Minor Prophets: Obadiah, A Scholarly Approach


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.

The last two weeks have leaned into Obadiah’s itemized polemic against the pride of Edom and God’s ensuing judgment. The prophet depicted an unexpected image of eagles—so like the soaring life of faith, but subtly different, because the Edomites’ faith was placed not in God, but in themselves.  

Exposing the narcissistic quality of their pride clarified why God would bring judgment down on this lofty nation.

This week is a more scholarly view of Obadiah’s jeremiad.


Summary

The narrator presents a vision from God experienced by Obadiah concerning prophetic punishment of Edom for crimes it committed when Babylon deported Judah. Obadiah includes apocalyptic language indicating a future Day of Judgment, when Israel will conquer all surrounding nations in Holy War, and fully occupy the whole of the Promised Land as God’s Holy Kingdom, including Edom (Mount Seir range).

The second sentence of the book, Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom, seems to be a technical phrase—what this vision contains cannot be altered, for it was delivered by God Almighty, and is not up for revision or debate.

Though the piece is not, in its entirety, a quotation of God, it is, in its essentials, faithfully delivered as God’s word.

Outline

Commentary

Obadiah seems to both summarize and explain throughout the vision.

  1. He begins with a call to arms in verse 1 which will be made clear in verse 16. By doing this, Obadiah gives his vision a feeling of wholeness. This is not the ramblings of a madman, this is truly a vision.

We have heard a report from the Lord,
and a messenger has been sent among the nations:
“Rise up! Let us rise against it for battle!”

. . . For as you have drunk on my holy mountain,
all the nations around you shall drink;
they shall drink and gulp down,
and shall be as though they had never been.

Obadiah 1:1, 16 (NRSV)
  1. Obadiah speaks rhetorically to Edom while also becoming, intermittently, God’s voice. He addresses three misapprehensions Edom labors under:
  • Edomites were particularly proud of, and felt impregnable in, their mountain aerie—likened to an eagle’s nest. In reality, Petra was notoriously difficult to breach, tucked into the cliffside of a mountain. However, God had the power to bring them down, and the Lord would do so.
  • Edom was confident than should any intruder come, they would not leave Petra completely plundered and destroyed. There would be enough resources to rebuild. However, this time, God would utterly gut them.
  • Edom was well-connected in alliances, with the nations surrounding it, and with probably at least one super power—most likely Babylon. However, God would empty Edom of all wisdom and sense, so they would make stupid decisions, and presumably so offend their allies as to become their victim instead.
  • God’s three verifiable statements are found in this section, the “I wills”
  1. Mention of The House of Jacob and House of Esau recalls the enmity between these two brothers, and the House of Joseph further underscores the sense of fraternal friction.
  1. Place names carry significance—the unholy Mount Seir range, which defined Edom’s border, is contrasted with Mount Zion, God’s holy mountain.

Teman = Esau’s first grandson of his first son. The town, or district, was noted for its wisdom, and served as another name used to indicate Edom.

Negev = coastal region associated with Israel

Mount Esau = Mount Seir, the mountain range defining Edom’s western border with Israel

Mount Zion = Jerusalem’s main mountain, the holy mountain of God upon which is the holy city of God containing the site of God’s holy habitation, the temple

Gilead = the entire region east of the Jordan River

Shephelah = the lowlands between the coast and Jerusalem

Ephraim = the tribal land just north of Jerusalem, and Benjamin’s tribal land

Samaria = the entire region that made up the northern kingdom’s territory

Phoenicia = the land north of Samaria

Zarephath = a town located between Tyre and Sidon

Sepharad = unclear; some scholars feel it covers the whole of the diaspora.

  1. Holy War is signaled by the indication of God’s judgment, that the escape, the mountain, and the ensuing judgment all come under the banner of “holy,” that nothing will be left, all destroyed, and the result will be Israel conquering the entire area to possess it and rule it as God’s Kingdom.

Those who have been saved shall go up to Mount Zion
to rule Mount Esau;
and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.

Obadiah 1:21 (NRSV)

[Obadiah | The Jewish Museum / James Tissot, Public Domain]

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