Overview of the Book of Obadiah

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Overview of the Book of Obadiah
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Overview of the Book of Obadiah

Author: The prophet Obadiah.

Purpose:

To encourage Judahites facing trouble from Edom to hope in divine justice and for eventual victory over all enemies.

Date: c. 586 B.C.

Key Truths:

  • God cares for his people when they suffer.
  • God warns but will eventually judge those who persecute his people.
  • God will give victory to his people.
  • God's faithful people will inherit the Kingdom of God in its fullness.

Author:

We know nothing of the prophet Obadiah other than his name, which means "the servant [or worshiper] of the LORD." Not even his name is notable, for it was common in Israel (1 Kings 18:3-16; 1 Chron. 3:21; 7:3; 8:38; 9:16; 12:9; 27:19; 2 Chron. 17:7; 34:12; Ezra 8:9; Neh. 10:5; 12:25). The value and authority of the message rests not upon the renown or personality of the messenger but upon the fact that "the LORD has spoken" (Obad. 1:18).

Time and Place of Writing:

Interpreters have long debated the date of composition for this book. The prophet had in view a violent ransacking of Jerusalem in which the Edomites had gleefully participated (Obad. 11-14). But Obadiah did not provide clearly datable information in describing the catastrophe. Some date the book in relation to an invasion of Judah by Philistines and Arabs during King Jehoram's reign (848-841 B.C.) - an invasion in which the Edomites presumably took part (cf. 2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8-10, 16-17). Others date the prophecy in connection with the Babylonian assaults on Judah that eventually resulted in her collapse in 586 B.C. Both Scripture (Psa. 137; Ezek. 35:1-15) and Jewish tradition (1 Ester 4:45, an uninspired Apocryphal book) explicitly connect the Edomites with this final catastrophe. The text of the prophecy itself seems to refer more naturally to this event. Whatever the precise historical setting, the situation was one in which Edom prospered while Judah lay defeated, and the moral order of the world appeared to have been overthrown by chaos.

Although the striking similarities between Obadiah 1:1-9 and Jeremiah 49:7-22 must be more than an impressive coincidence, they do not resolve the problem of dating. We know that Jeremiah ministered from 626 to sometime after 586 B.C. (see "Introduction to Jeremiah: Time and Place of Writing"), but whether one prophet echoed the other or both relied on an earlier source has not been resolved.

Purpose and Distinctives:

Obadiah's book is "about Edom" (Obad. 1:1) and is repeatedly addressed to that nation, but it was written to the Judahites as God's covenant people. Obadiah may or may not have delivered a spoken oracle to Edom prior to writing his book. God spoke against Edom for Judah's benefit, sentencing the Edomites to humiliation, looting and death in order to bolster Judah's weakened faith and morale. Edom deserved God's judgment because of her severe and prolonged mistreatment of Judah. The destruction of Edom was part of God's larger plan for judging all nations and granting his people blessings in the new earth. The purpose of the book of Obadiah, therefore, was not to warn Edom of imminent judgment but to reassure God's people of his triumphant justice at work for them. The righteous power of God, not the evil plans of the nations, determines the course of history.

Obadiah's prophecy closely follows the pattern of a covenant-lawsuit address. It begins with the scene of judgment and continues with the speech of the judge, which includes the address to the defendant, the pronouncement of guilt and the handing down of the sentence (see "Introduction: Outline" and "Introduction to the Prophetic Books: The Forms of Prophetic Literature").

Christ in Obadiah:

The book of Obadiah does not contain Messianic predictions that point directly to Christ, but the theme of divine judgment against those who persecute God's people finds its final fulfillment in Christ. Jesus himself suffered at the hands of God's enemies (Acts 2:36), and he predicted that his followers would experience the same affliction (Acts 14:21-22). Yet Christ promised to keep his people in his love during these difficult times (Rom. 8:28-39). When he returns in glory he will judge all those who have stood against himself and his people (Matt. 25; Rev. 19:1-2).

Obadiah's vision of a new order in which God's people are restored in victory over the nations also finds fulfillment in Christ. Christ began to rule over all in his resurrection and ascension (1 Cor. 15:25), the Church now spreads his Kingdom throughout the earth (Matt. 28:19-20; Acts 2:37-41) and he will expand it to the ends of the earth when he returns (Rev. 11:15). When Christians suffer at the hands of God's enemies, they need to renew their faith in the just God who reveals himself through the prophecy of Obadiah. Although it often appears as though the torment of the Church will never end, God is always at work behind the veil of appearances on behalf of his people (Rev. 6:9-10).

Notes from the NIV Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Dr. Richard Pratt, ed. (Zondervan, 2003).

Introduction Material:

Introduction to the Prophetic Books

Copyright:

Copyright, Authors, and Theological Editors of the SORSB

Answer by Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr.

Dr. Richard L. Pratt, Jr. is Co-Founder and President of Third Millennium Ministries and adjunct Professor of Old Testament at Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando, FL.