it is addressed not to Israel but to a foreign people, Edom. The land of Edom was a small mountainous area east of the Dead Sea. Its people were descendants of Esau (Gen. 36).
This oracle is directed entirely against Edom, Judah’s neighbor to the southeast. The picture of Edom gloating over Jerusalem’s downfall—probably at the hands of the Babylonians
Concerning Edom … the LORD gave a message (or a report). It came through a representative He sent to the nations, telling them to unite in humiliating Edom. The nations that had a part in destroying the Edomites included the Nabateans, the Jews (under John Hyrcanus), and the Romans. This points up a truth seen throughout much of the Bible: God sovereignly employs nations to accomplish His will on earth.
Edom was noted in the Bible for its pride, treachery, greed, and violence (2 Chr. 20:10, 11; 25:14, 20; Jer. 49:16; Amos 1:9, 11; Obad. 3). Conflict between Israel and Edom was foreshadowed by conflict between the peoples’ progenitors, Jacob and Esau (Gen. 25:21–34; 27:34–45). The incident that initiated and fed the conflict occurred on Israel’s journey from Egypt to Canaan (Num. 20:14–21). Thus, Edom and Israel fought through most of their history (1 Sam. 14:47; 2 Sam. 8:14; 2 Kgs. 8:20–22; 14:7). But Edom made themselves especially odious to the Jews when Babylon conquered and plundered Jerusalem. When Nebuchadnezzar’s forces closed in on Jerusalem and the king of Judah attempted to flee (2 Kgs. 25:3–7), Edom apparently helped capture him. As a reward the Edomites were allowed to participate in the sack of Jerusalem (Ps. 137:7; Ezek. 25:12; 35:15; 36:5; Joel 3:19; Obad. 10–14).
The country of Edom lies south of the Dead Sea, and to the south-east of Judah. Its people are descended from Esau, just as the Israelites are descendants of Jacob. Esau and Jacob were twins. Esau was the elder brother and the rightful heir of the promises God made to his father Isaac and his grandfather Abraham. However, Esau never took God seriously. Jacob, on the other hand, was determined to supplant Esau, and succeeded in cheating him of his inheritance. The story of Esau and Jacob is told in Genesis 25–36
Centuries later, when the Israelites asked Edom’s permission to use the ‘King’s Highway’ (the most direct route from Egypt to Canaan), they were refused. A long running enmity was established between Israel and Edom, which features frequently in the Old Testament story. Edom becomes a typical example of people who are insensitive to God and oppose his plans.
lists six such events: (1) Absalom’s revolt, (2) Shishak’s invasion, (3) the Philistine-Arabian invasion, (4) the Israelite invasion, (5) Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion in 597 B.C., and (6) Nebuchadnezzar’s invasion in 587 B.C. The last event is the most likely. A short time after the fall of Judah to the Babylonians (587 B.C.) fits the situation
The prophecy was likely delivered to the Jewish survivors of Jerusalem’s destruction. It should have been a great encouragement to know that Edom’s treachery against them would not go unpunished. In fact, all the enemies of God and His people would receive justice. Also, what seemed to be the end for God’s people would not be the end after all.
At the time of Obadiah’s prophecy, Edom sits proud and strong in her high mountain setting. Her main cities are Bozrah and Sela (which means ‘rocks’). Petra is just such a city (although built later, in the 4th century BC) and is a favourite with tourists today. Obadiah warns Edom that nowhere is too high for God to reach. In fact Edom is about to be brought down to earth very decisively indeed. Her treasures will be ransacked, her allies will betray her, her wise people will be powerless and her warriors will be destroyed.
This catastrophe is to overtake Edom because she looked on and cheered when Jerusalem was sacked by Nebuchadnezzar in 587 BC. Family ties should have drawn Edom to help Judah, but in the event she sided with Babylon. Psalm 137 records the appalling betrayal