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Bible Commentaries

Lange's Commentary on the Holy Scriptures: Critical, Doctrinal and Homiletical


- Obadiah

by Johann Peter Lange



Pastor At St. Gertraud, And Professor Of Old Testament Theology In The University Of Berlin.


Professor In The University At Lewisburg, Penn.



Of the author of the brief prophecy concerning the doom of Edom, which those who arranged the Canon have inserted between Amos and Jonah, we really know, with certainty, nothing except the name. This is read by the Masorah as Obadiah [עֹבַדְיָה], i.e., Servant of Jehovah, a proper name frequently met with, and which was borne also by a respectable Zebulonite of the time of Saul (1 Chronicles 27:19), a major-domo of Ahab (1 Kings 18:3), a Levite under Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:12), and several heads of post-exilian houses. There is, therefore, no ground for holding it, with Augusti and Küper, as a symbolic pseudonym. That, however, the pronunciation of the name offered by the Masoretes was not universal in the earliest times, is evident from the fact that the LXX give for it, in different places, not only Obdias, but Abdias, Audias, etc.1 What Jewish traditions report concerning the man bears the stamp of conjecture, or of fanciful invention. The oldest of these traditions identifies him with the chief courtier of Ahab, referred to above, probably because he is mentioned 1 Kings 18:3 as a very pious man, but in so doing overlooks the fact that our prophecy grows not out of the circumstances of the ten tribes, but entirely out of Jerusalem. The others are still more capricious.

To determine the time of the prophecy, we are left, therefore, simply to its contents, to its relations with the other prophets, and to the historical accounts of the Old Testament.

The situation in which the prophet stands is shown principally in Obadiah 1:10 ff., since Obadiah 1:1-9 contain mere prophecy (“in that day,” Obadiah 1:8). Jerusalem is distressed by a hostile invasion, strangers have entered into her gates (Obadiah 1:11 c), have plundered and ravaged, so that the population have betaken themselves to a wild flight (Obadiah 1:14 b, c), have carried off many treasures (Obadiah 1:11 b), and divided the inhabitants among them by lot (Obadiah 1:11 d), to sell them as slaves to distant peoples (Obadiah 1:20 c). The Edomites have not only exhibited an unbrotherly and malignant delight in these transactions (Obadiah 1:12; Obadiah 1:10 a; Obadiah 1:13 b), but have actively taken part in them (Obadiah 1:11 e), have shared in the invasion of the city (Obadiah 1:13 a), in the plundering (Obadiah 1:13 c), and the mad revelry which followed (Obadiah 1:16 a), have lain in wait for the fugitives when they escaped from the city, and slain them in part, in part delivered them up to slavery (Obadiah 1:14). The catastrophe which the prophet threatens in Obadiah 1:1-9, is the punishment of Edom for these deeds (Obadiah 1:10), and with this is linked the restitution of Israel (Obadiah 1:17-21).

From this description it is obvious that the circumstances were such as presented themselves after the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. That the conduct of Edom in relation to that catastrophe was thoroughly hostile, and closely similar to what is here depicted (Obadiah 1:11 ff.), is proved by the prophecies occasioned by that conduct (Ezekiel 35:0 and Isaiah 63:0). We might, therefore, regard the prophet as a contemporary of this event (Aben Ezra, Luther, Calovius, Tarnovius, Ch. 5. and J. D. Michaelis, De Wette, Knobel, Maurer, Winer, Hendewerk2), or as one of the later Epigoni of prophecy (Hitzig, an Egyptian Jew, cir. 312 b.c.). And undoubtedly we must prefer this reference of our prophecy to every other, if it were true, as Hitzig maintains, that in the first ten verses of his discourse, Obadiah makes use of, may, simply paraphrases the strikingly similar language of Jeremiah (Jeremiah 49:7 ff.) against Edom. It is easy, in this view, to regard precisely those peculiar features in which Obadiah excels Jeremiah (Obadiah 1:11 ff.), as called forth by the immediate impression of the catastrophe, which Jeremiah had not yet before his eyes: for he spoke his prophecy in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, and therefore before the destruction of Jerusalem (cf. Caspari, p. 15 ff.).

Nevertheless, concerning this use of Jeremiah by Obadiah, precisely the contrary is to be believed. Against it speaks at once the circumstance, that this very series of announcements in Jeremiah concerning foreign lands to which the passage 49:7 ff. belongs, shows not merely a constant use of earlier prophecies, but that Jeremiah repeatedly applies earlier prophecies, with free reproduction and expansion, to present occasions. So the prophecy against Moab, Isaiah 15, 16, in chap. 48; the prophecies in Isaiah 1:13 ff., Isaiah 1:8 :ff., in Isaiah 49:1 ff, Isaiah 49:23 ff. Thus he has, in some sense out of his own εξουσία, on the principle that prophecy is spoken for all time and therefore must be applicable also to the ever-recurring present, compiled, in this series of chapters, a canon of ancient prophecy for his own time. And if, in all these passages, it is undeniable that Jeremiah has availed himself of older prophecies should he in just the one before us be the original, and Obadiah have borrowed from him?

This presumption against Hitzig’s view rises to certainty when we more carefully compare the two predictions. “On comparing the two common sections with each other, we find that in Obadiah partly shorter and more rapid, partly heavier and more abrupt, partly more clear and lively than in Jeremiah” (Caspari). It cannot be denied that the cruces interpretum offered by Obadiah, especially in Obadiah 1:3; Obadiah 1:5, appear in Jeremiah smoothed down, and that the solitary difficulty which Jeremiah has beyond Obadiah in the word תִּפְלַצְתְּךָ (Jeremiah 49:16), as against the numerous obscurities peculiar to the latter, is of no account. But it is contrary to all hermeneutical procedure to suppose that a later writer, in regard to a situation meanwhile explained, should have still darkened the clear language of the earlier one, while, on the contrary, it is a common and explainable occurrence, that the obscure prophecy of antiquity should, in the hands of the subsequent seer, who is at the same time highly skilled in discourse, become more flowing and more clear. Some, to escape this argument, feign that the obscurities of Obadiah are indications of an atomistic compilation, from a point of view arbitrarily chosen, without force and without definiteness; but the exegesis of the book will have to show that his discourse is one which bears a single burden, is animated by one independent soul.

The comparison with Jeremiah is, therefore, of no value toward the more accurate determination of the age of our prophet. On the other hand, we have the positive circumstance that the inner relationship places his prophecy entirely within the circle of view of those prophets among whom the collectors of the Canon have placed it, that is, the oldest. Of the great monarchies of the world Obadiah knows nothing. The enemies who have invaded Jerusalem are to him simply foreigners and strangers (Obadiah 1:11), and besides the Edomites he names none except the Philistines (Obadiah 1:19), and the Phoenicians (Obadiah 1:20), both of whom appear in Joel (4:4), as enemies of the kingdom. Aram is not so much as once mentioned, so that his horizon is still narrower than that of Amos. The two kingdoms are in existence standing firmly side by side. The southern one consists of the tribes of Judah (which inhabits the Negeb and the lowland) and Benjamin (Obadiah 1:19); the northern (Ephraim and Gilead) must yet be possessed, that a united kingdom may arise, one army of the children of Israel (Obadiah 1:19-20, cf. Hosea 2:2). The captives of Jerusalem are not carried away to the east, but are sold as slaves into the west, precisely as in Joel; to the Javan (Ionia) of Joel corresponds the Sepharad (Sparta) of Obadiah (Obadiah 1:20). The middlemen, who have made traffic of these slaves, are doubtless the same as those named in Amos 1:9; Joel 4:6, the Phœnicians, whom Obadiah also (Obadiah 1:20) expressly mentions. Of a destruction of Jerusalem, moreover, not a word is said, but only of capture and ravage. And it is to be observed that the hostile attitude of Edom is by no means a state of things first produced by the Babylonian destruction, and before unheard of. In Joel also (4:19), and Amos (1:11 ff.; 9:12), precisely as here, Edom appears as an enemy of Judah, deserving double chastisement on account of his originally fraternal relation to Israel. It would be plainly incongruous to refer all these predictions just cited, and which, for the most part, wear a very distinctly historical aspect, to the incidental position which Edom occupied two centuries later in the Chaldæan catastrophe; the more incongruous because, from the time of Moses onward (Numbers 20:14 ff), the attitude of this neighbor nation toward Israel was, according to the historical Books also, hostile up to the full measure of their strength (1 Samuel 14:47; 2 Samuel 8:14; 1Ki 11:14 ff; 2 Kings 8:20, etc.).

The same is to be said of Obadiah also. As he belongs to the first period of written prophecy, not only from the correspondences above noticed, but also from the fact that the later prophets presuppose him as having gone before (cf. under the head of Theological and Ethical), nay, even expressly quote him (Joel 3:5; Joel 2:32, cf. Obadiah 1:17), he cannot have had the Chaldæan destruction for his point of view, for what he says of devastation is not prophecy, but palpable, detailed description, which is plainly distinguished from the prophetic verses, and therefore relates to the past. And even if we give up the hermeneutical rule that every prophetic utterance must rise from a given historical situation, be called forth by some manifestation of God’s rule in the history of the kingdom; if we concede that, irrespective of any Historical occasion, and purely by the force of inspiration, Joel may have foreseen the participation of the Edomites in the destruction of Jerusalem, with all its particular features; still, it is certainly inconceivable that he should have placed this incidental circumstance so conspicuously in the foreground, while the main fact which should have naturally cast down him and his people to the ground, in the prospect of it, namely, the destruction itself, and the chief enemy, the Babylonians, were treated as such obviously familiar circumstances, mere scenery and a starting point for the threatening against Edom. Thus fall also the opinions which place Obadiah in the early times indeed (under Uzziah), but still will not give up the reference of his prophecy to the catastrophe of 588 b.c. (Hengstenberg, Hävernick, Caspari.) The event which by its iniquity has called for the judgment announced by Obadiah is, rather, one contemporary with himself, one, therefore, accomplished in the earlier times by the Edomites against Jerusalem, which he has personally witnessed, and on which the other prophets of that age also look back in the apposite passages of their writings.

When we inquire more specifically into the nature of this transaction, it is not that recorded in 2 Chronicles 25:3 f. (Vitringa, Carpzov, Küper), nor in 2 Chronicles 28:5 ff. (Jäger). In both of these instances it was not foreigners who desolated Jerusalem, as Obadiah assumes to have been the case (Obadiah 1:11), but principally the Ephraimites. It is rather the capture of Jerusalem under Joram, mentioned 2 Chronicles 21:16 f., cf. 2 Kings 8:20 ff. (Hoffmann, Delitzsch, Nägelsbach). Here we are told that the Philistines and Arabians (a collective name with the later historical writers, for the peoples living east and south of Judah), came up and carried away great treasures, and even took among the captives the princes of the royal family. This event, which harmonizes far better than the Chaldæan invasion with our prophecy, inasmuch as it, like Obadiah, intimates nothing of a destruction of Jerusalem and annihilation of the national existence, but only plunder and rapine, this event alone can have been in the thoughts of Joel and Amos when they reproach the Philistines (Joel , 3 [4] 6; Amos 1:6 ff.) with living delivered over the captives of Judah and sold them into a foreign land. On account of this transaction the Edomites are, in the view of these prophets also, national foes.

If now, on the one hand, Obadiah coincides with them, especially with Joel, precisely in these connections, in several passages (Obadiah 1:10-11; Obadiah 1:15, cf. Joel 3:0. [4.] 19, 3, 7, 14), and that not at all as a borrower, but as leading the way (Obadiah 1:17, cf. Joel 2:32; Joel 3:5), and, on the other, Joel is to be regarded as a contemporary of Joash (877 ff.), we may, without danger of essential mistake, ascribe our prophecy to the preceding decade (890–880), falling mostly under the reign of Joram.3 That his position in the Canon is subsequent to that of the later Joel affords no argument against this. In fact we are obliged, from the start, by Hosea’s leading place in the series, to abandon the untenable hypothesis that an accurately observed chronological principle can be discovered in the succession of the minor prophets; and the exact adaptation of our prophet to Amos, Amos 9:12, gave sufficient occasion (as Schnurrer had already perceived), for assigning to him just this place.

From this settlement of the date a beautiful and self-consistent structure of the prophecy offers itself. According to the peculiar custom of the prophets to begin with the threatening (or the consolation), and afterwards adduce the explanation of it, the discourse before us falls, first, into the announcement of the judgment (Obadiah 1:1-9), and the reasons for it (Obadiah 1:10-16); to which then the conclusion demanded by the nature of prophecy, the announcement of salvation to Israel, is appended. The language is the same throughout, and the plan rounded and complete. Thus the suppositions of Ewald and Graf (Jeremiah) fall to the ground. According to them Obadiah 1:1-9 should be regarded as the old prophetic kernel which a prophet of the exile has rewrought, completed, and adapted to the destruction of Jerusalem.

Luther: Obadiah gives no sign of the time in which he lived, but his prophecy relates to the time of the captivity, for he comforts the people of Israel with the promise that they shall come again to Zion. Especially does his prophecy issue against Edom and Esau, who cherished a special, everlasting envy against the people of Israel and Judah, as is wont to be the case when friends fall out with each other, and especially when brothers come into hatred and hostility toward each other; there the hostility knows no bounds. Therefore were the Edomites beyond all bounds hostile to the people of Judah, and had no greater joy than to look on the captivity of the Jews, and gloried over them, and mocked them in their grief and misery. How the prophets almost all upbraid the Edomites for such hateful malice, see on Psalms 137:7. Now since such conduct is exceedingly distressing when one, instead of comforting as one reasonably should, rather mocks the sorrowful and afflicted in their grief, laughs at them, scorns them, glories over them, so that their faith in God suffers a powerful assault, and is strongly tempted to doubt and unbelief, God sets up a special prophet against such vexatious mockers and assailants, and comforts the afflicted, and strengthens their faith with threatening and rebuke against such hostile Edomites, and with promises and assurance of future help and deliverance. That is truly a needed comfort and a profitable Obadiah. At the close he prophecies of Christ’s kingdom, which shall be not in Jerusalem only but everywhere. For he mingles all peoples together, as Ephraim, Benjamin, Gilead, Philistines, Canaanites, Zarpath, which cannot be understood of the earthly kingdom of Israel, since such people and tribes must be separated in the land, according to the law of Moses. But that the Jews make Zarpath mean France, and Sepharad Spain, I let pass and hold nothing of it; yet let every one hold what he will.

Literature, vide General Introduction, p. 45

Special Commentaries. Hugo a St. Victore (†1141), Adnotatt. elucidatoriœ in Obadiam, in his Opp. p. 1526. J. Leusden, Obadjah illustratus (with the Paraph. Chald., the two Masorahs, and the commentaries of R. Isaac, Abenezra, Kimchi, app. to the Joel illust. of the same author), Ultraj, 1657. A. Pfeiffer, Comment. in Obadjam (with the Comment. of Abarbanel), Viteb, 1666. J. G. Schröer, Der Prophet Obadjah aus d. bibl. u. weltl. Historie Erlaütert, Bresl., 1766. J. K. Happach, Uebersetzung des Proph. Obad. mit Anmerkungen, Kob., 1779. Ch. T. Schnurrer, Diss. phil. in Obadjam, Tub., 1787, 4. J. T. G. Holzapfel, Obadjah neu übersetzt, Rint., 1798. H. Venemae, Lectiones in Obadjam, in Verschuirii Opuscula, ed. J. A. Lötze, Utr., 1810. C. L. Hendewerk, Obadjae Oraculum in Idumœos, Regiom., 1836. C. B. Caspari, Der Prophet Obadjah, Leipz., 1842.

Special Treatises. S. Ravius, Spec. in Obadiah 1:1-8, Traj., 1757, 4. Zeddel, Annotatt. in Obadiah 1:1-4, Hal., 1830. Krahmer, Observatt. in Obad., Tüb., 1837. Fr. Delitzsch, When did Obad. prophesy? in Rudelbach and Guericke’s Zeitschrift, 1851, p. 91 ff.


[1][Ἀβδία, [οβδία]. Αβδεια, Αβαδία—Tr.]


[3]In harmony with this conclusion, we may venture the conjecture, that our prophet is identical with that pious Obadiah whom, with others, Joram’s father Jehoshaphat had sent out to revive the spirit of true worship in the land, by the explanation of the law (2 Chronicles 17:7).