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Bible Commentaries

Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers
Obadiah 1



Verses 1-4


(1) The vision of Obadiah.—Properly, vision of Obadiah, without the article. There are three recognised headings to prophetical books—word, burden (i.e., oracle), and vision—and all are used without the article, and in a general way, for the contents of the books, without any intention to distinguish between different kinds or modes of prophecy. Thus Nahum combines burden and vision: “Burden of Nineveh. Book of vision of Nahum the Elkoshite.” Amos speaks of the “words which he saw;” Isaiah (Isaiah 13:1) of the “burden which he did see;’ and Obadiah, after the word vision, instantly proceeds, “Thus saith,” &c. The word vision (Heb., chazôn, from the same verb as “seer”), appears, from 1 Samuel 3:1; 1 Samuel 9:9, to have acquired this general sense at a very early time. It is not necessary from the use of the word to suppose that the future was unfolded to Obadiah “in the form of sights spread out before his mind, . . . a succession of pictures which he may have seen” (Pusey). Vision here = revelation, however supplied. The question of authorship is discussed in the Excursus.

Thus saith the Lord God concerning Edom.—After these words we should expect the words of the message, not the statement that a message had come. Among the attempts at explanation, the two most plausible are: (1) The two-fold heading is due to a later hand than Obadiah, who only prefixed the first part, “vision,” &c., to his work; (2) These words are merely a mode of stating generally that the seer of the vision was divinely inspired. The view taken of the authorship and composition must decide between these two. If an earlier oracle is incorporated in the book, it is more natural to conclude that the second part of the double title, which in a slightly different form occurs also in Jeremiah 49:7, was introduced in order to bring the prophecy into closer similarity to the circle of oracles against foreign nations which is contained in Jeremiah.

Arise ye . . .—Now at length we have the Divine message. Long ago, in the mysterious oracle of Dumah (Isaiah 21:11), the foreboding of a pending chastisement of Seir found a voice, and now, as in consequence of a signal from heaven, or as if brought by an angel, goes forth the summons to the nations to begin the movement against Edom. The cup of iniquity was full. There is a suggestiveness even in the vagueness of the summons. The nations, without distinction of good or bad, must become the instruments of the Divine chastisement of overweening pride. Edom becomes the type of wickedness that has reached a head, and against which all the sounder elements of the world unite with God. For the full picture, here suggested only in a word, see Isaiah 13:1-17, and comp. Joel 2:11; Jeremiah 51:11.

(2-9) Edom’s pride and consequent humiliation. A general statement of the reason of the Divine wrath against Edom. Particular offences will be enumerated presently (Obadiah 1:10-14).

(2) Small among the heathen.—In comparison with the giant empires of Egypt and Assyria, a mere speck on the map. Edom proper is not to be confounded with the later kingdom of Idumæa, which extended over the wilderness of Et Tih, and even to within the southern borders of Palestine. The original Mount Seir (Genesis 32:3), or, as our prophet calls it, Mount Esau, was a narrow tract of country on the east of Wady Arabah, extending from Elath to the brook Zered (probably the Wady-el-Ahsy; see Deuteronomy 2:8; Deuteronomy 2:13-14), about 100 miles in length, and nowhere more than twenty miles broad. One of the larger English counties would cover as much territory. In the corresponding passages (Jeremiah 49:15) our version has the future instead of the past, where also, instead of “greatly despised,” is the reading, “despised among men.” The past is better. The contrast between the size of the nation and its overbearing pride, created by the consciousness of the natural strength of its position, is lost if we give the verse a future sense.

(3) Clefts of the rock.—The word chagâvîm, clefts, is of doubtful derivation. It only occurs in the corresponding passage to this (Jeremiah 49:16) and in Song of Solomon 2:14, and always with selah—rock. But whether its etymological meaning be refuges or fissures does not matter, since the actual thing signified is still to be seen. The cliffs at Petra (Selah, or with the article, ha-Selah), the capital of Edom, and in its neighbourhood, are honeycombed with caves, natural or artificial, which from the earliest times to the present day have served as tombs for the dead, and temporary dwellings or shelters for the living. We read in Deuteronomy 2:12 that the “Horims”—i.e., troglodytes, or dwellers in caves—were the original inhabitants of the land. “The whole southern country of the Edomites,” says St. Jerome, “from Eleutheropolis to Petra and Selah (which are the possessions of Esau), had minute dwellings (habitatiunculas) in caves; and on account of the oppressive heat of the sun, as being a southern province, had underground cottages.” All more recent travellers confirm this. Robinson (ii. 529) speaks of “an innumerable multitude of excavations along the whole coast of perpendicular rocks adjacent to the main area, and in all the lateral valleys and chasms.” But those at present existing are but a remnant of the vast number which must at one time have afforded shelter to the densely populated valleys. “What remains are the mere débris of what the precipices once presented to view . . . The conduits, cisterns, flights of steps scattered over the rocks and among the precipices, indicate a larger number of rock-dwellings than remain now, very great as that number is” (Miss Martineau, Eastern Life, iii. 2). “Wherever your eyes turn along the excavated sides of the rocks, you see steps often leading to nothing, or something which has crumbled away, often with their first steps worn away, so that they are now inaccessible” (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 91). So Miss Martineau speaks of “short and odd staircases twisted hither and thither among the rocks.” So, too, E. H. Palmer, Esq., in the Quarterly Statement of the Palestine Exploration Fund, January, 1871: “There are many tombs and dwellings which are now inaccessible, but traces of staircases cut in the rock, and now broken away, may be seen everywhere.” . . . “At the northern turn in the Wady, as you leave the western acclivities, are three large tombs, with perfect fronts. The first and largest of these . . . was at the time of our entry occupied by several families of the fellahin. Every tomb has its owner, who dwells there with his wives and family during the cold and wet weather.” He goes on to speak of one tomb which was said to hold fifteen families.

Whose habitation is high . . .—Literally, loftiness of his habitation. The red sandstone rocks are described as rising “perpendicularly to the height of one, two, or three hundred feet” (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 89). The writer of the article “Selah” in Kitto’s Biblical Cyclopaedia says of the caves, “Some of them are apparently not less than from two hundred to three or four hundred feet above the level of the valley.” When we think of the power of the conception which could frame a range of mountain rocks into a city, with ravines for streets and caverns for houses, we can understand the prophet’s words, “the pride of thine heart hath deceived thee.” Nor was it wonderful that the children of Esau should deem themselves invincible in their mountain fastnesses.

Who shall bring me down to the ground?—Prom this eagle’s-nest (Obadiah 1:4) Edom might well utter proud defiance against even the strongest foes. All travellers describe Petra as almost impregnable. It is not even visible from the heights in the neighbourhood. “The whole space, rocks and valleys, embedded in the mountains which girt it in, lay invisible even from the summit of Mount Hor.” “Petra itself is entirely shut out by the intervening rocks. The great feature of the mountains of Edom is the mass of red bald-headed sandstone rocks, intersected not by valleys, but by deep seams. In the heart of these rocks, itself invisible, lies Petra.” And it was as strongly guarded by nature as it was securely hidden. “Two known approaches only, from east and west, enter into it,” and these are mere ravines. The most famous of them, the defile from the east, the one which “in ancient times was the chief—the only usual—approach to Petra,” is named the Sîk, or cleft. “The rocks are almost precipitous, or, rather, they would be if they did not, like their brethren in all this region, overlap, and crumble, and crack, as if they would crash over you. The gorge is about a mile and a half long, and the opening of the cliffs at the top is throughout almost as narrow as the narrowest part of the defile of Pfeffers, which in dimensions and form it more nearly resembles than any other of my acquaintance” (Stanley, Sinai and Palestine, p. 89). The other approach, though not so picturesque and striking to the traveller, would have been equally difficult for an attacking army. Miss Martineau describes it as leading amid “wild fantastic mountains,” “rocks in towering masses,” “over steep and slippery passes,” or “winding in recesses below.” She continues: “A little further on we stopped in a hollow of the hills; our path, our very narrow path, lay over these whitish hills: now up, now down, and then, and then again, we were slipping and jerking down slopes of gaudy rock. For nearly an hour longer we were descending the pass; down we went, and still down; at length we came upon the platform above the bed of the torrent, near which stands the only edifice in Petra” (quoted from Eastern Life, ii. 319, by Pusey). Such approaches might, it is obvious, be held by a very small force against a great superiority of numbers. The width of the sîk “is not more than just sufficient for the passage of two horsemen abreast,” and “a few hundred men might defend the entrance against a large army” (Burckhar It, Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, p. 432). Demetrius “the Besieger,” at the head of 8,000 men (the 4,000 infantry selected for their swiftness of foot from the whole army), made repeated assaults on the place, but “those within had an easy victory, from its commanding height” (Pusey, from Diod. Sic. xix. 96). Little need of art to strengthen such natural defences, yet Mr. Palmer noticed “a fort at the top of the left-hand ravine, occupying a most commanding position, as it overlooks the entire valley, and defends the only part not protected by some difficult mountain pass” (Quarterly Statement, Palestine Exploration Fund, January, 1871). And Dr. Pusey finely remarks: “But even the entrance gained, what gain besides, unless the people and its wealth were betrayed by a surprise? Striking as the rock-girt Petra was, a gem in its mountain setting, far more marvellous was it when, as in the prophet’s time, the rock itself was Petra. Inside the defile, an invader would be outside the city yet. He might himself become the besieged rather than the besieger. In which of these eyries along all these ravines were the eagles to be found? From which of these lairs might not Edom’s lion-sons burst out upon them? Multitudes gave the invaders no advantage in scaling those mountains’ sides, where, observed themselves by an unseen enemy, they would at last have to fight man to man. What a bivouac were it in that narrow spot, themselves encircled by an enemy everywhere, anywhere, and visibly nowhere, among those thousand caves, each larger cave, maybe, an ambuscade! In man’s sight Edom’s boast was well founded; but what before God?” With the Edomites’ vaunt Pusey aptly compares that of the Bactrian, Oxyartes, who, trusting to the strength of another Petra, defied Alexander the Great, bidding him get wings for his soldiers before attacking his stronghold. (Arrian, Exped. Alex. iv. 18.)

(4) Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle.—“Had, then, the ancient builders of these rock-works wings like the eagles, with which they raised themselves to those perpendicular precipices?” “Who now, even with the feet of the chamois, could climb after them?” (v. Schubert, ii. 429; quoted by Pusey). (Comp. also Miss Martineau, Eastern Life, ii. 320, iii. 20.)

This is one of the passages which identifies the nesher, always translated “eagle” in the Authorised Version, with the griffon-vulture. “While the eagles and other birds are content with lower elevations, and sometimes even with trees, the griffon alone selects the stupendous gorges of Arabia Petræa and of the defiles of Palestine, and there in great communities rears its young, where the most intrepid climber can only with ropes and other appliances reach its nest” (Tristram, Nat. Hist. of the Bible, p. 175; comp. Job 39:27-28).

And though thou set thy nest among the stars . . .—The image of the eagle nesting among the stars is among the most forcible even in Hebrew poetry. Shakespeare approaches it in “eagle-winged pride of sky - aspiring and ambitious thoughts” (Richard II., i. 3).

Thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord.—In the original, more striking,” it is Jehovah’s declaration.” This sentence against pride, not only national, but individual too, is indeed the Divine declaration, uttered in warning voice from one end of Scripture to the other. The doom pronounced against Edom is but one special instance of the universal truth told so powerfully by Isaiah at the end of Isaiah 2 : “The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day. For the day of the Lord of hosts shall be upon every one that is proud and lofty, and upon every one that is lifted up; and he shall be brought low.” And it was the more than once repeated declaration of the Son of God: “He that exalteth himself shall be abased, and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted.”

Verses 5-9

(5-9) The completeness of the overthrow awaiting Edom. It is no mere inroad of a marauding tribe. Something would escape the robber, though he might go away quite satisfied with his plunder; and even a raid in vintage time, for the purpose of doing all the mischief possible to the country, would leave here and there a scattered bunch, gleanings for the inhabitants when the spoilers had retired, but now everything is doomed to destruction. Edom is completely robbed and ransacked. Notice how the sad, almost pathetic, conviction of this breaks out—as if rather from a friend (see Introduction) than an enemy—in the parenthetical “how art thou cut off!” in the very middle of the sentence. Every one must perceive, the prophet seems to say, a higher hand at work here.

(5) Some grapes.—Gleanings, as in margin. (Comp. Isaiah 17:6; Isaiah 24:13.)

(6) How are the things of Esau searched out!—Literally, How are they searched out Esau! Where Esau is either taken collectively = Edom as a nation, or we must supply, as in the Authorised Version, “the things of,” or, as Ewald, “they of.” For search, comp. Zephaniah 1:12.

His hidden things.—Heb., matspunîm, from tsapan = to hide, but whether hidden treasures or hiding places cannot be determined, as the word only occurs here.

(7-9) Overtaken by this terrible calamity, and deserted by her allies, Edom will turn in vain for counsel to her senators and wise men, and for support to her heroes and mighty men, for these will not only share in the general ruin, but are marked out for an overthrow as signal as their renown.

(7) All the men of thy confederacy. . . .—This desertion by allies is doubtless put prominently forward as the due retribution on Edom for his treachery and cruelty to his natural ally, his brother Jacob. The members of the confederacy are not specified. In Jeremiah 27:3 we find Edom associated with Moab, Ainmon, Tyre, and Sidon, in the warning to submit to Nebuchadnezzar. The two former would be the natural allies of Edom, and in Ezekiel 25:8 Seir is joined with Moab as reproaching Israel. From Psalms 60:8, we may add to these Philistia (comp. also Obadiah 1:19). The expression “have brought thee to the border” is variously understood. The most natural explanation is that the fugitives from the ruin of Edom, flying into the territory of neighbouring and allied tribes for help, are basely driven back to their own frontier, and left to their fate.

The men that were at peace with thee.—As in margin, the men of thy peace, an expressive Hebrew idiom occurring in Jeremiah 20:10; Jeremiah 38:22, and in Psalms 41:9, where it is translated “mine own familiar friend.”

Great difference of opinion exists as to the connection of this and the following clause, and as it stands the text presents considerable difficulty. By dropping the italicised words in our version, and omitting the semicolon, we get, “The men of thy peace have deceived thee, prevailed against thee and thy bread, have laid a wound under thee.” There are two verbal difficulties—(1) “wound,” Heb., mazôr, which occurs in Hosea 5:13 in the sense of a festering wound or abscess, but which the older translators here render ambush, or snare; ἔνεδρα (LXX.); insidiœ (Vulg.). Ewald and Hitzig, among moderns, prefer net, and defend it etymologically. This certainly gives good sense, and if zûr, of which it is a derivative, can have the sense of binding, may be correct. Our translators in Jeremiah 30:13, and Aquila and Symmachus in this passage, evidently give it that force (see also Lee’s Heb. Lex., sub voce). To squeeze or crush, however, seems the true meaning of zûr: as in Judges 6:38, of Gideon’s fleece; Job 39:15, of the eggs of the ostrich. The preposition tachath = under, also offers a difficulty; “Laid a wound under thee” suggests no intelligible meaning. But on the authority (though possibly somewhat doubtful) of 2 Samuel 3:12, where the word is translated “on behalf of,” but where the context requires “without his knowledge,” and on the analogy of all other languages, we may (with Vatablus, Drusius, Luther, and L. de Dieu; see Keil) translate the word deceitfully, or without thy knowledge, a rendering in accordance with the parallelism. But the syntax of the passage still remains unexplained. What is the construction of lachmeka=of thy bread? From Psalms 41:9, “The man of my peace which did eat of my bread,” we are led to the conjecture that it forms part of a familiar, perhaps proverbial, expression for one bound by the closest ties of fellowship and hospitality, and we must, therefore, either supply a participle, these eating, as in the Psalm, or understand a second anshêy=men of. It is true there is no other instance of the phrase “men of thy bread,” but it is a conceivable Hebrew idiom. Keeping the parallelism we now get an intelligible rendering of the passage.

“Unto the border they sent thee, all the men of thy confederacy.

Deceived thee, ruined thee,

Men of thy peace, men of thy bread;

(They) gave thee a wound in secret.

No understanding (is) in him.”

For the arrangement of the second clause, which is put for deceived thee the men of thy peace, ruined thee the men of thy bread, see Song of Solomon 1:5, and Note there. In the last clause the margin reads of it: i.e., of the injury just mentioned, instead of in him. But it is better to take it as an abrupt declaration in the prophet’s manner (comp. “how art thou cut off!” in Obadiah 1:5) of the utter bewilderment that had come or was coming on Edom, unable either by counsel or force to withstand his foes.

(8) Shall I not . . .—Literally, Surely in that day—it is Jehovah’s saying—I will make sages disappear from Edom, and understanding from Esau’s mountain.

The tradition of a peculiar sagacity in Edom, and especially in Teman (see Jeremiah 49:7), lingered long. Job’s sage friend Eliphaz was a Temanite. In Baruch 3:22-23 we read: “It (wisdom) hath not been heard of in Chanaan, neither hath it been seen in Theman. The Agarenes that seek wisdom upon earth, the merchants of Meran and of Theman, the authors (margin, expounders) of fables and searchers out of understanding, none of these have known the way of wisdom, or remember her paths.” Jeremiah’s words show even more strikingly how high the reputation had been: “Is wisdom no more in Teman? is counsel perished from the prudent? is their wisdom vanished?” “The men of the world think that they hold their wisdom and all God’s natural gifts independently of the giver. God, by the events of His natural providence, as here by His word, shows, through some withdrawal of their wisdom, that it is His, not theirs. Men wonder at the sudden failure, the flaw in the well-arranged plan, the one over-confident act which ruins the whole scheme, the over-shrewdness which betrays itself, or the unaccountable oversight.” So the utter want of perception and foresight in Edom seems unaccountable, till we think of the Divine purpose and end in it all. The wise were destroyed, and the mighty men dismayed, “to the end that every one of the mount of Esau may be cut off by slaughter.” It is the prophetic statement of the truth of the old heathen proverb: “Whom God wishes to destroy He first dements.”

(9) For Teman, see Job 2:11.

Verses 10-16


This justification takes the form of a warning against a repetition of the crimes which have already called forth the sentence of Divine wrath against Edom. Various acts of hostility and treachery towards Israel are specified by the prophet, in a manner to lead to the feeling that though his tone is prohibitory, he is recalling instances of past malignity on Edom’s part, as types of what might be found in the future.

(10) For thy violence . . .—Literally, for injury of thy brother Jacob, &c.; the genitive of the object, as in Joel 3:19. The crime was the more heinous because against the brother tribe. Probably the birth-name, Jacob, of the twin brother of Esau is used purposely to bring out the full wickedness of the descendants of Esau. In spite of all provocations, Israel long maintained the duty of a friendly feeling for the kindred race—maintained it as a religious duty (Deuteronomy 2:5; Deuteronomy 23:7). On the other hand, Edom from the first assumed a jealous and hostile attitude (Numbers 20:14, seqq.), never imitating the generous disposition of their great ancestor (Genesis 33:4).

Shame shall cover thee.—Comp. Micah 7:10; Jeremiah 3:25.

(11) In the day . . .—Literally, In the day of thy standing over against, as if to particularise some one occasion; but instead of proceeding to state it, the prophet recalls other events of the same time, and sums up Edom’s offence in the charge, “thou, too, as one of them,” acting the part of an enemy instead of that of a friend, though probably in the base character of a neutral (comp. “My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore,” Psalms 38:11), ready to take the winning side.

Forces.—It is difficult to choose between this and the marginal reading, substance. Shâvah is usually “to take prisoner,” but there are many instances of its use in the sense of carrying off booty (1 Chronicles 5:21; 2 Chronicles 21:17, where see marg., and 2 Chronicles 14:14). And chayil, whose root-meaning is strength, while often meaning forces, has eleven times the meaning riches (Isaiah 8:4, &c.), and eight times substance (Job 5:5, &c.).

The three clauses in this verse form a climax:—(1) The plunder of the open country; (2) entry into the gates of the cities; (3) casting lots for the spoil in the very capital itself. It is natural to regard this latter event as identical with that in Joel 3:3, the final destruction of Jerusalem and dispersion of its inhabitants into captivity. But for the question of the event intended and its connection with the date of the prophecy, see Excursus.

(12) Thou shouldest not . . .—Here, and in Obadiah 1:13-14, correctly as in marg., Do not, &c. Al with the apoc. pres. or fut. must be prohibitory. Calasio’s Concordance supplies 207 instances (see Pusey’s note). But the warning against these particular offences undoubtedly springs from the reminiscence of such conduct in former times. The passage is neither definitely historical nor definitely prophetic. What has happened in the past becomes a type of what will happen in the future. For look (raah), with the sense of disdain or scorn, comp. Song of Solomon 1:6; Job 40:11; Job 41:34 (Heb. 26). The word is repeated with the same sense in Obadiah 1:13. Pusey remarks: “Malicious gazing on human calamity, forgetful of man’s common origin and common liability to ill, is the worst form of human hate. It was one of the contumelies of the Cross.”

In the day that he became a stranger.—Literally, in the day of his strangeness. The form nokher is only found here, and in Job 31:3 (nekher) with different pointing, where it is translated “strange punishment.” The adjective nokhri, also, has always the sense of strange, though the root-verb seems to have the signification to recognise. From to recognise an apparent stranger to treat as a stranger (which the derived conjugations, that alone are used, sometimes mean) is a natural transition. Perhaps here, “unheard of calamity.”

Spoken proudly.—Literally, as in marg., made thy mouth great (comp. Psalms 35:21; Isaiah 57:4). The mention of grimaces adds to the graphic character of the picture. Again we are reminded of the wanton and savage insolence around the Cross.

(13) The day of their calamity.—Thrice repeated, to bring into prominence the malignity of Edom’s conduct. The same expression used by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 35:5), in the same connection, probably with reference to the same occasion.

Calamity.—Heb., êyd. Variously derived and explained, either as load of trouble or dark gloomy time.

(14) Crossway.—Heb., perek = separated (English, fork). It only occurs here and in Nahum 3:1, where it is translated robbery—i.e., that which is torn or divided. Or it may mean at the division of the prey, but “crossway” is better.

Delivered.—Margin, shut up—i e., either made prisoners of them, or cut them off at the cross-roads from any chance of escape.

For the open violence assumed by the Edomites when they saw their chance was come, comp. Psalms 137:7; Joel 3:19; Amos 1:11; Ezekiel 35

(15) The day of the Lord.—Whether this phrase first makes its appearance in written prophecy in Joel or Obadiah depends, of course, on the question of the relative date of the two. But probably it had become a recognised prophetic expression long before it was committed to writing. The primary meaning is not the day of judgment, but the day on which Jehovah reveals His majesty and omnipotence in a glorious manner, to overthrow all ungodly powers and to complete His kingdom. As the misfortunes of Israel increased, and the hostility of surrounding nations gathered to a successful head, it was natural that the idea of retribution upon them for their violence to the chosen race should usurp the prominent place in prophecy. The “day of Jehovah” became the day of Jehovah’s wrath (Zephaniah 1:18) and Jehovah’s vengeance (Isaiah 34:8). The fading of the temporal hopes implied in the expression naturally led to its higher religious use; and the various phrases for the same idea—“the day,” “the great day,” “the day of judgment,” “the last day”—passed first into Jewish, and afterwards into Christian, eschatology, taking with them all the prophetic imagery which painted the expectancy of Israel: imagery of the splendour of victory and triumph on the one side, of terrible overthrow and slaughter on the other, but rich as well with its infinite spiritual suggestiveness.

As thou hast done . . .—For this stern announcement of the lex talionis on the offending nation, comp. (in addition to the reference in marg.) Joel 3:7; Psalms 137:8.

(16) As ye have drunk . . .—For the figure, so common in prophecy and so expressive, comp. Jeremiah 25:27-28; Psalms 75:8; Isaiah 51:17; Revelation 18:3-6. But who are addressed, the people of Jerusalem or the Edomites? The question is perplexed. If we keep the tropical sense of drink in both clauses, which is the most natural way, understanding by it the cup of suffering, since it is said to have been drunk on Mount Zion, it must have been drained by Israelites, as Ewald and others take the passage. On the other hand, it seems awkward to make the prophet turn from addressing Edom to Judah, not else addressed in his prophecy. If taken in a literal sense, the drinking on Mount Zion would, of course, refer to the carousing and revelry which always followed heathen victory, and sometimes with terrible aggravation (Joel 3:3). Taking the passage in this sense, we must understand the prophet to take Edom as a type of all heathen in their attitude towards Israel, so that what he says of one nation applies to all. But it is quite possible that our text embodies an old oracular saying addressed to Israel. This is Ewald’s view.

Swallow down.—Margin, sup up. The substantive loa’ signifies a throat. (Comp. Job 6:3 : “Therefore my words are swallowed up.”)

Shall be as though they had not been.—For the expression, comp. Job 10:19. Here, totally insensible from the effects of the draughty, therefore dead, destroyed.

The word continually offers some difficulty. Ewald translates immediately, but this is not the natural sense of tamîd, which seems rather to express that continuous display of the Divine purpose and judgment in the overthrow overtaking successively the proud monarchies of the heathen. “God employs each nation in turn to give that cup to the other. So Edom drank it at the hand of Babylon, and Babylon from the Medes, and the Medes and Persians from the Macedonians, and the Macedonians from the Romans, and they from the barbarians.”

Verses 17-21


(17) Deliverance.—Better, as in margin, the fugitives of Israel who have survived the recent calamity. This is clear from Isaiah 10:20, where phelêytah is in parallelism with shear=remnant, as well as Joel 2:32; Hebrews 3:5, where it is parallel to serîdîm, also remnant. (Comp. also Judges 21:17; 2 Chronicles 20:24.) While the judgment is falling upon all the heathen nations, Mount Zion will be an asylum for all the Israelites who had fled for safety, and been scattered and dispersed.

Holiness.—See margin. Zion was once more to become a sanctuary, and those who inhabited it holy. (Comp. Isaiah 6:13.)

Their possessions.—Whose—their own that had been lost, or those of the nations? The Vulgate, following the LXX., read “those who had possessed them,” indicating subjugation of the heathen tribes. But the parallelism is undoubtedly in favour of the other view—the remnant of Israel would be saved, and regain their old possessions. Having stated this, the prophet goes on to describe what would happen to Edom and its possessions.

(18) Though, in the preceding verse, “house of Jacob” would seem to embrace all the restored Israel, without any reference to the distinction of the two kingdoms, in this verse, being opposed to “house of Joseph,” it requires to be taken as synonymous with Judah; as in Isaiah 46:3 : “Hearken unto me, O house of Jacob, and all the remnant of the house of Israel.” (Comp. Psalms 77:15; Psalms 80:1; Psalms 81:4-5.)

For the expressive imagery, comp. Nahum 1:10; Isaiah 27:4; Isaiah 10:17.

Any remaining.—Heb., sarîd, a fugitive. The LXX. must have had a different text, as they read here πυροϕόρος, i.e., wheat-bearer, apparently (as the various reading shows) a mistake for πυρϕόρος, fire-bearer.

(19) After the destruction of the heathen the new kingdom of Zion will be restored, at least as far as the ancient territories which are at present held by the Idumæans, to the north and west of the original Edom, are concerned. Three divisions are enumerated of the house of Jacob (i.e., Judah; see Note, Obadiah 1:18), and separate mention made of Benjamin.

They of the south.—Those at present occupying the south—Heb., negev—i.e., the dry parched country forming the southern portion of the tribe of Judah (Joshua 15:21), are to inhabit Mount Esau: i.e., are to extend their territory to its extreme south-eastern limit; they of the Shephelah, i.e., the western lowland on the Mediterranean, are to seize on the neighbouring Philistia, at present Idumæan; while they at present confined to the hill-country in the north and centre of Judah are to spread themselves over Ephraim and Samaria. Our present Hebrew text leaves the subject of this latter clause uncertain, as it is in the Authorised Version “they.” But the LXX., τὸ ὄρος indicates that hahor=the mountain, has dropped out, a conjecture which is abundantly borne out by the geographical arrangement of the localities in the passage. Benjamin, for which no room is left on the west of Jordan, is to push across it into Gilead instead. This prophetic vision recalls Genesis 28:14.

(20) But there are still others of the restored Israel, besides those comprised within the ancient territory of Judah. The prophetic survey proceeds northwards, and we get a general idea from this verse that there were exiles, who had found refuge on the north-western and northern boundaries of ancient Palestine, who would settle themselves partly on the sea-coast of Tyre and Sidon, partly in the south country, whose inhabitants had pushed downwards into Edom. But while this is plainly its general drift, the text is full of difficulties.

It is difficult to attach an intelligible meaning to “the captivity (i.e., exiles, galuth; comp. Isaiah 20:4; Isaiah 45:13) of this host of (literally, to) the sons of Israel.”

The prophet seems to allude to some body of exiles, including himself, who had escaped from the army. But there is a difference of opinion among grammarians as to the identification of chël with chayil = host. Ewald takes it to be a dialectic variety of chol = sand, generally of the sea-coast; and so here “the banished ones of this coast,” where the prophet was at the time. The rendering chël=trench, or fortification, which some adopt, is out of the question. The LXX. have τῆς μετοικεσίας ἡ ἀρχὴ, but whether ἀρχὴ = power, or beginning, with allusion to the first dispersion of exiles, cannot be determined. Another difficulty arises with respect to the words that of the Canaanites—asher Khenaanîm (literally, which Canaanites). To make it an object, as in our version, the particle eth is wanted, and Ewald, instead of asher, reads eth-ari = the cities of. That some change has taken place in the text appears from the LXX., who have γῆ, the land (Heb., erets). Keil, keeping the present reading, renders, “And the captives of this army of the sons of Israel (will take possession) of what Canaanites there are as far as Zarephath . . .” Pusey: “And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel which are among the Canaanites as far as Zarephath,” making it joint subject with “the captives of Jerusalem” to “shall possess the cities of the south,” which is in accordance with the construction of the LXX. and the Syriac. But the absence of the preposition be before Khenaanim seems to make this rendering impossible. The Hebrew as it stands can only mean “which are Canaanites.” The choice lies between Ewald’s emendation of the text and Keil’s interpretation. The Jews understand by Zarephath the country of France.

The last clause is better in the text than in the margin: “The exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall take possession of the cities of the south.” The only difficulty is in the name Sepharad, a place never mentioned elsewhere, and which has not yet been satisfactorily identified. The various conjectures have been—

1. That of the LXX., ἕως ἐϕραθὰ followed by the Arabic translation, probably from reading Sepharath. Jerome, in his Commentary on Obadiah, appears to have understood this reading as pointing to the Hebrew Phrath, since he translates, Transmigratio Jerusalem usque Euphratem.

2. The reading of the Vulg., quœ in Bosphoro est, was derived by Jerome from a Jewish instructor, who treated the particle in Bisparad as part of the name, and rejected the final d altogether.

3. The Targum Jonathan, the Peshito-Syriac, and from them the modern Jews, interpret Sepharad as Spain (Ispamia or Ispania); hence Sephardim, a name for the Spanish Jews.

4. Sipphara in Mesopotamia. But this is more probably identified with Sepharvaim.

5. Sardis, from a supposed connection with ÇPaRaD. or (Çparda, mentioned in the great arrow-headed inscription of Nakshi Rustam, in a list of names of tribes between Cappadocia and Ionia, which De Sacy identified with Sepharad, and Lassen with Sardis.

6. Sparta. Some relations there were between the Jews after the captivity and the Lacedæmonians (see 1 Maccabees 12:2, seqq., 14:16, seqq., 15:23). Possibly there was a colony of the exiles in Sparta.

7. Ewald conjectures Sepharam instead of Sepharad, and finds the place in Shefa Amar, a well-known place a few miles south-east of Acco. The general drift of the passage seems to require some place not far distant from, and in the direction of, Zarephath. The only serious objection to this conjecture is the fact that Shefa Amar was within the boundaries of Palestine, and therefore those who had taken refuge there would not strictly be exiles. But it is distinctly stated that these were “of Jerusalem,” and they might well be called refugees, since they had had to go so far north to find an asylum.

(21) Saviours.—Comp. Judges 3:9; Judges 3:15; Nehemiah 9:27. The Jewish interpreters understood by “saviours” men like the judges of old, Gideon, Barak, &c., who will chastise the Christians and subdue them. The Mount of Esau is of course, according to this interpretation, Rome.

And the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.—See the reference in margin to Zechariah, who gives this anticipation of the pure form of the theocracy in its wider extent. But here, too, the prophetic look over the world seems to extend far beyond Judah and the fortunes of the Jewish race, and as the vision widens Zion and Edom both retire from sight; both are comprehended in the one Divine kingdom, and God is all in all. For the bearing of this conclusion to the prophecy on its date, see Excursus.


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Bibliography Information
Ellicott, Charles John. "Commentary on Obadiah 1:4". "Ellicott's Commentary for English Readers". 1905.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, June 25th, 2019
the Week of Proper 7 / Ordinary 12
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