There are thirteen men in the Old Testament by the name of Obadiah, but we can not connect the writer of the Old Testament book to any one of them with certainty. “Obadiah” means “servant of the Lord.” One way in which this prophet served Jehovah was through his prophecy concerning the destruction of Edom.
Obadiah is the shortest Old Testament book — one chapter of twenty-one verses. Like Joel, Jonah, Nahum, Habakkuk, and Malachi, it contains no explicit indication of when it was written. Some scholars believe that the destruction described concerning Israel can be nothing other than Nebuchadnezzer’s invasion of 586 B.C. (see Lewis, 90).
The prophet’s work is solely a condemnation of a foreign nation. The burden of his oracle is the nation of Edom, and the prophet’s book naturally divides itself into two parts.
Verses one through fourteen predict the downfall of Edom. Verses fifteen through twenty-one foresee the day of the Lord as a time of punishment for all nations, and victory for the people of God.
The People and the Place
Who were the Edomites? They were distant relatives of the Israelites through Esau, Jacob’s twin. We learn about life in Edom from the Bible, as well as ancient sources from surrounding nations. Whatever written records of Edomite life may have existed in ancient times, none are at our disposal today. The land of Edom was a narrow strip of territory south of the Dead Sea. The region is rugged, mountainous, and naturally isolated from surrounding areas.
Obadiah 1 begins like this: “The vision of Obadiah.” God revealed his plans to the prophets in different ways (Hebrews 1:1). Obadiah received a “vision.” His message was a divine revelation. For that reason, the following words of verse one are: “Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom.” Obadiah was not the source.
Obadiah 2 speaks to the downfall of Edom. While some newer translations render the verse with a future tense, the language actually expresses action that is completed.
The prophets would often speak of future events as if they had already happened, because in the mind of God, such events would be fulfilled without a doubt. The past tense rendering ought to be retained, and we need to grasp the message. Destruction was inevitable when Obadiah delivered his message, however unlikely it may have been in the eyes of men. In eyes of God, it was already over.
Obadiah 3-8 outlines the pride of Edom. They took great pride in their military strategy, being located in a region of high hills, lofty mountains, steep crags, intense heat, where water was scarce (a problem for invaders), and where there were innumerable caves (places for hiding and ambush).
The Edomites boasted of their wealth, and they relied on their skillful alliances. Their arrogance was manifested by their wise and discerning leaders. For these reasons, they felt that their forces were impregnable, and their security was certain.
The Lord God knew that they thought with arrogance, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” The message delivered by Obadiah was the Lord’s response, “I will bring you down.” God destroyed them because of their arrogance, violence, and apathy, especially with respect to the destruction of Israel. They sought to take advantage of another’s distress, simply because it was in their power to do so (vv. 9-14).
Verse 15 turns to “the day of the Lord,” a term used in the prophets to signify a time when God intervenes or acts to accomplish his will. In prophetic literature, it can be used of a temporal punishment brought upon a nation, or it may indicate the final punishment, the Judgment Day. It also carries with it redemptive emphasis, for as God punishes the wicked, he also saves the righteous.
Edom’s destruction was, therefore, a lesson for all. Obadiah announced: “The day of the Lord is upon all the nations.” Divine punishment cannot be avoided, but salvation can be found in him (vv. 15-21).
The lessons of Obadiah are timeless. Human strategies and defenses — of nations or individuals — are useless against God’s power. Pride does go before destruction. God is watching how we treat other people. Divine salvation and punishment are as certain as if they have happened already. The Lord God shall accomplish his will, both in the salvation of the righteous and in the punishment of the wicked (see 2 Corinthians 5:10).