Book of Obadiah

OBADIAH, BOOK OF. The subject of the book is the destruction of Edom (Obad.1.1-Obad.1.21). From time immemorial Edom and the Edomites were hostile to Israel.


Obad.1.1-Obad.1.21-Obad.1.9 pronounces punishment on Edom. (cf. Jer.49.7-Jer.49.22). Apparently either Jeremiah or Obadiah made use of the other, or both made use of a common source that is no longer available.

In Obad.1.10-Obad.1.14 Edom is arraigned for its guilt in standing with the enemies of Israel in the time when Judah and Jerusalem were in deep distress. In Obad.1.12-Obad.1.14 the prophet exhorts Edom to quit its evil association with the enemies of Jerusalem. In Obad.1.15-Obad.1.16 “the day of the Lord,” i.e., a time of awful judgment, is proclaimed as being “near for all nations,” and national annihilation is predicted for those peoples who fight against the Lord—they will “be as if they had never been.” To this point in Obadiah, the Lord has been addressing Edom in the second person singular, but in the closing paragraph, he speaks of a coming restoration of Israel when Zion will be holy and God will use Israel as a flame to destroy Esau. The people of the Negev (the southern part of Judah) are to possess the land of Edom; Israel will greatly enlarge its borders (Obad.1.19-Obad.1.21). The principal message of Obadiah to the peoples of today seems to be the proclamation, not only of the danger of fighting against God, but also of the peril of fighting his people.

Bibliography: F. E. Gaebelein, Four Minor Prophets: Obadiah, Jonah, Habakkuk, and Haggai: Their Message for Today, 1970; L. C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah, 1976.——ABF


OBADIAH, BOOK OF (עֹֽבַדְיָ֑ה, servant of Yah), the shortest OT book, stands fourth among the minor prophets in the MT, but fifth in the LXX. It is directed against the Edomites.

Background.

The Edomites were descendants of Esau. Until the 5th cent., b.c. they lived S of the Dead Sea in an area approximately 100 m. by 50 m. Their fortified cities included Sela (Petra), Teman and Bozrah. Sela, located on an important caravan route, was almost impregnable. Its buildings were carved out of solid pink rock with cliffs of purple in the background (cf. G. L. Robinson, The Sarcophagus of an Ancient Civilization).

The Nabateans dislodged the Edomites from Petra before 312 b.c. The Edomites then settled in the Negev, and were driven out by Judas Macabaeus in 164 b.c. John Hyrcanus (134-104 b.c.) forced upon them Judaism, including circumcision and law observance. They became the NT Idumeans, of whom Herod the Great was the most infamous.

Enmity between the Hebrews and the Edomites dates back to the Exodus when the Edomites forbade the Israelites passage through their territory. The Edomites helped the Canaanites resist the Heb. conquest. David and Solomon finally subdued them. During Jehoram’s reign the Edomites won their independence, but were defeated in the days of Amaziah. They revolted again in the time of Ahaz. The deep-seated, persistent enmity between the Hebrews and the Edomites is seen in the fact that Edom is a cryptograph for Rome in the Talmud.

If the book is dated early, the events of the reign of Jehoram are the immediate background. If an exilic or later date is correct, then the events of 586 constitute the background.

Unity.


The most common division is twofold. This seems to have originated with Wellhausen who regarded vv. 15a, 16-21 as an appendix. Muilenberg makes essentially the same divisions as Wellhausen. He sets forth arguments against the unity of the book (IDB, III, p. 579). However, he does say that three items—the motif of the Day, Esau/Edom as a central concern, and the complete reversal of the situation—occur in both sections, so the book could be a unity. Paterson (Goodly Fellowship of the Prophets, p. 180) and Sandmel (Heb. Scriptures, p. 214), following Eissfeldt, arrive at the same twofold division. The second section often is considered as a later addition. Some contemporary writers as John A. Thompson (IB, IV, p. 859), Rudolph and Weiser hold the unity of the book with some reservations.

Authorship.

Since the date of the book is disputed, it is impossible to fix its authorship. Obadiah was a common OT name, meaning “worshiper of Yahweh.” If the book is dated in the reign of Jehoram, the author may be the Obadiah of 2 Chronicles 17:7. He was sensitive to injustice done to his people. He flared out in violent indignation. He was willing to wait for God’s just retribution on Edom and the ultimate triumph of right.

Date.

The date of Obadiah can be determined only when vv. 11-14 are related to a specific occasion in Heb. history. If the event was pre-exilic, then a date shortly after the event is given for the book. If the events are those of 586, then an exilic, or postexilic date is given to the book. The date has been widely debated; most conservative scholars (Caspari, Nagelsbach, Delitzsch, Keil, Orelli, Kirkpatrick, Pusey, et al.) favoring an early date. Beginning with Hitzig most critical scholars (Kuenen, Wellhausen, Nowack, Eichhorn, Ewald, Cornill, G. A. Smith, Cheyne, Emslie, Bewer, S. R. Driver) favored an exilic or postexilic date.

Criteria used in determining the date have included: (a) the book’s position in the canon. From this some argue for an early date, but others think it may be due simply to “word-binding” with Amos 9:12. The three groupings—postexilic Haggai, Zechariah and Malachi; late 7th cent. Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah; and 8th cent. Hosea, Amos and Micah—lend weight to the argument that Obadiah is early. (b) The identity of the events described in vv. 10-14. (c) The relation of Obadiah 1-9 to Jeremiah 49:7-22.

Of the numerous suggested dates, two are most commonly accepted. The first view identifies the events of vv. 11-14 with the invasion of Jerusalem by Philistines and Arabians in the reign of Jehoram (c. 844 b.c.) (2 Chron 21:16f.; 2 Kings 8:20). Conservative scholars upholding this date are Archer, Laetsch, Unger, E. J. Young. Some arguments in favor of this early date are: (a) the description does not mention a destruction of the Temple which was the grand tragedy of the 586 b.c. catastrophe. Laetsch and Archer say that the description of Obadiah has none of the features that distinguished the fall of Jerusalem in 586. (b) The absence of Aram. expressions is more appropriate to the 9th cent. than the 6th cent. (c) Implication of a recapture of the city. (d) Nations mentioned are not exilic neighbors, but earlier foes (e.g., Philistines). (e) It castigates the same sins as the 8th-cent. prophet Amos. (f) In the reoccupation the hill country of Judah is not mentioned, assuming it already was occupied.

The late date (sometime after 586) is advanced for the following reasons: (a) The events of vv. 11-14 fit most naturally into the destruction of Jerusalem. (b) The bitter hostility to Edom was prevalent at this time (Lam 4:21; Ezek 25:12-14; 35:1-15; Ps 137:7). (c) The Philistine invasion of Jehoram’s day was prob. of minor importance. (d) The reference (v. 19) to possessing Ephraim and Samaria suits a late date better than an early date when Israel was in existence. (e) The possibility is open that both Obadiah and Jeremiah used an older source. Recent critical scholars favoring a late date include J. W. Myers, R. H. Pfeiffer, Bentzen, Harrelson, Weiser. Modern conservative scholars adopting the post-586 date include D. W. B. Robinson (NBC, p. 710), J. A. Thompson (NBD, p. 903), J. Lawrence Eason (New Bible Survey, p. 349).

Other suggested dates in the time of Amaziah; the reign of Ahaz (Raven and Davis); c. 450 b.c., (John A. Thompson, IB, VI, p. 857, also Pfeiffer, Sandmel); and c. 312 b.c. (Hitzig, Bentzen, Intro., II, p. 143, 144) have not found wide acceptance.

Occasion.

When Jerusalem was plundered and sacked (either by Philistines or Babylonians), the Edomites took delight in its downfall, and shared in its plunder. They caught escaping Judeans, mistreated them, and sold them as slaves.

Purpose.

The Book of Obadiah has a twofold purpose: (a) to delineate God’s judgment on Edom for its lack of brotherly concern for Judah, (b) to set forth the final triumph of right in the Day of the Lord.

Text.

While Oesterly and Robinson (Intro...., p. 371) think the text of Obadiah is badly preserved, most scholars agree with Thompson (IB, VI, p. 859) that it is moderately well preserved. There may be difficulties in vv. 7, 19, 21.

Relationship to Jeremiah.

There are clear evidences of some sort of literary relationship between Obadiah 1-9 and Jeremiah 49:7-16. Three theories have been advanced to explain that relationship. First, that Jeremiah borrowed from Obadiah, assuming an early date for Obadiah. This is supported by the fact that careful analysis of the vv. shows the variations in Jeremiah to contain typical Jeremianic expressions, while the common material does not. This would also suit the third possibility set forth below (cf. Muilenberg, IDB, III, p. 579). Second, that Obadiah borrowed from Jeremiah. This seems to have been advanced for a priori reasons, i.e., the events of Obadiah must refer to 586, and hence Obadiah lived later than Jeremiah. Bewer (ICC, p. 3) believes Obadiah 1-4 quotes Jeremiah plus some interpretations and paraphrase. Third, both used an earlier prophet’s oracle, with Obadiah reproducing it more literally than Jeremiah. J. H. Eaton (Obadiah..., p. 36) says, “It is not a matter of quoting from an older writer but of co-operation within a prophetic body to present the living Word of God in its current application.”

Content and outline.

The central theme of the book is the utter destruction of Edom. Growing out of that theme is the eschatological message of Judah’s restored fortunes when the Day of the Lord arrives (vv. 15-21). Most students of the book divide it into three major sections:

Theology.


See also Edom, Petra, Sela.

Bibliography

J. Bewer, ICC, Obadiah and Joel (1911); C. Francisco, Introducing the OT (1950), 88-91; D. W. B. Robinson, “Obadiah,” NBC (1954), 710-713; J. A. Thompson and N. Langford, “Obadiah,” IB, VI (1956); T. Laetsch, Bible Commentary on the Minor Prophets (1956); D. W. B. Robinson, “Obadiah,” The Biblical Expositor, II (1960), 310-317; J. H. Eaton, Obadiah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Zephaniah (1961), 35-48; J. Muilenberg, “Obadiah,” IDB, III (1962), 578, 579; G. Archer, SOTI (1964), 287-291.

International Standard Bible Encyclopedia (1915)

Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. The theme of the book is the destruction of Edom. Consequent upon the overthrow of Edom is the enlargement of the borders of Judah and the establishment of the kingship of Yahweh. Thus far all scholars are agreed; but on questions of authorship and date there is wide divergence of opinion.

1. Contents of the Book:

(1) Yahweh summons the nations to the overthrow of proud Edom. The men of Esau will be brought down from their lofty strongholds; their hidden treasures will be rifled; their confederates will turn against them; nor will the wise and the mighty men in Edom be able to avert the crushing calamity (Ob 1:1-9).

(2) The overthrow of Edom is due to the violence and cruelty shown toward his brother Jacob. The prophet describes the cruelty and shameless gloating over a brother’s calamity, in the form of earnest appeals to Edom not to do the selfish and heartless deeds of which he had been guilty when Jerusalem was sacked by foreign foes (Ob 1:10-14).

(3) The day of the display of Yahweh’s retributive righteousness upon the nations is near. Edom shall be completely destroyed by the people whom he has tried to uproot, while Israel’s captives shall return to take possession of their own land and also to seize and rule the mount of Esau. Thus the kingship of Yahweh shall be established (Ob 1:15-21).

2. Unity of the Book:

The unity of Obadiah was first challenged by Eichhorn in 1824, 1:17-21 being regarded by him as an appendix attached to the original exilic prophecy in the time of Alexander Janneus (104-78 BC). Ewald thought that an exilic prophet, to whom he ascribed 1:11-14 and 19-21, had made use of an older prophecy by Obadiah in 1:1-10, and in 1:15-18 of material from another older prophet who was contemporary, like Obadiah, with Isaiah. As the years went on, the material assigned to the older oracle was limited by some to 1:1-9 and by others to 1:1-6. Wellhausen assigned to Obadiah 1:1-5,7,10,11,13,14,15b, while all else was regarded as a later appendix. Barton’s theory of the composition of Obadiah is thus summed up by Bewer: "Ob 1:1-6 are a pre-exilic oracle of Obadiah, which was quoted by Jeremiah, and readapted with additions (Ob 1:7-15) by another Obadiah in the early post-exilic days; 1:16-21 form an appendix, probably from Maccabean times" (ICC, 5). Bewer’s own view is closely akin to Barton’s. He thinks that Obadiah, writing in the 5th century BC, "quoted 1:1-4 almost, though not quite, literally; that he commented on the older oracle in 1:5-7, partly in the words of the older prophet, partly in his own words, in order to show that it had been fulfilled in his own day; and that in 1:8,9 he quoted once more from the older oracle without any show of literalness." He ascribes to Obadiah 1:10-14 and 15b. The appendix consists of two sections, 1:15a,16-18 and 1:19-21, possibly by different authors, 1:18 being a quotation from some older prophecy. To the average Bible student all this minute analysis of a brief prophecy must seem hypercritical. He will prefer to read the book as a unity; and in doing so will get the essence of the message it has for the present day.

3. Date of the Book:

Certain preliminary problems require solution before the question of date can be settled.

(1) Relation of Obadiah and Jeremiah 49.

(a) Did Obadiah quote from Jeremiah? Pusey thus sets forth the impossibility of such a solution: "Out of 16 verses of which the prophecy of Jeremiah against Edom consists, four are identical with those of Obadiah; a fifth embodies a verse of Obadiah’s; of the eleven which remain, ten have some turns of expression or idioms, more or fewer, which recur in Jer, either in these prophecies against foreign nations, or in his prophecies generally. Now it would be wholly improbable that a prophet, selecting verses out of the prophecy of Jeremiah, should have selected precisely those which contain none of Jeremiah’s characteristic expressions; whereas it perfectly fits in with the supposition that Jeremiah interwove verses of Obadiah with his own prophecy, that in verses so interwoven there is not one expression which occurs elsewhere in Jer" (Minor Prophets, I, 347).

(b) Did Jeremiah quote from Obadiah? It is almost incredible that the vigorous and well-articulated prophecy in Obadiah could have been made by piecing together detached quotations from Jer; but Jeremiah may well have taken from Obadiah many expressions that fell in with his general purpose. There are difficulties in applying this view to one or two verses, but it has not been disproved by the arguments from meter advanced by Bewer and others.


(2) Relation of Obadiah and Joel.

There seems to be in Joe 2:32 (Hebrew 3:5) a direct allusion to Ob 1:17. If Joe prophesied during the minority of the boy king Joash (circa 830 BC), Obadiah would be, on this hypothesis, the earliest of the writing prophets.

(3) What Capture of Jerusalem Is Described in Obadiah 1:10-14?


The advocates of a late date call attention to three points that weaken the case for an early date for Obadiah:

(a) The silence of 2 Kings as to the invasion of the Philistines and Arabians. But what motive could the author of Chronicles have had for inventing the story?

(b) The absence of any mention of the destruction of the city by the Philistines and Arabians. It must be acknowledged that the events of 587 BC accord more fully with the description in Ob 1:10-14, though the disaster in the days of Jehoram must have been terrible.

(c) The silence as to Edom in 2Ch 21:16 f. But so also are the historic books silent as to the part that Edom took in the destruction of Jerusalem in 587.


(4) The Style of Obadiah.

Most early critics praise the style. Some of the more recent critics argue for different authors on the basis of a marked difference in style within the compass of the twenty-one verses in the little roll. Thus Selbie writes in HDB: "There is a difference in style between the two halves of the book, the first being terse, animated, and full of striking figures, while the second is diffuse and marked by poverty of ideas and trite figures." The criticism of the latter part of the book is somewhat exaggerated, though it may be freely granted that the first half is more original and vigorous. The Hebrew of the book is classic, with scarcely any admixture of Aramaic words or constructions. The author may well have lived in the golden age of the Hebrew language and literature.

(5) Geographical and Historical Allusions.

The references to the different sections and cities in the land of Israel and in the land of Edom are quite intelligible. As to Sepharad (Ob 1:20) there is considerable difference of opinion. Schrader and some others identify it with a Shaparda in Media, mentioned in the annals of Sargon (722-705 BC). Many think of Asia Minor, or a region in Asia Minor mentioned in Persian inscriptions, perhaps Bithynia or Galatia (Sayce). Some think that the mention of "the captives of this host of the children of Israel" and "the captives of Jerusalem" (Ob 1:20) proves that both the Assyrian captivity and the Babylonian exile were already past. This argument has considerable force; but it is well to remember that Amos, in the first half of the 8th century, describes wholesale deportations from the land of Israel by men engaged in the slave trade (Am 1:6-10). The problem of the date of Obadiah has not been solved to the satisfaction of Biblical students. Our choice must be between a very early date (circa 845) and a date shortly after 587, with the scales almost evenly balanced.

4. Interpretation of the Book:

Obadiah is to be interpreted as prediction rather than history. In 1:11-14 there are elements of historic description, but 1:1-10 and 15-21 are predictive.

LITERATURE.

Comms.: Caspari, Der Prophet Obadjah ausgelegt, 1842; Pusey, The Minor Prophets, 1860; Ewald, Commentary on the Prophets of the Old Testament (English translation), II, 277 ff, 1875; Keil (ET), 1880; T.T. Perowne (in Cambridge Bible), 1889; von Orelli (English translation), The Minor Prophets, 1893; Wellhausen, Die kleinen Propheten, 1898; G.A. Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, II, 163 ff, 1898; Nowack, Die kleinen Propheten, 1903; Marti, Dodekapropheton, 1903; Eiselen, The Minor Prophets, 1907; Bewer, ICC, 1911. Miscellaneous: Kirkpatrick, Doctrine of the Prophets, 33 ff; Intros of Driver, Wildeboer, etc.; Selbie in HDB, III, 577-80; Barton in JE, IX, 369-70; Cheyne in EB, III, 3455-62; Peckham, An Introduction to the Study of Obadiah, 1910; Kent, Students’ Old Testament, III, 1910.