The book of Obadiah

You may be wondering why this little book, tucked in the back of the Old Testament, comes next in our reading plan. This is because the internal evidence of the book suggests that it was written in the sixth century B.C., although there are seven schools of thought on exactly when it was written.

The book is an oracle against Edom for rejoicing in Jerusalem’s fall at the hands of the Babylonians and possible attacks at that vulnerable time. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau. They inhabited a large piece of land south of Israel and south and south east of Judah.

Relations between God’s people and the Edomites were always antagonistic and violent. Edom refused to let Israel move through their territory along the King’s Highway when they left Egypt (Numbers 20:14-21). King Saul fought the Edomites. David conquered Edom with considerable force. He planted garrisons in Edom sending Joab there for six months until ‘he had cut off every male in Edom’ (1 Kings). It must be that all the men weren’t killed as the Edomites join with the Ammonites and the Moabites to attack Judah under Jehoshaphat’s rule (2 Chronicles 20:1).

There was a time when Judah and Edom formed a coalition, but the Edomites rebelled and could not be subdued for forty years (2 Kings 8:20-22). After Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, Edom rejoiced and planned small raids and attacks to gain more land. In the third century the Edomites were taken over by the Nabateans (famous for their buildings at Petra). Some Edomites settled in southern Judah and became known as Idumeans. Interestingly, the Herods of the New Testament were Idumeans.

Obadiah is unknown to us other than his name means ‘servant of Yahweh’. He wrote for us the shortest of the Old Testament books. There are two mains parts to the letter – the future doom of Edom (v.1-16) and the sure deliverance of God’s true people (v. 17-21). We see here that Yahweh is indisputably the God of every nation in the world, no matter which god they take as theirs. We can assume that Obadiah actually went to Edom and read to them the word from the Lord. It seems they didn’t listen at all. Further, Yahweh is a God who keeps his promises. Abraham was promised a land and in due time neither Edom nor Babylon will keep them out of it.

Probably the greatest message for Christians and non-Christians is verse 3: “The pride of your heart has deceived you.” If we think that we could get along just fine without God we could never be more wrong. A day is near when this will be proved true.

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