Introduction to Obadiah




Many Prophetic Books contain prophecies against several nations, but the book of Obadiah focuses exclusively on the nation of Edom. Obadiah’s short message centers on the approaching day of the Lord and the promise that Israel will possess the land of Edom.

View of Petra in the southeast region of Edom. This is what the Lord God has said about Edom: “Your arrogant heart has deceived you, you who live in clefts of the rock in your home on the heights, who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you seem to soar like an eagle and make your nest among the stars, even from there I will bring you down.” This is the Lord’s declaration.

View of Petra in the southeast region of Edom. This is what the Lord God has said about Edom: . . . “Your arrogant heart has deceived you, you who live in clefts of the rock in your home on the heights, who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you seem to soar like an eagle and make your nest among the stars, even from there I will bring you down.” This is the Lord’s declaration (vv. 1a,3-4).


AUTHOR: Presumably Obadiah (v. 1) was the author of this book, but nothing else is known about him. His common Hebrew name, denoting “servant of the Lord,” is shared by at least a dozen persons in the Old Testament.

BACKGROUND: The time of writing of Obadiah is disputed, with a wide variety of proposed dates from the tenth to the fifth centuries BC, depending on when the invasion and plunder of Jerusalem (vv. 11-14) occurred. The two most popular views are during the reign of King Jehoram of Judah (ca 848-841 BC) and shortly after the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians (587/586 BC).

The former date (ca 845 BC) was when the Philistines and Arabs plundered Judah (2Ch 21:16-17) and the Edomites revolted (2Kg 8:20), presumably then becoming allies of the invaders. Since the text does not explicitly indicate the cooperation of the Edomites with the Philistines and Arabs, the latter date (mid-sixth or even fifth century BC) fits the biblical data better, including Ob 20 (the dispersed exiles of the Israelites and of Jerusalem to be restored), as opposed to dates before the dispersion of Israel (by 722 BC) or of Judah (605-586 BC). This postexilic view is also supported by the mention of Edomite involvement in Jerusalem’s downfall (Ob 10-14, gloating over the fall of Jerusalem, as in other sixth-century BC texts—Lm 4:21a; Ezk 35:15; cp. Lm 2:15-17—and participating in the plunder) which would result in the Lord’s promised justice (“As you have done, it will be done to you” on their heads, Ob 15).


JUDGMENT ON EDOM’S ARROGANT PRESUMPTION: The Lord’s judgment was predicted for Edom because of her arrogance in trusting geographical security (vv. 3-5), diplomatic treaties (v. 7), and the counsel of her famed wise men (v. 8; Jr 49:7) instead of the God of Israel. Edom was doubly deceived, depending on their own human understanding (Ob 3,8) and believing in the loyalty of their human allies (v. 7). Thus God would bring them down from the lofty cliffs and caves of their mountains. He would cover the Edomites with shame because of their arrogant gloating and gleeful participation in the downfall of their brother Jacob, the nation of Judah (vv. 10-14).

THE DAY OF THE LORD: Obadiah spoke of the nearness of the day of the Lord (Is 13:6; Jl 1:15; 2:1; Zph 1:7,14), focusing on the darkness and gloom of the Lord’s wrath (Is 13:6-13; Jl 1:15; 2:1-3,10-11,31; Zph 1:7-18; 2:2; Mal 4:1-3,5). He emphasized the dual nature of the day of the Lord in bringing retributive judgment on the historical nation Edom and “Edom” as symbolic of Israel’s archenemies (payback on their heads; Ob 15) while, at the same time, bringing salvation (or restoration) for the nation of Israel (Jl 2:30-32; Zph 2:1-10; 3:8-16). In the OT, Edom was a historical entity whose people may have been completely wiped out by AD 70 (see notes at Ob 3,10,18). This historical entity blends with “Edom,” a symbol for Israel’s end-time enemies (cp. vv. 15-16; Is 63:1-6; Ezk 35; 36:2,5—the context of the day of the Lord against all the nations).

ISRAEL’S REPOSSESSION OF THE LAND (vv. 17-21): In a second conquest motif, the Hebrew word meaning “possess by dispossessing” is used five times: four times of Israel (both north and south) dispossessing (v. 17) the inhabitants of the promised land (vv. 19-20) and once the same root (v. 17) describes those enemies (including “Esau”) who had dispossessed them. Reminiscent of the conquest of Canaan, this Hebrew word was often used in Deuteronomy of God’s instructions for conquering the promised land (Dt 1:8,21,39; 4:5,14,26) and also in Joshua (Jos 24:8). Thus as in Jr 49:2 (expected second conquest of Ammon in the last days), a second conquest motif (see usage of “Canaanites” in Ob 20) appears in Israel’s possession of the hill country of “Edom” and the territories of other enemies (vv. 17-20).


Like the book of Revelation, which proclaims the downfall of the persecuting Roman Empire, the book of Obadiah sustains faith in God’s moral government and hope in the eventual triumph of his just will. It brings a pastoral message to aching hearts that God is on his throne and he cares for his own.


The text declares the book of Obadiah is a prophetic “vision” from the Lord (v. 1) that also appears to be a war oracle (v. 1) communicating the Lord’s imminent judgment upon Edom (vv. 2-9). As a subtype of the prophetic “oracle against foreign nations” (Is 13-23; Jr 46-51; Ezk 25-32; Am 1-2; Zph 2:4-15), it is typical in announcing judgment on a foreign power (specifically Edom; see also Lm 4:21-22) to bring deliverance for Judah (Ob 17-20; see Jr 46:25-28; Nah 1:1-15; Zph 3:14-20). Yet it, like Nahum and Jonah, is atypical in focusing solely on judgment for a foreign nation, rather than specifying judgment for Israel as well.

This shortest Old Testament book consists of several parts. A war oracle from the Lord announces certain judgment on Edom for their arrogant presumption and self-deception (v. 3) that they were immune from divine intervention (vv. 1-9). Next is an explanation of the further cause for coming judgment on Edom (vv. 10-14)—a lack of brotherly commitment (vv. 10-11) in gloating over the day of disaster for God’s people Judah (vv. 12-13) and cooperating with Judah’s enemies in her destruction (vv. 10-11,13-14). Then the text focuses on the day of the Lord (vv. 15-21) in which imminent judgment on the historical nation of Edom (vv. 15-16), followed by ultimate judgment on “Edom” as representative of Israel’s end-time enemies (v. 16), would result in the deliverance of both Judah and Israel (vv. 17-21).


I.An Oracle of the Lord against Edom (vv. 1-9)

II.Esau’s Sin against His Brother Jacob (vv. 10-14)

III.The Wider Context: The Day of the Lord (vv. 15-18)

IV.House of Jacob Will Possess Edom’s Territory (vv. 19-21)

1900-1000 BC

Edomites are descendants of Esau and seen as “brothers of Israel.” 1900

The Edomites refused the Israelites’ passage through their land as Israel journeyed from Egypt to Canaan. 1406

Egyptian texts from about 1300-1100 refer to Shasu, apparently semi-nomadic tribes, from Seir and Edom.

Saul delivers Israel from the hands of neighbors on almost all sides, including Edom. 1020

1000-900 BC

David resisted Edom’s encroachment on Israel by striking down 18,000 Edomites in the region of the Dead Sea. To further secure Israel’s southeastern flank, David builds garrisons throughout Edom, which are then subject to David. 982

Hadad, a member of Edom’s royal family, flees to Egypt during the time David subjected Edom. When Solomon was king, God brought Hadad back as an enemy of Solomon, a disciplinary measure for Solomon’s turning away from God. 940

900-800 BC

During Jehoram’s reign as king of the southern kingdom, Edom begins to rebel against domination by Judah and becomes an independent state with its own king. 848-841

Some interpreters place Obadiah’s prophecy in the ninth century when Edom rebelled against Judah. 848-841

600-500 BC

Edom puts aside its hostilities toward Judah during the reign of Zedekiah. 594

Edom becomes Judah’s ally in resisting the Babylonians. 594

Edom soon commits an act of hostility against Judah that brings impassioned denunciation of Edom from Jeremiah, a psalmist (Ps 137), and Ezekiel. 586

The more likely setting of Obadiah’s prophecy is in this era surrounding the Babylonian devastation of Jerusalem and the temple. 586