah, they plundered her just like the enemy. She has gone from being a passive observer to an active participant. Instead of assisting her twin brother, she engages in plundering the helpless, all the while continuing to gloat. Finally the reference to my people should not be overlooked. Though the text has left little doubt as to Yahweh’s love and zeal for His chosen people, it is the first time that the text reveals it so blatantly. Edom has failed to account for the fact that it is not just dealing with the sons of Jacob, but with the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. The phrase not only depicts ownership but also speaks of an enduring relationship between Yahweh and His covenant people. Obadiah sets forth two final prohibitions in verse 14. In doing so, he makes two additional accusations against Edom, revealing the grim details of Edom’s increasing involvement in Judah’s downfall. He passionately pleads for Edom to not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives. Apparently, the inhabitants of Edom would station themselves at strategic locations, whether at a breached wall, a mountain pass, or a fork in the road, to cut off the fugitives leaving Jerusalem. The prophet concludes with the final admonition, do not hand over his survivors. Edom stood aloof, watching the enemy ravish the nation of Israel. She plundered the leftovers of the people after the invasion forces had departed. By guarding the escape routes, she betrayed, intercepted, and handed over to the enemy those who were fleeing the travesties of war. With the opening of this final section, the prophet once again turns his attention toward Yahweh’s judgment in verse 15. Earlier, in verses 2-9, the sentence of judgment upon Edom was explicitly set forth in all its fullness. This proud and arrogant nation would be brought down with certainty. The treasures of her overflowing storehouses would be thoroughly emptied and her strong, wise leadership would be cut off. Following this explicit statement of eventuality is Yahweh’s stinging indictment of Edom [10-14], declaring His justification for the severity of the sentence. In comparison with Yahweh’s previous declaration of judgment, a broader perspective is now heralded. Judgment is no longer focused solely on the inhabitants of Edom. Rather, it is said to encompass all the nations. God’s judgment of Edom in history is a preview of His future judgment on all nations who refuse to bow to His sovereignty. Edom has exemplified the character of all nations who fail to acknowledge their Creator and Sovereign. Thus the sentence expands beyond Edom to include all nations. Obadiah introduces the urgency of the state of affairs with the phrase for the day of the Lord is near. This refers to the full zeal of Yahweh’s definitive intervention into the affairs of human history eschatologically. The conquest of Edom already predicted is now presented as a signal inaugurating that traditional widespread demonstration of divine justice and grace which is associated with the Day of Yahweh. Verse 15 opens with For which not only introduces the reason for the preceding prohibitions but also depict the relationship of the punishment to the crime: As you have done, it shall be done to you. The penalty corresponds precisely to the nature of the infractions. Edom’s judgment is perfectly just. The law of retaliation, demanding an exact correspondence between crime and punishment, is reiterated by the last phrase: your deeds shall return on your own head. In the case of Edom, God will recompense her in an manner similar to her reprehensible actions toward her brother.

God’s Action Brings Deliverance:  Obadiah 17-18, 21.

[17]  But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape, and it shall be holy, and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions. [18]  The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and 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 for the house of Esau, for the LORD has spoken. [21]  Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s.

[17-18,21]  A reversal of Judah’s plight, so dramatically depicted in the indictment on Edom [10-14], will come about when Messiah intercedes on her behalf. The day of Yahweh will bring judgment on Edom and the nations, but will usher in a period of unprecedented blessing and prosperity for Israel. In comparison to the nations [16], there will be those who escape on Mount Zion. The noun escape is employed frequently to describe God’s preservation and purification of a remnant in Israel. Formerly, Edom endeavored to cut down and imprison those who attempted to escape [14]. Now there is a complete reversal. Yahweh will provide protection and a means of escape for His elect remnant. It is doubtful that the return from the Babylonian captivity is in view. The context indicates that their occupation will be extensive, with boundaries reaching well beyond those enjoyed by the returning Babylonian exiles. Rather, the context points to the future rule of Messiah, who will reside in their midst and provide a safe haven for them. His presence will make Mount Zion holy. Everything will be set apart solely for the manifestation of His glory. In verse 18 Obadiah once again takes up the theme of annihilation announced earlier. In verses 9 and 10, he utilizes a military motif, declaring that the inhabitants of Edom would be cut off. In verse 16, he describes how they will drink continually until it will be as if they never existed. Here the fire metaphor is employed to depict the divine destruction of Edom. Yahweh had enlisted the aid of the nations to bring judgment on Edom [1,7]; now those who escape [17] will be divinely empowered to dispose of the house of Edom [18] and the surrounding nations [19-20]. They become His instruments of judgment, acting at the behest of the Sovereign of the Universe. The metaphor continues by likening Esau to stubble, a highly flammable substance that illustrates the swiftness and completeness of the judgment. Just as Edom had attempted to cut down Judah’s fugitives and survivors [14], so now the devouring flames of Jacob and Joseph will not leave any survivors. All will be consumed. Frequently throughout Scripture, fire, flame and stubble become vivid pictures of divine visitations of judgment on the wicked. The house of Jacob not only provides a strong connection to the preceding verse; it also forms a bold contrast to the house of Esau. As before, the prophet again highlights this ancestral relationship, reminding the descendants of the familial bond between the fathers of their two nations. The nature of their criminal actions and the severity of their punishment must be seen against the backdrop of the fact that they were blood brothers. The house of Joseph is apparently mentioned so as to include the northern ten tribes, a designation so used repeatedly by the Old Testament prophets elsewhere. Even though the northern tribes had been removed from the land by the Assyrians (722 BC), they too will be returned to the land. Together once again, the twelve tribes of Israel will collectively subdue the house of Esau. And, lest there be any lingering doubts, the prophet provides a dramatic punctuation to the prediction of judgment: for the Lord has spoken. The phrase reiterates the certainty of Yahweh’s oracle. It will occur! In a summary fashion the prophet continues his description of the effects of the judgment on Edom and the nations in verse 21. Not only will Yahweh empower the descendants of the houses of Jacob and Joseph to assist in bringing about the judgment. Not only will He make it possible for the exiles to return and to possess the land promised to their forefathers. He will also provide divinely empowered saviors or deliverers. Just as Yahweh raised up judges to deliver His people during the time between the conquest and the monarchy, so He will appoint similar leaders to help rule in the future kingdom. Their responsibility it to rule Mount Esau, while Mount Zion is the administrative center of Messiah’s rule. Obadiah envisions the restoration of Israel to her divinely appointed role of leadership among the nations. The prophet concludes with the remark, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s. Obadiah anticipates the time when the kingdom will belong exclusively to the Lord. The entire prophecy of Obadiah speaks of Yahweh’s great love for His covenant people and His omnipotent intervention into the affairs of human history on behalf of His people so that He might reign over the nations.

Questions for Discussion:

1.         What was the relationship between Edom and Judah? Why was Edom so antagonistic towards the people of Judah? What was the source of Edom’s pride? What is the Lord’s response to Edom’s pride?

2.         What did the people of Edom do when Judah was being attacked [10-15]?

3.         What does the day of the Lord [15] mean? Why does this term provide such tremendous hope to the people of Judah?

4.         What is the central message of Obadiah’s prophecy? How is this message still true for God’s people today?


Obadiah, Jeffrey Nichaus, Baker.

Obadiah, Irvin Busenitz, Mentor.

Obadiah, James Boice, Kregel.

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