The Agora
Bible Commentary



The prophecy of Obadiah is the shortest book in the OT. Briefly, it recounts how Edom is to be brought low (Obad 1:3-9,16), on account of its treachery against Israel in the day of Israel's calamity (Obad 1:10-14). And it promises that "the day of the LORD" (Obad 1:15) will reveal God's judgments upon all nations -- at the same time that there will be salvation in Zion and Jerusalem for the faithful remnant (Obad 1:17-21).

The country of Edom (called Idumea in the NT) extended from the Dead Sea to the Red Sea, and was bounded on the east by the Arabian Desert and on the west by the land of Judah. It was a mountainous district with average elevation of about 2,000 feet. Its wild and rugged character is described in Obad 1:3,4.

This was the land occupied by Esau, the ancestor of the Edomites, after the death of his father Isaac (Gen 36:6-8). There his descendants, cousins to the Israelites, built cities literally in solid rock, in almost impregnable positions. They became rich by controlling and traveling the trade routes between Egypt and the East. Even in modern times, the ruins they left behind -- as at Petra -- stand as stark and magnificent testimonies to their power and achievements.

There is a long history of enmity between Edom and Israel, beginning with the bitter rivalry between the twins Esau and Jacob (Gen 25:19-34; 27:1-40; etc), and continuing all the way through the OT, until the time when Herod the Great, the hated Idumean (or Edomite), used his Roman connections to gain ascendancy over the Israel of Jesus' day.

And the same enmity continues to our day, in the struggles between the Arabs -- of Palestine and Jordan and Saudi Arabia -- and the Israelis, over the ancestral lands which they both claim.


1. Judgment on Edom: Obad 1:1–14

a) Edom's destruction announced: Obad 1:2–7
b) Edom's destruction reaffirmed: Obad 1:8–14

2. The Day of the Lord: Obad 1:15–21

a) Judgment on the nations but deliverance for Zion: Obad 1:15–18
b) The Lord's kingdom established: Obad 1:19–21

Initial Fulfillment(s)

Who is Obadiah? When, and in what circumstances, was the prophecy first given? There are no details about the prophet himself; "Obadiah" is a common name signifying "the servant of Yahweh". And no time period is definitely specified in the prophecy itself.

Given the lack of a definitive date, several different times are possible as the initial context of Obadiah's "burden" upon Edom:

(1) Judgments upon Edom for participating in a cowardly attack upon Israel in the days of David, when the king and his forces were occupied in Syria. This "stab in the back" -- from a people who were near of kin to Israel (cp Deu 2:4,5; 23:7) -- was swiftly answered by a punitive raid by David's armies, led by Abishai (1Ch 8:12), Joab (1Ki 11:15,16; Psa 60 title) and David himself (2Sa 8:12-14).

(2) About 200 years later (c 860 BC) another "Arab" invasion of Judah was repelled by faithful king Jehoshaphat (2Ch 20). This confederacy included Edom along with Moab and Ammon.

(3) During the reign of Hezekiah (c 720 BC), the Edomites gave enthusiastic support to the irresistible Assyrian invasion, and were utterly callous in their treatment of the desperate refugees from Israel and Judah (cp Isa 21:11,12; 34:5-10; 63:1-6; Joel 3:19).

(4) And finally, the prophecy could be dated as late as 588 BC, when Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon devastated Jerusalem and its Temple, and once again men of Edom -- like loathsome jackals or vultures -- joined in to pick the bones of their cousins (cp Jer 49:7-22; Lam 4:21; Psa 137:7; Eze 25:12-14; 35:1-15). In favor especially of this possibility is Obad 1:16, which pictures Edom "drinking [from the holy vessels?] upon my [God's] holy mountain" (cp Jer 25:15-26, esp v 21): So far as is known, none of the earlier attacks upon Israel in which Edom took part resulted in the actual capture of God's temple mountain.

The Last Days Fulfillment

But even if we cannot be certain which of Edom's many atrocities upon Israel provoked the tongue, and pen, of Obadiah -- it seems certain that we are intended to read Obadiah's prophecy as a Last Days prophecy as well: Obad 1:15,17,21.

Such language can only be absolutely fulfilled with the return of Christ and the establishment of God's Kingdom. Seen as a Last Days preview, Obadiah's words corroborate certain details of the general picture:

(a) This Edomite enemy will be a member of an alliance: Obad 1:11. Edom is a member of the 10-nation Arab alliance described in Psa 83.

(b) The controversy of the Last Days will concern God's holy mountain, mount Zion. There the enemies of Israel, including Edom, will rejoice over her: "Just as you drank on my holy hill...." (Obad 1:16).

And there also will God bring retribution upon these blasphemous enemies: Obad 1:15-17. This observation lends credibility to the idea that the last great conflict in and around Jerusalem -- a conflict which will bring on the literal Return of Christ -- will be a religious conflict, between two peoples desperately struggling to lay claim to the same "holy places".

(c) At this point the prophecy dramatically changes tone. The people of Israel are saved from their adversity and are spiritually regenerated. They receive back the Land promised to their fathers, to its fullest extent, and the rescued and redeemed state of Israel becomes the nucleus of the Kingdom of God: "But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy... The house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; the house of Esau will be stubble, and they will set it on fire and consume it. There will be no survivors from the house of Esau... Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the LORD's" (Obad 1:17,18,21).

Territorial Expansion

Obad 1:19,20 go into detail as to which lands the redeemed people of Israel will recover and occupy:

Certain of these territories (ie, Samaria and Ephraim and part of Philistia) were conquered by modern Israel in 1967. [Will some of this territory be returned as a result of the current "Peace Process"?] Zarephath, in southern Lebanon, is increasingly coming under Israel's influence since the incursions of 1982. But other territories (ie, Gilead and the mountains of Esau) remain today in Arab hands.

Will Israel, as presently constituted, conquer all these lands prior to the return of Christ? Or will Israel need to suffer a serious defeat, losing the very lands which it now possesses (together with its own sovereignty?) before a chastened remnant will repent and turn to God?

In short, is Obad 1:19,20 being fulfilled right now, or do they await a future fulfillment?

The order of Obad 1:17-21 suggests an answer: First, there must come a deliverance to mount Zion (v 17), and not just a military victory such as in 1948 or 1967: "But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy [or 'there shall be holiness': AV], and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance."

And so this "deliverance" will of necessity involve "holiness" -- and for this there must be true repentance and forgiveness of sins. Only then will Israel -- ie, a renewed and glorified remnant of Israel -- go forth to possess all the lands promised to the fathers (cp Gen 15:18-21; Exo 23:23; Deu 1:7; 11:24; Jos 1:4; Psa 72:8), as detailed in Obad 1:19,20.

This last territorial expansion will never be set back or thwarted in any way. Why? Because "Deliverers ['saviours': AV] will go up on Mount Zion... and the kingdom will be the LORD's" (Obad 1:21).

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