Background of Obadiah
Author and Date
The book of Obadiah records a prophetic “vision” given by the Lord to a man named Obadiah. The only thing known about this prophet is his name. The book was probably written in the first half of the Babylonian exile, after 586 BC (when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem) and before 553 (when Babylon attacked Edom).
The people of Jerusalem experienced God’s judgment (Obadiah 1:6a) when the Babylonians invaded and “cast lots for Jerusalem” (Obadiah 1:11). The Edomites were descended from Jacob’s brother Esau and were Israel’s eastern neighbors. They should have assisted Israel during the crisis. Instead, they sided with the foreign invaders and even took advantage of Israel’s difficulty (Obadiah 1:10–14).
Holy Zion had been defiled, and God’s people were publicly shamed. Israel was devastated by the exile. Does Israel have a future? Will Zion be defiled forever? Will the plan for Abraham’s offspring to bring blessing to the world come to nothing? Will Edom and the hostile nations triumph? Is God indifferent to all of this?
Obadiah proclaimed God’s Word in response to this situation. The message of Obadiah essentially spells out what Lamentations 4:22 announces: restoration for Zion but doom for Edom.
Edom, together with all other nations that oppose Israel’s God and his people, will experience God’s judgment (Obadiah 1:1–15). God’s own covenant people have been judged by their exile already. God will restore them (Obadiah: 16–21). The book ends with the promise of the kingdom of God.
1. Enemies will be put to shame because of their opposition to God’s people (Obadiah 1:10).
2. Every proud human effort at security will ultimately fail before God’s coming judgment (Obadiah 1:1–9).
3. God’s justice is strict and fair, with the punishment corresponding to the sins (Obadiah 1:15).
4. Reunited Israel will experience God’s deliverance (Obadiah 116–17), possess the Promised Land, and defeat and rule over Edom (Obadiah 1:17–21).
5. In the future, Yahweh will definitively establish his eternal kingdom (Obadiah 1:21).
I. First Announcement of Judgment to Edom (vv. 1–4)
II. Second Announcement of Judgment to Edom (vv. 5–7)
III. Announcement of Judgment, Accusation, and Warning to Edom (vv. 8–15)
IV. Promise of Restoration and Victory to Israel (vv. 16–18)
V. Promise of Restoration and Yahweh’s Kingship (vv. 19–21)
The Setting of Obadiah
The Global Message of Obadiah
Obadiah in Redemptive History
When Babylon invaded Judah in the sixth century BC, Edom, directly to Judah’s east, sided with the Babylonians and even gloated over Judah’s destruction (Obadiah 1:12). Since the Edomites were descendants of Jacob’s brother, Esau, this betrayal by Edom was especially painful to God’s people. While other prophets condemn Israel for their faithlessness, Obadiah’s prophecy has nothing negative to say to God’s own people. The focus is on Edom and the divine judgment that will come upon her.
The prophecy of Obadiah addresses key questions that would have been raised by God’s people in this tumultuous time of defeat and exile. What will become of God’s plan and promise to bless all nations through Abraham and his descendants? Will the godless nations of the world triumph? Will God’s covenant with his people come to an end? How does God’s faithfulness to Israel fit with his righteous justice that must be executed toward a people who have so often proven faithless? The message of Obadiah is that despite Israel’s sin, God will judge those who afflict his people (Obadiah 1:1–15) and he will restore his people (Obadiah 1:16–18), who then will be an everlasting blessing to the whole world (Obadiah 1:19–21).
From the vantage point of the New Testament era, we can see that the ultimate way in which both God’s justice and his mercy are vindicated without compromising either is at the cross of Christ, where God’s justice was satisfied even as his mercy was most clearly seen. With Jesus Christ, the kingdom of the Lord was established (Obadiah 1:21; compare Mark 1:14–15). One day Jesus will come a second time and that kingdom will come in its fullness (Revelation 11:15; 12:10), and the sinners of all nations who have been redeemed by the blood of Christ will worship him forever in the new earth (Revelation 5:9–10).
Universal Themes in Obadiah
The Danger of Pride
Throughout the Bible we are taught that God opposes pride but is drawn to humility (Proverbs 3:34; Isaiah 66:1–2; Luke 1:51–52; James 4:6, 10; 1 Peter 5:5–6). Pride was precisely Edom’s problem, as identified in Obadiah 1:3–4: “The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.” Pride is a universal human problem, not restricted to any particular class or ethnicity—indeed, in many ways it is the root of all human sin (see 1 Timothy 3:6).
“As you have done,” says the Lord in Obadiah 1:15, “it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.” It is a great and glorious truth that the God of the Bible is a God of love (e.g., 1 John 4:16–19). But this must never obscure the equally biblical truth that he is a God of unswerving justice who will do only what is right and just (e.g., 2 Thessalonians 1:5–10). This is a severe and sober caution for those who oppose the people of God, yet it also gives great hope to God’s people as they experience affliction of various kinds around the world. Whatever is done to them by those hostile to the gospel will one day be repaid by God himself.
The Universal Kingdom of God
The closing verses of Obadiah ring with the glorious promise of a spreading international kingdom under the people of God, “and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (Obadiah 1:21). The New Testament and the coming of Christ begins the fulfillment of this promise as the gospel explodes out from Jerusalem “to the end of the earth” (Acts 1:8). God’s people, reviled and persecuted both in Obadiah’s day as well as around the world today, “shall reign on the earth” (Revelation 5:10).
The Global Message of Obadiah for Today
Obadiah provides deep consolation for believers everywhere. As global Christians suffer “trials of various kinds” (James 1:2), they can rest content in a God of perfect justice who will not let injustices committed against his own people go finally unpunished. More broadly, God will act justly toward those around the world today who spurn the dignity of the unborn or elderly, or who squander opportunities to defend the helpless.
The kingdom of the Lord prophesied in Obadiah is a kingdom into which believers have been graciously and irreversibly ushered (Hebrews 12:28), under a king who will never leave them nor forsake them (Hebrews 13:5). Yet this is presently an embattled kingdom. One day, this will not be so. The glory that is coming on the sons and daughters of God in the new earth will be perfect and everlasting. Shame, tears, and rejection will be over (Revelation 21:4). Joy will have dawned. We await that day with eager hope.