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Bible Commentaries

Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable
Obadiah 1

 

 

Verse 2

Yahweh called Obadiah"s hearers to see that He would make Edom, which was already despised because of her character, small among the nations. He would humble her further.


Verse 3

The outstanding mark of Edom"s national character was pride. The Hebrew word for pride (zadon) comes from a verb meaning to boil up (zid). It pictures pride as water that boils up under pressure in a cooking pot. Similarly the proud person is like a bubble that thrusts itself up but is hollow. Interestingly, the same Hebrew word occurs three times in the account of Esau, the father of the Edomites, squandering his birthright ( Genesis 25:27-34).

". . . the key that unlocks the central moral lesson of the book is found in these words in the third verse: "The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee." [Note: Gaebelein, p48.]

"It is possible for Christians also to fall into the sin of pride. One has only to dismiss God from the reckoning, one has but to slip into the habit of neglecting his Bible, one has merely to fail to be alone with God daily in prayer, and he too may fall into the sin of making decisions and living his life on a secular basis without placing God and His will foremost." [Note: Ibid, p52. This writer"s discussion of the sin of pride in the light of today (pp48-52) is worth reading.]

The Edomites thought they were superior because they inhabited a lofty region, Mt. Seir. They thought they were secure because they occupied this militarily favorable location. In fact, they thought they were invincible.

"Edom"s natural defenses were imposing. Its main centers of civilization were situated in a narrow ridge of mountainous land southeast of the Dead Sea ... This ridge exceeded a height of4 ,000 feet throughout its northern sector, and it rose in places to5 ,700 feet in the south. Its height was rendered more inaccessible by the gorges radiating from it toward the Arabah on the west and the desert eastwards.

"In addition to these natural fortifications, Edom was strongly defended by a series of Iron Age fortresses, particularly on the eastern frontier where the land descended more gradually to the desert." [Note: Armerding, pp342-43.]

The rock (Heb. sela") in view is the granite and sandstone that made up Mt. Seir. Though Sela was also the name of an Edomite town (cf. 2 Kings 14:7), here the mountain home of the whole nation seems to be in view. The Greek translation of sela" is Petra, the modern name of this town.


Verse 4

Here the figure of an eagle that was also in view in the previous verse becomes explicit. Even if the Edomites would build their nest as high as the stars (hyperbole), God would bring them down. Hyperbole is overstatement for the sake of emphasis. King Sennacherib of Assyria and King Assurnassirpal II of Assyria both used the same figure to boast of their security in their respective annals. [Note: See Daniel D. Luckenbill, The Annals of Sennacherib, p36; and Albert K. Grayson, Assyrian Royal Inscriptions, 2:122.] The Edomites might have been humanly unassailable, but they were not divinely unassailable. They had proudly boasted, "Who will bring me down to the earth?" ( Obadiah 1:3), but Yahweh replied, "I will bring you down" ( Obadiah 1:4). He would burst their bubble. He Himself declared that He would.

Malachi , who wrote some400 years later, mentioned that the Edomites were still in existence then ( Malachi 1:3-4). By312 B.C. the capital of Edom was in Nabatean hands, and Edom had ceased to exist as a nation, though Edomites continued to live. They became known as Idumeans. Herod the Great was an Idumean.


Verse 5-6

Thieves robbed houses and grape harvesters stripped vineyards, yet both left a little behind that they did not carry off. However, Yahweh"s destruction of Edom would be so complete that nothing at all would remain of her (cf. Jeremiah 49:9-10). There would be no remnant of Edom left (in contrast to the remnant that Yahweh promised elsewhere to leave in Israel). The form of this assurance sounds like mourning in the presence of death. Concealed treasures of all kinds, human as well as material, would not escape Yahweh"s omniscient eye (cf. Jeremiah 49:4).


Verses 5-7

C. The Plundering of Edom"s Treasures Obadiah 1:5-7


Verse 7

Edom"s allies would treacherously betray their friend. Thus Edom would not only deceive herself, but her trusted allies would also deceive her. They would do what in the ancient Near East was most despicable, namely, break a covenant with a covenant partner (cf. Psalm 55:20; Amos 1:9). Edom"s allies would prove to be the worst of enemies. They would fail to assist her in her hour of greatest need. Three parallel descriptions of covenant disloyalty in this verse picture the treachery as certain. Moreover this disloyalty would completely surprise the Edomites.

"Edom was a weak country militarily, its small population and its limited agricultural wealth precluding powerful armed forces. Therefore its ability to attack Judah"s Negeb and help plunder Jerusalem had depended on its obsequious alliance with more powerful states, especially Babylon." [Note: Stuart, pp417-18.]

This writer believed Obadiah wrote after the Babylonians defeated Jerusalem.


Verse 8

The repetition of "declares the Lord" (cf. Obadiah 1:4) reemphasizes Yahweh"s initiative in this judgment. "That day" points to a specific, though undefined, day when He would surely destroy Edom.

God would destroy Edom"s famous wise men (cf. 1 Kings 4:30; Job 1:1; Job 2:11; Job 4:1; Jeremiah 49:7; Lamentations 4:21; Baruch 3:23) and their understanding by allowing them to fail to detect the unfaithfulness of their allies ( Baruch 3:7). They would also overestimate their own security ( Baruch 3:3).

"Because of its communication with Babylon and Egypt and because of the information gleaned through the caravans going to and from Europe and India, Edom had gained an enviable reputation for wisdom." [Note: Feinberg, p126.]

The "mountain of Esau" is Mt. Seir, the mountain God gave Esau and his descendants to inhabit ( Deuteronomy 2:5).


Verse 8-9

D. The Destruction of Edom"s Leadership Obadiah 1:8-9

"Obadiah"s discussion nicely interweaves the themes of divine intervention and human instrumentality." [Note: Finley, p362.]


Verse 9

The "mighty men" of Edom may be a synonym for the wise men ( Obadiah 1:8) or the nation"s warriors. Together with the wise men, the mighty men form a merism, a figure of speech in which two parts stand for the whole, in this case all the Edomites. Rather than feeling confident, the mighty men, a chief resource of the nation, would feel dismayed when they realized that their covenant partners had proved traitorous.

Teman was both a prominent town in central Edom (possibly modern Tuwilan) [Note: Yohanan Aharoni and Michael Avi-Yonah, The Macmillan Bible Atlas, map155; Student Map Manual: Historical Geography of the Bible Lands, map9-2.] and the region around the town (cf. Genesis 36:10-11). But its name stands for the whole nation (by metonymy). The end of all this deception and destruction would be the total termination of Edom.


Verse 10

A. The Statement of the Charge Obadiah 1:10

Pride was not the only reason God would humble Edom. The Edomites had also cursed the people whom God had purposed to bless, the Israelites (cf. Genesis 27:40-41; Exodus 15:15; Numbers 20:14-21; Deuteronomy 2:4; Judges 11:17-18; 1 Samuel 14:47-48; 2 Samuel 8:13-14; 1 Kings 11:15-16; 1 Chronicles 18:11-13; Psalm 60; et al.). In doing this they had incurred God"s wrath ( Genesis 12:3). "Violence" (Heb. hamas) includes both moral wrong and physical brutality. This violence was especially despicable since it was against Edom"s brother, Jacob (i.e, the Israelites). Consequently, great shame would cover Edom (cf. Genesis 12:2), and God would cut her off forever (cf. Genesis 12:9).


Verses 10-14

II. EDOM"S CRIMES AGAINST JUDAH Obadiah 1:10-14

Obadiah 1:10 summarizes what Obadiah 1:11-14 detail in the same way Obadiah 1:1 did in relation to Obadiah 1:2-9.


Verse 11

God cited one specific instance of Edom"s violence against her brother, but as I explained in the introduction, which instance is unclear. Edom"s treachery against Judah had taken place on a particular "day" in the past. Likewise God"s judgment would come on a particular "day" yet future ( Obadiah 1:8). "Day" does not always refer to a period of12or24hours in the Bible. It sometimes refers to a longer period of time but one that is distinguishable as a period of time (e.g, Genesis 2:4). The Edomites" sin was that they failed to help the Israelites in their hour of need (cf. Luke 10:31-32). Instead they stood aloof and watched joyfully as Israel"s invader plundered Jerusalem. Enemies passing though a city"s gate signified the loss of its self-rule. [Note: Niehaus, p529.] God considered the Edomites as guilty as Jerusalem"s invaders because the Edomites failed to help their brethren.

"In the sight of God, who looks not on the outward appearance but on the heart, there is little distinction in moral accountability between overt sin and an inner bias toward that sin that permits it to go unchecked (cf. Matthew 5:21-32)." [Note: Armerding, p348.]

". . . the Israelites are always commanded in the law to preserve a friendly and brotherly attitude towards Edom (Deut. ii4 , 5); and in Deut. xxiii7 it is enjoined upon them not to abhor the Edomite, because he is their brother." [Note: Keil, 1:360.]


Verses 11-14

B. The Explanation of the Charge Obadiah 1:11-14


Verse 12-13

God reinforced the seriousness of the Edomites" sin by condemning it in parallel terminology eight times ( Obadiah 1:12-14). Compare the same parallel structure in Obadiah 1:7 where there is a threefold positive reiteration. There is also a pun in the Hebrew text since the word for "disaster" ("edam) is similar to the word "Edom" ("edom). Hostile attitudes more than physical violence were Edom"s sins against the Israelites on this occasion. Blood ties should have transcended even covenant ties. Edom"s allies would break covenant ties with her ( Obadiah 1:7), but she had betrayed blood ties.


Verse 14

Physical violence eventually came into play too. As the Judean fugitives from Jerusalem left the city, the Edomites met them at some fork in the road and slew them rather than helping them escape from the invader. Other Edomites imprisoned fleeing Judahites instead of giving them refuge. This could be poetic hyperbole, but there is nothing in the text that indicates overstatement. All the other descriptions of Edom"s actions seem to be literal.

Some English translations render Obadiah 1:12-14 as referring to the future while others have interpreted them as referring to the past. Most commentators take the time as past; God was describing something that had already happened. [Note: E.g, Finley, p340.] A few take it as future describing something that would take place in the future. [Note: E.g, Gaebelein, pp5 , 29.] Since this is a judgment oracle, it seems more likely that God was announcing judgment on Edom for something she had already done rather than for something she would do in the future. As she had been proud ( Obadiah 1:2), she had also been violent ( Obadiah 1:10). Keil proposed that Obadiah referred to an event that had happened and to another that would happen again in the future, the past event being typical of future reoccurrences. [Note: Keil, 1:363.]

The two most likely historical occasions that are in view are, first, the invasion by a coalition of Arabs and Philistines who carried off King Jehoram"s family and his property during a period of tension with Edom ( 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 20:1-2; 2 Chronicles 21:8-17; 2 Chronicles 22:1). The second possible event was the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in586 B.C. ( 2 Kings 24:13-16; 2 Kings 25:4-17; 2 Chronicles 36:18; 2 Chronicles 36:20; cf. Psalm 137:7; Jeremiah 9:26; Jeremiah 25:21; Jeremiah 27:3; Jeremiah 40:11; Ezekiel 25:12; Ezekiel 32:29; Ezekiel 35:3-9; Ezekiel 35:11-15; Ezekiel 36:2-7; Lamentations 1:17; Lamentations 2:15-17; Lamentations 4:21-22). As discussed in the introduction to this exposition, I think there is slightly better evidence for the first occasion than for the second.


Verse 15

"The day of the Lord" here is a future day in which God will reverse the fortunes of Israel and the nations (cf. Obadiah 1:8). "The day of the Lord," a common term in the Prophets, refers generally to any time when God intervenes in human affairs to accomplish His will. The day that Obadiah announced will be the day when God establishes His rule in human affairs, namely, when Jesus Christ returns to rule and reign on the earth. Obadiah said that day was approaching. As Edom and the other nations had done to Israel, so God would pay them back with precisely the same judgment (lex talionis; cf. Leviticus 24:20; Deuteronomy 19:21; Galatians 6:7).

"God shows not only his sovereignty over all people by not permitting unrequited wickedness, but also his justice by not permitting punishment to exceed crime." [Note: D. Baker, p38.]

Edom"s punishments that resulted in her demise as a nation before the Second Coming were part of God"s judgment on her, but the prophet saw all God"s judgments on Edom and the nations, which will culminate in the eschaton (end times). All the prophets had difficulty seeing the proximity of the future events that they predicted to one another (cf. 1 Peter 1:11).

"The opening line of 1 Peter 1:15 therefore constitutes the core of Obadiah"s prophecy. It provides a theological framework for the preceding verses: the localized disasters befalling Edom and Jerusalem are not merely isolated incidents in a remote and insignificant theater of war, for they mark the footsteps of the Lord himself as he approaches to set up a "kingdom that will never be destroyed" ( Daniel 2:44). And the following verses are essentially a commentary on the implications of that impending "day."" [Note: Armerding, p353.]

"Edom is presented as the paradigm of all the nations." [Note: D. Baker, p39.]


Verses 15-18

A. The Judgment of Edom and the Nations Obadiah 1:15-18

References to the work and word of the Lord frame this section. Obadiah announced that a reversal of roles was coming for Edom and all the nations.


Verses 15-21

III. THE RESTORATION OF ISRAEL"S SOVEREIGNTY Obadiah 1:15-21

As is true of many of the prophetical books, this one also ends with a promise of Israel"s restoration in the future.


Verse 16

Edom had her "day" on the Lord"s holy mountain, Jerusalem, when she failed to help her brother, Israel. Likewise, all the nations would have their "day" dominating Jerusalem and the Jews, during "the times of the Gentiles" ( Luke 21:24). We live in "the times of the Gentiles." This period of history began when Nebuchadnezzar removed Israel"s sovereignty in586 B.C. and will end when Jesus Christ returns to the earth and restores Israel"s sovereignty. During "the times of the Gentiles" Israel is being "trodden down by the Gentiles" ( Luke 21:24). Obadiah described Israel"s enemies as drinking there in celebration of their dominion over the Israelites (cf. Exodus 32:6; 1 Samuel 30:16). Though they would celebrate to the point of delirium, God would destroy them, and they would become as though they had never existed. They would drink the cup of His wrath (cf. Psalm 60:3; Psalm 75:8; Isaiah 51:17-23; Jeremiah 25:17-26; Jeremiah 25:28-29; Jeremiah 49:12-13; Habakkuk 2:15-16).

"The verse apparently precludes any trace of the nations remaining ..., yet there will be a remnant of various nations in the Millennium ( Isaiah 2:2-4; Amos 9:12; Micah 4:1-3; Zechariah 14:16-19). How are these two ideas to be reconciled? The answer perhaps lies in the difference between the concept of nations before and during the Millennium. Before the golden age of Messiah"s rule on earth the nations consider themselves sovereign and fight to maintain their individual rights. When Christ returns, however, only those from the nations who have called on the Lord"s name will enter. Also, they will be under one King and no longer a threat to Israel"s existence. Therefore, the nations as we presently know them will exist no more once the Millennium begins. In any case, Obadiah dwells only on the destruction of the old order as far as the nations are concerned." [Note: Finley, p372.]


Verse 17

The future of Israel (restoration) contrasts with the future of Edom (judgment). In that future time of judgment (the Tribulation), there would be those who escaped from Jerusalem, namely, many Jews (cf. Zechariah 13:8; Revelation 12:13-17). Some writers viewed this as taking place during the fall of Jerusalem in A.D70. [Note: E.g, Armerding, p354.] But Jerusalem did not become holy and the house of Jacob did not possess their possessions after that event, as this verse predicts. The city would eventually become holy (at the Second Coming), and the house of Jacob, in contrast to the house of Esau, would then possess what God intended for them to have (in the Millennium).


Verse 18

The Israelites would then consume the Edomites, as a fire burns up stubble (cf. Exodus 15:7; Isaiah 10:17; Joel 2:5; Zechariah 12:6; Malachi 4:1; Matthew 3:12; Luke 3:17). Fire is often a tool of divine judgment in Scripture (cf. Deuteronomy 28:24; Deuteronomy 32:22). There would be no Edomites left (cf. Deuteronomy 32:8-9; Numbers 24:18; Isaiah 11:13-14; Ezekiel 25:13-14; Amos 9:12), though Israelites would escape from Jerusalem ( Obadiah 1:17).

"Obadiah distinctly mentions the house of Joseph, i.e. of the ten tribes, in this passage and in this alone, for the purpose of guarding against the idea that the ten tribes are to be shut out from the future salvation." [Note: Keil, 1:370.]

The house of Jacob, in contrast, refers to the Southern Kingdom. This prediction will find ultimate fulfillment during the judgment of the nations after the Second Coming and before the messianic rule of Christ in the Millennium begins. Yahweh again guaranteed the accuracy of this prophecy with His own word (cf. Amos 9:4; Amos 9:8).

"Some passages, like Obadiah 1:18, speak of a military participation by Israel in the judgment of the nations just prior to the Millennium ( Zechariah 12:1-9; Malachi 4:3 3:21]), while others depict the Lord carrying out the judgment on behalf of His people ( Joel 3:12 [ Matthew 4:12]; Zechariah 14:3-5; cf. Matthew 25:31-46). It is difficult to reconstruct the precise order of events. In any case much of the material is evidently not strictly chronological." [Note: Finley, p373.]

The Edomites" fortunes ebbed and flowed for centuries following Obadiah"s prophecy. The Herods, including Herod the Great ( Matthew 2:1-17), Herod Antipas ( Luke 13:31-32; Luke 23:7-12), and Herod Agrippa I ( Acts 12:1-11; Acts 12:23) were all of Edomite descent. But in the second century B.C. the Jews and other enemies virtually consumed the Edomites. It was then that the Edomites lost their national identity and autonomy, which they never regained. So the final destruction of the nation of Edom by Israel took place long before the eschaton.

". . . one could speak of a partial fulfillment of Obadiah"s oracles when the Maccabeans and Hasmoneans reclaimed these areas for Israel." [Note: Ibid, p374.]

This took place in the second century B.C. However, Obadiah spoke of the nations as well as Edom. He foresaw the destruction of all Gentile powers that dominated the Israelites. Had the Jews accepted Jesus Christ as their Messiah, He would have begun to rule shortly after His crucifixion and resurrection. Since they rejected Him, the final judgment of the nations that the prophets predicted is still future.


Verse 19-20

Obadiah predicted that Jews living in various parts of Israel would possess parts of the Promised Land that other nations formerly occupied (cf. Isaiah 66:8; Zechariah 12:10 to Zechariah 13:1; Zechariah 14:1-9). These parts included Mt. Seir (Edom), Philistia, and territories to the north of Judah, including Ephraim and Samaria (the Northern Kingdom), and Transjordan (Gilead). Formerly exiled Israelites living to the north near Zarephath (in modern Lebanon) and in Sepharad (perhaps Sardis in modern Turkey or a territory in Media or Spain [Note: See The New Bible Dictionary, s.v. "Sepharad," by D. J. Wiseman; and Watts, p64.] ) would return and occupy the southern portions of the land, the Negev. The location of Sepharad remains a mystery. Israel would again conquer the land, but this time she would subdue it completely and occupy all the territory God had promised Abraham (cf. Genesis 13:14-17; Genesis 26:2-5; Genesis 28:13-15; Deuteronomy 1:7).

"Was Obadiah"s prophecy fulfilled? By Malachi"s time (approximately450 B.C.), Edom had suffered a devastating defeat (see Malachi 1:1-4), though not of the magnitude envisioned by Obadiah. Obadiah"s description of Edom"s judgment is probably to some degree stylized and exaggerated. However, the cosmic dimension of the prophecy transcends historical developments and points to an end-time judgment of worldwide proportions. When viewed in this larger eschatological context, Edom serves as an archetype for all God"s enemies, who will be crushed by his angry judgment (see also Isaiah 34and Isaiah 63:1-6)." [Note: Chisholm, Handbook on . . ., p406.]


Verses 19-21

B. The Occupation of Edom by Israel Obadiah 1:19-21

This pericope (section of text), as the former one, also has a framing phrase: "the mountain of Esau" ( Obadiah 1:19; Obadiah 1:21). This mountain, of course, contrasts with the Lord"s holy mountain, Zion ( Obadiah 1:16-17).


Verse 21

In summary, those who would deliver the Jews to their divinely intended destiny would ascend Mt. Zion and would judge Mt. Seir (cf. Judges 3:9; Judges 3:15). Edom would not prevail over Israel, but Yahweh would prove to be sovereign (cf. Judges 3:1). His kingdom would extend over the whole Promised Land, even the part that Israel"s enemies formerly occupied and the people who formerly opposed them. The conquest of the land that Joshua began but did not finish will be complete then. Thus Obadiah"s prophecy, this tale of two mountains, ends on a climax with Yahweh"s kingdom dominating all the nations and with Yahweh as King of Kings and Lord of Lords (cf. Revelation 19:16; Revelation 20:4). The verse is clearly messianic.

"None of the prophets has a more exalted close than this.... No Prayer of Manasseh -ruled empire nor any nation of this world will endure forever. All will one day be merged into that eternal kingdom over which the Lord Jesus Christ will reign in solitary glory." [Note: Gaebelein, pp46-47.]

Amillennial interpreters understand New Testament references to Israel as references to the church. They see the fulfillment of Obadiah"s prophecy not in the restoration of Old Testament Israel to future sovereignty in the Promised Land but in the final victory of the church over all her enemies. [Note: E.g, Stuart, p422; Keil, 1:378; and Allen, p172.] Premillennialists reject this "replacement theology" (the church replaces Israel in God"s program) because we believe when God said "Israel" He meant Israel. It is incorrect, we believe, to conclude that because Christians are the spiritual seed of Abraham the church is the spiritual seed of Israel.

As the nation of Edom opposed the Israelites, so the Edomites of Jesus" day (Herod the Great and his successors) opposed Jesus Christ and His followers. Our Lord Jesus Christ, who proved to be the fulfillment of all that the nation of Israel was to be, became the personal focus of Herod"s hostility, who tried to kill Jesus in His infancy. Yet Herod was unsuccessful. Likewise all the enemies of Israel, and of Israel"s Messiah, will be unsuccessful in doing away with the Savior and will experience destruction themselves for trying to do so.

 


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Bibliography Information
Constable, Thomas. DD. "Commentary on Obadiah 1:4". "Expository Notes of Dr. Thomas Constable". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/dcc/obadiah-1.html. 2012.

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