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Bible Commentaries

Dr. Constable's Expository Notes

Obadiah

- Obadiah

by Thomas Constable

Introduction

TITLE AND WRITER

As is true of all the other prophetical books in the Old Testament, the title of this one evidently comes from the name of its writer. "Obadiah" means "servant of Yahweh" or "worshipper of Yahweh," depending on the form (vocalization) of his name in Hebrew, which is debated. There are 13 men who bear this name in the Old Testament, from Davidic to postexilic times, assuming the writer was not one of the other 12. It appears that he was not since attempts to identify him with one of the others have proved unsatisfying. A few scholars have favored the view that this "Obadiah" was not the name of an individual but a symbolic title of the writer who was an unidentified servant or worshipper of the Lord. This seems unlikely since the other prophetical books bear the proper names of their writers. Some scholars believe that Malachi ("my servant") is also a title rather than a proper name.

Exactly who Obadiah was remains a mystery. Keil believed the Obadiah who served King Ahab and who encountered Elijah (1Ki_18:3-16) was the writer. [Note: C. F. Keil, "Obadiah," in The Twelve Minor Prophets, 1:337.] Usually something about the writer accompanies his name at the beginning of each prophetical book, generally his father’s name, some of his ancestors, and or his hometown. This descriptive information is absent in only two of the prophetical books: Obadiah and Malachi.

Whoever Obadiah was, he possessed significant literary talent. He employed the skills of imagery, rhetorical questions, irony, repetition, and various forms of parallelism in his brief prophecy.

UNITY

Some scholars have contended that this small book, the shortest one in the Old Testament but not in the Bible, is a collection of prophecies that two or more unidentified prophets uttered. There are two reasons for this view. First, since the identity of Obadiah is obscure, some students of the book have concluded that "Obadiah" is a title that describes prophets in general, as servants of the Lord, rather than the name of one specific individual. Second, the content of the book may consist of from two to five oracles. Form critics have identified three types of oracles: oracles of judgment, oracles of repentance, and oracles of salvation. [Note: See Bruce K. Waltke, An Old Testament Theology, p. 828-32.] This has led some scholars to posit two or more prophecies and two or more prophets.

However, since "Obadiah" was a common Hebrew name, and since the other prophetical books bear the names of their writers, it is more natural to assume that one prophet named Obadiah wrote the whole book. Furthermore, since many other writing prophets recorded several oracles, it is reasonable to assume that one prophet named Obadiah did the same in this book if, indeed, it consists of more than one oracle. The whole brief book fits together nicely as a single composition. [Note: For further discussion of the book’s unity, see especially John D. W. Watts, Obadiah: A Critical Exegetical Commentary, pp. 9-10; Leslie C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, pp. 133-355; and Tremper Longman III and Raymond B. Dillard, An Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 439-40.]

DATE

Since we do not know who the writer was, other than that his name appears to have been Obadiah, it is very difficult to date this book and to determine where it came from.

"This shortest book in the Old Testament, consisting of only twenty-one verses, bears the distinction of being the most difficult of all the prophecies to date." [Note: Gleason L. Archer Jr., A Survey of Old Testament Introduction, p. 299.]

There are three clues concerning when the prophet wrote it: references to historical events in the book, the book’s place in the Hebrew canon, and possible quotations or allusions to the writings of other Old Testament prophets.

First, Obadiah referred to a time in the apparently recent past when the Edomites had gloated over a successful invasion of Jerusalem (1Ki_18:10-14; 1Ki_18:16). There are at least seven occasions during the ministry of the writing prophets when we know Jerusalem experienced invasion and suffered a defeat. One of these is probably the event he referred to.

1.    During Rehoboam’s reign (930-913 B.C.; 1Ki_14:25-26; 2Ch_12:2-9)

2.    During Jehoram’s reign (853-841 B.C.; 2Ki_8:20-22; 2Ch_21:8-10; 2Ch_21:16-17; cf. Amo_1:6)

3.    During Amaziah’s reign (796-767; 2Ki_14:13-14; 2Ch_25:23-24)

4.    During Ahaz’s reign (732-715 B.C.; 2Ch_28:16-18)

5.    During Jehoiakim’s reign (609-598 B.C.; 2Ki_24:1-4; 2Ch_36:6-7)

6.    During Jehoiachin’s reign (598-597 B.C.; 2Ki_24:10-16; 2Ch_36:10)

7.    During Zedekiah’s reign (597-586 B.C.; 2Ki_25:3-7; 2Ch_36:15-20; cf. Lam_4:21-22; Psa_137:7)

Of these, the invasions that seem to fit Obadiah’s description of the Edomites’ behavior were the one in King Jehoram’s reign and the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 B.C. [Note: For arguments that Jerusalem fell in 587 B.C., see Rodger C. Young, "When Did Jerusalem Fall?" Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 47:1 (March 2004):21-38.] Most scholars believe that one of these instances is in view, and most believe the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. is. [Note: E.g., Watts, pp. 8-9, 19, 27, 54; Allen, pp. 129-33; Douglas Stuart, Hosea-Jonah, pp. 403-4, 416; Thomas J. Finley, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, p. 340-42; Billy K. Smith, "Obadiah," in Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, p. 172; David W. Baker, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah: An Introduction and Commentary, p. 23; Carl E. Armerding, "Obadiah," in Daniel-Minor Prophets, vol. 7 of The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, p. 337; Frank E. Gaebelein, Four Minor Prophets [Obadiah, Jonah, Habakkuk, and Haggai]: Their Message for Today, pp. 13, 28; G. Herbert Livingston, "Obadiah," in The Wycliffe Bible Commentary, p. 839; Roland K. Harrison, Introduction to the Old Testament, pp. 898, 902; John Bright, A History of Israel, pp. 356, 417; Robert B. Chisholm Jr., "A Theology of the Minor Prophets," in A Biblical Theology of the Old Testament, p. 418; idem, Handbook on the Prophets, p. 403; The New Scofield Reference Bible, p. 939; and Waltke, p. 845.] The second most popular view is that the invasion of Jerusalem during Jehoram’s reign is what Obadiah referred to. [Note: E.g., Keil, 1:341-49; Walter L. Baker, "Obadiah," in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament, p. 1454; Hobart E. Freeman, An Introduction to the Old Testament Prophets, p. 136; Archer, pp. 299-303; Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel, pp. 262-64; Eugene H. Merrill, Kingdom of Israel: A History of Old Testament Israel, p. 382; Walter C. Kaiser Jr., Toward an Old Testament Theology, p. 186; Edward J. Young, An Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 277; Charles H. Dyer, in The Old Testament Explorer," pp. 765-66; and Warren W. Wiersbe, "Obadiah," in The Bible Exposition Commentary/Prophets, p. 371. See especially Jeffrey Niehaus, "Obadiah," in The Minor Prophets, pp. 496-502.] This would make Obadiah a contemporary of Elijah and Elisha (cf. 2Ch_21:12-15).

The second clue to the date of Obadiah’s prophecy is the place of the book in the Hebrew canon. The Minor Prophets are called "minor," of course, because they are shorter than the Major Prophets. The Jews put all 12 of the Minor Prophets on one scroll for convenience sake and to keep them from getting lost. The order in which they appear in the Hebrew Bible is basically chronological, and this order continued in later translations of the Old Testament, including English translations. This would lead us to conclude that the ancient Jews regarded Obadiah as one of the earlier prophetical books.

The order is not completely chronological. Hosea seems to have been put first because it is the longest of the pre-exilic Minor Prophets. The recurrence of similar themes and or words appears to have influenced the order too since Joel, rather than Amos, the second longest pre-exilic minor prophet, follows Hosea. Allen suggested that Obadiah may follow Amos because it "may have been viewed as a virtual commentary on Amo_9:12." [Note: Allen, p. 129. Cf. Smith, p. 180.] Stuart suggested that Obadiah follows Amos because Obadiah used the name Adonai Yahweh (Amo_9:1), a rare name for God in the prophets, that Amos also used. [Note: Stuart, p. 416.]

"In the arrangement of The Twelve in the Hebrew Bible the chronological principle which seems to have determined the over-all order was as follows: (1) the prophets of the Assyrian period were placed first (Hosea to Nahum); (2) then followed those of the Babylonian period (Habakkuk and Zephaniah); (3) the series closed with the three prophets of the Persian period after the exile (Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi)." [Note: Freeman, p. 135. See also Greg Goswell, "The Order of the Books in the Hebrew Bible," Journal of the Evangelical Theological Society 51:4 (December 2008):673-88.]

The third clue concerning the date of Obadiah is evidence that one prophet depended on another. There are similarities between Oba_1:1-6 and Jer_49:9; Jer_49:14-17 and between Oba_1:10-18 and Joe_1:15; Joe_2:1; Joe_2:32; Joe_3:3-4; Joe_3:17; Joe_3:19. [Note: For defense of the priority of Obadiah to Jeremiah, see Niehaus, p. 501.] There are also similarities between Oba_1:9-10; Oba_1:14; Oba_1:18-19 and Amo_1:2; Amo_1:6; Amo_1:11-12; Amo_9:13. However, in all these instances it is really impossible to determine if Obadiah referred to the other prophets, if they referred to Obadiah, if they all depended on another common source, or if the Holy Spirit simply led each prophet independently to express himself in similar terms.

Unfortunately, none of these sources of information enables us to date the book certainly. All things considered, I tend to favor an early date for Obadiah, about 850 B.C. However, those who prefer a date shortly after 586 B.C. could be correct. Fortunately, discovering the correct date of this prophecy is not crucial to understanding it.

PLACE OF COMPOSITION AND AUDIENCE

Since Obadiah’s concern was the Edomites’ rejoicing over an invasion of Jerusalem, it seems most probable that the prophet lived in the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Most of the scholars do agree on this.

Since Obadiah’s concern was Jerusalem, and since it seems likely that he lived in Judah, the original people who received his prophecy were probably the residents of Judah.

PURPOSE AND UNIQUENESS

Obadiah wrote to announce coming divine judgment on Edom and to give the Israelites hope by reminding them of the future that God promised them.

"Prophetic oracles against foreign nations, though full of the language of doom, are also implicitly messages of hope for God’s people. Such oracles look forward to a time when the predicted demise of the nation under attack will open the way for the restored, purified Israel to blossom once again as the flower of all God’s plantings.

"Obadiah’s message fits this pattern and in some ways even typifies it." [Note: Stuart, p. 408. See also Kaiser, p. 187; and Finley, p. 351.]

"What would be a single oracle against a foreign nation in one of the other prophetic books has in Obadiah become an independent book." [Note: Longman and Dillard, p. 438.]

Most authorities see Edom as typical of all the forces arrayed against Israel and Yahweh. [Note: E.g., Archer, p. 302. Cf. Amo_9:15.] . Some scholars also see Edom as a type of the flesh and Obadiah as a prophecy of its eventual destruction. [Note: E.g., Charles L. Feinberg, Joel, Amos, and Obadiah, p. 124.]

"In a sense Obadiah is a miniature profile of the message of all the writing prophets." [Note: W. Baker, p. 1453.]

"Edom . . . was tenaciously and rather constantly hostile from beginning, i.e., after the exodus, to end, i.e., after the exile. This factor would itself be enough to cause such a small nation to receive such regular, even prominent mention in prophetic oracles against foreign nations. But Edom’s prominence as an enemy was additionally noteworthy because of its historical position as a brother nation to Israel (Genesis 25). There are, then, at least three factors that made Edom so prominent among Israel’s enemies that it could sometimes function virtually as a paradigm for all of them: (1) the sheer chronological length of its enmity as alluded to in Eze_35:5; (2) the consistency and intensity of its enmity (as in Oba_1:10-14); (3) the ’treasonous’ nature of its enmity (as in Amo_1:11). No other nation quite shared these characteristics.

". . . of the ancient non-superpowers (i.e., leaving aside Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon) Edom is the subject of more separate oracles against foreign nations (seven [i.e., Isa_21:11-12; Jer_49:7-22; Eze_25:12-14; Ezekiel 35; Amo_1:11-12; Obad.; Mal_1:2-5]) and more brief or passing hostile references (four [i.e., Isa_11:14; Jer_25:21; Lam_4:21; Joe_3:19]) in the prophetical books than any other nation." [Note: Stuart, p. 404. This writer provided a helpful table of all the nations that the writing prophets referred to and the locations of their prophecies against these nations on pp. 405-6. For a synopsis of the relations between Edom and Israel, see Finley, pp. 345-48. Most commentaries and Bible encyclopedias contain a summary of Edom’s history.]

There are more references to Edom in the Bible than to any other hostile nation except the superpowers.

"The Edomites played such a consistently adversarial role in Israel’s history that the prophetic literary category of ’oracles against foreign nations’ was bound to include predictions of judgments against Edom. Edom, indeed, becomes in the OT a kind of metonymy for ’hostile nations.’" [Note: Stuart, p. 421. Cf. Judges 5:4; Isaiah 63:1-6.]

Metonymy is a figure of speech in which the writer uses the name of one thing (Edom) for another that is associated with or suggested by it (all Israel’s enemies).

Edom is the subject of the little Book of Obadiah as Assyria is of the larger Book of Nahum. Assyria is also the subject of the Book of Jonah, but Jonah focuses on the capital city, Nineveh, more than on the whole nation of Assyria.

The New Testament writers did not quote from or allude to the Book of Obadiah.

As with all the other prophetical books, references to God’s covenants form an important background. People who lived in the ancient Near East lived aware of the covenants that nations made with one another, the blessings of covenant faithfulness, and the curses that would come because of covenant unfaithfulness. This view of life is very prominent in all the prophetical books.

OUTLINE

I.    Edom’s coming judgment Oba_1:1-9

A.    The introduction to the oracle Oba_1:1

B.    The breaching of Edom’s defenses Oba_1:2-4

C.    The plundering of Edom’s treasures Oba_1:5-7

D.    The destruction of Edom’s leadership Oba_1:8-9

II.    Edom’s crimes against Judah Oba_1:10-14

A.    The statement of the charge Oba_1:10

B.    The explanation of the charge Oba_1:11-14

III.    The restoration of Israel’s sovereignty Oba_1:15-21

A.    The judgment of Edom and the nations Oba_1:15-18

B.    The occupation of Edom by Israel Oba_1:19-21

 

Many competent commentators believed that the Book of Obadiah follows the covenant-lawsuit form of address that was common in the ancient Near East. [Note: See, for example, Herbert B. Huffmon, "The Covenant Lawsuit in the Prophets," Journal of Biblical Literature 78 (1959):285-95.] In this type of message, which many of the other writing prophets also used, there are certain formulaic sections. These are, most basically, a description of the scene of judgment and then the speech by the judge. This speech typically includes an address to the defendant (including reproach based on an accusation and a statement that the accused has no defense), the pronouncement of guilt, and the sentence. Niehaus outlined Obadiah on this basis as follows. [Note: Niehaus, p. 507.]

I.    Title (Oba_1:1 a)

II.    Description of the scene of judgment (nations arise for battle, Oba_1:1 b)

III.    Speech by the Judge (Oba_1:2-21)

A.    Three sentences (Oba_1:2-9)

1.    First sentence (Oba_1:2-4)

2.    Second sentence (Oba_1:5-7)

3.    Third sentence (Oba_1:8-9)

B.    Three pronouncements of guilt (Oba_1:10-14)

1.    First pronouncement (Oba_1:10)

2.    Second pronouncement (Oba_1:11)

3.    Third pronouncement (Oba_1:12-14)

C.    Sentence on the nations (Oba_1:15-16)

D.    Promise of restoration (Oba_1:17-21)

Bibliography

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