Part 5: Obadiah: Pride and Arrogance Brought Low

Posted on June 29, 2018

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By David Ettinger

Note: This series was published in the magazine Zion’s Fire a few years back. I offer it here for anyone interested. I plan to run one article a day for 13 days. Being magazine articles, obviously each post will be longer than my usual blog length.

Name of Book: Obadiah 

Author: The prophet Obadiah 

Meaning of Author’s Name: “Worshiper of Yahweh” 

Themes

  • Pride and arrogance
  • Pride and violence punished
  • God’s justice

When Written
obadiah imageUnlike most of the other “Minor Prophets” (but very much like Joel), the text gives us no information about Obadiah himself, nor the rulers who reigned over the Southern and Northern Kingdoms during his ministry. This erases any hope of preciseness regarding the time frame of this tiny book, and we are left to do the detective work of examining the text for clues to solving the mystery of when the book was written.

Having done this, biblical scholars have arrived at the consensus that the Book of Obadiah was written in one of three possible time frames, all pertaining to the Southern Kingdom of Judah: 848-841 B.C. under King Jehoram; 731-715 B.C. during the terribly wicked reign of King Ahaz (not to be confused with Ahab); and 585 B.C., shortly following the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. Scholars are almost evenly divided on the first and third dates, while the second is not widely embraced.

Support for the early view (848-841 B.C.) is as follows. 1) Verse 14 of Obadiah speaks of “them who escaped” from Jerusalem during the siege of enemy neighbors. When the Babylonians captured Jerusalem, there were no escapees. Though the Babylonians deliberately left some of the poorest people of Judah behind to tend the land (2 Kings 24:14), there is no indication in the text regarding the fall of Jerusalem that any Israelites escaped the Babylonians’ fury. Simply put, there were no escapees, hence eliminating the late date (585 B.C.) as an option. 2) Obadiah makes no mention of the extensive, terrible destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple in 586. 3) In 2 Chronicles 21:16-17, we read that Jerusalem was invaded by “Philistines and the Arabians” who “carried away all the possessions that were found in the king’s [Jehoram] house, and also his sons and his wives.” A casual reading of Obadiah easily endorses this scenario.

Support for the least-popular view, that Obadiah was written during the time of Ahaz (731-715 B.C.) centers primarily on 2 Chronicles 28:17, which says, “For again the Edomites had come, attacked Judah, and carried away captives.” The problem here is that this verse speaks of a direct assault upon the Southern Kingdom, mano-a-mano, as it were. In Obadiah, there is no sense that Edom launched its own attack on Israel, but simply feasted on the “leftovers” – the Jews who escaped. In other words, the Edomites were like vultures in that they didn’t conquer their prey, but devoured them only after they had been slain by a fiercer predator (in this instance, the Philistines and Arabians).

Support for the third view (that the book of Obadiah was written following the sack of Jerusalem by Babylon in 586 B.C.) hinges primarily on the fact that several verses in Obadiah and Jeremiah (who lived before, during, and after Jerusalem’s destruction) are similar, and that several words in Obadiah (“destruction” and “captives”) could refer to the Babylonian invasion because Jeremiah also used them. However, a logical explanation for this is that Jeremiah had read Obadiah’s prophecy, saw a correlation between what occurred in Obadiah’s day and his own, and deemed some of Obadiah’s phrasing suitable for inclusion into his own, much-longer book of prophecy.

The most likely option is the early date (848-841 B.C. under Jehoram) for three primary reasons: 1) Obadiah never claims Jerusalem was destroyed, as it was by Babylon, 2) Obadiah never even mentions Babylon, and 3) Obadiah never speaks of a “direct” assault by Edom. Reasons 1 and 2 eliminate the 586 B.C. option, and reason 3 blots out the “King Ahaz” option. 

Political Background
edom mapThe strained relationship between Israel and Edom is well documented, decidedly contentious, and unarguably hostile.

  • The animosity began with twins – Jacob and Esau – who struggled in the womb of their mother Rebekah (Genesis 25:22).
  • The rift began when Jacob stole Esau’s birthright (Genesis 25:30). From that moment, the feud was on.
  • Hostilities flamed when Jacob stole Esau’s blessing (Genesis 25:5-20).
  • God renamed Jacob “Israel” (Genesis 32:28); Esau was referred to as Edom (Genesis 25:30).
  • Esau eventually left his home in Canaan and moved to Seir (Genesis 36:38) where he became the father of the Edomites (vv. 9-43).
  • Following their Egyptian captivity, the Israelites wanted to pass through the land of the Edomites on their way to Canaan, but the Edomites prevented them (Numbers 20:14-21).
  • Over the years of Israel’s monarchy, kings Saul, David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Joram, Jehoram, Amaziah, and Ahaz all had difficulty with Edom.
  • In the book of Malachi, God says, “Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated” (1:2-3). (A more accurate reading would be, “Jacob I have chosen; but Esau I have not chosen.”)

Key Verses

  • Obadiah 4: “‘Though you ascend as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,’ says the Lord.”
  • Obadiah 15: “For the day of the Lord upon all the nations is near; as you have done, it shall be done to you; your reprisal shall return upon your own head.”

References in the New Testament: None.

Synopsis
This is a small book, so Obadiah has to “get to it” from the outset, and he does when he tells Edom, “Behold, I [the Lord] will make you small among the nations; you shall be greatly despised” (v. 2). It gets worse from there.

Verse 3 points to Edom’s primary sin: pride. The reason for Edom’s pride is that she considers herself untouchable because her people live in the hard-to-reach mountains and cliffs of Seir (located in the southern reaches of modern-day Jordan, specifically, Petra). Obadiah puts it this way: “You who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; you who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’”

mountain edom

The mountains of Edom (modern-day Jordan)

Have you ever heard the phrase, “Don’t ever ask a question you don’t want to know the answer to”? Well, here’s an example. The Edomites ask, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” The answer is: The Lord! He says, “Though you ascend as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down” (v. 4). Because the Edomites literally live “high up,” they have cultivated a high-and-mighty attitude regarding their invincibility.

In verses 5-9, the Lord promises to obliterate the Edomites. This is especially interesting considering that though the Lord has severely punished other nations, He has not annihilated them. In fact, Egypt and Assyria have been promised a place in the Millennial Kingdom (Isaiah 11:11-16). On the other hand, no such promise is given to Edom. When they’re gone, they’re gone!

But why? Why is the Lord so angry with Edom that He would destroy them? Verse 10 tells us: “For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.” Wait a minute, let’s look at this. Didn’t both Egypt and Assyria commit violence against Israel – and Babylon for that matter? Or course they did, but there is a difference. In the case of those three nations, there was a divine assignment; they were appointed by God as instruments of punishment against Israel. Edom, however, had no such providential mandate. The bloodthirsty cliff-dwellers vindictively took it upon themselves to inflict harm upon their hated brother.

So how did this play itself out? What were the circumstances under which Edom brutalized the Jewish people?

What happened, basically, was that Jerusalem had come under attack by the Philistines and “Arabians” (if we accept the scenario that the book of Obadiah was written during the reign of Jehoram, which aligns with 2 Chronicles 21:16-17). Once the fortifications of the city were breached, and some of Jerusalem’s citizens were being carted off to exile, the Edomites, who had no business involving themselves in the matter, entered the city and 1) refused to help their brothers (v. 11); 2) rejoiced over the affliction of the Jews (v. 12) and; 3) looted the overrun people (v. 13).  Worst of all, however, is that when the citizens of Jerusalem escaped the city, some to what should have been freedom, the Edomites captured them and either murdered them or turned them over to their attackers – two heinous, cruel, and vindictive acts.

In v. 15, the prophet references the “day of the Lord.” This phrase almost always has two perspectives: near judgment and ultimate judgment at the end of the age. Regarding near judgment, Edom would pay dearly for her treachery; just as Edom has done to Jerusalem, so will other nations do to her (v. 16).

Verses 17 through 21 jump to the end of the age (though Obadiah retains a partial “near judgment” perspective by trickling in references to Edom). The prophet begins this final section of his tiny book by saying, “But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions” (v. 17). How do we know this is an end-times prophecy and not something in proximity to the time in which the prophet wrote?

obadiah pageThe answer is clear if you read your Bible literally. The reference to Mount Zion includes all of Israel, which will be characterized by “holiness.” Has this ever happened? Not yet. There was never a time when Israel lived in complete faith and obedience to the Lord. Also, the phrase “possess their possessions,” or “possess his inheritance” (NIV), has not yet been fulfilled. Even today, Israel is not in full possession of the land, but is living in “the times of the Gentiles” (Luke 21:24) – in other words, Israel is under the influence of the nations of the world to this very hour.

Obadiah goes on to say that Israel will eventually conquer all of her oppressors and that Edom will be judged and annihilated. Ultimately, the ruler of all will be God, the Creator of heaven and earth, as the prophet closes his book with the words, “And the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (v. 21).

Aftermath

  • In the fifth century B.C., the Nabateans – who worshipped fertility gods and the celestial bodies – drove the Edomites from their land, causing them to move to southern Judea, a region which would later be called “Idumea.” (It was the Nabatean stone-carvers – not the Edomites –who fashioned Petra into the fascinating region it is today.)
  • Herod the Great was an Idumean, or Edomite.
  • Ironically, the Idumeans joined Israel in her rebellion against Rome in A.D. 70 and were all but destroyed. They soon faded completely from the pages of history (fulfilling Obadiah 18).

Significance for God’s People Today

  • Pride, pride, pride! Beware of it. Philippians 2:3 teaches humility, not arrogance. As a Christian, always remember that you have been saved by grace; you are a redeemed sinner. The Lord has ways of toppling those who esteem themselves too highly (Romans 12:3).
  • Vindictiveness and cruelty should never be part of the Christian life. When such feelings arise, ask the Lord to replace them with the “peace of God” (Philippians 4:7).

Implications for the World Today
military menThe struggles of many Western societies this century have no doubt brought us down a peg in the pride department. Yet, those nations with strong militaries still believe, as did the Edomites, that they cannot be defeated. However, nations with powerful fighting forces need to be wary of relying on their military prowess, and instead turn their trust to the Lord. The prophet Isaiah chastised the Israelites for this, saying: “Woe to those who … rely on horses, who trust in chariots because they are many, and in horsemen because they are very strong, but who do not look to the Holy One of Israel, nor seek the Lord!” (Isaiah 31:1). 

Of Note

  • Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament.
  • Because of its message of doom and judgment, Obadiah is perhaps the least known and (unfortunately) too often considered the least appealing book of all 66 in the Bible.
  • Judgment against Edom is mentioned in more Old Testament books than it is against any other foreign nation.