Obadiah: Introduction Part 1
The book of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament since it contains only 21 verses.
The New Testament does not quote from it.
Consequently, especially by modern audiences, this tiny book has been overlooked or totally ignored and to the detriment of the church.
It has been ignored also because like Zephaniah it speaks of God’s judgment.
Obadiah promises to exact vengeance upon the nation of Edom because they mistreated the southern kingdom of Judah in the sixth century B.C. when they were conquered by Babylon.
The Edomites and Israelites were related since the former descended from Esau and the latter from Jacob.
Both of whom were brothers.
Thus, God was angry because the Edomites mistreated the Israelites who were their blood brothers.
The book of Obadiah is one of the “minor prophets,” which are called the Book of the Twelve in the Hebrew Bible.
They are only minor in the sense that each of these twelve books are much shorter than the prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel who are identified as the “major prophets.”
These twelve books cover a period of approximately three hundred years, from 760 B.C. to approximately 450 B.C., ending with Malachi.
Except for the book of Jonah, these books all identify the author in a heading.
They are arranged in the biblical canon chronologically with the exception of Joel and Obadiah.
A theme or possibly a catchword might explain the canonical position of Obadiah.
Hosea, Amos, Jonah and Micah were written in the eighth century B.C. Nahum, Habakkuk and Zephaniah were penned in the seventh century B.C. Joel, Obadiah, Haggai and Zechariah were composed in the sixth century B.C. while Malachi was written in the fifth century B.C.
The major prophets: (1) Isaiah (2) Jeremiah (3) Ezekiel.
The minor prophets: (1) Hosea (2) Joel (3) Amos (4) Obadiah (5) Jonah (6) Micah (7) Nahum (8) Habakkuk (9) Zephaniah (10) Haggai (11) Zechariah (12) Malachi.
The author of the book of Obadiah is shrouded in mystery.
He was an unknown prophet of Judah (1:1) and nothing else is known about him.
Nowhere in this book is the name of the author’s father provided or the place of his birth.
With the prophet, Obadiah, his message from God and not himself was most important.
His name means “servant or worshipper of the Lord.”
His name was very common (cf. 1 Kings 18:3-16; 1 Chron. 3:21; 7:3; 8:38; 9:16; 12:9; 27:19; 2 Chron. 17:7; 34:12; Ezra 8:9; Neh. 10:5; 12:25).
The author of Obadiah is not the same Obadiah who appears in 1 Kings 18:3-16.
The date of the book of Obadiah has been greatly debated by scholars since the Bible does not provide us with any facts about the author’s life or background.
The dating of the prophecy of Obadiah primarily revolves around verses 10-14.
There are at least six dates which have been suggested by bible scholars.
First, some argue that these verses were fulfilled when Jerusalem surrendered to the Egyptian ruler Shishak during the fifth year of Rehoboam (931-913 B.C.) (1 Kings 14:25-28; 2 Chron. 12:2-10).
Edom during this period is identified as an enemy during this period.
However, Rehoboam’s defeat did not result in the enslavement, or destruction of the southern kingdom and attempted escape from the enemy which is described in Obadiah 10-14.
Some interpret Obadiah 10-14 as describing the second recorded invasion of Jerusalem during the reign of Jehoram (853-841).
Arabs and Philistine armies invaded Judah which resulted in the capture of the king’s family and plundering of his wealth (2 Chron. 8:20-22; 22:1).
At this time, Judah was at odds with Edom (2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8-10; cf. 20:1-2, 22-23).
However, this judgment was directed specifically at the king (2 Chron. 21:14, 17).
Another view is that Obadiah 10-14 describes the third invasion of Judah during the reign of Joash (835-796).
The Syrians caused great destruction by plundering the country and defeating the Judean army which was the result of the Lord’s judgment upon Judah (2 Chron. 24:23-24).
During the reign of Amaziah which followed Joash, Edom remained hostile to Judah.
However, Edom’s role in this destruction has little Scriptural support or historical evidence.
Some view Obadiah 10-14 has having been fulfilled when Jerusalem was capture during the time of Amaziah (796-767) since the city was plundered and prisoners of war taken when there were open hostilities with Edom (2 Kings 14:7-14).
However, the description in this account does not come close to corresponding with Obadiah 10-14.
A fifth view is that Obadiah 10-14 was fulfilled during the eighth century when Edom was at war with Judah during the reign of Ahaz in particular (735-715).
This king was judged by the Lord for his unfaithfulness (2 Chron. 28:17).
Many of the citizens of Judah and Jerusalem were killed in war and taken as prisoners of war (2 Chron. 29:8-9; cf. 2 Kings 16:1-20).
Interestingly, during this century the prophets of Israel declared judgment against Edom (Isa. 11:14; 21:11; 34:5-15; 63:1-6; Amos 1:6, 9, 11; cf. Num. 24:18; Joel 3:19).
However, there is no record whatsoever of Jerusalem being captured.
I believe that Obadiah 10-14 are describing Edom’s conduct during Nebuchadnezzar’s final invasion of Judah and her capital city Jerusalem in 586 B.C.
In 586, the wealth of Jerusalem was plundered and a great portion of the population deported to Babylon (2 Kings 24:13-16; 2 Chron. 36:18, 20).
The city was very nearly burned to the ground including the temple (2 Kings 25:9-10; 2 Chron. 36:19).
Many of her citizens were slaughtered (2 Kings 25:8-21; 2 Chron. 36:17; cf. Jer. 6:1-9:22; Ezek. 4:1-7:27).
Also, there is mentioned in 2 Kings 24:4-5 the account of the king’s unsuccessful attempted escape with a small band of soldiers.
There are many historical accounts of Edom’s terrible conduct during this time.
They joined a coalition of nations to fight with Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Jer. 27:3; 40:11).
They were accused of taking its revenge out on Judah (cf. Ezek. 25:12).
They were condemned by Ezekiel for delivering over the people of Judah to Babylon as prisoners of war (Ezek. 35:5-6; cf. Lam. 1:17).
They were guilty of rejoicing over Judah’s defeat and Jerusalem’s destruction (cf. Ps. 137:7; Lam. 2:15-17; 4:21; Ezek. 35:11-15; 36:2-6).
The prophetic declarations of judgment against Edom reached their climax during this invasion (Jer. 9:26; 25:21; Lam. 4:21-22; Ezek. 25:13; 32:29; 35:3-4, 7-9, 11, 14-15; 36:7).
Lastly, Jeremiah 49:7-22 and Ezekiel 35-36 are echoed by Obadiah 10-14.
Obadiah’s graphic description makes it likely that he wrote his book not long after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 B.C.
He also predicted the fall of Edom as a future event, so he must have written before the late sixth century B.C., when Edom was destroyed.
If we take all this evidence into account, it would seem that the book of Obadiah was written approximately between 585 and 550 B.C.
Obadiah was probably written in the southern kingdom of Judah because his prophecy addresses his concern over the Edomites rejoicing over the Babylonian invasion of Judah.
He more than likely lived in Jerusalem as well because he expresses his concern for this city or if he did not live in this city, he lived somewhere in Judah.
The contents of the book of Obadiah reveal that the recipients of its contents were the southern kingdom of Judah and possibly the Edomites who were descendants of Esau.
The literary genre of the book of Obadiah is poetry which contains prophecy or in other words, the book is prophetic poetry.