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Bible Commentaries

Pett's Commentary on the BiblePett's Commentary

- Obadiah

by Peter Pett



The prophecy of Obadiah comes as a warning to all who take advantage of the misfortune of a neighbour or a relative for their own gain. It is a prophecy concerning the fate of Edom. Edom were Judah’s neighbour to the south, and they were highly privileged in that their land had been allocated to them by YHWH (Deuteronomy 2:5). This was because Edom (Esau) was descended from Abraham through Isaac. As a consequence they were related to Judah through their eponymous ancestor Esau. Esau was the brother of Jacob, the father of Judah. Thus they were ‘brother tribes’. It was this relationship that helped to make the behaviour of Edom so heinous in the eyes of YHWH.

Furthermore the prophecy is a reminder that God sees all that we do. We might think that we are out of God’s focus, and that we can therefore go on as we like, but Obadiah’s prophecy reminds us that we will be called to account in the end, just as Edom would be.

Unfortunately, apart from periods when Edom were in submission to Judah/Israel, there was bitter enmity between the two countries, an enmity which often spilled over into direct action. In the time of Moses it was Edom who opposed the passage of the children of Israel as they approached Canaan, even though Moses had intended only friendship towards them (Numbers 20:14-21). In the days of David Edom had to be dealt with severely because they had joined with the Aramaeans in attacking Israel (2 Samuel 8:13), and the final consequence for them was that David took possession of Edom (1 Chronicles 18:13). In the days of Solomon Edom harassed Israel continually from their mountain hideouts (1 Kings 11:21-22 with 1 Kings 11:25). In the days of Jehoram of Judah they fought to free themselves from Judean control and succeeded (2 Kings 8:20-22). During the reign of Amaziah of Judah Edom were invaded by Amaziah and subjected to great slaughter (2 Kings 14:13-14; 2 Chronicles 25:23-24), possibly as a direct result of their continual border raids in which they took whole towns into slavery as described in Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9; Amos 1:11-12. In the days of Jeroboam II and Uzziah the Edomites were described as having set up a major slave cartel, not only invading Judah and carrying off slaves themselves, but also arranging to buy Israelite slaves from Philistia and Tyre, slaves gained by similar incursions into Israelite territory during which whole towns were carried off (Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9; Amos 1:11). And it was Edom who, at the time of the Babylonian invasion, would take advantage of the miseries of Judah in order to seize land in southern Judah, while no doubt at the same time seizing more slaves (Ezekiel 35:10).

This constant enmity of Edom against Israel/Judah through the centuries, and their subsequent guilt in the eyes of YHWH, comes out further in the fact that numerically speaking there are more prophecies spoken against Edom than against any other foreign nation (e.g. Isaiah 21:11-12; Isaiah 34:5-7; Isaiah 63:1-6; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Amos 1:11-12; Malachi 1:2-5; Joel 3:19; Isaiah 11:14; Jeremiah 25:21; Lamentations 4:21). This should have warned then that they were under God’s eye. But like so many of us they were impervious to their sins. And that is why Obadiah speaks so powerfully against them.

But we say, that may well be so, but what significance does the fate of Eden have for us? The answer is simple. Historically it is a reminder that God will call all men, however privileged, to give account for their behaviour, and that having been favoured by God in the past is no guarantee of favour in the future. It reminds us that privilege, rather than excluding us from responsibility, lays upon us great demands. And it reminds us that for all nations a ‘great day of YHWH’ is coming as a result of which all who are against His true people will be destroyed, while His own people will be vindicated. From a personal viewpoint it is a reminder that God brings every work into judgment, and brings home to us that He will call each one of us into account for how we behave towards our relatives or our neighbours, especially at times when they are in trouble. Like Edom we may feel that we are unobserved, and that we are not within God’s focus. But this prophecy is a reminder to us of just how wrong we are.

The prophecy was sparked off by some invasion of Judah by a foreign power during which Jerusalem was taken, a situation which Edom took advantage of for their own ends. Instead of offering help and succour they made the most of the situation in order to further their own interests. And the consequence was that they too were to be invaded, and pulverised. That we do know. It is more difficult, however, to be sure which invasion of Judah is in mind, and in view of our sparsity of knowledge about Edom’s history there is little there to help us. We in fact know little about invasions of Edom, apart from what is found in Scripture, until the time of the Arabian and Nabataean invasions of which we have but sparse knowledge. Fortunately, however, the fact that we cannot date the prophecy precisely makes little difference to the lessons that we can learn from it.

We know of the following times when Jerusalem was taken and stripped of its treasures:

1). By Shishak king of Egypt in the fifth year of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chronicles 12:2).

2). By the Philistines and Arabians in the time of Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:16-17; and see 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10).

3). By Joash of Israel during the reign of Amaziah (2 Kings 14:13-14; 2 Chronicles 25:23-24).

4). By the Babylonians in the time of Jehoiakim (2 Kings 24:1; 2 Chronicles 36:6-7).

5). By the Babylonians again, in the reign of Jehoiachin (2 Kings 24:10; 2 Chronicles 36:10).

1). and 3). are unlikely to be in mind because in both cases Edom were at that time, to some extent at least, under Judean control (1 Kings 11:14-22; 2 Kings 14:7), and in the circumstances would have been justified in any action that they took against Judah. They were also still under Judean control in the time of Jehoshaphat (1 Kings 22:47; 2 Kings 3:4-27), although during his reign they did join with the Moabites and Ammonites in an incursion against Judah (2 Chronicles 20:1; 2 Chronicles 20:10). However, Jehoshaphat’s accusation against them at that time did not include that of taking advantage of Judah’s weakness at the hands of others (2 Chronicles 20:10).

2). is a good possibility favoured by many. At this time Judah was not only stripped by the Philistines and the Arabians of its treasures but also of most of its royal house. This timing would tie in with an Isaianic prophecy in Isaiah 34:5-8 in the reign of Hezekiah, as Isaiah looked back with disgust on Edom’s behaviour, and with Amos’s description of Edom’s past perfidy in Amos 1:6; Amos 1:9; Amos 1:11-12. The thesis might be seen as weakened in that Amaziah later gained revenge for any such behaviour (2 Kings 14:7; 2 Chronicles 25:11-12; 2 Chronicles 25:14), although that in itself may have been made possible as a result of a previous invasion of Edom by external powers in accordance with Obadiah’s prophecy. Those who support this view point to the fact that Jeremiah 49:7-22 appears to have called on the prophecy of Obadiah, favouring an earlier date for Obadiah, which would also tie in with Obadiah’s placing relatively early on among the twelve minor prophets.

Others favour 4). and 5). with the idea that Edom took advantage of the Babylonian invasions in order to grab land in the south of Judah (Ezekiel 35:10. See also Ezekiel 25:12 and Lamentations 4:21), and no doubt in order to obtain more slaves, and were themselves subsequently invaded by Arabs and then by Nabataeans (in 600 BC the governor of Ezion-geber was still an Edomite. By the late 6th century Arab names had become more and more prominent). Were we to take this view an early date in the exilic period (say around 580 BC) would appear to fit the bill.

Fortunately the overall meaning and significance of the prophecy is not affected by whichever view we take.


The book may be divided up into a as follows:

· Introduction (verse 1).

· YHWH’s sentence on Edom (verses 2-4).

· They will be expelled from Edom by those who appeared to be their friends (verses 5-9).

· The reason for that invasion from YHWH’s viewpoint - her perfidy towards Judah (verses 10-14).

· The coming of the Day of YHWH which will bring about judgement on Edom and the nations and the final vindication of God’s people (verses 15-21).

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