The Book of Obadiah – Introduction

Good ol’ Obadiah! Not sure I’ve ever heard or said that before, pretty sure I haven’t, but we should! This is a rich and challenging book that is in our Canonical repertoire for a reason – and yet a recent study put this book as the MOST AVOIDED book in all of Scripture! So of all the 66 books, ranked in most popular to most avoided – Obadiah is the #1! But why is this? I’m not sure and it’s not an answer I’m going to give but what we WILL do is try to reclaim it as a book necessary for you and I to read, know, wrestle with, understand, and find hope in. Because if all books of the Bible, and ALL stories within it point to Jesus – then this book… points to Jesus too!

So, some background, context, and all that good stuff. “That facts sir – give me the facts!”

  • It’s the shortest book in ALL of the Old Testament (roughly 291 words total – the next “shortest” is Nahum with 558 words so this is ALMOST half of that!)
  • The author was…someone. Yeah, we aren’t sure but clearly someone wrote it! Maybe their name was Obadiah, we assume it’s Obadiah – but since we don’t know anything about him (and some people thinking that these words are awfully close to what we see in Jeremiah) it just leaves people wondering.

There…that’s the facts THAT WE KNOW. But wait – there’s more!

  • This is a “prophetic oracle” towards, and against, Edom
  • As to WHEN it was written? Well, different scholars propose different times and thus we get a scattering of thoughts there. Some go as late as early ninth century B.C. but then we get other numbers from there all the way to as early as 350 B.C. And while scatterings of those dates are proposed it seems MOST LIKELY that it was closer to 586 BC when we actually see in scripture that Israel falls to the Babylonians.

So what is going on in this book and what can we hope to learn by knowing it and making it NOT the “least known and favored of all the Bible books”? Well, even though the Edomites were long-lost siblings of the people of God (Gen 36 gives us the family of Esau but the easiest understanding is that Esau was the twin of Jacob from the family of Abraham and Sarah but THEN read Genesis 25-27 to read of the tension between Jacob (who becomes Israel) and Esau who becomes the father of the Edomites) – tensions and the hostility between them was really high and through extrabiblical texts we find that there was no blood-loss between them as the Edomites rejoiced any time the Judeans were taken captive, over-run in war, or captured at ANY enemy hands. But on top of that we also have numerous texts from Amos, Ezekiel, and Joel that speak of how bad Edom was, and is, and the suffering they will endure at the hands of the God who judges. And what specifically took place around 586? Well, the people of Israel were taken captive by the armies of Babylon and their “long lost family member” Edom? Well they were super helpful and captured fleeing Israelites and handed them over to the Babylonians (I know – super nice of them to do that TO THEIR OWN FAMILY!). One author mentions that once the people were handed over then there were Edomites who came in and squatted in their residence![1] (Can we say “opportunists”? Yes, yes we can.)

The audience? Well this, once more, is up for debate. Does Obadiah pull a “Jonah” and go knocking on the door to Edom to declare this scathing poetic oracle and message from God to their own downfall, judgment, and destruction (as Jonah did to Nineveh)? Maybe. Or is Obadiah giving this oracle to his own exiled people about their enemy – like we get from Nahum as he declared to his own people what God was going to do to the Assyrians? Maybe. Does it matter or does it change the context and meaning of the text? Not at all. Obadiah’s vision and his message is clear: God’s judgment comes.

So as we read these verses what becomes clear is that Edom was a prideful, treacherous, violent and greedy people that cared, and lived, only for themselves. They felt free to take advantage of whomever and whenever, jumped at any opportunity to better themselves while knocking down anyone who got in their way – especially the people of Judah – and if this WAS delivered to the people of Judah after their exile then you better believe that these words would have been hopeful, encouraging, and uplifting for them as they heard of their enemies downfall. It would have been a reminder that God is NOT just sitting by and watching his covenantal people get destroyed. That God IS taking an active role and the act they took upon them would not go unpunished. We can even go beyond Edom and state relatively confidently that NO ENEMY of God, or God’s people, will go unpunished for God is a God of justice and righteousness (something we see in the book of Amos). To a people who felt decimated, hurt, and possibly abandoned – Obadiah’s words would have been like aloe to their souls as their lives are NOT over.

So here’s my hope for you and me as we go through this book. We must remember that God and his word MEAN SOMETHING. That when God declares that you are my people and I am your God then He holds to it. Yes we see time and time again the people of God attempting to walk away from him or completely forgetting what a covenant means, and yes we see time and time again God punishing his own people for their sins – but judgment and mercy are of the same sided token. That while God DOES punish he also redeems and restores. That while God DOES act with judgment and justice he also throws down with compassion and forgiveness. Where do we see this most clearly: the cross. Where judgment and mercy collided together when Christ offered up his life for our sins (“propitiation”).

As I think about what’s taking place, and trying to hear this prophetic oracle as if I was an Israelite in exile, I’m reminded that God defends his covenantal people and we, his people, must trust him in HIS work and not our own. That this isn’t a text about taking up swords and fighting your own cause and defending your own needs – rather this is about taking up the peace in your soul as the God who judges brings down His judgment and defends His people. So put your trust in Him and not you.

Lastly, some good “reference” reading for backstory and whatnot can be found in the following (there are other texts too – but here’s a nice shortlist):

  • Genesis 25-27
  • Genesis 36
  • 2 Kings 25
  • Jeremiah 27
  • Ezekiel 35
  • Amos 1
  • Psalm 137

[1] The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton, IL: Crossway Bibles, 2016. Print.

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