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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible
Obadiah 1

 

 

Verse 1

The Announcement of the judgment, Obadiah 1:1-9.

1. The prophecy has two titles: (1) “The vision of Obadiah”; (2) “Thus saith the Lord Jehovah concerning Edom” (compare Nahum 1:1). The first is the title of the whole book, supplied either by the prophet himself or, what seems more probable, by the collector of the Minor Prophets. The second, which is intimately connected with what follows, contains the opening words of the prophet’s denunciation of Edom, which serve at the same time as an introduction to the quotation from the more ancient oracle (see p. 291), the quotation itself beginning with “We have heard.” The first title gives only the name of the author, and this is all we know concerning him (see on Obadiah 1:20).

Vision — The use of this word, like that of the verb to see, goes back to the period when the ecstatic vision was a common method of receiving the divine truth. It signifies properly that which appears before the mental eye of the prophet during a trance; but in the greater part of the Old Testament the word is used in a wider sense of all prophetic perception of divine truth, whatever the process. Here, as in other places, it is used in a still wider sense, as the heading of an entire prophetic book (Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1; Nab. Obadiah 1:1; compare 1 Chronicles 21:9).

Obadiah — See Introduction, p. 286.

Thus saith the Lord Jehovah — A common formula claiming divine authority for a prophetic message. It is clear, however, that no theory concerning the manner in which the truth was made known can be based upon the use of the verb say. Like see, it has a narrower and a wider meaning, and in the prophetic books it is used in the wider sense (see on vision).

Concerning Edom — Directly or indirectly the entire book deals with Edom (see on Amos 1:11). In bitter resentment the prophet announces her doom, and while rejoicing in the downfall of Edom he glories in the future exaltation of the people of God.

Now follows the quotation from the earlier oracle, which Obadiah applies to his own period (see p. 291).

We have heard — The parallel passage in Jeremiah 49:14, reads, “I have heard.” Which is the original, it may be difficult to decide, and it matters little. In one case the author speaks as an individual, in the other he identifies himself with his countrymen.

Rumor — R.V., “tidings”; literally, that which is heard (Isaiah 28:9; Isaiah 53:1).

The tidings are those revealed by Jehovah to his people, in order to prepare them for impending emergencies (Amos 3:7). The rest of Obadiah 1:1 gives the contents of the tidings. It has commonly been interpreted as meaning that Jehovah communicates a message to his people, and that at the same time he dispatches a herald to the surrounding nations with a similar message, to stir them up against Edom. Against this interpretation two objections may be raised: (1) It finds no support in the rest of the prophecy; (2) It takes unwarranted liberty with the text (see below). The difficulties vanish if a different meaning is given to 1b. Jehovah sends to his people a message which reveals to them that an ambassador has been sent by Edom to the surrounding nations to persuade them to join Edom in a sudden attack upon Judah.

This interpretation does complete justice to the language, and it may enable us to fix, approximately at least, the date of the earlier prophecy. The closing years of Jehoash were troublesome times for Judah; Hazael of Syria threatened Jerusalem, and in order to save the city Jehoash paid an enormous tribute (2 Kings 12:17 ff.). Dissatisfaction arose in the capital, and a revolt broke out which resulted in the king’s death. These internal disturbances would be an opportune moment for a foreign invasion, and Edom, the long-time enemy, would quickly recognize it. It is worthy of note that immediately following the statement that Amaziah established himself upon the throne and punished the murderers of his father, 2 Kings 14:7, continues, “He slew of Edom in the Valley of Salt ten thousand, and took Sela by war.” Might not the severity of the king be explained by the discovery of a plot such as is alluded to in Obadiah 1:1?

And… is sent — An object clause depending on “we have heard tidings”; a better rendering would be “that… is sent” (G.-K., 157a).

Ambassador — Or, herald. He was sent to stir up the nations to war.

Heathen — Better, R.V., “nations”; a designation of all nations outside of Israel.

Arise ye, and let us rise up — These words are not to be understood as giving both the appeal of the herald, “Arise ye,” and the reply of the nations, “and (or, yea) let us rise up.” The entire sentence belongs to the herald; he urges the nations to rise, and then, associating the power he represents with them, he calls out, “Yea, let us rise” (compare Jeremiah 49:14, where the second verb is omitted).

Against her — Ordinarily interpreted as referring to Edom; if so, the feminine form of the pronoun is peculiar, since “the writer always uses the masculine in referring to Edom.” Some remove the peculiarity by changing the form of the pronoun; it seems better, however, to interpret the pronoun as referring to Judah (see above). True, Judah is not mentioned by name, while Edom is; but it must be remembered that this is a quotation removed from its context, in which the name may have been found.

In Obadiah 1:2 Jehovah appears as the speaker. Having revealed to his people the conspiracy of Edom, he comforts them by assuring them that the scheme cannot succeed, since he has resolved to take the part of Judah against Edom.

Behold — Calls attention to the denunciation contained in Obadiah 1:2-9.

I have made thee small — A prophetic perfect. Jehovah has already decided upon the humiliation of Edom, and this decision makes the result as certain as if it had already been accomplished.

Thou art greatly despised — Also a prophetic perfect. When Edom’s glory is brought low she will be despised by the other nations.

Among the heathen — R.V., “nations”; which she sought to stir up against Judah (Obadiah 1:7).

Greatly Jeremiah 49:15, reads “among men,” which would give perfect parallelism with “among the nations.” Here Jeremiah may have preserved the original; the Obadiah reading may be due to a later corruption.

Calvin, Pusey, and others favor a different interpretation of Obadiah 1:2. They think that the tenses refer to the past. The divine providence assigned to Edom a humble position among the nations of the earth, but in their pride (Obadiah 1:3) the Edomites exalted themselves contrary to Jehovah’s purpose; therefore Jehovah must bring them down (Obadiah 1:4). The first interpretation seems preferable.


Verses 1-16

THE UTTER DESTRUCTION OF EDOM, Obadiah 1:1-16.

Edom’s hostility against Judah has become so bitter that Jehovah can no longer endure the ill treatment of his people; he therefore decrees the downfall of the house of Esau (Obadiah 1:1-2). Nothing can save; natural defenses, allies, men of wisdom and might will be unable to avert the doom (Obadiah 1:3-9). The measure of Edom’s guilt was filled to the brim at the time of Jerusalem’s calamity (Obadiah 1:10-14). The day of Jehovah will be a day of terror to all nations, but especially to the people of Edom (Obadiah 1:15-16).


Verse 3-4

3, 4. It was the pride and arrogance of Edom that caused her to scheme against the people of Jehovah. This arrogance was based very largely upon the almost impregnable position of the Edomite strongholds; but, says Jehovah, these natural defenses will not be able to withstand the divine attacks.

Pride — Not the rock-castles, though these furnished the basis for the pride. For the sake of emphasis the subject is, contrary to common Hebrew usage, placed first.

Clefts of the rock — The word translated “rock” — Hebrews sela’ — might be understood as a proper noun, Sela, which is the name of the ancient capital of Edom, changed at a later time to Petra, a word of similar import. If so, the reference would be to the rock-hewn dwellings of the capital. “Sela was situated on either side of a deep ravine, which runs winding like a stream through precipitous and overhanging cliffs for a distance of not less than a mile and a half. The cliffs are honeycombed with caverns, and in these caverns, reached by artificial means of access, the Edomites dwelt” (compare Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, article “Sela”). It is more probable, however, that the allusion is to the rocky features of the entire country.

Who shall bring me down to the ground? — To the proud Edomites their position seemed impregnable; they might laugh at every attempt to displace them. “The great strength of a position such as Sela’s was shown during the war of the independence of Greece, in the case of the monastery of Megaspelion, which was situated, like Sela, on the face of a precipice. Ibrahim Pasha was unable to bring its defenders down by assault from below or above, and though ungarrisoned it baffled his utmost efforts.” The failure of the natural strongholds of Edom to protect the inhabitants would bring out more prominently the irresistible power of Jehovah (Jeremiah 49:16).


Verse 4

4. No human expedient can prevent the execution of the divine purpose.

Though thou exalt thyself — R.V., “Though thou mount on high.” The verb is transitive, and the object “thy nest” should be supplied: “Though thou place high thy nest as the eagle” (so Jeremiah 49:16). The eagle builds his nest in places almost inaccessible to men, but God can reach it; and though the nests of the Edomites should be among the stars, Jehovah will find it easy to bring them down (Amos 9:2; compare Job 20:6-7; Isaiah 14:13).


Verse 5-6

In Obadiah 1:5-6 the prophet pictures the completeness of the destruction by a comparison of the calamity to come with familiar experiences.

Thieves… robbers… grape-gatherers — R.V. brings out the thought more satisfactorily by reading the first question of Obadiah 1:5, “would they not steal only till they had enough?” The second reads, “would they not leave some gleaning grapes?” Thieves and robbers, it is true, take and carry off whatever they can lay their hands on; but when they have satisfied their desire they go away leaving some things behind. In a similar manner grape-gatherers do not pick every single berry or grape; with (Leviticus 9:10; Deuteronomy 24:21) or without intention they leave some gleanings. Not so Edom’s conqueror; he will leave behind nothing but waste and desolation.

How art thou cut off! — A parenthetical exclamation by the prophet, forced from him by the awful character of the judgment, which, in his prophetic vision, he sees already accomplished.

How are the things of Esau searched out! — Literally, How are they searched out, Esau! An expression of amazement at the completeness of the ruin. Every corner of Edom will be searched thoroughly and the plunder will be carried off.

Hidden things — R.V., “hidden treasures.”

The treasures stored in the treasure houses hewn in the rock in inaccessible places. These hiding places will be discovered and the treasures will be taken away as booty. Edom will be completely despoiled (Jeremiah 49:9).


Verse 7

Obadiah 1:7 takes us back to Obadiah 1:1. There we are told that Edom attempted to instigate a conspiracy against Judah; Obadiah 1:7 states that her attempts will be futile; the allies in which she puts her trust will prove her ruin. The erroneous interpretation of Obadiah 1:1 (see above) is responsible for many wild statements concerning the meaning of Obadiah 1:7; if the interpretation suggested above is accepted the difficulties vanish. There certainly is no reason for separating Obadiah 1:7 from the preceding verses; Obadiah 1:1-9 form one continuous oracle.

All the men of thy confederacy — Those who joined or were expected to join the confederacy planned by Edom (Obadiah 1:1); hence identical with “the nations” (Obadiah 1:1).

Have brought thee even to the border — R.V., “on thy way, even to the border”; margin, “have driven thee out.” This marginal reading is accepted by several recent writers, and the driving out of the Edomites is interpreted of their expulsion from their borders by Arab tribes during the sixth or fifth century B.C. Others understand the words as signifying that the allies sent “their troops with them as far as the frontier and then ordered them to turn back.” Neither view is correct. The meaning is rather that the ambassadors whom Edom had sent to negotiate the alliance, and who thus represented the nation, were sent back to the frontier with due respect and ceremonies, with fair speeches and pleasing promises. In reality not one of the nations cared to entangle herself in such an alliance.

The men that were at peace with thee — The surrounding nations; identical with “men of thy confederacy” and “the nations” (Obadiah 1:1). The Edomites expected to experience no difficulty in persuading their friendly neighbors to join the conspiracy.

Have deceived thee — By making fair promises when they had no intention of keeping them.

Prevailed against thee — Standing by itself this expression might mean that “these very nations with whom they have hitherto been on terms of amity and peace shall turn their forces against them and prevail.” But this is not the meaning in this passage.

Jeremiah 38:22, offers a good parallel. There R.V. margin reads, “The men of thy peace (the identical expression) have deceived thee, and have prevailed over thee: now that thy feet are sunk in the mire, they are turned away back.” The meaning of this passage is that the false advisers got the king into trouble and then left him to his fate. This is the thought of Obadiah. The nations made fair promises and thus encouraged the scheme of Edom; they overcame any scruples or hesitancy on the part of the latter; but when the real crisis arrives Edom will have to fight her battles alone.

They that eat thy bread have laid a wound under thee — R.V., “lay a snare under thee”; literally, thy bread they lay a snare under thee. A very difficult and much-discussed expression. Following the rather free renderings of A.V. and R.V., it is commonly interpreted in the sense that those who are bound to the Edomites by sacred ties of hospitality will make a treacherous assault upon them. Keil translates, “They make thy bread a wound under thee,” but his interpretation closely resembles the one just given (see below). Nowack considers the case hopeless, while other recent writers have suggested more or less radical emendations. Thus Marti reads, “they will settle in thy place”; Winckler, “thy flesh they will devour, thy sustenance they will take away.” Cheyne substitutes proper names in accord with his peculiar Yerachmeelite theory. The difference of opinion among scholars is due to uncertainty with regard to two points. In the first place, it is not certain what part of the sentence is “thy bread”; in the next, the meaning of masor cannot be fully determined. Does it mean snare or wound? Evidently “thy bread” is not the subject of the verb, for the former is in the singular while the latter is in the plural. Hence Keil takes it to be the first object of the verb. Then he continues: “And consequently the subject of the previous clause still continues in force: they who befriended thee make thy bread, that is, the bread which they ate from thee or with thee, into a wound under thee, that is, an occasion for destroying thee.” Recognizing the need of a more lucid interpretation, he adds: “We have not to think of common meals of hospitality here,… but the words are to be taken figuratively, after the analogy of Psalms 41:10, which floated before the prophet’s mind,… as denoting conspiracies on the part of those who were allied to Edom, and drew their own sustenance from it, the rich trading nation, to destroy that very nation.” Keil thus understands masor to mean “wound,” and for this he finds support in such passages as Hosea 5:13; Jeremiah 30:13; compare Isaiah 1:6. Others supply from the preceding clause only “men,” and combining this with “thy bread” read. “men of thy bread” — that is, men who have eaten bread with thee and thus are bound to thee by the sacred ties of hospitality; or, men who draw their sustenance from thee (so A.V. and R.V.). Hitzig reaches the same result by supplying a participial form, “they that eat thy bread.” Whatever rendering we may give to the Hebrew, the expression remains peculiar. A smoother reading is offered by LXX., which omits the first troublesome word entirely, carries the subject over from the preceding clause, and translates masor “snare,” giving to it a meaning not found elsewhere in the Old Testament. Following the LXX. we may read, “The men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee, and have prevailed against thee; they have placed a snare under thee.”

Ordinary intelligence should have recognized the deception, but Edom was blind; hence the exclamation,

There is none understanding in him — That is, in Edom (masculine throughout, see on Obadiah 1:1). This does not mean, “in consequence of the calamity which thus bursts upon the Edomites they lose their wonted discernment, and know neither what to do nor how to help themselves”; nor is it equivalent to “all this is caused by thy want of understanding”; it is simply an exclamation of amazement that the Edomites should fail to see the evident deception. The change in the same address from the second person to the third is not uncommon in Hebrew prophecy, and in the present case it is quite natural, since the exclamation is not addressed directly to Edom, nor to anyone else in particular.


Verse 8

In Obadiah 1:8 the prophet explains the lack of wisdom. Jehovah will cause the wise men to cease. This thought is expressed by a rhetorical question, equivalent to Surely I will destroy.

In that day — The day in which the events recorded in Obadiah 1:7 will take place.

Destroy the wise men — This threat is not to be understood as meaning that the wise men will suffer death, but that they will be destroyed as wise men; in other words, their wisdom and understanding will be withdrawn. As a result they will be unable to discover the schemes of “the nations,” or give counsel to their own rulers. For the sake of emphasis the same thought is repeated.

Understanding — Or, discernment; the power to see and estimate things correctly.

Mount of Esau — Mount Seir. After the occupation of the territory southeast of the Dead Sea by the descendants of Esau the two names came to be used interchangeably. Some commentators seem to think that the parallel passage in Jeremiah 49 shows no acquaintance with this verse. It is quite probable, however, that Jeremiah 49:7, reflects the thought of this passage (compare Isaiah 19:3; Isaiah 19:11; Isaiah 29:14). Eliphaz, one of Job’s “wise” friends, was an Edomite (Job 2:11); and later traditions seem to imply that the Edomites boasted in the possession of special wisdom. In presenting a list of nations claiming extraordinary wisdom, Baruch 3:22, says, “The Agarenes that seek wisdom upon earth, the merchants of Meran and Teman, the authors of fables and the seekers out of understanding, none of these have known the way of wisdom, or remember her paths.”


Verse 9

9. Mighty men — Warriors. When they realize at last that they have been entrapped, that wisdom and discernment have taken their flight, the warriors will lose heart, and the result will be the complete undoing of Edom.

O Teman — The change to the direct address adds force and intensity to the threat. On Teman see comment on Amos 1:12.

By slaughter — Ordinarily this is taken to refer to the slaughter to be inflicted upon Edom by her enemies; but according to the above interpretation there is nothing in this section (compare 17ff.) to indicate that the overthrow of Edom will be wrought by her enemies — Jehovah himself will strike the blow. Hence Ewald suggested the translation “without battle,” which is grammatically possible but makes an extremely weak conclusion of the threat. It seems better to carry the word over to Obadiah 1:10 (so LXX., Peshitto, Vulgate). The preposition is the same as that before “violence” in Obadiah 1:10, so that “for slaughter” might be read instead of “by slaughter,” the two together “for slaughter, for the violence done… ,” or even “for the slaughter and violence done”; the two words indicating two causes of the judgment to come. Keil objects to this change on the ground that, if adopted, the stronger and more specific term would precede the weaker and more general. In this Nowack agrees with Keil, and he gets out of the difficulty by rejecting “for slaughter” as a marginal gloss to “for violence,” “originating with a reader to whom the latter expression did not appear pointed enough” (so also Marti). However, the objection of Keil is not well founded, and the omissions suggested by the other two commentators mentioned are arbitrary. It is not true that the stronger and more specific term precedes the weaker and more general; the two words refer to two distinct crimes, of which the second, according to Jewish conceptions, was the more serious. Obadiah 1:10-14 evidently refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 (see p. 288). In this calamity the afflictions of Israel were twofold: on the one hand, they suffered personal losses; on the other, their sanctuary was desecrated and destroyed. The author of Psalms 137 seems to be concerned with the religious afflictions; and the deep feeling manifesting itself in his imprecations was undoubtedly due to the fact that the religious losses were to him of far greater consequence than any temporal privations. Of the two expressions in this passage “slaughter” may well stand for the personal wrongs suffered, “violence” for the wrongs done to the religious life and institutions. Of these the second was felt more keenly than the former; therefore the order of the words is perfectly natural.


Verse 10

10. Violence — As already stated (see on Obadiah 1:9), “slaughter” (Obadiah 1:9) should be connected with “violence”; the one referring to personal suffering, the other to the violence done to religious customs and institutions.

Thy brother Jacob — Throughout the entire Old Testament the ancestor of the Israelites, Jacob, and the ancestor of the Edomites, Esau, are regarded as brothers. The reference to this intimate relationship makes the crime appear in even more glaring colors (see on Amos 1:11). The origin of the hostility between the two is traced to the time of their birth (Genesis 25:25-26; compare Genesis 27:41). From the ancestors the hostility apparently descended upon their posterity; at any rate, the history of the two nations is marked by repeated outbreaks of hostility (for example, Numbers 20; Amos 1:11). The fact that the Israelites are urged repeatedly to observe a friendly and brotherly attitude toward Edom (Deuteronomy 2:4-5; Deuteronomy 23:7) may indicate that the natural tendency of Israel was not in the direction of returning good for evil.

Shame — Or, disgrace.

Cover — A picture of abundance. The disgrace will seem the greater because of the former boastfulness.

Shalt be cut off — The punishment is described here in its ultimate completeness; it is described more fully in Obadiah 1:15 ff.

In Obadiah 1:11-14 the prophet proceeds to describe in greater detail the crimes of Edom. In the calamity that befell the people of Jehovah the Edomites proved themselves as hostile as the more active enemies. They manifested their hostility by maliciously rejoicing in the misfortune of Judah (Obadiah 1:12), by committing acts of robbery (Obadiah 1:12), and by cutting down fugitive Jews (Obadiah 1:14).

In the day that thou stoodest on the other side — The next clause shows that this is the day of the calamity of Jerusalem. “Stoodest on the other side” might possibly refer to neutrality; they stood by idly when they should have rendered assistance to their brother. The context, however, favors a different interpretation; they stood on the side of the enemies, in a spirit of hostility, not neutrality (2 Samuel 18:13).

Even thou wast as one of them — Though, at least in the beginning, not taking an active part in destroying and plundering the city and the people, the Edomites manifested the same hostile spirit, and therefore were as culpable as the “strangers” who did the actual work.

Strangers… foreigners — The Chaldeans and their allies in the expedition against Judah in 588-586.

Carried away… his forces — R.V., “his substance”; the forces or substance of Jacob. Since the verb is literally, carry into exile, and is used but rarely of the carrying away of booty, the reference may be to the carrying into exile of the military forces and of the inhabitants of the land, rather than to the carrying away of the spoil.

Entered into his gates — The gates of Jacob, which cannot be limited to the gates of Jerusalem. The prophet means the gates of all the cities of Jacob; the enemies overran the whole land. The next sentence speaks of the calamity that befell Jerusalem.

Cast lots upon Jerusalem — The city and its inhabitants and contents. The lots were cast for the purpose of dividing the spoil among the captors (see on Joel 3:3; compare Amos 7:17).

If A.V. could be followed in the translation of the tenses in Obadiah 1:12-14 the interpretation of these verses would be an easy task; the verses would then be an expansion of the condemnation contained in Obadiah 1:11. R.V., however, changes the translation, following more closely the Hebrew, so that Obadiah 1:12-14 are made to contain a series of warnings addressed to the Edomites. These warnings have created much difficulty for interpreters (see, for example, p. 290); however, if the verses are assigned to the proper historical situation the case becomes less complicated. Obadiah 1:11 evidently speaks of events connected with the destruction of Jerusalem, probably events of the recent past. But the humiliation of Judah was not the work of a single day. Jeremiah 41 makes it plain that for several months there were outbreaks of hostility against the small community left behind under Gedaliah. If the delivery of the oracle is placed in the period following the sack of the city by the Chaldeans, during the months or even years in which the Ammonites and other surrounding nations continued to harass the Jews, the interpretation becomes less difficult. In deep emotion the prophet beholds the continued hostility of Edom; the reference to past crimes (Obadiah 1:11) rouses him still more; and moved by righteous indignation he warns the Edomites to abstain from further crimes, giving as one reason the fact that by persisting in wrongdoing they will only increase the severity of their judgment (Obadiah 1:15-16).

Marti, who dates the verses in the fifth century, explains the warnings by saying that the author transposed himself in thought in the midst of the calamity, though in reality it was a thing of the past; and he holds that the practical force of the warnings is similar to that implied in the rendering of the A.V. This interpretation, however, seems less natural than the one suggested above.

The comments on Obadiah 1:12-14 are based upon the translation of R.V. The warnings in these verses proceed from the lower to the higher. The prophet warns Edom “not to rejoice in Judah’s troubles (Obadiah 1:12), nor to make common cause with the conquerors (Obadiah 1:13), nor to outdo and complete the work of the enemy (Obadiah 1:14).” A climax may be noticed also within Obadiah 1:12.

Look not — The Hebrew construction implies the idea of looking with pleasure and satisfaction — take delight in.

Rejoice not — An advance over the preceding; to give expression to the delight.

Speak proudly — Literally, make thy mouth great, in contempt and derision. This marks the climax. It “may refer either to proud, boastful words, or to mocking grimaces and contortions of the mouth.”

The day of thy brother — The day when the calamities mentioned in Obadiah 1:11 fell upon Jerusalem (compare Psalms 137:7, “the day of Jerusalem”). The other three clauses describe the day more definitely.

The day of his disaster — The Hebrew word translated disaster occurs only here; a similar word is used in Job 31:3, in the same sense. Both come from the same root from which is derived the word foreigner (Obadiah 1:11); hence the primary meaning of the word would seem to be “treatment such as is accorded to a stranger,” which in many cases would be cruel and unjust, or “treatment which makes of a person a stranger.” The expression used here may mean either “the day on which he received cruel treatment” or “the day on which he was made a stranger by being carried into exile.”

The day of their destruction — Or, undoing. A stronger term than the preceding.

Distress — The deplorable condition subsequent to the fall of the city.

In Obadiah 1:13 the prophet warns Edom not to make common cause with the conquerors who are plundering the city and state. Again the prophet presents the warning in the form of a climax, to enter in, to look upon, to seize.

The gate of my people Gate — city (Micah 1:9); here evidently Jerusalem.

In the day of their calamity — Repeated three times for the sake of emphasis, to indicate the greatness of the calamity, and at the same time to call attention to the greater crime of Edom, “since it is precisely at the time of a brother’s calamity that such treachery and malicious joy is doubly culpable.”

Yea, look not thou — Literally, look not thou, even thou. The emphasis is on the pronoun. “A brother should be the last to gloat over the misfortunes of a brother” (see on Amos 1:11).

Neither lay ye hands on their substance — Do not join the foreign robbers in plundering the city (compare Obadiah 1:11, where the same noun is used).

In Obadiah 1:14 the prophet reaches the climax. He warns them against seizing Jewish fugitives to murder them or deliver them up to their enemies.

Stand thou not in the crossway — The place where one or more roads meet, or where one road divides into two or more. There the greatest number of fugitives could be seized.

To cut off — Not merely to cut off their escape, but to murder them after they had escaped from the general slaughter.

Deliver not up — To the enemy from whom they had escaped. The allusion may be to fugitives who took refuge in Edom.


Verses 10-14

Causes of the judgment, Obadiah 1:10-14.

In Obadiah 1:10 the prophet who gave to the book its present form begins to speak. In the contents of Obadiah 1:1-9 he saw a message suitable to his own age; and since it expressed his own thoughts in a vivid and forceful manner, he adopted it for his own use. But the causes responsible for the threat at the earlier period were probably not the same as those which led him to proclaim the same judgment. The latter grew out of his own present historical situation; hence he must set them forth in his own language. This he does in 10ff., beginning (verse Obadiah 1:10) with the general statement that the judgment is made necessary by the hostility of Edom toward Judah, which statement is followed by a reiteration of the previous threat. In Obadiah 1:11-14 he describes in greater detail the crimes of Edom.


Verse 15-16

The terrors of the day of Jehovah, Obadiah 1:15-16.

In Obadiah 1:10 the prophet announces judgment upon the Edomites for their ill treatment of Judah; in Obadiah 1:11 he describes in greater detail their wrongdoings; in 12-14 he warns them to abstain from further violence. These warnings he backs up in Obadiah 1:15-16 by calling attention to the day of Jehovah, when Edom and all other enemies of Jehovah will receive their just dues.

For — Connects with Obadiah 1:14 more directly than with Obadiah 1:9.

The day of Jehovah is near upon all the heathen — R.V., “all the nations.” Edom is joined here with the other enemies of Jehovah; but 15b sets her apart again from the rest. Though the transition from 15a to 15b is abrupt there is insufficient reason for rejecting the latter as out of harmony with the former. The seeming difficulty may be removed by regarding 15b as an attempt on the part of the prophet to emphasize the special guilt of the Edomites, which might possibly be overlooked, were they not singled out for condemnation. In a sense, therefore, 15b is a parenthetical clause.

Day of Jehovah — See on Joel 1:15.

As thou hast done — The latter part of Obadiah 1:15 lays down the basis of recompense, the lex talionis (compare Ezekiel 35:15; Psalms 137:8; see on Joel 3:7). This idea is continued, in somewhat different form, in Obadiah 1:16. “With what measure ye mete, it shall be measured unto you.”

The interpretation of Obadiah 1:16 depends upon the determination as to who are the persons addressed with you. 1. Are they Edomites? “As ye Edomites have drunk in triumphant revelry and carousal on my holy mountain, rejoicing with unhallowed joy over its destruction, so shall (ye and) all the nations drink continually the wine of God’s wrath and indignation.” 2. Are they the Jews? “As ye have drunk (who are) upon my holy mountain; as even you who are my chosen people, and inhabit the mountain consecrated by my presence, have not escaped the cup of my wrath, so all the nations shall drink of that same cup, not with a passing salutary draught as you have done, but with a continuous swallowing down, till they have wrung out the dregs thereof and been brought to nothing by their consuming power.” Against the first and in support of the second interpretation it is urged: (1) The former would necessitate a change of meaning in drink; in the first sentence it would have to be understood literally, in the second figuratively. (2) In other parts of the book Edom is addressed in the singular, here in the plural. (3) The Edomites are a part of “all the nations” (15a); it would be peculiar to have them separated in Obadiah 1:16 (15b is of a different nature). (4) “The contrast between the Edomites reveling upon Mount Zion and the nations drinking the cup of Jehovah’s wrath gives no sense.” (5) It is also urged that the second interpretation alone does justice to continually “by virtue of the contrast which it suggests between the Jews for whom the bitter draught was only temporary, for amendment and not for destruction, and the heathen who were to drink on until they perished.” (6) The parallel passage (see, however, p. 291) in Jeremiah 49:12 (compare Jeremiah 25:15-29; Lamentations 4:21-22) is also quoted in support. But the second interpretation is by no means free from difficulties: (1) The rendering, “As ye have drunk who are upon my holy mountain,” is grammatically impossible; “upon my holy mountain” belongs to “as ye have drunk.” This objection, however, is valid only against the above-mentioned translation of the passage; a proper translation might remove the difficulty. (2) Throughout the whole prophecy Edom seems to be addressed, never the people of Judah directly. (3) The parallelism with “even as thou hast done,” referring to Edom (Obadiah 1:15), favors the first view. (4) The meaning which Jeremiah gives to the passage cannot determine the meaning of Obadiah. If the two passages are dependent the one on the other, which is by no means certain (p. 291), the borrower evidently took considerable liberty with the passage borrowed, and he may have gone so far as to alter the original meaning. On the whole, the first interpretation seems to be the more natural. It is in more perfect accord with the context, and it gives to the expression “drunk upon my holy mountain” its natural meaning. The use of drink in a twofold sense is not a serious objection; on the contrary, such change would be striking, and thus would add force to the prophetic message. The word continually would not lose its significance. Abrupt transitions from singular to plural, or plural to singular, are not uncommon in prophetic literature; and in this case the change may easily be accounted for by assuming that the prophet desired to include, in thought at least, all the nations. This assumption is supported by the fact that in Obadiah 1:15-16 the Edomites and the other nations are thought of as intimately associated, both in oppressing Judah and in enduring the judgment. For these reasons we may consider the words addressed to the Edomites, and by implication to all the nations.

As ye have drunk — There is nothing improbable in the thought that the Edomites joined the destroyers in carousals and revelry to celebrate the downfall of the Jewish nation and the capture of the city, and that they did this on the temple mountain.

My holy mountain — See on Joel 2:1.

So shall all the heathen [“nations”] drink — All who have manifested hostility toward the chosen people of God must drink the cup of the divine wrath.

Continually — “So that the turn to drink never passes from the nations to Judah” (Isaiah 51:22-23).

Swallow down — R.V. margin, “talk foolishly.” Of these the former is to be preferred. They will be compelled to empty the cup to the bottom.

A figurative description of the severity and completeness of the judgment. The result will be utter destruction for the nations that have been the enemies of Jehovah and of his people.


Verses 17-21

The exaltation of the Jews, Obadiah 1:17-21.

The judgment upon the nations is accompanied and followed by the restoration and glorification of Zion (compare Joel 2:32 ff.). The prophet’s hope of the future embraces four elements: (1) the restoration of the remnant (Obadiah 1:17); (2) the annihilation of Edom (Obadiah 1:18); (3) the expansion of the territory of the Jews (Obadiah 1:19-20); (4) the supremacy of Jehovah (Obadiah 1:21).

Obadiah 1:17 a is rendered more accurately in R.V., “But in mount Zion there shall be those that escape, and it shall be holy.” For the interpretation of the first clause see on Joel 2:32. The nations are to be destroyed (16); even some Jews seem to be doomed, but not all; a remnant consisting of the loyal sons of Jehovah shall be saved (see on Amos 9:9).

It — Mount Zion.

Shall be holy — Literally, holiness; the noun is used instead of the adjective for the sake of emphasis (G.-K., 141c). The nations that defiled the temple mount (Obadiah 1:16) having been destroyed, it will be consecrated to Jehovah, who sanctifies it by his presence; no unclean stranger will be allowed to pass through it and defile it again (Joel 3:17).

The house of Jacob — Identical with “those that escape.” Since the prophetic expectation includes a reunion of Judah and Israel at the time of the restoration (Hosea 1:11; Ezekiel 37:15 ff.; Zechariah 10:6, etc.), “house of Jacob” must include all Hebrews, whether of Israel or of Judah, who pass through the crisis unhurt (compare Obadiah 1:18).

Shall possess their possessions — Not the possessions of Edom and of the nations, which is promised in Obadiah 1:18-19, but their own former possessions (Obadiah 1:20) which, through their sin, they had lost in 721 and 586. The restoration of the exiles to the promised land is considered by all prophets the first step toward the realization of the felicity of the new kingdom of God.

Vocalizing the last word somewhat differently, LXX. renders “and the house of Jacob will possess those who possessed them,” that is, those who formerly robbed the Jews of their possessions. Several modern commentators accept this as original, but, since this thought is the burden of Obadiah 1:18-19, the above interpretation of Obadiah 1:17 is to be preferred.


Verse 18

18. The restored exiles will execute vengeance upon Edom. Several times the prophet has made it plain that Jehovah will destroy Edom; but, if the above suggested interpretation of Obadiah 1:1 is correct, he has failed to state thus far how it is to be accomplished. This lack he supplies in Obadiah 1:18, where he names the executors of the divine purpose.

House of Jacob… house of Joseph — Though common usage may be urged against it, the context seems to require that the former should be interpreted as referring to the southern kingdom, the latter to the kingdom of the ten tribes. The two will become reunited at the time of the restoration (Hosea 1:11; Ezekiel 37:15 ff.; Isaiah 11:13-14), and will be used by Jehovah as instruments of judgment (Zechariah 9:13).

Fire,… flame — The figure is based upon devastation wrought by prairie and forest fires, which are not uncommon in Palestine during the dry season (see on Joel 1:19; compare Isaiah 5:24; Isaiah 10:17).

Stubble — Which is readily devoured by the flames. The destruction will be so complete that no one will survive.

Jehovah hath spoken it — Therefore nothing can prevent the carrying out of the threat (Joel 3:8).

The remaining verses of Obadiah present grave difficulties, and the details of interpretation are more or less uncertain. However, the general thought seems to be that Israel, having destroyed Edom, will enter upon an era of prosperity and territorial expansion. This expansion is made necessary by the large number of restored exiles. The old territory of Judah cannot hold them; they overflow in every direction. Lack of space forbids the consideration of the different translations, emendations, and interpretations proposed; all that can be done here is to point the way to the most probable interpretation.

An examination of Obadiah 1:19 and a comparison of it with LXX. and with Joshua 15:20 ff., where the divisions of the territory occupied by Judah are named, leads to the following observations: 1. The verbs in Obadiah 1:19 are in the plural, while the nouns that are ordinarily considered the subjects are in the singular. This creates apparently a difficulty; but construction according to the sense rather than according to strict grammatical rules is not uncommon in the Old Testament (G.-K., 145b), especially when a noun expresses a collective idea. Hence the English translators are undoubtedly correct in making neghebh the subject and rendering it “they of the south,” the inhabitants of the Negeb. 2. The first verb is followed immediately by its subject; after the second verb the subject of the first must be supplied, which results in an unusually heavy and somewhat awkward sentence. 3. LXX. reads after the second verb το ορος, “the mount,” which may be taken as subject in the Greek, and it omits the first, “the field of.” 4. In Joshua 15:20 ff., the territory of Judah is divided into three sections (or four, but the fourth is very small); the first is called “South” or “Negeb” (Obadiah 1:21), the second “Lowland” (33), the third “Hill Country” (48), Hebrews har, which corresponds to the Greek ορος. Bearing in mind these considerations it seems legitimate to emend the text of Obadiah 1:19 so that it will read: “And the Negeb (the inhabitants of the Negeb) shall possess Mount Esau, and the Lowland (shall possess) the Philistines; the Hill Country shall possess (the field of) Ephraim and the field of Samaria, and Benjamin (shall possess) Gilead.”

Negeb — Commonly translated “south.” A geographical term, denoting the southern section of the Central Range of Palestine. It is generally spoken of as extending from south of Beer-sheba to the wilderness of Tih; the Old Testament, however, places its northern border near Hebron. The new inhabitants of this district will expand eastward and occupy the territory of Edom (see on Obadiah 1:18).

Lowland — Hebrews shephelah. Also a geographical term, denoting the low foothills between the Central Range and the Philistine Plain; the inhabitants of this region will spread to the west and southwest and occupy Philistia.

Hill country — That portion of the territory of Judah which covered the Central Range, between the Shephelah and the Jordan valley or the Dead Sea. Its inhabitants will reach northward and claim the territory south of the Plain of Esdraelon, which before 721 had belonged to the northern kingdom, and part of which seems to have fallen to Judah after the deportation of the northern tribes (2 Kings 23:15). Nearly the entire territory here promised to Judah is allotted in Joshua 15 to that tribe. During its national existence Judah never possessed all this territory; here the prophet promises that subsequent to the day of Jehovah it will surely enter upon its possessions; yea, in the south at least, it will go even beyond its ideal borders (compare Genesis 28:14).

Benjamin shall possess Gilead — The popular impression is that Benjamin joined Judah after the division subsequent to the death of Solomon, though 1 Kings 12:20, says, “There was none that followed the house of David, but the tribe of Judah only.” In reality the border line ran through the territory of Benjamin, the greater part belonging to the northern kingdom. Obadiah’s promise is for those Benjamites who allied themselves with Judah. They will share the prosperity of Judah; and while the latter will possess the territory west of the Jordan as far north as the Plain of Esdraelon, the former will receive the entire territory east of the Jordan.

Obadiah 1:20 is another exceedingly difficult verse; it perplexed the English translators, as may be seen from the marginal notes in R.V. Nowack considers the text “hopelessly corrupt,” and his opinion is shared by other commentators. The most probable rendering of the present Hebrew text is offered in R.V. margin, “And the captives of this host of the children of Israel, that are among the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath, and the captives of Jerusalem, that are in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the South (or Negeb).” In Obadiah 1:19 the prophet seems to have in mind the great body of exiles in the far east; but we know that many Jews took refuge among the neighboring nations (Jeremiah 40:11-12). Of two colonies made up of these fugitives the prophet seems to speak in Obadiah 1:20.

Israel,… Jerusalem — Most commentators think that the prophet distinguishes here between the descendants of the exiles coming from the northern kingdom, Israel, and those coming from the south, Judah, called here by the name of its capital, Jerusalem. It is better, however, to understand “Israel” as synonymous with “Jacob” (Obadiah 1:18), denoting the people of Judah; and in distinction from “Jerusalem” the rural population, which scattered before the Chaldean armies. The one company addressed by the prophet is made up of these people, and the other is composed of former inhabitants of the capital.

This host — The force of this is not quite clear, unless we assume that Obadiah is speaking of and to a company of which he himself is a member. To know that the prophet himself was an exile would add interest to his utterances. It has been explained also by assuming that he was addressing a definite company which he desired to comfort on its way into exile.

The land of the Canaanites — Palestine, the prophet seems to think, however, especially of the northern portion, including a part of Phoenicia. There is nothing impossible or improbable in the thought that some of the Jews fled to these regions when they saw the Chaldeans approaching.

Zarephath — In Luke 4:26, R.V. margin, “Sarepta” (compare 1 Kings 17:9-24). At one time a city of considerable size; now an Arabic village called Sarafend, about midway between Tyre and Sidon.

Sepharad — The Targum of Onkelos and many Jewish authorities take Sepharad to mean Spain; hence the name of Spanish Jews, Sephardim, as distinguished from German Jews, who are called Ashkenazim. Keil thinks of Sparta. Most modern commentators identify it with a region in Asia Minor, mentioned several times in Persian inscriptions; Winckler understands the name to be a designation of the whole of Asia Minor. The latter, however, was not subject to the Chaldeans; it was first conquered by Cyrus, and was organized into a satrapy by Darius Hystaspis. If the last-mentioned interpretation is correct the name points to a date subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem; and it is the presence of this name that has led many commentators to give a very late date to the prophecy in its present form. Others identify it with a Shaparda in Media, mentioned in the annals of Sargon. Until new information is brought to light the place mentioned in Obadiah cannot be identified with absolute certainty; nor is it wise to base upon the presence of the name any conclusions as to the date of the prophecy. This uncertainty, however, does not affect the general sense of the utterance, which is that not only the exiles in Babylon but also those scattered throughout other portions of the world shall be brought back to their old homes in the south, from which the invasion of the Chaldeans had driven them. If this is the right interpretation of Obadiah 1:20 its logical position would be before Obadiah 1:18.

An entirely different meaning is given to the verse by the translators of A.V., which agrees, in part at least, with R.V. They give to it the meaning that the first company of exiles named will come into possession of northern Palestine, including a part of Phoenicia, while the second will occupy the southern portion, the two together the entire promised land. Certainty cannot be had; the probability is that the text has suffered.


Verse 21

21. With the enemies destroyed and the exiles restored, a life of permanent peace and prosperity will begin under the rule of earthly representatives of the Divine King.

Saviours — The same name is given to the champions raised up by Jehovah during the period preceding the establishment of the monarchy (Judges 2:16; Judges 3:9; Judges 3:15, etc.). Nothing is said of the character and nature of these Messianic saviours; their types are the “saviours” of the Book of Judges, and in its general aspects their work may have been expected to resemble that of the latter.

Judge — Rule (see on Amos 2:3). The saviours will rule on Mount Zion, the center of the kingdom of God during the Messianic age (Obadiah 1:17; Isaiah 2:2-4), but their sway will extend beyond the borders of Judah. The territory of Edom, which will be in the possession of the restored exiles (Obadiah 1:19), will be a part of the dominion of these “saviours”; but it should be noted that they will not rule over the Edomites, for they are annihilated (Obadiah 1:18).

To this climax the prophet has been moving steadily from the beginning; the arrogance and unrighteous schemes of the Edomites (Obadiah 1:1) will result in their own annihilation, and in the annexation of their territory by the despised Jews. The “saviours” in this verse correspond to the “Messianic king” of other prophetic utterances.

The kingdom shall be Jehovah’s — Over these “saviours” Jehovah will be the supreme ruler; the expression of his purpose will be supreme law, obedience and loyalty to him will be the chief ambition. With reference to the Messianic significance of Obadiah 1:21 and the fulfillment of the Messianic expectations see the remarks on Micah 4:5, and at the close of chapter 5.

 


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Bibliography Information
Whedon, Daniel. "Commentary on Obadiah 1:4". "Whedon's Commentary on the Bible". https://www.studylight.org/commentaries/whe/obadiah-1.html. 1874-1909.

Lectionary Calendar
Tuesday, October 22nd, 2019
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29
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