Old Testament Survey - Lesson 33

Obadiah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah

Obadiah's message centers on judgment against Edom and the exaltation of Israel, reflecting deep-seated animosity between the two nations. Habakkuk grapples with the problem of evil and God's silence in the face of wickedness, ultimately affirming the righteousness of living by faith. Zephaniah warns of impending judgment on Judah and neighboring nations, while also offering hope of restoration for the faithful remnant. Each prophet's unique perspective contributes to a broader understanding of God's sovereignty and redemptive purposes throughout history.

Daniel Block
Old Testament Survey
Lesson 33
Watching Now
Obadiah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah

I. Obadiah: The Prophet and His Message

A. Context of Obadiah's Ministry

1. Lack of historical context

2. Traditional dating and interpretations

3. Potential timeframes

B. Identity and Message of Obadiah

1. Meaning of the name "Obadiah"

2. Characterization of Obadiah

3. Central message: judgment on Edom

4. Historical background of Edom's hostility

5. Fulfillment of prophecy

6. Permanent values of Obadiah's message

C. Literary Structure of Obadiah

1. Five-part outline

II. Habakkuk: Understanding the Prophet and His Times

A. Context of Habakkuk's Ministry

1. Historical clues

2. Possible timeframe

B. Identity and Message of Habakkuk

1. Meaning of the name "Habakkuk"

2. Structure of the book

3. Dialogue with Yahweh

4. Content and themes

5. Significance for Christians

C. Literary Structure of Habakkuk

1. Two-part division

III. Zephaniah: Prophet of Judgment and Hope

A. Context of Zephaniah's Ministry

1. Historical background

B. Identity and Message of Zephaniah

1. Meaning of the name "Zephaniah"

2. Genealogical connections

3. Themes and content

C. Literary Structure of Zephaniah

1. Three-part division

2. Warning of judgment

3. Extension of judgment to nations

4. Restoration and hope

  • Learning about the First Testament's language, geographical, and cultural contexts, and how these factors contribute to its frequent misinterpretation and underappreciation in modern times.
  • Gain insights into the literary and cosmic foundations of grace and glory in the Torah, understanding its role as more than law.
  • Learn that to be made in God's image entails embodying divine qualities and functioning as His representative on Earth, which extends a universal dignity upon all humans and shapes a theological ethic that influences how you treat others.
  • Genesis 1-3 frames human response to divine creation, emphasizing human dignity, work's moral role, free will's consequences, and the persistent grace amid sin.
  • This lesson reviews the Israelite covenant, understanding its stages, implications, and its role in God's redemptive plan.
  • Gain insights into Abraham's covenant with God, exploring his faith and God's promises.
  • Learn how the Exodus from Egypt marked Israel's transformation from a family to a nation under Yahweh.
  • Understand how the covenant at Sinai transforms Israel from slaves into a treasured nation destined for a divine mission, fulfilling God's ancient promises.
  • This lesson covers the covenantal expectations at Sinai. The covenantal agreement provided a constitutional and ethical framework for societal living, focusing on community rights and responsibilities.
  • In this lesson, you gain insight into how the tabernacle was both a physical manifestation of God's presence and a profound symbol of His grace, emphasizing the holiness and detailed guidance He provided to the Israelites for worship and daily life.
  • Gain insights into Deuteronomy, recognizing its focus on teaching rather than legislation, and understanding Moses' role as an instructor of Yahweh's will.
  • In this lesson, you explore how to interpret the First Testament's historiographic writings, emphasizing the divine inspiration and literary artistry that guide the selective storytelling and theological themes.
  • Learn how the books of Joshua and Judges illustrate the fulfillment and failure of Israel's covenant with Yahweh, highlighting divine promise, cultural assimilation, and the cyclical nature of faith and apostasy.
  • The Book of Ruth, highlights divine providence, social justice, and personal righteousness while exploring the role of Boaz as a pivotal figure in maintaining the lineage of King David.
  • Samuel had a significant yet complex role in Israel's history; judge, priest, prophet, and crucial figure in establishing monarchy.
  • Learn of David's central role in the Bible, understanding his unique portrayal and the extensive attention he receives compared to other figures.
  • Learn about the Davidic covenant's role in shaping biblical history and theology, emphasizing its eternal impact on Israel and beyond.
  • The books of Kings and Chronicles use historical events to underline theological themes, highlighting the role of scribes in documenting Israel’s history.
  • In this lesson on 1 and 2 Kings, review the downfall of Israel through kings' forgetfulness of God's covenants.
  • Learn about Solomon's temple's historical and theological significance, its divine design and purpose, and its role in Israelite worship and communal life.
  • Gain insights into the transformation and resilience of the Judean people during their exile in Babylon from 586-539 BC, exploring their struggles and adaptations in a new socio-political and religious context.
  • Learn about Daniel's exemplary life in Babylon, his integrity, and his prophetic visions, which highlight divine sovereignty and the vindication of the faithful amidst calamities.
  • Review the Persian period's impact on the Jewish diaspora, analyze the Book of Esther's literary and theological significance, and reflect on divine providence and cultural identity.
  • Explore the crucial roles of Ezra and Nehemiah in reconstructing the Jewish community and faith post-exile, understanding their historical significance, source materials, and theological insights.
  • Gain insight into the roles and significance of prophets in ancient Israel, learning about their historical context, and their critical function in guiding and correcting the nation through direct communication from Yahweh.
  • Learn about the lives and ministries of prophets Amos and Hosea, their calls for justice and return to divine covenant amidst Israel's political and spiritual turmoil, through prophetic books that blend personal biography with national prophecy.
  • This lesson reviews Jonah's struggle with divine grace and Micah's advocacy for justice and the messianic hope.
  • In this lesson, you learn how Isaiah's vision portrays the Messiah as king, servant, and conqueror, emphasizing his divine roles and global mission.
  • Learn of the political and social contexts of Jeremiah and Ezekiel's exile, including Babylon's rise, Jerusalem's fall, and the crisis of faith portrayed in Lamentations, emphasizing hope amid despair through God's faithfulness.
  • Learn about Jeremiah's life and prophetic ministry, navigating challenges with kings, themes in the Book of Jeremiah, and profound passages on true religion and a future covenant, offering lessons on prophetic burdens, God's faithfulness, and spiritual transformation.
  • Explore Ezekiel's life as a priest in exile, his bizarre actions, and profound messages revealing Yahweh's passion and eternal promises of judgment and restoration.
  • Learn about Nahum and Joel's prophecies on judgment, hope, and Yahweh's character. Explore the day of the Lord and the expansion of the covenant community.
  • Explore Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah's prophecies. Discover themes of judgment, faith, and restoration in God's plan.
  • Gain insight into Haggai's role in motivating temple rebuilding during the Persian rule. His brief yet impactful ministry fosters hope and action amid community disillusionment, recoginizing God's presence and reign.
  • Gain deep insight into Hebrew poetry: its forms, parallelism, acrostics, and emotional depth. Explore its celebration and lamentation of Yahweh's glory.
  • Gain insight into Psalms which reflect diverse emotions and experiences. Structured into five divisions, attributed to various authors, their interpretation involves understanding Torah context, literary devices, and applying timeless principles to life.
  • Explore biblical wisdom's depth: from practical skill to moral insight, rooted in the fear of Yahweh. It contrasts with secular knowledge, emphasizing God's order and universal application.
  • Engage with Proverbs to unravel its diverse wisdom, from aphorisms to discourses. Understand its practical guidance for righteous living and leadership.
  • Discover the Song of Songs, a rich exploration of love's nature. From its allegorical interpretations to its celebration of covenantal love, it examines human relationships with wisdom and depth.
  • The book of Job offers insights into faith and suffering, exploring theological themes and character dynamics. It emphasizes trust in God amid life's most difficult trials.
  • Uncover Ecclesiastes' profound journey from despair to hope. Koheleth's existential ponderings contrast with the narrator's faith, urging a shift from worldly pursuits to finding fulfillment in God's sovereignty.

This Old Testament Survey course offers a deep exploration of the Old Testament's literary structure, divine covenants, and historical context. Lessons cover the Pentateuch, emphasizing its narrative over legalistic interpretations, and extend through key biblical figures like Abraham and Moses. Topics such as the covenant at Sinai, the concept of imago Dei, and the tabernacle rituals highlight the continuity of God's grace and the ethical implications of divine laws. The course critically addresses common misconceptions, the role of the Torah as instruction, and the portrayal of God’s plan, underscoring the relevance and complexity of these ancient texts.

Dr. Daniel Block 
Old Testament Survey
Obadiah, Habakkuk and Zephaniah
Lesson Transcript


Hearing the message of Yahweh's grace and glory in three more short prophetic tractates. These are Obadiah, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah. Let's look at Obadiah first.

First, the context of his ministry. Like the book of Joel, the search for the historical context of his ministry is frustrated by the lack of information in the superscription and the vagueness of the prophecy itself. Jewish tradition, Sanhedrin 39b, places Obadiah during the reign of Ahab in the 9th century, erroneously identifying him with his namesake, a prophet by the same name, in 1 Kings 18, 3-16.

Probably because of its canonical position between Jonah and Micah, Obadiah's anti-Edomite polemic has been dated traditionally to the 8th century. According to this theory, the prophecy seems to be a response to the Edomite attack on Judah during the reign of Ahaz, 2 Chronicles 28-17. However, most consider verses 11-14 in particular to have as their background the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, an event in which the Edomites are known to have participated.

Read Psalm 37, an impassioned psalm of lament over the fall of the city at the hands of the Edomites who did nothing to stop the fate of their brothers. Because verses 8-10 anticipate the destruction of Edom as a nation, as a future event, this occurred in the Maccabean period, read it in Josephus, Antiquities 13-57. Some date Obadiah's ministry much, much later.

But verses 19-20 suggest the Jews were occupying the region around Jerusalem, which may point to the time of Nehemiah. Compare this with Nehemiah 11-25-26. By this mid-5th century dating, Obadiah would have been a contemporary of Malachi.

What can we say about Obadiah the prophet? The name Obadiah means servant, worshiper of Yahweh, devotee, and an agent of Yahweh. This was a common Hebrew name. It's born by at least 12 individuals in the first testament.

The form Eved Yahweh, or servant of, and then you have a divine name, servant of a god, was common among all ancient Semitic peoples, expressing the faith of parents or of the person himself. Compare the name we hear today, Abdullah, servant of Allah. Other than this, his obvious Judean nationality and his own claims of divine inspiration, verses 1, 4, 8, 18, we know nothing of the personality or family of this prophet.

He's a riddle. What about its message? In the past, some have treated Obadiah's prophecy as a hymn of hate, and this is John Peterson, pages 184-86 in the Goodly Fellowship of the Prophets. But this not only fails to understand the supranational concerns of the prophets, it also imputes on Obadiah the very attitude for which he indicts the Edomites.

The central issue in this book is unmistakable, the pronouncement of judgment upon Edom and the announcement of Israel's ultimate salvation and Zion's elevation as the capital of Yahweh's kingdom. Denunciations of Edom are found in many prophetic books. You have them in Isaiah 34.

You have Joel 3.19 and Amos 1.11-12. Obadiah's style and message seem to have been influenced by Jeremiah in particular. There are many echoes of Jeremiah in this book. From the perspective of the prophets, the evils common to other pagan nations were aggravated by the Edomites' unrelenting hatred toward the Israelites, their relatives by blood.

The hostility between these two nations has a long history. Before they were born, Jacob and Esau were fighting in the womb of their mother, Genesis 25. Jacob and Esau competed for the birthright of their father, a conflict that forced Jacob to flee.

These brothers were eventually formally reconciled, but their descendants were not. That story is found in Genesis 27. Edom refused passage to Moses and the Israelites on their march from Egypt to Canaan, Deuteronomy chapter 2. Saul campaigned against Edom, 1 Samuel 14.

David subjected the nation and incorporated them into his empire. The Edomites revolted against Solomon, albeit unsuccessfully, 1 Kings 11. During the time of Elisha under Jehoram of Israel in 845, the Edomite revolt actually succeeded.

The enmity continued, this enmity continued until Jerusalem's fall in 586, when Edom encouraged the destruction of the city. They stood by, clapping their hands. The fulfillment of Obadiah's prophecy was not realized until 312 BC, when Nabataean Arabs overran Petra, the Edomite stronghold, forcing the Edomites west into southern Judea, where they came to be called Edomians.

The Maccabeans forced the Edomians to adopt Jewish law and circumcision, but the Roman overlords seemed to favor the Edomians, appointing Antipater procurator of Judea in 47 BC. He was succeeded by his son Herod in 37 BC, the man who tried to placate the Jews by rebuilding the temple for them. But the Edomians joined the rebellion against Rome in AD 70, for which Titus destroyed them and wiped them off the face of the earth, and we haven't heard from them since.

But what is the message of Obadiah? Concerning the permanent values of this book, Obadiah teaches us that one, God rebukes humans for non-involvement in others' trouble. Two, God rebukes those who find sadistic joy in others' troubles. Four, God rebukes the pride and self-sufficiency of nations, which means also the pride in self-sufficiency of individuals.

And four, God rebukes notions of fate, chance, and luck. God is sovereign. He is the one who holds the history of nations in his hands.

As a general outline for the book, we can identify five short parts. This book doesn't even have chapters. It has only verses, 21 verses, and they're not divided into chapters.

First part, A, introduction, setting the stage for the days, verse 1. B, the judgment, Esau's humiliation on his day of doom, verses 2 to 10. C, the indictment, Esau's crimes on the day of Jacob, verses 11 to 14. D, the bad good news, the demise of Esau on the day of Yahweh.

It's bad news for Edom, but it's good news for Israel. And five, the good good news, the restoration of Jacob on the day of Yahweh. The motif of day is very important in this short little tractate.

It speaks of the day of doom for Edom. It speaks of the day of Jacob and the day of Yahweh, three different variations of that theme. The book of Habakkuk.

We begin by talking again about the context of Habakkuk's ministry. This book offers no precise link with any historical event, but the reference to Chaldeans 1.6 holds important clues. The Chaldeans is another name for the Babylonians.

What are the clues? First, the invasion of Judah by Babylon is still in the future, suggesting 605 BC as the latest possible date. That's when the Babylonians made their first visit. Second, Habakkuk's familiarity with the cruelty with which the Babylonians pursued their enemies suggests they have already appeared on the scene as a significant military and political force, suggesting 612 as the earliest possible date.

So a date shortly after the death of good king Josiah in 609 and the accession of the wicked king Jehoiakim three months later, that seems to be a good possibility. What can we say about Habakkuk the prophet? The book offers us the only clues we have to this prophet's character and identity. His name, Habakkuk, from a root meaning to embrace, means presumably embraced by Yahweh.

Many of these names are shortened forms that drop the name of the deity, the god, at the end or at the beginning. Any attempt to identify his life line of descent is speculative, but this has not prevented people from down through the ages from seeing him as the son of the Shunammite woman, the watchman introduced by the Shunammite woman in Song of Songs, the watchman introduced by Isaiah, a son of Jesus of the tribe of Levi, Septuagint's version of Bell and the Dragon, and a Simeonite of Beth Zohar. But this is all guesswork and speculative.

We have a habit of wanting to fill in the blanks, and we are quite imaginative in the way we do it. The book divides naturally into two parts, chapters one to two, and then chapter three. Each has its own superscription and apparently could stand on its own.

The shift in style and genre in the second have led many to question whether it's authentically Habakkuk, but the psalm serves in its present place as an important function attached to the preceding burden or pronouncement of the prophet in more prosaic form. The first part is constructed in the form of a modified dialogue between Habakkuk and Yahweh. The prophet initiated the conversation, raising the problem of divine silence in the face of prevailing wickedness in the Judah of his day.

Chapter one to four. Where is God? Why doesn't he do something about this wicked world? Yahweh responded by saying he has indeed engaged the Babylonians to punish the Judeans for their conduct. He is doing something about it.

Just wait. One, five to eleven. But the prophet found this to create a problem worse than the first.

How can God use a relatively more wicked nation, the Chaldeans, to punish a relatively less wicked people, Judah? He couldn't admit that his own people were as wicked as the Babylonians, but this is a problem. How can he use a more wicked nation to punish a less wicked nation? In a true demonstration of faith, the prophet declared that he would take his stand on the watchtower to see what response the Lord would give to him to his question, his second question. Chapter two, verse one.

God replied by challenging the prophet to record his response so that a messenger could not only run with a tablet and read it to the unidentified target audience, but the written record offered a guarantee of the divine word. In chapter two, verses four to twenty, present the content of the message, announcing the certain punishment of Babylon for their violent conduct. Being the agent of divine judgment would not give them license to carry out their task in their own ways, and if they would persist in their violence, they would be judged.

After a thesis statement, verses four to 6a, the message concerning Babylon is concretized in five mini war or woe oracles, woe to Babylon, five of these. The musical psalm in chapter three, purportedly Habakkuk's response to the previous revelation, this is one of the most beautiful texts in all of scripture. The prophet's petition in verse two was a plea to Yahweh to intervene in earthly affairs with mercy, grace.

The theophany described in verses 3 to 15 represents, reflects his confidence in Yahweh's willingness to answer his prayer and to intervene sovereignly on behalf of his people and deliver the land. Verses 16 to 19 describe the results of the divine intervention. But we need to ask, what is the value of this book for Christians today? Actually, when you think about it, it has great value for Christians for several reasons.

One, it affirms God's interest in the fate of the righteous, even in the face of his apparent silence regarding wickedness. Habakkuk apparently was a righteous man, and God is interested in him, and he answers his questions. Second, it affirms the eternal dogma that the righteous live by their faithfulness.

While the original statement is concerned primarily with human conduct in the face of a moral and military crisis, Paul in Galatians 3.11 and Romans 1.17 expands this statement into a universal soteriological principle, the just shall live by faith. Third, it affirms that God responds to honest doubts of the faithful. There's nothing wrong with being perplexed about earthly experience the faithful express their perplexities frankly to God.

He listens when we say, what in the world is going on? But he doesn't answer just to satisfy our curiosity. He is concerned, they are concerned, his answers are concerned for the vindication of the divine name, and that will always happen in the end. And fourth, Habakkuk's prayer proclaims the sovereignty of God overall.

He exercises that sovereignty by engaging spiritual and natural forces to carry out his design. We can outline the book quickly by noting first that in chapters 1 to 2, we have A, Habakkuk's perplexing burden. After this superscription, chapter 1 verses 2 to 11, we have the first perplexity, the problem, Judean wickedness, the divine solution, the Chaldeans.

In verses 12 to 20, we have the second perplexity, using one more wicked nation to punish a less wicked nation. Again, you have the problem with the prophet's question and the prophet's confidence in chapter 2, verses 1, 2 verse 1, or 1, 12 to 2, 2. Then the divine solution in verses 2 to 20, the announcement in principle, and finally, the announcement concretized in woeful taunt songs, the five woes. Habakkuk's confident prayer after the superscription, you've got the petition, chapter 3, verse 2, then the theophanic vision, Yahweh appears, and then the response 3, 16 to 19a, and like a few other books, it ends then with a formal proscription.

This is the gospel according to Habakkuk. We have one more minor prophet in this collection of five prophetic tractates, and that is Zephaniah. Unlike numerous other minor prophetic books, the superscription locates the ministry of Zephaniah quite specifically.

In the days of Josiah, son of Ammon, king of Judah, which puts it somewhere between 639 and 609 BC. As we have already noted, Josiah was the last good and great king of Judah, but his life was prematurely snuffed out when he tried to intervene in international affairs by challenging the Egyptians who were on their way north to assist the Assyrians at Megiddo in 609 BC. Although Josiah was a godly king, a characteristic that was demonstrated especially in his religious reforms, his efforts were too little and too late.

The nation never recovered spiritually from the 55 years of Manassite and Ammonite court-sponsored apostasy. On the basis of the denunciations of the leaders in Jerusalem in Zephaniah 3, 1 to 7, some think Zephaniah's utterances may have given further impetus to Josiah's reforms. However, the refusal of the people to listen rendered Yahweh's decision to destroy the city and the land all the more justifiable.

In the tradition of classical prophecy, Zephaniah also had his eyes on the broader horizon, observing divine involvement in the affairs of nations beyond Israel, especially those who had played such an important role in Israel's history. So he talks about Philistia 2, 4 to 7, Ammon and Moab 2, 8 to 11, and Assyria 2, 13 to 15, along with one sentence pronouncing judgment against Kursh, Ethiopia, perhaps here a surrogate for Egypt. The prophecies against Nineveh are interesting, especially his analysis of her problem in verse 15.

She says in her heart, I am, and there is no one besides me, which has to be the ultimate in hubris. But what do we know about the prophet? Again, all that we know about him we learn from his book. His name, which means Yahweh has hidden or stored up, may suggest he was born during the troubled times of Manasseh, who is known to have shed very much blood in Judah, 2 Kings 21, 16.

The editors of his prophecies identified him genealogically with a remarkably complete lineage. He is the son of Cushi, that means an Ethiopian, grandson of Amariah, we don't know who he was, and a great grandson of Hezekiah, undoubtedly the good king of Jerusalem. So there is royal blood flowing in his veins as well.

This suggests he was a close relative of Josiah, perhaps a brother or second cousin, they're both possible, or perhaps also of Isaiah a whole century earlier. The reason for preserving this long genealogy is not clear, but the editor seems to have found significance in his links with a royal house, perhaps because he, along with Josiah, represents an exception to an otherwise almost totally corrupt nobility. Despite his sociopolitical identification with these folk, he was fearless in his denunciation of his peers.

Let's summarize the message of the book. The collection of Zephaniah's prophecies divides readily into three major parts. In the first, 1 to 218, he warns of the impending judgment of Judah and Jerusalem.

Following an opening volley announcing the destruction of all things, 1, 2 to 6, he picks up on the motif known already from Amos and offers the classic definition of the day of Yahweh in 1, 7 to 2, verse 3. A generation later, this definition seems to have had great influence on Ezekiel in particular. See also verses 2 to 3 and 7 to 8 in chapter 1. The mid-section concerns the fates of the nations around Israel. The Philistines, Moabites, and Ammonites are denounced for having taunted the people of Yahweh and must prepare for a turning of the tables.

Nineveh is sentenced to utter annihilation for her unrestrained arrogance and violence expressed in violence. The last chapter divides into two parts, a pronouncement of doom upon Jerusalem and her leaders for their crimes, 3, 1 to 8, followed by a glorious message of hope, 3, 9 to 20. In both sections, 1 to 2 and chapter 3, Zephaniah's feet are firmly planted in the Judean prophetic tradition of the 8th century.

That is, he seems indebted to Isaiah and Micah. In both his scathing denunciation of his nation, compare chapter 1, verses 1 to 3 with Isaiah 1, 21 to 23, and compare verses 3 to 5 with Micah 3, 1 to 12. And then his vision of hope for Zion, compare verses 10 and 14 to 28 with Isaiah 2, 2 to 4, and Micah 4, 1 to 4. Again, we can summarize the structure of the book with a brief outline.

After the superscription, part A, warning of the impending day of Yahweh, 1, 2 to 2, 3, you have the cosmic scope of the day and the Judean focus of the day. That is really the pointed thing. It begins with the indictment of Judah, 1, 4 to 5, and then the announcement of Judah's judgment, verses 16 to 18, and then an appeal for repentance.

These prophets are often pastoral in their function. It is an act of divine grace for God to send prophets like this to his people just before the judgment's about to hit. There is yet time to repent, and so we hear him in chapter 2, verses 1 to 3. In the second main part, you have the extension of the day of Yahweh, no longer focused on Judah.

These are pronouncements of judgment upon the nations, as we said, Philistia, Moab and Ammon, Ethiopia, and Assyria, Nineveh. And finally, we have the two-sided nature of the day of the Lord, Yahweh, in 3, 1 to 20. The obverse, it means the judgment of Jerusalem, but this can't be the last chapter in the book, and so based on the covenants in Leviticus 26 and Deuteronomy 30 and actually Deuteronomy 4, 25 to 31, you've got the same pattern.

The judgment must be answered by, followed by, restoration, and this is what we have in chapter 3, verses 14 to 20. Herein lies, herein we hear, the gospel according to Nahum.