Obadiah Introduction

Introduction to the Book of Obadiah


This is the shortest book in the Old Testament. Obadiah means 'the servant of Yahweh'. Or it means 'the person who gives honour to Yahweh'. There are many people with this name in the Old Testament. This Obadiah is not the same as the other ones.


The date depends on the answers to two problems.

The first problem is that verses 1-9 are like Jeremiah 49:7-22. There are three ideas about why they are similar.

  • Jeremiah repeated what Obadiah wrote. If this is true, then Jerusalem's destruction (Obadiah verse 11) is the same as in 2 Chronicles 21:16. There, the writer describes how the Philistines and the Arabs attacked Judah. They entered it with their army. They carried off all the possessions in the king's palace. They also took his sons and his wives. This happened in 843 BC.
  • But the events in Obadiah verses 11-14 are more terrible than what happened then. In 2 Chronicles 21, the writer does not mention the people that lived in Edom. The writer in 2 Kings does not say anything about the event either.
  • Obadiah used the text of Jeremiah 49:7-22. In both Obadiah verse 1 and Jeremiah 49:14, someone sends a message that the nations should attack 'her'. However, in Jeremiah the word 'her' refers to Bozrah (a town). But in Obadiah it refers to Edom (a country.) Maybe Obadiah used the verse from Jeremiah and he did not change the grammar. Usually people used a female form of a verb to describe people in a country. They did not use it to describe the country itself. Armies captured Jerusalem in 586 BC. If Obadiah used Jeremiah's text, then verse 11 would mean that time. The people that lived in Edom behaved like that then. In Psalm 137:7, the writer talks about this. ' Lord, remember what Edom's people did. They cried out on the day when Jerusalem fell. "Tear it down! Tear it down to the ground!" '
  • Both writers repeated an earlier prophecy. This is possible but we cannot prove it. If they did it, then again Obadiah meant Jerusalem's capture in 586 BC.

The second problem is that we must make a decision. Are the verbs in verses 2 and 6-10 in the past tense? Or are they in the prophetic perfect? (This means when people used the past tense to describe future events. Prophets did this because they were so sure that the events would happen. A well-known example of this is when Isaiah describes Jesus' suffering in Isaiah chapter 53.) We know that the Arabs did not capture Edom until the 5^th^ century BC. The Nabateans captured it again in the 3^rd^ century BC. So it is likely that Obadiah used the prophetic perfect. If so, he wrote his book soon after Israel's enemies had captured Jerusalem in 586 BC. During that period he would be the only prophet who prophesied in Judah.


This name has its origins from Esau, Jacob's brother. These two were not good friends. They struggled with each other in the womb. (The womb means the part of the body where a baby grows before birth.) The writer of Hebrews 12:16-17 says: 'Esau was not spiritual. (This means that he did not have a relationship with God.) He gave his rights as the oldest son to Jacob. He exchanged them for one meal. Afterwards, he wanted to inherit his rights. But his father refused to give them to him. He could not change what he had done. He tried to do so and he was weeping.' Edom's people lived in Seir. This is an area of mountains south and east of the Dead Sea. Two important trade routes went through it. Because its people controlled these roads, they got a lot of money. But other people also attacked it. Its two chief cities were Bozrah and Sela. Sela is near the famous city of Petra. Sela means rock, and people cut this city out of red rock. It is still possible to see part of it today.

After Israel's people had left Egypt, they wanted to go through Edom. But Edom's people did not allow Israel's people to go through (Numbers 20:14-21). Saul attacked Edom and he defeated its army (1 Samuel 14:47). David killed many of Edom's people. He made its other people his slaves (2 Samuel 8:13-14). Solomon built his ships at a port called Ezion-Geber in Edom. 'Hadad, the king of Edom, was an evil enemy of Israel. He caused great suffering.' (See 1 Kings 11:22.) Edom attacked Judah at the time of King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20). 'During the rule of Jehoram, Edom's people opposed the authority of Judah's rulers. Edom became a kingdom that other countries did not control.' (See 2 Chronicles 21:8.) Later King Amaziah captured Edom again and he killed 20 000 of Edom's people (2 Chronicles 25:11-12). When Ahaz was king of Judah, Edom's soldiers attacked it. They captured many people. Now Edom was completely free (2 Chronicles 28:17).

From 734 BC Assyria's rulers controlled Edom and then Babylon controlled Edom. Then the power of Edom's people became weaker. Arabs controlled Edom and then the Nabateans controlled it. Many of Edom's people moved to southern Judah. People then called this area Idumea. (This is where the Arabs and many of Edom's people lived.) The kings called Herod came from this country. They were Israel's kings at the time of the New Testament. They did not behave in a good way about spiritual truth. (In this way they were like Esau.) We can see this from their reaction to Jesus.

The prophets said many times that Edom's people were doing wrong. Here are some examples of this. 'My sword descends in judgement upon Edom' (Isaiah 34:7). 'You people of Edom, he will punish the bad things that you have done. He will show your evil actions to everyone' (Lamentations 4:22). 'I will punish Edom for the injuries that it has done to other nations' (Ezekiel 25:12-14). ' Edom will be a desert' (Joel 3:19). 'Who is this that is coming from Edom? A person who steps on grapes has red on his clothes. But why are your clothes red like that? I walked upon the nations angrily with heavy steps' (Isaiah 63:1-6). Here Edom means the people. And it means their ideas that are against God. The Messiah will destroy them, and this will be part of his success. In Malachi 1:2-5, the writer looks back to Edom's destruction. 'I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau. I have changed his mountains into a desert.'

The Message of the Book

The writer gave a message of hope to God's people. He told them that they would see God's judgement. God ruined Edom. Edom's people had laughed when other nations ruined Judah. Edom's people thought that they were greater than the other nations. They thought that other nations would not ruin them. They forgot that Israel's people's God had power over all. When God carried out his judgement of the nations, then Israel's people would see God's justice. Then he would give back to Judah's people what other nations had taken from them. God did not leave his people alone when other nations defeated them. He continued to support them because of his promise to them.

God wanted to help his people because he was the king over the nations. He was not only the king over Israel. He controls events. He uses people to carry out his plans for good and also his plans for punishment. Edom and Babylon no longer exist. Israel's people do exist. Israel's (Jacob's) people went through suffering. This was one way that God was preparing them. Then God brought them back to what they were. Edom's (Esau's) people thought that they were better or more important than other nations. They did not do what God said. This led to destruction.

Today there are many powerful enemies of God. Obadiah said that God would still support his people. He would allow them to have freedom. He said that one day 'the kingdom would be the Lord's'.

'He hoped that God would bring back his own people. This meant something greater than pride in his country. In his people's success he sees the beginning of God's kingdom.' (J. A. Thompson)

Plan of the Book

The book is in two parts.

Part One: Prophecy Against Edom (verses 1-14)

Verse 1 Title and message

Verses 2-4 First prophecy: Pride brings destruction.

Verses 5-7 Second prophecy: People steal things. They are not loyal.

Verses 8-9 Third prophecy: The day of Judgement

Verses 10-14 Reasons for God's judgement of Edom

  • They did nothing to help Judah.
  • They laughed at Judah's destruction.

Part Two: Israel and the Nations, (verses 15-21)

  • Verses 15-18 The situation will completely change.
  • Verses 19-21 The kingdom will come.

The book is in two parts but it has one message. Verse 15 links the two parts. In that verse, Obadiah warns people. He says, 'The day of the Lord is near for all nations.' The 'day of the Lord' is a special time when God will punish the nations. He warns Edom's people that they will not escape. 'People will do to you what you have done to other people.' Obadiah repeats the word 'day' in verses 8, 11, 12, 13 and 15. God 'cuts down' Edom in verse 9. Edom's army 'cuts down' Judah in verse 14. Yahweh speaks in verses 1, 4 and 8. And he acts in verses 15 and 21. Crime and punishment go together, as Obadiah says in verse 15. Proud people will become humble. Some people are glad that people steal. But then they will realize that people steal from them.