Obadiah, Theology of
Obadiah, the shortest Old Testament book with only twenty-one verses, was probably written shortly after the fall of Judah and Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 b.c. (see 2 Kings 25 ). The author, unknown apart from his name heading this message from God, brings hope to God's people who have been devastated by the recent events.
Hope envelops the book even in identifying the source of the message as "the Lord" in the first and last verses (see also vv. 4, 8, 15, 18). This is the usual English rendering of the personal, covenant name of Yahweh/Jehovah, Israel's God. Yahweh had promised Abram a special relationship with himself ( Gen 12:1-3 ). This intimacy was expanded through the covenant that Yahweh made through Moses with Abram's descendants at Mount Sinai (Exod 19-24). God renewed and expanded his unique covenant relationship with David ( 2 Sam 7 ), with special places reserved for Zion as his capital and his sons as kings.
Judah, facing a destroyed capital and deposed king, feared that God was either dead or had forgotten or abandoned them because of their sins. Imagine their relief when he addressed them in this oracle not only with words of encouragement, but even using his special, intimate, covenant name. He is still their God, and they are still his people in spite of their sin.
Obadiah also provided the people concrete hope in that he declared the defeat of a perennial enemy, Edom. These people are portrayed in the Bible as related to the Israelites, being descendants of Esau ( Gen 36 , especially vv. 1, 9), though they did not get along well with each other during most of their history. Edom troubled Israel during the exodus wanderings ( Num 20:14-21 ; 24:18 ), and often during the monarchy ( 1 Sam 14:47 ; 2 Sam 8:13-14 ; 1 Kings 9:26-28 ; 11:15-16 ; 2 Chron 20:1-2 ; 25:11-12 ). While not confirmed by any other historical sources, Edom, which became a vassal first of Assyria and later of Babylonia, is credited with burning the temple in Jerusalem when Jerusalem fell to Babylon in 587 b.c. (1 Esdras 4:45).
Edom is the subject of the first part of Obadiah. Though considering itself impregnable due to its geographical setting in the inaccessible mountain crags of Transjordan (v. 3), it is not able to escape the wrath of its most powerful enemy. God, who has a special place in his heart and his promises for his people Israel, looms even higher than Edomite strongholds. He will repay their pride in thinking that they are so secure that they can blatantly oppose his people without reprisal (v. 4). It seems from the prophecy itself that Edom had not only stood by while Judah was under attack, but had gloated over its plight, even entering the capital, possibly to plunder, and also had turned over refugees to the conquerors in cold-blooded disregard for kinship loyalty (vv. 11-14).
God promised not to leave Judah unavenged, but swiftly acted in judgment. Within the century, Edom's fortunes started to slide, finally losing its land to the Arabs, though its ethnic presence is still evident in southern Transjordan and Palestine (see Neh 2:19 ; 4:7 ; 6:1 ), even in the later name of the Negev region in southern Palestine as Idumaea (1 Macc 4:29).
This response of judgment shows that opposition to God, whether direct or indirect, as here with the Edomites acting against his chosen people, will not go unnoticed. God, who is just and holy, takes appropriate action in his time. This punishment of its enemies brought some measure of comfort and vindication to Israel.
The second part of the book (from v. 15) shifts from a focus on Edom to the whole world. Edom is an example of God ultimately calling all nations to account for their deeds. As a day of judgment comes for Edom (v. 8), a wider-scale day of the lord (v. 15) will bring judgment for all.
Punishment is closely related to the wrongdoing that caused it. The proud (v. 2) face humiliation (v. 3) and those who watched the looting of their neighbor (vv. 11-14) will suffer the same fate themselves (vv. 5-9). Those who endanger survivors of destruction (v. 14) will have no survivors themselves (v. 18); those who drive their kin from home and land (v. 14) will themselves be driven out (vv. 7, 19). This theological principle of lex talionis, or a crime resulting in a related and appropriate punishment, is specifically stated in verse 15. Common in the Old Testament, it shows that judgment is not capricious, brought simply by the whom of a fickle God. It follows the breach of a known law. This punishment, oddly enough, provides security for the followers of a God who reveals himself. Either in Israel or today, one does not have to second guess a deity who can change his mind and expectations at any time. Yahweh's person and desires are known, as are his rewards for those who respect them.
David W. Baker
Bibliography. L. C. Allen, The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah and Micah; D. W. Baker, Obadiah.
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