Key Text: Verse 21
“And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD’S.”
This study embraces one of the lesser known and neglected books of the Bible. Nevertheless there is a message in Obadiah, which fits in neatly with the tone of Old Testament inspiration, and which anticipates the New Testament Church.
Who was Obadiah?
The first question to be asked when examining a piece of literature concerns the identity of the author. This question is relatively straightforward when dealing with the prophets whose writings contain some autobiographical material and other information which helps us to establish a date for their writings. This question is more complex where Obadiah is concerned because the information within the book is sparse. There are few clues as to his identity.
The name Obadiah, translated “worshipper of God”, occurs in several places in scripture with all the individuals being worthy contenders as the author of this inspired prophecy. An Obadiah was a courtier of King Ahab who acted illegally, at great risk to himself, by protecting the Lord’s prophets in times of persecution (1 Kings 18:3-4). A later Obadiah served in the Kingdom of Judah and was appointed by King Jehoshaphat to teach the people God’s word in days of revival. An individual by the name of Obadiah oversaw the work of the temple as Josiah restored the House of God for worship, in what were also days of revival (2nd Chronicles 34:12). After the Babylonian captivity one by the same name travelled with Ezra out of Babylon to help resettle Judah once again (Ezra 8:9). This certainly indicates that Obadiah was a most common name among the Jews and to try to connect any with the authorship of this book would be a virtually fruitless exercise. It is safe to conclude, for reasons that will shortly be outlined, that our Obadiah lived, preached and wrote in Judah in the years before the fall of Jerusalem. He was possibly a contemporary of Jeremiah, which would place him in the same time frame as the man who helped restore the temple. If God called Amos the herdsman why could he not also call Obadiah the site foreman, to be a prophet? Our attempts to discover who Obadiah was, however, are tempered by commentator Albert Barnes’ perceptive remarks:
“Fruitless guesses at what God has hidden! God has willed that his name alone and this brief prophecy should be known in the world. Here, he is known only as Obadiah, ‘worshipper of God’”.
Obadiah’s prophecy foretells the judgement of God, which would befall the Edomites. These are the children of Esau (Genesis 25:30). It would appear from the records in Genesis that they became a powerful people much earlier than the children of Jacob (Genesis 32:3, and ch.36). The Biblical view of Edom, however, must always be influenced by the prophecy made to Esau by Isaac on the day that he lost the blessing reserved for the first born: Gen 27:39-40
“And Isaac his father answered and said unto him, Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above; And by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother; and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck.”
Edom was promised power and prosperity and also much difficulty. They were not the children of the covenant and it seemed that throughout their existence they despised the blessing that Jacob had received. In this they were a people who resembled the character of Esau, their Father, who despised his brother. For this they were a people earmarked for judgement. When the children of Israel attempted to pass through Edom as they journeyed to Canaan they were prevented from so doing (Numbers 20:14-21). As God prophesied through Balaam shortly afterwards the supremacy of Israel over the Edomites was stressed (Numbers 24:17-19). Under the reigns of Saul (1 Samuel 14:47) and David (2nd Samuel 8:14) Edom was placed firmly under the control of Israel, a position cemented by Solomon (1 Kings 9:26). In the days of Jehoram, the Edomites revolted and established themselves once again as an independent nation with a King to rule over them (2nd Kings 8:20-22). This is the position Edom were clearly in during the days of Obadiah the prophet as he describes a people with their own power and authority.
The Purpose of Obadiah’s Prophecy
Obadiah foresees the destruction of Jerusalem. He speaks of distress and calamity for Judah and Jerusalem (v12-13) and the tone of the language indicates that an enemy has subjugated the nation. The sin of the Edomites was the manner in which they revelled in the destruction of Jacob, their brother (v10). It seems that they looted Jerusalem and helped to murder the inhabitants of the city who attempted to escape (v13-14).
From the opening words of his prophecy Obadiah writes of a word from the Lord God indicative that Edom will suffer for her crimes against Jacob. He writes about the proud people being brought down (v2) and the nation which exalted herself like the soaring eagle and the heavenly stars being brought down to earth (v3). The evidence is clear, the Edomites are deserving such a visitation because God has discovered all of their secret sins against his people (v6).
A Prophet or a Historian?
There have been debates as to whether this book is a record of events that have already transpired or a prophecy of what will happen. Did Obadiah witness the fall of Jerusalem and was he an eyewitness of the cruelties inflicted by the Edomites, which he relates so vividly? The relationship between Jeremiah’s prophecies, concerning Edom and Obadiah’s utterances, appear to have settled the argument. In 49:7-22 of his prophecy Jeremiah uses language so similar to that of Obadiah it would seem that he is quoting and adding to his own style to something that was written earlier. A comparison between Obadiah 1:1-4 and Jeremiah 49:14-16 illustrates the correlation between the two accounts. If Jeremiah’s was written at a later date, which scholars argue was the case because of the manner in which Jeremiah made use of Obadiah’s material, then obviously Obadiah wrote as a prophet. The manner in which these prophets made use of one another’s writings points to the Scripture as being their fount of divine knowledge and wisdom which was becoming increasingly available as truth was revealed to God’s servants. How blessed it is to live in these times when the whole canon of Scripture is readily available for all.
Obadiah and New Testament Times
One of the features of the prophets is the manner in which they foretold of Christ and the dawn of a better, brighter age. In v15 Obadiah foresees a judgement day in which all the world will be involved. It is as if the judgement upon Edom is an example of what will occur at the end of time as all nations experience the wrath of God. This time is styled the “Day of the Lord”.
From v17-18 the Jewish people are described as repossessing their homeland and enforcing total domination of the Edomites. The fact that there is no nation known as Edom today, while the Jewish people continue to be a recognised force in the Middle East would indicate that Obadiah’s prophecy has been fulfilled.
At the close of the book, however, Obadiah transports us beautifully to the emergence of the New Testament Church. He describes “saviours” coming up on Mount Zion. The Hebrew word translated Saviour, in this instance, is closely related to the name Joshua and its Greek variant, Jesus. The very translation Saviour brings us to Christ in the Old Testament. Why then did Obadiah write of saviours? In the Old Testament there were many saviours, many christs. Every prophet, priest and king occupied an anointed office and the Christ or the Hebrew Messiah means Anointed One. All of these saviours, however, prefigured the greatest Prophet, Priest and King who would come to reign and establish a new Kingdom, a spiritual Kingdom which would live within the hearts of men.
The Jewish nation as the expression of God’s Kingdom on earth would pass away to be superseded by a new Kingdom that would encompass every nation under the sun. This is the Kingdom which is the Lords. The Kingdom, the glory of which would be finally unveiled by John as he penned the Apocalypse. All earthly Kingdoms will fade but Christ will continue to build His church.