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by Albert Barnes
Introduction to Obadiah
The silence of Holy Scripture as to the prophet Obadiah stands in remarkable contrast with the anxiety of people to know something of him. It would even waste labor to examine the combinations, by which, of old, the human mind tried to justify its longing to know more of him, than God had willed to be preserved. People go over them with the view of triumphing in the superior sagacity of later days, and slaying the slain. It was a good and pious feeling which longed to know more of the men of God, whose prophecies He has preserved to us, and, with this view, looked about whether they could not identify their benefactor (such as each prophet is) with someone of whom more details are recorded. Hence, they hoped that Obadiah might prove to have been the faithful protector of the prophets under Ahab, or the son of the Shunamite, whom Elijah recalled to life, or the Obadiah whom Jehoshaphat sent to teach in the cities of Judah or the Levite who was selected, with one other, to be the overseer set over the repair of the temple in the reign of Josiah . Fruitless guesses at what God has hidden! God has willed that his name alone and this brief prophecy should be known in this world. Here, he is known only as Obadiah, “worshiper of God” .
Yet, these guesses of pious minds illustrate this point, that the arranger of the canon had some other ground upon which he assigned to Obadiah his place in it, than any identification of the prophet with any other person mentioned in Holy Scripture. For whereas, of the Obadiahs, of whom holy Scripture mentions more than the name, two lived in the reign of Ahab, one after the captivity of the ten tribes, the prophet is, by the framer of the canon, placed in the time of Uzziah and Jeroboam II, in which those placed before and after him, flourished. Moderns, having slighted these pious longings, are still more at fault in their way. German critics have assigned to the prophet dates, removed from each other by more than 600 years; just as if men doubted, “from internal evidence,” whether a work were written in the time of William the Conqueror, or in that of Cromwell; of S. Louis, or Louis XVIII; or whether Hesiod was a contemporary of Callimachus, and Ennius of Claudian; or the author of the Nibelungen Lied lived with Schiller. Such difference, which seems grotesque, as soon as it is applied to any other case, was the fruit of unbelief.
Two, or rather, three great facts are spoken of in the prophecy, the capture of Jerusalem, and a two-fold punishment of Edom consequent on his malicious triumph over his brother’s fall; the one through pagan, the other through the restored Jews. The punishment of Edom the prophet clearly foretells, as yet to come; the destruction of Jerusalem, which, according to our version is spoken of as past, is in reality foretold also. Unbelief denies all prophecy. Strange, that unbelief, denying the existence of the jewel - God’s authentic and authenticated voice to man - should trouble itself about the age of the casket. Yet, so it was. The prophets of Israel used a fascinating power over those who denied their inspiration. They denied prophecy, but employed themselves about the prophets. Unbelief, denying prophecy, had to find out two events in history, which should correspond with these events in the prophet, a capture of Jerusalem, and a subsequent (“it” could not say) consequent - suffering on the part of Edom. And since Jerusalem was first taken under Shishak king of Egypt, in the 5th year of Rehoboam, 970 b.c., and Josephus relates that in 301 b.c., Ptolemy Lagus treacherously got possession of it under plea of offering sacrifice, treated it harshly, took many captive from the mountainous part of Judaea and the places around Jerusalem, from Samaritis, Gerizim, and settled them all in Egypt; unbelieving criticism had a wide range, in which to vacillate.
And so it reeled to and fro between the first and last of these periods, agreeing that Obadiah did not prophesy, and disagreeing as to all besides. Eichhorn , avowedly on his principle of unbelief, that God’s prophets, when they spoke of detailed events, as future, were really describing the past, assumed that the last five verses were written in the time of Alexander Janneus, two centuries LATER than the latest, about 82 b.c. . As though a Hebrew prophet would speak of one, detestable for Alexander Janneus’ wanton cruelty as a Saviour!
The real question as to the age of Obadiah turns upon two points - one is external, the other internal. The external is, whether in regard to those verses which he has in common with Jeremiah, Obadiah gathered into one, verses which he scattered in Jeremiah, or whether Jeremiah, in renewing the prophecies against Edom, incorporated verses of Obadiah. The question, the one which is internal to Obadiah, is, whether he speaks of the capture of Jerusalem in the prophetic or the real past, and (as determining this), whether he reproves Edom for past malice at the capture of Jerusalem, or warns him against it in the future.
The English version in the text supposes that Obadiah reproves for past sin. For it renders; “Thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother, in the day when he became a stranger; neither shouldest thou have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of their distress” . The English margin gives the other, as a probable rendering, “do not behold, etc.” But it is absolutely certain that אל 'al with the future forbids or deprecates a future thing. In all the passages, in which אל 'al occurs in the Hebrew Bible , it signifies “do not.” We might as well say that “do not steal” means “thou shouldest not have stolen,” as say that תרה ואל ve'al tēreh, and “do not look,” means “thou shouldest not have looked.”
It is true that in a vivid form of question, belonging to strong feeling, the soul going back in thought to the time before a thing which has happened, can speak of the past as yet future. Thus, David says, . “The death of fools shall Abner die?” while mourning over his bier; or Job, having said to God, “Why didst Thou bring me forth from the womb?” places himself as at that time and says (literally), “I shall expire, and eye shall not see me; as if I had not been, I shall be; from the womb to the grave I shall be carried.” He contemplates the future, as it would have been, had he died in the birth. It was a relative future. We could almost, under strong emotion, use our “is to” in the same way. We could render, “Is Abner to die the death of fools?” But these cases have nothing to do with the uniform idiom; “do not.” We must not, on any principle of interpretation, in a single instance, ascribe to a common idiom, a meaning which it has not, because the meaning which it has, does not suit us. There “is” an idiom to express this. It is the future with לא lo', not with אל 'al.
It agrees with this, that just before , where our version renders, “thou wert as one of them,” the Hebrew (as, in our Bibles, is marked by the italics) has only, “thou as one of them!” not expressing any time. The whole verse expresses no time as to Edom. “In the day of thy standing on the other side, in the day of strangers carrying captive his might, and strangers entered his gates and cast lots on Jerusalem, thou too as one of them.”
This too is a question not of rhetoric, but of morals. We cannot imagine that Almighty God, who warns that He may not strike, would eight times repeat the exhortation - a repetition which in itself has so much earnestness, “do not,” “do not,” “do not,” in regard to sin which had been already ended. As to past sin, God exhorts to repent, to break it off; not to renew it. He does not exhort to that which would be a contradiction even to His own omnipotence, not to do what had been already done.
According to the only meaning, then, which the words bear, Edom had not yet committed the sin against which Obadiah warns him, and so Jerusalem was not yet destroyed, when the prophet wrote. For the sevenfold “the day of thy brother,” (which is explained to be “the day of his calamity), the day of their destruction, the day of distress,” the mention whereof had just preceded, can be no other than “the day when strangers carried away his strength, and foreigners entered his gates, and cast lots on Jerusalem.” But no day was the day of utter destruction to Jerusalem, except that of its capture by Nebuchadnezzar. Its capture by Shishak , or by the Chaldees under Jehoiakim and Jehoiachin , left it uninjured; Jehoash, when he had defeated Amaziah, broke down a part of its walls only .
The relation of Obadiah to Jeremiah agrees with this. This argument in proof of that relation has been so carefully drawn out by Caspari , that little is needed except clearly to exhibit it. Few indeed, I should think (unless under some strong contrary bias), could read the five first verses of Obadiah in the book of the prophet himself, and, as they occur, scattered in Jeremiah 49:0, and not be convinced that Jeremiah reset the words of Obadiah in his own prophecy.
This is, in itself, probable, because Jeremiah certainly incorporated eight verses from Isaiah in his prophecy against Moab , and four from the same prophet in his prophecy against Babylon , in addition to several allusions to his prophecies contained in a word or idiom, or mode of expression. In the same way, Jeremiah closes his prophecy against Damascus, with a verse from the prophecy from Amos against it ; and he inserts a verse from Amos against Ammon in his own prophecy against that people . This is the more remarkable, because the prophecy of Amos against each people consists of three verses only. This, of course, was done in a designed way. Probably in renewing the prophecies against those nations, Jeremiah wished to point out that those former prophecies were still in force; that they had not yet been exhausted; that the threatenings of God were not the less certain, because they were delayed; that His word would none the less come true, because God was long-suffering. The insertion of these former prophecies, longer or shorter, are a characteristic of Jeremiah’s prophecies against the nations, occurring, as they do, in those against Babylon, Damascus, Moab, Ammon, and therefore, probably in that also against Edom.
The eight verses, moreover, common to Obadiah and Jeremiah form one whole in Obadiah; in Jeremiah they are scattered amid other verses of his own, in precisely the same way as we know that he introduced verses of Isaiah against Moab. But beside this analogy of the relation of the prophecy of Jeremiah to that of Isaiah, it is plainly more natural to suppose that Jeremiah enlarged an existing prophecy, adding to it words which God gave him, than that Obadiah put together scattered sayings of Jeremiah, and yet, that these sayings, thus severed from their context, should still have formed as they do, one compact, connected whole.
Yet, this is the case as to these verses of Obadiah. Apart, for the time, from the poetic imagery, the connection of thought in Obadiah’s prophecy is this: Obadiah 1:1 God had commanded nations to come against Edom, Obadiah 1:2 determining to lower it; Obadiah 1:3 it had trusted proudly in its strong position; Obadiah 1:4 yet, God would bring it down; and that, Obadiah 1:5 through no ordinary spoiler, but Obadiah 1:6 by one who should search out its most hidden treasures; Obadiah 1:7 its friends should be its destroyers; Obadiah 1:8 its wisdom, and Obadiah 1:9 might should fail it, and Obadiah 1:10 it should perish, for its malice to its brother Jacob; the crowning act of which would be at the capture of Jerusalem; Obadiah 1:11-14 but God’s day was at hand, the pagan should be requited; Obadiah 1:15-16 the remnant of Zion, being delivered, would dispossess their dispossessors, would spread far and wide; Obadiah 1:17-20 a Saviour should arise out of Zion, and the kingdom should be the Lord’s. Obadiah 1:21)
Thus, not only the eight verses from Obadiah, five of which recur in Jeremiah, and three others, to which he alludes, stand in close connection in Obadiah, but they form a part of one well-arranged whole. The connection is sometimes very close indeed; as when, to the proud question of Esau, ארץ יוּרדני מי mı̂y yôrı̂dēnı̂y 'erets, Obadiah 1:3, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” God answers, “though thou place thy nest among the stars, אוּרידך משׁם mı̂shâm 'ôrı̂ydekâ, Obadiah 1:4, thence, will I bring thee down.”
Jeremiah, on the contrary, the mourner among the prophets, is plaintive, even in his prophecies against the enemies of God’s people. Even in this prophecy he mingles words of tenderness ; “Leave thy fatherless children, I will preserve them alive; and let thy widows trust in Me.” Accordingly, Jeremiah has a succession of striking pictures; but the connection in him is rather one of oratory than of thought. His object is to impress; he does impress, by an accumulation of images of terror or desolation. Closeness of thought would not aid his object, and he neglects it, except when he retains the order of Obadiah. But plainly it is most probable, that “that” is the original form of the prophecy, where the order is the sequence of thought. That sequence is a characteristic, not of these verses only of Obadiah, but of the whole. The whole 21 verses of the prophet pursue one connected train of thought, from the beginning to the end. No one verse could be displaced, without injuring that order. Thoughts flow on, the one out of the other. But nothing is more improbable than to suppose that this connected train of thought was produced by putting together thoughts, which originally stood unconnected.
The slight variations also in these verses, as they stand in the two prophets, are characteristic. Wherever the two prophets in any degree vary, Obadiah is the more concise, or abrupt; Jeremiah, as belongs to his pathetic character, the more flowing. Thus, Obadiah begins: “Thus saith the Lord God, concerning Edom: A report we have heard from the Lord, and a messenger among the pagan is sent; Arise and let us arise against her to battle.” The words, “Thus saith the Lord God, of Edom,” declare that the whole prophecy which follows came from God; then Obadiah bursts forth with what he had heard from God, “A report we have heard from the Lord.” The words are joined in meaning; the grammatical connection, if regarded, would be incorrect. Again, in the words, “we have heard,” the prophet joins his people with himself. Jeremiah substitutes the more precise, “I have heard,” transposes the words to a later part of the prophecy, and so obviates the difficulty of the connection: then he substitutes the regular form, שׁלח shâlach, for the irregular, שׁלח shullach; and for the one abrupt sentence, “Arise, and arise we against her to battle,” he substitutes the Hebrew parallelism, “Gather ye yourselves and come against her; and arise to battle.”
Next, Obadiah has: “Behold! small have I made thee among the nations; despised art thou exceedingly.” Jeremiah connects the verse with the preceding by the addition of the particle “for,” and makes the whole flow on, depending on the word, “I have made. For behold! small have I made thee among the pagan, despised among men.” Obadiah, disregarding rules of parallelism, says; “The pride of thy heart hath deceived thee, dweller in rock-clefts, his lofty seat; who says in his heart, who will bring me down to the earth?” Jeremiah with a softer flow; “Thy alarmingness hath deceived thee, the pride of thy heart; dweller in the clefts of the rock, holding the height of a hill.” Obadiah has very boldly; “Though thou exalt as the eagle, and though amid stars set thy nest, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord.” Jeremiah contracts this, omits an idiom, for boldness, almost alone in Hebrew, סים ככבים בין ואם ve'im bēyn kôkâbı̂ym sı̂ym, “and though amid stars set,” and has only, “when thou exaltest, as an eagle, thy nest, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord,” where also, through the omission of the words “amid stars,” the word “thence” has, in Jeremiah, no exact antecedent.
In a similar way, Jeremiah smooths down the abrupt appeal, “If thieves had come to thee, if spoilers of the night (how art thou cut off!) will they not steal their enough? If grape-gatherers had come to thee, will they not leave gleanings?” Jeremiah changes it into two even half-verses; If grape-gatherers had come to thee, will they not leave gleanings? If thieves by night, they had spoiled their enough.” Again, for the 5 bold words of Obadiah, מצפניו נבעוּ עשׂו נחפשׂוּ איך 'êyk nechâphas'û ‛ês'âv, nı̂b‛û matsepunâyv, literally, “how are Esau outsearched, sought out his hidden places,” Jeremiah substitutes, “For I have laid bare Esau; I have discovered his hidden places, and he cannot be hid.”
Again, even an English reader of Jeremiah will have noticed that Jeremiah has many idioms or phrases or images, which he has pleasure in repeating. They are characteristic of his style. Now, in these verses which Obadiah and Jeremiah have in common, there is no one idiom which occurs elsewhere in Jeremiah; whereas, in the other verses of the prophecy of Jeremiah against Edom, in which they are, as it were, inlaid, there are several such, so to say, favorite turns of expressions. As such, there have been noticed, the short abrupt questions with which Jeremiah opens his prophecy against Edom ; “Is wisdom no more in Teman?” the hurried imperatives accumulated upon one another , “Flee, turn, dwell deep;” the accumulation of words expressive of desolation ; “Bozrah shall become a desolation, a reproach, a waste and a curse; and all her cities, perpetual wastes;” the combination of the two strong words, “shall be stupefied, shall hiss,” in amazement at her overthrow ; “Everyone who goeth by her shall be stupefied” (we say “struck dumb”) “and shall hiss at all her plagues.”
Such again are the comparisons to the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah ; the image of “the lion coming up from the pride of Jordan” ; the burden of these prophecies ; “the day of the destruction of Edom and the time of his visitation . “Wherefore hear ye the counsel of the Lord against Edom and His purposes which He has purposed toward Teman.” Then also, whole verses are repeated in these prophecies .
Out of 16 verses of which the prophecy of Jeremiah against Edom consists, four are identical with those of Obadiah; a fifth embodies a verse of Obadiah’s; of the 11 which remain, 10 have some turns of expression or idioms, more or fewer, which recur in Jeremiah, either in these prophecies against foreign nations, or in his prophecies generally. Now it would be wholly improbable that a prophet, selecting verses out of the prophecy of Jeremiah, should have selected precisely those which contain none of Jeremiah’s characteristic expressions; whereas it perfectly fits in with the supposition that Jeremiah interwove verses of Obadiah with his own prophecy, that in verses so interwoven there is not one expression which occurs elsewhere in Jeremiah.
One expression, which has been cited as an exception, if it is more than an accidental coincidence, the rather confirms this. Obadiah, in one of the earlier verses which Jeremiah has not here employed, says: “To the border have sent thee forth the men of thy covenant; the men of thy peace have deceived thee, have prevailed against thee; thy bread” (i. e., the men of thy bread, they who ate bread with thee) “have laid a snare under thee.” In the middle of this threefold retribution for their misdealing to their brother Judah, there occur the words, “the men of thy peace,” which are probably taken from a Psalm of David . But the word השיאך, “have deceived thee,” corresponds to the word השיאוך in Obadiah 1:3. “deceived thee” hath the pride of thy heart.” The deceit on the part of their allies was the fruit and consequence of their self-deceit through the pride of their own heart. The verse in Obadiah then stands in connection with the preceding, and it is characteristic of Obadiah to make one part of his prophecy bear upon another, to show the connection of thoughts and events by the connection of words. The taunting words against Zedekiah, which Jeremiah puts into the mouth of the women left in the house, when they should be brought before the king of Babylon’s princes, “Thy friends,” literally, “the men of thy peace, have set thee on, המיתוך, Jeremiah 38:22, and have prevailed against thee,” may very probably be a reminiscence of the words of Obadiah (although only the words, “men of thy peace,” are the same): but they stand in no connection with any other words in Jeremiah, as those of Obadiah do with the previous words.
The prophecy of Jeremiah in which he incorporated these words of Obadiah, itself also speaks of the destruction of Jerusalem as still future. For he says to Edom , “Lo! they whose judgment was not to drink the cup, shall indeed drink it; and shalt thou be unpunished? Thou shalt not be unpunished, for thou shalt indeed drink it.” It is plainly wrong (as even our own version has done) to render the self-same expression ישתו שׁתו as past, in the first place, “have assuredly drunken,” and as future in the second, תשתה שתו כי, for thou shalt surely drink of it.” Since they must be future in the second place, so must they also in the first. Jeremiah too elsewhere contrasts, as future, God’s dealings with His own people and with the nations, in this self-same form of words . “Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Ye shall certainly drink, for lo! I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by My Name, and shall ye be utterly unpunished? Ye shall not be unpunished, for I will call for a sword upon all the inhabitants of the earth, saith the Lord of hosts.” The form of words, להתע מחל בעיר־אנכי הנה, in itself requires, at least a proximate future, (for הנה with a participle always denotes a future, nearer or further) and the words themselves were spoken in the fourth year of Jehoiakim.
In that same fourth year of Jehoiakim, Jeremiah received from God the command to write in that scroll which Jehoiakim burned when a little of it had been read to him , “all the words that I have spoken unto thee against Israel and against Judah and against all the nations, from the day I spake unto thee, from the days of Josiah even unto this day.” After Jehoiakim had burned the scroll, that same collection was renewed, at God’s command, “with many like words” . Now immediately upon this, follows, in the Book of Jeremiah, the collection of prophecies against the foreign nations, and in this collection three contain some notice that they were written in that 4th year of Jehoiakim, and only the two last, those against Elam and Babylon, which may have been added to the collection, bear any later date. The prophecy against Babylon is at its close marked as wholly by itself , For Seraiah is bidden, when he had come to Babylon, and had “made an end of reading the book,” to “bind a stone” upon it, and “cast it into the Euphrates,” and say, “Thus shall Babylon sink, anew shall not rise again from the evil which I bring upon her.”
These chapters then as to Babylon although connected with the preceding in that they are prophecies against enemies of God’s people, are marked as in one way detached from them, a book by themselves. And in conformity with this, they are stated, in the beginning, to have been written in the 4th year of Zedekiah. In like way, the prophecy against Elam, which was uttered in the beginning of the reign of Zedekiah, was occasioned probably by misdeeds of that then savage people, serving, as they did, in the army of the Chaldees against Jerusalem, when Nebuchadnezzar took Jehoiakim captive to Babylon. It is distinguished from the earlier prophecies, in that Elam was no inveterate enemy of God’s people, and the instrument of his chastisement was not to be Babylon.
Those earlier prophecies Jer. 46–49:33 against Egypt, Philistia (including Tyre and Zidon), Moab, Ammon, Edom, Damascus, Kedar and the kingdoms of Hazor, all have this in common:
(1) that they are directed against old and inveterate enemies of God’s people;
(2) they all threaten destruction from one source, the north , or Nebuchadnezzar himself, either naming or describing him .
They are then probably one whole, a book of the visitations of God upon His enemies through Nebuchadnezzar. But the first of the two prophecies against Egypt relates to the expedition of Pharaoh Necho against Assyria, the utter overthrow of whose vast army at the Euphrates he foretells. That overthrow took place at Carchemish in the fourth year of Jehoiakim . The next prophecy against Egypt relates to the expedition of Nebuchadnezzar against it, which followed immediately on the defeat of Pharaoh . The third prophecy against Philistia was, before Pharoah smote Gaza ; but this was probably on his march against Assyria in that same fourth year of Jehoiakim, before his own power was broken forever.
But since the prophecy of Obadiah was anterior to that of Jeremiah, it was probably long anterior to it. For Jeremiah probably incorporated it, in order to show that there was yet a fulfillment in store for it. And with this it agrees, that Obadiah does employ in his prophecy language of Balaam, of a psalm of David, of Joel and Amos, and of no later prophet. This could not have been otherwise, if he lived at the time, when he is placed in the series of the minor prophets. Had he lived later, it is inconceivable that, using of set purpose, as he does, language of Joel and Amos, his prophecy should exhibit no trace of any other later writing. The expressions taken from the Book of Joel are remarkable, considering the small extent of both books. Such are undoubtedly the phrases; “it,” Jerusalem, “shall be holiness, קדשׁ qôdesh . In mount Zion there shall be a remnant .
For near is the Day of the Lord . I will return thy recompense upon thy head” , the phrase גוּרל ידוּ yadû gôrâl, for “cast lots.” These are not chance idioms. They are not language of imagery. They are distinguished in no poetical or rhetorical manner from idioms which are not used.
They are not employed, because they strike the senses or the imagination. One prophet does not borrow the imagery of another. They are part of the religious language of prophecy, in which when religious truth had once been embodied, the prophets handed it on from one generation to another. These words were like some notes of a loved and familiar melody, which brought back to the soul the whole strain, of which they were a part. “The Day of the Lord” having been described in such awful majesty by Joel, thenceforth, the saying, “near is the Day of the Lord,” repeated in his own simple words, conveyed to the mind all those circumstances of awe, with which it was invested. In like way the two words, “it shall be holiness,” suggested all that fullness of the outpouring of God’s Spirit, the sole source of holiness, with which the words were associated in Joel; they are full of the Gospel promise, that the church should be not holy only, but the depository of holiness, the appointed instrument through which God would diffuse it.
Equally characteristic is that other expression; “In Mount Sion shall be a remnant.” It gives prominence to that truth, so contrary to flesh and blood, which Paul had to develop, that all were not Israel who were of Israel . It presented at once the positive and negative side of God’s mercies, that there would be “salvation in Mount Zion,” but of a “remnant” only. So, on the other side, the use of the idiom יעקב אחך מחמס mēchâmâs 'âchı̂kâ ya‛ăqôb, repeated but intensified from that of Joel, יהודה בן מחמס mēchâmâs bên yehûdâh,” continued on the witness against that abiding sin for which Joel had foretold the desolation of Edom, “his violence toward his brother Jacob.”
The promise in Amos of the expansion of Jacob, “that they may inherit the residue of Edom, and all nations upon whom My Name is called,” is, in the same way, the basis of the detailed promise of its expansion in all directions - east, west, north, south - which Obadiah, like Amos, begins with the promise, that the people of God should inherit Edom: “And the South shall inherit Mount Esau, and the plain the Philistines.” Amos, taking Edom as a specimen and type of those who hated God and His people, promises that they and all nations should become the inheritance of the church. Obadiah, on the same ground, having declared God’s sentence on Edom, describes how each portion of the people of God should be enlarged and overspread beyond itself.
While thus alluding to the words of Amos, Obadiah further embodies an expression of Balaam, to which Amos also refers. Balaam says, “Edom shall be an heritage (ירשׁה yerûshshâh), Seir also shall be an heritage to his enemies; and Jacob shall do valiantly; and one out of Jacob shall have dominion, and shall destroy the remnant (שׂריד s'ârı̂yd) out of the city.” The union of these two declarations of Balaam (one only of which had been employed by Amos) cannot be accidental. They lie in the two adjacent verses in each. “The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble, and they shall burn them, and devour them; and there shall be no remnant (שׂריד s'ârı̂yd) to the house of Esau, for the Lord hath spoken it; and the south shall inherit (ירשׁ yârash) the mount of Esau.” In the fourth verse, also, Obadiah has an idiom from the prophecy of Balaam, which occurs nowhere besides; “strong is thy dwelling, and place (קנך ושׂים ves'ı̂ym qı̂nekâ) in the rock thy nest” This infinitive here is a very vivid but anomalous construction. It cannot be by accident, that this idiom occurs in these two places alone in the Hebrew Scriptures.
This employment of prophetic language of earlier prophets is the more remarkable, from the originality and freshness of Obadiah’s own diction. In his 21 verses he has several words which occur nowhere else . They are mostly simple words and inflections of words in use. Still they were probably framed by the prophet himself. One, who himself adds to the store of words in a language, has no occasion to borrow them of another. Obadiah adopts that other prophetic language, not as needing it to express his own meaning, but in order to give to it a fresh force and bearing.
But on the same ground, on which Obadiah employs the language of prophets who lived before him, he would have used the words of later prophets, had he lived later.
The framing of single words or forms is the least part of the originality of Obadiah’s style. Vividness, connectedness, power, are characteristics of it. As it begins, so it continues and ends. It has no breaks, nor interruptions. Thought follows on thought, as wave rolls upon wave, but all marshalled to one end, marching on, column after column to the goal which God hath appointed for them. Each verse grows out of that which was before it, and carries on its thought. The cadence of the words in the original is a singular blending of pathos and strength. The pathos of the cadence consists in a somewhat long sustained measure, in which the prophet dwells on the one thought which he wishes to impress; the force, in the few brief words in which he sums up some sentence. That lengthened flow will have struck even an English reader; the conciseness can only be seen in Hebrew. Those 5 words, “how are Esau outsearched! out-sought his secret places!” have been already alluded to.
Other such instances are, בוא תבונה אין 'ayin tebûnâh bô' with which Obadiah 1:7. closes; מהם אחד אתה גם gam 'attâh' echâd mēhem, “thou too as one of them,” Obadiah 1:11; עשׂה אשׁר 'ăsher ‛âs'âh, לך יעשׂה yē‛âs'âh lâk after the long exhortation in Obadiah 1:12-14. or the 3 words היוּ כלו והיוּ vehâyâh kelô' לו lô hâyû, which close the description in Obadiah 1:16-17. or those three which so wonderfully sum up the whole prophecy, המלוּכה אדני והיתה vehâyethâh 'ădonāy hammelûkâh, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” Even the repetition which occurs in the prophet, adds to the same effect, as in the two brief words, נכרי ביום beyôm nokrı̂y, אבד ביום beyôm 'âbad, זרה ביום beyôm zârâh, אידם ביום beyôm 'ēydâm, אידוּ ביום beyôm 'ēydô, Obadiah 1:12-13, with which he closes each clause of the exhortation against malicious joy in the calamity of their brother. The characteristic, vivid detail in description, and, in the midst of it, great conciseness without sameness, occurs throughout Obadiah.
It would then be the more strange, that a prophecy so brief and so connected as that of Obadiah should have been severed into two (one part of which is to belong to some earlier prophet, the other is to have been written after the destruction of Jerusalem), but that the motive of this disruption of the prophecy is apparent. “The oracle on Edom preserved under the name of Obadiah can,” says one , “in its present form, be of no earlier date than the Babylonian captivity. The destruction and entire desolation of Jerusalem is here described; the prophet himself wrote among the exiles.” It cannot be of any earlier date, according to this writer, because, in his belief, there cannot be any certain prediction of details of the future, or any knowledge of that future, beyond those dim anticipations which man’s own conscience and the survey of God’s ordinary providence may suggest; a cannot, which presupposes another cannot, that God cannot reveal Himself to His creatures.
But then this writer also could not altogether escape the impression, that great part of this prophecy must belong to a period long before the captivity. The only way of reconciling these contradictions, this must of external evidence, and this cannot of antidoctrinal prejudice, was to divide in two this living whole, and to assign to the earlier period such portions relating to Edom, as contained no allusion to the destruction of Jerusalem. This then is done. “Further investigation,” the writer proceeds, “shows, that the later prophet employed a fragment of an earlier prophet as to Edom. More than half of what is now extant, i. e., Obadiah 1:1-10, half of Obadiah 1:17, and Obadiah 1:18, by their contents, language, and coloring, indicate very clearly such an earlier prophet; and moreover, about the same time Jeremiah employed the earlier fragment, in that very much out of Obadiah 1:1-9 recurs in Jeremiah, but nothing of the words which belong most visibly to the later prophet, Obadiah 1:11-16, Obadiah 1:19-21.”
1. Now, plainly, since Jeremiah is not here to tell us, why he did incorporate in his prophecy certain verses, and did not refer to certain other verses of Obabiah, it is, in the last degree, rash to make a positive inference from the mere fact of his not employing those verses, that he had them not to employ. He does embody in his prophecy the five first verses of Obadiah, and there the correspondence between the two prophets almost ceases. The “thought” of Obadiah 1:6, but not one word of it recurs in Jeremiah to Obadiah 1:7; there is no allusion whatever; of Obadiah 1:8, again, the thought is retained, but only “one word,” and that, in a form altogether different . This eighth verse is the last in Obadiah, to which Jeremiah refers. Ewald then has to manufacture his “earlier prophet” out of those five first verses, which Jeremiah does embody; of other two, of which the thought only recurs in Jeremiah; and five more , to which there is, in Jeremiah, no allusion whatever; and having culled these ad libitum out of the whole chapter, he argues against the non-existence of the rest on the ground that Jeremiah does not employ them, whereas Jeremiah equally does not employ five of those, the existence of which at that same time Ewald acknowledges, and to two others Jeremiah alludes but very distantly. Since Jeremiah’s not alluding to five of these verses, does not prove, according to Ewald, that they did not then exist, neither does his not employing the remainder prove it as to them.
2. Jeremiah assigns no ground for the punishment of Edom, except his pride; nor does he, in any of those prophecies as to those lesser nations, foretell anything as to the future of Judah. This was not assigned to him, as his subject here. He does in the prophecies against Egypt and Babylon; for those were the great dynasties, on whom, in human eyes, the existence of Judah depended. There he fortells, that God would “make a full end of all the nations whither” He had “driven” them, but not “of Jacob” His “servant” . The future lot of Judah, as a whole, did not depend on those little nations. It may be on this ground, that Jeremiah foretells “their” destruction and the restoration of Moab and Ammon , and is silent as to Judah. Again, the immediate punishment of all these petty nations through Nebuchadnezzar was the subject of Jeremiah’s prophecy, not ulterior suffering at the hands of Judah. Now these subjects, the “violence” of Esau against his “brother Jacob,” as the ground of Edom’s punishment . In Obadiah 1:15-16 Obadiah, having rehearsed the offence, repeats the sentence), the future enlargement of Jacob , and an ulterior retribution on Edom through Judah, occupy most of those verses of Obadiah, to which there is no allusion in Jeremiah. This accounts (if there were any need to account for it) for the absence of allusion to almost all of Obadiah to which Jeremiah does not allude, both as to the part which Ewald accounts for in “his” way, and as to most of that part which he leaves unaccounted for.
But altogether, it must be said, that God’s prophets employ freely, as God taught them, what they do employ of the former prophets. They do not copy them in a mechanical way, as if they were simply re-writing a work which lay before them, so that we should have to account for anything which they did not think good to repeat. In making the similar use of Isaiah’s prophecy as to Moab, Jeremiah makes no reference to the five first verses.
3. So, far from “writing among the exiles,” Obadiah implies that the captivity had not yet commenced. He speaks of Judah and Benjamin, as in their own land, and foretells that they shall enlarge themselves on all sides. Hosea and Amos had, at that time, prophesied the final destruction of the “kingdom” of Israel and the dispersion of the ten tribes. In conformity with this, Obadiah foretells to the two tribes, that they should occupy the vacated places of the land of promise. In contrast with this enlargement of Judah and Benjamin, he speaks of those already in captivity, and prophesies their restoration. He speaks of two bodies of present exiles, “the captivity of “this” host of the children of Israel,” “the captivity of Jerusalem which is at Sepharad.” Of these he probably says , “The captivity of this host of the children of Israel which are among the Canaanites as far as Zarephath, and the captivity of Jerusalem which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the South.” Both these sets of captives must have been limited in number.
Those of “Jerusalem at Sepharad” or Sardis the capital of the Lydian empire, could only have been such as were exported by means of the slave trade.
The only public settlement of Jews there, was in times long subsequent, about 200 b.c., when Antiochus the Great, in order to check the seditions in Lydia and Phrygia , “removed thither at much cost 2,000 Jewish families out of Mesopotamia and Babylonia, with their goods,” on account of their tried faithfulness and zealous service to his forefathers. This removal, accompanied with grants of land, exemption from tribute for 10 years, personal and religious protection, “was” a continuation of the commenced “dispersion;” it was not a “captivity.” They were the descendants of those who might have returned to their country, if they would. They were in the enjoyment of all the temporal benefits, for which their forefathers had bartered their portion in their own land. There was nothing special as to why they should be singled out as the objects of God’s promise. Jews were then dispersing everywhere, to be the future disciples or persecutors of the Gospel in all lands. Seleucus Nicator, a century before, had found Jews in Asia and Lower Syria, and had given them like privileges with the Macedonians and Greeks whom he settled there. Jews had shared his wars. Alexander had, at Alexandria, bestowed like privileges on the Egyptian Jews In such times, then, there was no “captivity at Sepharad;” no Lydian empire; nothing to distinguish the Jews there, from any others who remained willingly expatriated.
On the other side, the place which the prophet assigns to those captives on their return is but a portion of Judah, “the cities of the South,” which he does not represent as unpopulated. In like way, whether the words as to Israel are rendered, “which are” among “the Canaanites as far as Zarephath,” or, “shall” possess “the Canaanites as far as Zarephath,” in either case the prophet must be speaking of a very limited number. Had he been speaking in reference to the ten tribes or their restoration, he would not have assigned their territory, “Ephraim, Samaria, Gilead,” to the two tribes, nor would he have assigned to them so small a tract. This limited number of captives exactly agrees with the state of things, supposing Obadiah to have lived, when, according to his place in the Canon, he did live, near the time of Joel. For Joel denounces God’s judgments on Tyre, Zidon and Philistia for selling unto the Grecians the children of Judah and Jerusalem. These captives, of whom Obadiah speaks, were some probably yet unsold, at Sarepta, and some at Sepharad or Sardis among the Grecians. On the other hand, it is inconceivable that Obadiah would have contrasted the present captivity, “this captivity of the children of Israel,” “the captivity of Jerusalem which is in Sepharad,” with Judah and Benjamin in their ancient possessions, had Judah and Benjamin been, when he wrote, themselves in captivity in Babylon, or that he would have prophesied concerning some little fragment of Israel, that it should he restored, and would have passed over the whole body of the ten tribes, if, when he prophesied, it had been in captivity. Nor is there again any likelihood, that by “this captivity of Jerusalem in Sepharad,” Obadiah means any captives, among whom he himself was (which is the whole ground-work of this theory of Ewald), for, in that case, he would probably have addressed the consolation and the promise of return TO them (as do the other prophets) and not have spoken OF them only.
A few years hence, and this theory will be among the things which have been. The connection of thought in Obadiah is too close, the characteristics of his style occur too uniformly throughout his brief prophecy, to admit of its being thus dislocated. Nowhere, throughout his prophecy, can one word or form be alleged, of which it can even be said, that it was used more frequently in later Hebrew. All is one original, uniform, united whole.
“Obadiah,” says Hugh of S. Victor, “is simple in language, manifold in meaning; few in words, abundant in thoughts, according to that, ‘the wise man is known by the fewness of his words.’ He directeth his prophecy, according to the letter, against Edom; allegorically, he inveighs against the world; morally, against the flesh. Bearing an image of the Saviour, he hinteth at his coming through whom the world is destroyed, through whom the flesh is subdued, through whom freedom is restored.” “Among all the prophets,” says another , “he is the briefest in number of words; in the grace of mysteries he is their equal.”
the Fourth Week after Epiphany