The book of Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament, consisting of twenty-one verses. The book supplies no information of the author other than his name. We know that Obadiah was a prophet of God about the time of Judah’s destruction by the Babylonians and he prophesied against the Edomites. Obadiah’s prophecy, therefore, occurred after Judah’s captivity in 586 BC and before Edom’s demise in 500 BC. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:9), the brother of Jacob. Although the Edomites were Israel’s enemies, they were also their distant relatives. Obadiah’s prophecy foretells of Edom’s destruction because of their wicked treatment of Israel during the Babylonian overthrow of Judah.
Edom’s capital city, Petra, was located in mountainous terrain and was an impregnable natural fortress. The city was surrounded by deep gorges and enormous mountain peaks. God promised to destroy the Edomites despite their false sense of security (vs. 3, 4). God further declares that Edom will be betrayed by all of her allies and pillaged until there is nothing left (vs. 5-7). Obadiah says that this judgment is deserved because of Edom’s wicked treatment of Israel that began during the wilderness travels under Moses (Num. 20:14-21) and reached their a climax during the recent Babylonian invasion of Judah.
God gives four different charges against the Edomites: they refused to help Judah during the attack of the Babylonians, they rejoiced at Judah’s demise, they plundered Jerusalem, and they captured and sold as slaves those who fled from the attack (vs. 11-14). By refusing to help Judah in their time of trouble, Edom was considered by God to be just as guilty as Babylon (vs. 11). Edom had shown no mercy to Judah, and would receive no mercy from God. “For judgment is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy” (James 2:13).
God’s judgment on Edom is a preview of God’s judgment on all nations during the Day of the Lord (vs. 15). God says that He will cause them to “drink continually” until they are “as though they had never been.” This refers to the cup of God’s wrath, which Jeremiah spoke of, “Take this cup of the wine of wrath from My hand and make all the nations I am sending you to, drink from it.” (Jeremiah 25:15). Judah had tasted this cup for a time (Isaiah 21:22-23), but now Edom would drink from it until they were destroyed as will all nations and individuals who sin against God.
Obadiah’s message ends with a promise of future blessing. Obadiah prophesies that Israel will be victorious over Edom (vs. 17-18), and will reclaim their land according to the God-given boundaries (vs. 19-20). The only time in Israel’s history that they possessed all the land promised them was under the reign of David and Solomon, but God says they will possess it again. Obadiah’s last words leave us with a promise of the land being governed under the rule of Yahweh (vs. 21). God is reminding Israel, Edom, and all the nations of the world that they will one day become “the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever!” (Revelation 11:15).
We live in a fallen world that is temporarily under the control of Satan and it often seems that there is no justice when wicked nations and individuals go unpunished. God allowed the Edomites to persecute Israel for centuries, but the time of their judgment was certain as is the judgment of all nations. In the midst of all the global turmoil and injustice, God promises a day when “He puts an end to all rule and all authority and power” (1 Corinthians 15:24). The Day of the Lord will bring God’s perfect justice to a world that desperately needs it.
This post was originally published in the Baptist & Reflector, January 15, 2013.