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Bible Commentaries

John Dummelow's Commentary on the Bible
Obadiah

Chapter 1

Book Overview - Obadiah

by John Dummelow

Introduction

1. Contents. The book of Obadiah, as the title in Obadiah 1:1 states, is a prophecy against Edom. The main divisions are as follows:—Obadiah 1:1-9, Edom is about to be driven out of its land by a confederacy of nations; Obadiah 1:10-14, this is in punishment for its participation in the capture of Jerusalem; Obadiah 1:15-16, a day of judgment is coming upon all nations; Obadiah 1:17-21, in that day Judah and Israel shall escape, and shall regain the lands that the Edomites and other enemies have taken from them.

2. Composition. All criticism of this book must set out from the remarkable correspondence between it and parts of Jeremiah 49. The parallelism is as follows:—Obadiah 1:1 (a) = Jeremiah 7 a; Obadiah 1:1; Obadiah 1:2 = Jeremiah 14, 15, Obadiah 1:3-4 =Jeremiah 16, Obadiah 1:5 a = Jeremiah 9 b, Obadiah 1:5 = Jeremiah 9 a, Obadiah 1:6 = Jeremiah 10, Obadiah 1:8 resembles Jeremiah 7 b; slightly, Obadiah 1:9 resembles Jeremiah 22 slightly.

(a) The theory that this parallelism is due to quotation of Obadiah by Jeremiah is open to a number of formidable objections. (1) Obadiah 1:10-14 seems to refer to the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar in 586 b.c., but Jeremiah 49 is commonly supposed to have been composed immediately after the battle of Carchemish in 605 b.c. In that case Jeremiah wrote before Obadiah, and therefore cannot have quoted him. The words of Obadiah cannot be referred to the capture of Jerusalem by Shishak (1 Kings 14:25-28), nor by the Philistines and Arabians (2 Chronicles 21:16.), nor by Israel (2 Kings 14:13.), for in none of these cases is there any record of a participation of Edomites. The pre-exilic prophets never accuse the Edomites of assisting in the sack of Jerusalem: cp. Amos 1:9-12; Jeremiah 9:26; Jeremiah 25:21; Jeremiah 49:7. Only in the post-exilic prophets is this charged: cp. Ezekiel 35 Psalms 137 Lamentations 4:21. It seems impossible, therefore, to refer Obadiah 1:10-14 to anything else than the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar. (2) Obadiah 1:7 states that the allies of Edom have expelled him from his land. This event is anticipated in Ezekiel 25:10, Ezekiel 25:12, Ezekiel 25:14, and it is an accomplished fact in Malachi 1:3. There is no event before the exile to which these words can be referred; consequently Obadiah cannot be earlier than Jeremiah. The view that Jeremiah 49 is a late post-exilic interpolation in the book of Jeremiah is inconsistent with the fact that Obadiah 1:7, Obadiah 1:10-14 and all other allusions to late events in the book of Obadiah are absent from the parallel in Jeremiah 49. (b) The reading of Jeremiah 49:15; is preferable to Obadiah 1:2. Jeremiah 49:9 lacks the clumsy addition found in Obadiah 1:5. Jeremiah 49:10 is a more natural sequel to Obadiah 1:5 than is Obadiah 1:6. These facts indicate that in several particulars the text of Jeremiah 49 is more primitive than that of Obadiah.

(d) The theory that Jeremiah is quoted by Obadiah is also untenable. (1) Because the order of the vv. is more primitive in Obadiah than in Jeremiah. Obadiah 1:1 is evidently the beginning of the oracle, and this is logically followed by Obadiah 1:3-6, Obadiah 1:8, Obadiah 1:9. The different order of the vv. in Jeremiah 49 is unnatural and cannot be primitive. (2) The text of Obadiah 1:1, Obadiah 1:3, Obadiah 1:5, Obadiah 1:8 is more primitive than the parallel vv. in Jeremiah. (3) The form of the prophecy in Obadiah is much briefer than that in Jeremiah, and is therefore probably more primitive. Moreover, the vv. in Jeremiah 49 that are not found in Obadiah show the characteristic language of Jeremiah.

(c) In view of these facts the only possible theory of the relation of Obadiah to Jeremiah 49 is that both prophets quote a third earlier prophet. The vv. that are found both in Jeremiah and Obadiah 1:1-6, Obadiah 1:8-9, are the only ones that can be ascribed with certainty to the older prophecy.

3. Date. How long before Jeremiah the prophet lived who wrote Obadiah 1:1-6, Obadiah 1:8-9 and the parallels in Jeremiah can only be conjectured. Some regard him as a contemporary of Isaiah, and refer the disaster threatened in these vv. to the humiliation of Edom by Amaziah (2 Kings 14:7). It seems, however, that the enemies of Edom in this passage are not Israelites but Gentiles, and it is perhaps better to understand the danger as the Arabian invasion mentioned in 2 Chronicles 26:7. The same disaster apparently threatened Moab according to Isaiah 15:1 to Isaiah 16:12. The second half of the book of Obadiah (Obadiah 1:10-21) was written during the exile, while the memory of Edom's wrong was still fresh.

4. Value. The purpose of the book of Obadiah is to express Judah's hatred of Edom and its confidence that Edom will ultimately be destroyed. This conviction rests upon a recognition of the fundamental difference between the national characters of the two nations. The Edomites were famous for their secular wisdom, but no allusion to their religion is ever made in the OT. Esau figures in Hebrew tradition as a profane person, destitute of spiritual instincts. The confidence that Edom shall not ultimately triumph over Israel is, therefore, no mere expression of Jewish patriotism, but is a spiritual conviction that the religion of Jehovah cannot be extinguished by the forces of evil. As an expression of this conviction the book of Obadiah has permanent value.

1-9. The question has been much discussed whether Obadiah 1:1-9 are prediction or description. Obadiah 1:7 is clearly description, and on the strength of this some seek to explain the whole passage as descriptive; but, as we have just seen, Obadiah 1:7 is not found in Jeremiah 49, and is, therefore, no part of the old prophecy that Obadiah quotes. It is to be attached to Jeremiah 49:10, and is part of Obadiah's addition to the original oracle. Apart from this v. there is no reason for regarding Jeremiah 49:1-6, Jeremiah 49:8-9 as predictive. The expression 'we have heard' (Obadiah 1:1) does not indicate that the disaster of Edom is past, but only that the news that it is impending has just reached the speakers. 'I have made' (Obadiah 1:2) also does not indicate that the disaster is accomplished, but merely that it is determined in the divine purpose. Jeremiah 49:3 clearly implies that Edom it still dwelling in his rocky strongholds, and does not believe that he can ever be expelled from them, and in Jeremiah 49:4 the words 'I will bring thee down from thence' show that the catastrophe still lies in the future. To understand these words as a purpose of God uttered in the past is very unnatural. Accordingly, we conclude that the ruin of Edom predicted in Jeremiah 49:1-6, Jeremiah 49:8-9 lies in the future, but that knowledge that it is impending has already reached Israel.

1. Vision of Obadiah] A title added by the collector of the Minor Prophets. Who Obadiah was is unknown. The name means 'Servant of Jehovah.' Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom] a remark by the author of Obadiah 1:7, Obadiah 1:10-21 designed to introduce his quotation from the older prophet. We have heard] a better reading than 'I have heard' (Jeremiah 49:14). This sentence is not a natural continuation of the introductory formula in Obadiah 1:1, and it shows that the passage quoted was not originally an oracle spoken by the Lord, but a report heard by the Israelites. Rumour] a correct translation of the original. This word is never used in the sense of 'oracle.' This meaning is rendered certain by the parallelism of the next clause, an ambassador is sent among the heathen. The added words, from the Lord, do not indicate that the 'rumour' is an utterance of the Lord, but only that the coming disaster is caused by Him. The 'rumour' is news of the impending attack of the nations upon Edom. In Obadiah 1:1; the language of Obad. is more original than that of its parallel Jeremiah 49:14. Heathen] better, RV 'nations.' The allusion is probably to Arabian tribes that menaced Palestine in the time of Uzziah (2 Chronicles 26:7). The names of the kings of Edom in the Assyrian inscriptions in comparison with the list of Genesis 36:31-39 show that a new Arabian population entered the land of Edom by the 'middle of the 8th cent. b.c. To this impending migration the author of this ancient prophecy probably refers.

2. Behold, I have made thee small] does not refer to an accomplished overthrow of Edom, since in Obadiah 1:1; the nations are summoned to come against him, and since in Obadiah 1:3-4 he still feels secure in his strongholds; but it refers to a divine determination already made. The parallel in Jeremiah 49:15 omits 'thou,' thus making it more clear that the whole v. refers to the divine purpose. Small and despised refer to the condition in which Edom will be left after the conquest by the nations. The word greatly is a textual corruption of 'among men' that is preserved in Jeremiah 49:15.

3. The confidence of Edom that he cannot be dislodged from his rock-dwellings and fortresses. The land of Edom was full of caves, artificially enlarged and fortified, whose remains are still to be seen in great numbers at Petra and elsewhere throughout the land.

4. The divine determination to dislodge Edom from his land in spite of the inaccessibility of his strongholds.

5. States that even thieves leave something behind them, and that grapegatherers leave a few grapes. The thought is the contrast in the condition of Edom after it has been invaded. The nomads of the desert will leave nothing behind when once they have overrun the land. In Obad. the thought is expressed in the form of a question expecting an affirmative answer, but in Jeremiah 49:9 rm; it is expressed as an affirmative statement. The form in Obad. is obviously the more poetic and original. The words 'how art thou cut off' are not found in the parallel in Jer., and are a weak addition made by the writer of the second half of the book or by a later scribe.

6. Things] RV 'treasures.' After Obadiah 1:5 we naturally expect a statement of the contrast between the treatment of Edom and the conduct of thieves and grapegatherers in leaving a remnant, but this is not found in the v. This leads some to reject it as a gloss and to regard Obadiah 1:7 as the original continuation of Obadiah 1:5 but, as we have seen, Obadiah 1:7 is not found in Jeremiah 49 and refers to an event after the fall of Jerusalem, so that it is unquestionably an addition made by the writer of the second half of the book. The best solution of the difficulty is to regard Jeremiah 49:10, which is parallel to Obadiah 1:6, as the original continuation of Obadiah 1:5. This v. is much more perfect than the parallel in Obad., and contains a statement of the complete destruction of Edom that the context requires. Obadiah 1:6 is apparently merely a broken-down form of the text in Jeremiah 49:10.

7. Brought thee] RM 'driven thee out.' The v. refers to the complete expulsion of Edom from his territory by the Nabatæan Arabs at some time during the exile of Israel. The event is spoken of in the past tense, and shows that the writer lived after the fall of Jerusalem. This v. is not found in Jeremiah 49 and must come from the hand of the author of Obadiah 1:10-21. It joins on naturally to Obadiah 1:10. The word translated in AV 'they that eat thy bread' is omitted by LXX. It is a dittograph of the last letters of the preceding word.

8, 9. Some reject these vv. as glosses because the verbs are in the future, instead of the past tense, as in Obadiah 1:7 but, as we have seen, Obadiah 1:7 is not part of the original prophecy, and Obadiah 1:1-6 regard the fall of Edom as still future. These vv. join on logically to Obadiah 1:6. Jeremiah 49:7, Jeremiah 49:22 contain slight resemblances to these vv. The text of Obad. appears to be more original on account of the use of the first person and the expression 'saith the Lord.' The worldly wisdom of the Edomites was proverbial among the Hebrews: cp. Jeremiah 49:7.

10-14. The vv. describe the co-operation of the Edomites in Nebuchadrezzar's destruction of Jerusalem and state that the foregoing prediction of destruction is due to this unbrotherly conduct. These vv. together with Obadiah 1:7 and Obadiah 1:15-21 come from the hand of the later writer. It is clear that he is ignorant of the original meaning of the ancient prophecy in Obadiah 1:1-6 and Obadiah 1:8-9, and regards it as a still unfulfilled prediction of the destruction of Edom. The last word of Obadiah 1:9 is to be attached to the beginning of Obadiah 1:10, translating 'because of the slaughter, because of the violence.'

10. The imperfects in Hebrew describe the present condition of Edom, and should be rendered 'shame covers thee, thou art cut off for ever.' The allusion is the same as in Obadiah 1:7 to the recent Nabatæan migration through which Edom has been dispossessed.

11. This is a clear reference to the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar. The Edomites are blamed for assisting in the work of destruction. The past tenses show that we are dealing with description, not with prediction. Thou stoodest on the other side, in a hostile sense (RM 'aloof') as in Psalms 38:11.

Forces] RV 'substance,' i.e. wealth.

12-14. These vv.. describe poetically in the form of a warning what Edom has actually done.

12. Looked on, with the sense of gloating over misfortune as in Micah 7:10. The day is evidently the day of the fall of Jerusalem. The details of the hostility of Edom supplied by this v. are the same that are emphasised in Ezk, Lam, Pss, and other writings of the post-exilic period. This v. is partly identical with Micah 7:14, and belongs logically after 13. It is, therefore, open to suspicion of being an editorial insertion. 14. The word translated crossway by RV and AV is of unknown meaning. In LXX 'a mountain pass.'

15, 16. These vv. describe an impending day of judgment upon all the heathen. The expression day of the Lord is the technical term used by all the prophets for a turning-point in history when the new era of blessing for Israel shall be inaugurated. In the older prophets this day is ushered in by the assault of Assyria, Babylon, or one of the other foreign nations, upon Israel. In Ezk and the prophets that follow him it is a day of judgment upon the heathen. This is the conception of this passage and shows that it cannot be earlier than Ezk. In Obadiah 1:15; Edom is addressed in the second person singular, as in the preceding vv., and is told that he shall be included in the general catastrophe of the nations. Obadiah 1:16 is not to be understood of the Edomites, as is generally done, since the address is in the second person plural, and since the Edomites are included in all the heathen of the preceding v. The Jews are addressed 'who have drunk of the cup of the wrath of Jehovah,' and they are told that all the heathen shall be forced to drink the cup that they have drunk of. Instead of swallow down, a slight textual emendation will give 'stagger,' which is more consistent with the context.

17-21. These vv. describe the happy destiny of Israel.

17. Deliverance] RV 'those that escape,' i.e. in the coming day of judgment, and regain the land that they have lost at the time of the exile. This suggests that they are still in captivity.

18. Jacob is a designation of the kingdom of Judah, Joseph is a designation of the kingdom of Israel. Israel had certainly not returned at the time when this prophecy was written, and there is no more reason to think that Judah had returned. The thought of the reunion of the divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel is common in the prophets from the days of Amos onward. The closing words of the v., for the Lord hath spoken it, seem to be a reference to the ancient prophecy in Obadiah 1:1-6, Obadiah 1:8-9, which the author regards as still unfulfilled.

The text of Obadiah 1:19-20 is very corrupt, and neither the AV nor the RV gives a satisfactory sense. The LXX allows us to restore the text and translate as follows:

'The Negeb (i.e. south Judah) shall possess Mount Esau (i.e. Edom), and the Shephelah (i.e. the inhabitants of the maritime plain of Judah) shall possess the Philistines, and the Mountain (i.e. the people of the mountain district of Judah) shall possess Ephraim and the open country of Samaria, and Benjamin shall possess Gilead. And the exiles of this host of the sons of Israel shall possess the land of the Canaanites unto Sarephath, and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall inherit the cities of the Negeb (i.e. south Judah).'

20. Sepharad was probably the name of a district in the north of Asia Minor.

The historical situation here assumed is that Edom has been expelled from its own land, and has occupied the S. of Judah left vacant by the captivity. The maritime plain has been seized by the Philistines, the Samaritans have occupied the land of Judah, and the Arabs from E. of the Jordan have seized the territory of Benjamin. This condition of things shall be reversed in the good time coming. The invaders shall be expelled from the lands that they have unjustly seized, and the tribes of Israel shall occupy their ancient territory.

21. This v. describes the glory of Israel after Edom and all the other nations have fallen. Saviours refers to the monarchs that are to be raised up to rule the restored nation. The closing words, the kingdom shall be the Lord's, show that the author's confidence of the fall of Edom and the triumph of Israel is based upon the conviction that the religion of Israel cannot perish.

Lectionary Calendar
Sunday, October 13th, 2019
the Week of Proper 23 / Ordinary 28
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