Obadiah perhaps can be best remembered as the eagle with which he opened his book. Though lofty in its flight, God would bring the soaring eagle of Edom down.
Obadiah’s sole concern, and focus of his prophecy, was the nation of Edom.
Edom Founded by Esau
The nation of Edom bordered Israel. Its citizens descended from Esau, the fraternal twin brother of Jacob, the Hebrew patriarch who founded Israel. Though the older brother, and entitled by the laws and traditions of his time to a double portion of his father’s inheritance, Esau had been willing to sell that birthright to his ambitious younger brother, Jacob. And along with this birthright would go the promises of God to Abraham, handed down from father to son.
The brothers’ relationship with each other suffered because of this. Esau was in a towering rage, threatening to kill his brother, when he discovered Jacob had managed to deceitfully manipulate their father into following through with giving Jacob the birthright and God’s promised blessing.
Geography of Edom
Edom was located in the Transjordan between Moab to the north, Arabah to the west, and the Arabian desert to the south, and east.
The Hebrew word Edom means “red,” and referred to Esau’s appearance, because he had been born covered in red hair. Edom also pointed to the red lentil stew Esau was willing to sell his birthright for. Red is also the color of the natural sandstone cliffs, characteristic of Edom’s mountain range, including the famous city of Petra, carved out of the living rock of Mt. Seir.
Hostility During Exodus
Over the centuries, these brother nations drifted apart from their familial ties. Edom chose other gods, and eventually became hostile towards the nation of Israel.
When the Hebrew people were fleeing Egypt, under the guidance of God’s pillar of fire and cloud, Edom refused to allow them to use that part of the King’s Highway which ran through their region.
Treachery in Obadiah’s Time
The day the Babylonian army overran Jerusalem’s walls, Edom took part in both the plunder and the slaughter, engaging in extreme savagery, as the Psalmist described,
Remember, O Lord, against the EdomitesPsalm 137:7 (NRSV)
the day of Jerusalem’s fall,
how they said, “Tear it down! Tear it down!
Down to its foundations!”
Later in history, the Edomites were driven from their country by the Nabataeans. During Jesus’ day they became a part of the Judean nation, and were called Idumeans—the last famous Idumean family were the Herods.
The final symbolic meeting between Edom and Israel happened when the many greats grandson of Esau, King Herod had before him the many greats grandson of Jacob, Jesus Christ.
Shortly before 70 A.D., twenty thousand Idumeans entered Jerusalem, to plunder it and slaughter the people, just as they had done centuries before. That is the last on record of the Edomites as a separate people. In the words of the prophet Malachi,
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?”
“Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” says the Lord.
“Yet I have loved Jacob but I have hated Esau; I have made his hill country a desolation and his heritage a desert for jackals.”
If Edom says, “We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins,” the Lord of hosts says: “They may build, but I will tear down, until they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the Lord is angry forever.”Malachi 1:2-4 (NRSV)
Beginning with Esau, its founder, Edom did not value its connection to Almighty God, having rejected the Lord and chosen other gods. In turn, God also turned away from Edom.
Your proud heart has deceived you,Obadiah 1:3 (NRSV)
you that live in the clefts of the rock,
whose dwelling is in the heights.
You say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”
As Obadiah described, the Edomites had good reason to be proud of their nation, as small as it was, because of its lucrative trade routes and its natural strength and military security – the capital city of Edom, Sela or Petra, was considered impregnable.
On that day, says the Lord,Obadiah 1:8 (NRSV)
I will destroy the wise out of Edom,
and understanding out of Mount Esau.
Edom was also understandably proud of their reputation for the exceptional knowledge and wisdom of its people.
Pride, as much as it is talked about in the Bible, hardly seems like the worst sin. Imagine hearing someone described this way: “He is a good man, but he’s proud.”
Annoying maybe, but honestly, pride does not seem nearly as bad as violence, or cruelty, or licentiousness, or abusiveness, or treachery.
And yet, it seems, the kind of pride the Bible speaks of is the root from which those more awful things grow. It is a profound sense of entitlement, that sees others as mere tools to one’s own ends, lacking all empathy. We might say a narcissistic kind of self-absorption and self-promotion that naturally harbors a deep-seated contempt for all else.
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,Obadiah 1:4 (NRSV)
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,
says the Lord.
Obadiah depicted an unexpected image of eagles – so like the soaring life of faith, but subtly different, because the Edomites’ faith was placed in themselves. God would bring them down in judgement.
For the slaughter and violence done to your brother Jacob,
shame shall cover you,
and you shall be cut off forever.
On the day that you stood aside,
on the day that strangers carried off his wealth,
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you too were like one of them.
But you should not have gloated over your brother
on the day of his misfortune;
you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah
on the day of their ruin;
you should not have boasted
on the day of distress.
You should not have entered the gate of my people
on the day of their calamity;
you should not have joined in the gloating over Judah’s disaster
on the day of his calamity;
you should not have looted his goodsObadiah 1:11-14 (NRSV)
on the day of his calamity.
You should not have stood at the crossings
to cut off his fugitives;
you should not have handed over his survivors
on the day of distress.
God stood in judgment over Edom’s specific sin of violence against God’s people, who were their brothers. The repercussions of Edom’s pride were in how they treated Israel.
- V11 First Edom stood aloof – Israel’s problem is not my problem.
- V12 But then, Edom gloated over his brother Israel, when Israel got in trouble. Today you and I might call that “blaming the victim.”
- V12 This turned into actually enjoying Israel’s misfortune – Edom was happy to see Israel crushed and looted.
- V12 Then came the boasting: the Edomites saw themselves as stronger, wiser, superior.
- V13-14 Finally the Edomites joined in the ransacking of their own brothers, even to cutting off the fugitives and handing the survivors over to the Babylonian army for torture or the slave trade (or both).
Obadiah spoke with the voice of God when he said: “As you have done, it shall be done to you.”