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Bible Commentaries

Whedon's Commentary on the Bible


- Obadiah

by Daniel Whedon



The Person of the Prophet.

THE Book of Obadiah, with its twenty-one verses, is the shortest book in the Old Testament. Of the personal history of its author nothing is known. Obadiah seems to have been a very common name among the Hebrews, for it occurs very frequently in the Old Testament. The best-known person bearing the name is the minister of Ahab, who offered protection to the prophets of Jehovah (1 Kings 18:0). Delitzsch thinks that the prophet may be identical with the Obadiah mentioned in 2 Chronicles 17:7, as being sent by Jehoshaphat to teach in the cities of Judah, but this identification is, to say the least, exceedingly doubtful.

It is quite probable that the author was a native of Judah, for all his interest seems to be centered in the south. The suggestion has been made, though without sufficient reason, that Obadiah is not the real name of the author, and that, the author being unknown, the name was placed at the head of the oracle because of its meaning, worshiper of Jehovah, or with a slight emendation servant of Jehovah. The prophet may have lived in exile (see on verse 20).

The Date of the Prophecy.

The prophecy of Obadiah has been dated very early and very late. Of recent writers Kirkpatrick assigns it to the ninth century; Cornill and others, to the fifth; Strack, after 587; Cheyne, in Founders of Old Testament Criticism, dates Obadiah 1:15-21 about 350; in Encyclopaedia Biblica, article “Obadiah,” he is content to say, “It (Obadiah 1:15-21) must have been later than 588, but not so late as 312,” which implies that, in his opinion, the book did not reach its present form until the late postexilic period. Marti makes the date of the latter part as late as the second century, while he assigns the earlier portion to the period of Malachi.

In the case of Obadiah the date of the book cannot be considered apart from its unity. Concerning these two points four distinct views have been and are still advocated: 1. The book is a unity and pre-exilic. 2. It is a unity and exilic or postexilic. 3. It consists of two portions, both postexilic. 4. It consists of an early, pre-exilic, and a late, postexilic, portion.

Lack of space prevents a detailed discussion of the different theories; and it may be well to pass immediately to a consideration of the evidence upon which any conclusion must be based. This evidence is chiefly internal and may be considered under three heads:

1. The position of the book in the series of Minor Prophets.

2. The historical references in Obadiah 1:11-14.

3. The literary parallels with Old Testament literature, especially the resemblances between Obadiah 1:1-9 and Jeremiah 49:7-22.

1 . The Position of the Book. In the Hebrew as in the English Bible the Book of Obadiah occupies fourth place; in LXX., fifth, the order there being Hosea, Amos, Micah, Joel, Obadiah. This place near the head of the list is thought by some to constitute an argument in favor of the early date of Obadiah. But the position of a book, though it may serve as a starting point for investigation, is by no means conclusive evidence; and its testimony cannot stand if strong contradictory evidence is discovered. Our further study will show whether such evidence is found in this book. Here it may be sufficient to say that the position of Obadiah may, perhaps, be due to other than chronological reasons. The collector or collectors of the Minor Prophets may have placed the book between Amos and Jonah because they regarded it “an expansion of the short prediction against Edom” which occurs at the close of the prophecy of Amos (Amos 9:12), and because they saw in Jonah an illustration of Obadiah 1:1, “an ambassador is sent among the nations.”

2 . The Historical References in vv. 11-14. Verses 11-14 presuppose a capture and devastation of Jerusalem. If the time of this disaster can be determined the earliest possible date of these verses is fixed. The Old Testament records four occasions when the southern capital fell into the hands of invaders; and it is very probable that one of these is in the mind of the prophet. 1. Jerusalem was taken by Shishak of Egypt during the reign of Rehoboam (1 Kings 14:25-26; 2 Chronicles 12:1-12); but at that time Edom was subject to Judah, and could not have committed the crimes described here; therefore this capture is excluded. 2. The city was sacked again by the Philistines and Arabians during the reign of Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:16-17). This is the occasion favored by those who believe in the pre-exilic date of Obadiah. It is open to question, however, whether that calamity was serious enough to justify the strong and vigorous language of the prophet. 3. The wall of the city was broken down by Jehoash of Israel (2 Kings 14:8-14; 2 Chronicles 25:17-24). This disaster cannot be meant, because the Israelites could not be called strangers and foreigners (verse 11). 4. Jerusalem was taken by Nebuchadnezzar in 597, and again in 586, when the city was plundered and destroyed (2 Kings 24:10 ff.; 2 Chronicles 36:9 ff.). For the reasons given 1 and 3 seem to be out of the question; hence the choice must be between 2 and 4, but, as already indicated, the description of Obadiah seems to exclude also 2. No events such as are alluded to by Obadiah took place, so far as is known, in the days of Jehoram, or in connection with any of the occupations of the city recorded except the one in 586. A comparison of 11-14 with the passages mentioned will readily show the truth of this statement.

The prophecy, then, should be understood as a denunciation of Edom’s hostility during the crisis which resulted in the downfall of the kingdom of Judah. True, the historical books do not name the Edomites as taking an active part in the destruction of Jerusalem, but the Old Testament asserts again and again that the Edomites were bitter enemies of Israel; and it is evident from other allusions in exilic and postexilic writings that during the closing days of Judah’s national existence the old hostile spirit revived. In Lamentations the poet bids the daughter of Edom to rejoice and be glad over the fall of Judah; but he immediately adds a threat of vengeance (Lamentations 4:21); Ezekiel also announces the doom of Edom (Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15); and in Psalms 137:0 the poet recalls with indignation the malice of the Edomites: “Remember, O Jehovah, against the children of Edom the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.” This spirit of hostility the prophet condemns in Obadiah 1:11-14. Well has it been said that the curse upon Edom is the “ one implication which breaks forth from the Lamentations of Jeremiah; it is the culmination of the fierce threats of Ezekiel; it is the whole purpose of the short, sharp cry of Obadiah; it is the bitterest drop in the sad recollections of the Israelite captive by the waters of Babylon; and the one warlike strain of the evangelical prophet is inspired by the hope that the divine conqueror would come knee-deep in Idumaean blood.”

The conclusion that the allusion is to the destruction of Jerusalem does not fully determine the date of the prophecy. Before that is done another question demands consideration, whether Obadiah describes an historical event of the past or present, or whether he is projected into the future and enabled, through divine inspiration, to speak of things still future as if they were present or had already passed. Pusey argues very emphatically for the second view, but his arguments are not convincing, for they are based upon an artificial, unscriptural conception of inspiration and prophecy. The language, the context, analogy with other prophetic books, and other considerations combine to make it more than probable that Obadiah is commissioned to announce judgment upon Edom for wrongdoings with which he has become familiar during his own lifetime. The statement of Pusey that the events to which the prophet alludes could not be a thing of the past at the time of the prophet’s writing, “because God does not warn men against sins already committed,” rests upon a misapprehension of the purpose of the book. The prophecy is not so much a warning as an announcement of judgment; its purpose is not so much to prevent new outbreaks as to condemn outrages already committed, though the former is also kept in mind (Obadiah 1:12-14). A due regard for this purpose of the prophecy causes the objection of Pusey to lose its entire force; and yet it may be true that Obadiah, speaking in the midst of the confusion subsequent to the fall of the city, hoped to prevent, by his message, further excesses of Edom.

The historical references of Obadiah 1:11-14, therefore, make it highly probable that the prophecy in its present form comes from a period subsequent to the fall of Jerusalem in 586.

3 . The Literary Parallels. No one can read Obadiah 1:1-9 and Jeremiah 49:7-22, without feeling that the marked resemblances between the two passages cannot be mere coincidence. Hence they must be explained in one of three ways: either Obadiah borrowed from Jeremiah, or Jeremiah borrowed from Obadiah, or both utilized for their own purposes an older prophecy. A careful examination of the resemblances as well as of the differences between the two passages has satisfied practically all scholars that, on the whole, Obadiah presents the more original form of the oracle. This conclusion is based both upon the linguistic features and upon the logical connection. Practical unanimity on this point would seem to exclude the first alternative and favor the second, that Jeremiah adopted the words of Obadiah. This inference would receive additional justification from the fact that Jeremiah does, at times, appropriate expressions of earlier prophets (compare, for example, Jeremiah 48:29-30, with Isaiah 16:6; Jeremiah 49:27, with Amos 1:4). Nevertheless, this view is not without difficulties. 1. In a few places (see comments) the originality seems to be with Jeremiah, which would favor the first alternative, unless it is supposed that the text of Obadiah suffered after Jeremiah had embodied the original words of Obadiah in his own prophecy.

2 . A more serious objection is the fact that Jeremiah 49:12, “they to whom it pertained not to drink of the cup shall assuredly drink,” seems to imply that judgment upon the Jews, that is, the destruction of Jerusalem, is still in the future. If so, Jeremiah must have delivered his prophecy before the destruction of the city, which excludes the possibility of his borrowing from an oracle delivered after the fall of Jerusalem (see above). We are driven, then, to the third alternative, that both passages are dependent upon an older utterance. It is worthy of note that the similarity of Jeremiah 49:7-22, extends only to Obadiah 1:1-9; and it would seem peculiar that Jeremiah, with the whole of Obadiah before him, should confine himself to the first nine verses, when the rest contains much that would have suited his purposes admirably. The differences between Obadiah 1:16 and Jeremiah 49:12, are so great that in this case independence seems not improbable; if, however, the resemblances between the two verses should be thought to warrant the conclusion that one must be dependent on the other, it should be borne in mind that, if Jeremiah uttered his oracle about twenty years before Obadiah’s appearance, the latter may have been influenced by Jeremiah’s words, though for the whole prophecy dependence of Obadiah upon Jeremiah seems excluded.

The most satisfactory explanation of the parallels between Jeremiah 49:7-22, and Obadiah 1:1-9 seems to be though it is readily admitted that it is only an hypothesis that both prophets derived the elements common to them from an earlier prophecy, which Obadiah incorporated with few alterations, while Jeremiah treated it with greater freedom, and that Obadiah was familiar not only with the original oracle but also with the utterance of Jeremiah dependent upon the same. On the whole, the earlier prophecy would be the same as Obadiah 1:1-9, which contains no allusions to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586. This older utterance the prophet appropriated after the fall of the city and expanded it in Obadiah 1:10-21, imitating to some extent the language of the earlier portion.

Some recent commentators who deny Jeremiah 49:7-22, to Jeremiah and bring the section down to a late date deny that any portion of Obadiah is pre-exilic; but the reasons advanced against the authenticity of Jeremiah 49:7-22, are not conclusive, and the above interpretation seems the most satisfactory.

The date and occasion of the earlier prophecy cannot be fixed with certainty. Ewald supposed it to have been spoken when Elath was restored to the Edomites (2 Kings 16:6; margin R.V.), while others place it in the days of Jehoram (2 Kings 8:20-22; 2 Chronicles 21:8-10); but see on verse 1. Since it seems quite probable that the book contains two separate sections, it must remain undecided whether Obadiah is the name of the author of the earlier utterance, or of the writer who supplemented this and gave the book its present form, or of both prophets.

With Joel also Obadiah shows resemblances; in some instances (compare Joel 2:32, with Obadiah 1:17) it seems beyond question that Joel is the borrower; Obadiah, therefore, must have preceded Joel.

The terminus a quo, then, of the prophecy in its present form is 586 B.C. How much farther down it is necessary to go is somewhat uncertain. On this point Selbie, a careful and competent investigator, says: “It appears upon the whole most probable that not only the exile but also the return belong to the past. Note that there is no prediction of the rebuilding and repopulation of the capital, Jerusalem. The expressions in the closing verses are best satisfied by a date such as Nowack postulates for Obadiah 1:1-15 (about 432 B.C.), or, perhaps preferably, later still. It is unfortunate that the text and the meaning of these verses are so doubtful.” This is the view of several very prominent commentators; on the other hand, there are other scholars, equally competent, who believe it unnecessary to go down so far. There is nothing in Obadiah 1:15-21 that presupposes the return from exile. In fact, everything the hopes of restoration, of the destruction of Edom, and of the establishment of the kingdom of God points to the period before the restoration. On the whole, therefore, the most probable date would seem to be one soon after 586 B.C.

A full discussion of the more complicated theories of Well-hausen, Nowack, and others may be found in Hastings’s Dictionary of the Bible, article “Obadiah”; compare also Driver, Introduction to the Literature of the Old Testament.

The Book of the Prophet.

1 . Teaching. The prophet seems to have a twofold purpose: 1. To announce judgment upon Edom. 2. By the announcement of the speedy overthrow of this hated enemy to bring comfort and hope to the cruelly wronged people of God. This twofold aim is easily seen in the contents of the book: verses 1-16 deal with the judgment upon Edom, verses 17-21 with the restoration of the exiles.

In setting forth his convictions the prophet, directly or indirectly, gives expression to several truths prominent in all prophetic books. The more important of these are: 1. The special interest of Jehovah in Israel. Temporarily he may permit its enemies to triumph, but in the end he must vindicate himself and his people. 2. Obadiah shares with other prophets the hope for the establishment of a new kingdom of God, centering in Mount Zion and Jerusalem. 3. Holiness will be the chief characteristic of the new kingdom. 4. There is no direct reference to a Messianic king; “the kingdom shall be Jehovah’s.” Compare, however, “saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau”; in a certain sense these saviours are representatives of Jehovah like the Messianic king of other prophetic books. 5. Obadiah sees no conversion, only disaster for the nations outside of Israel (Obadiah 1:16-18).

2 . Contents. Following the brief title the prophet announces his theme: He is charged with heavy tidings against Edom. An ambassador is gone forth from Edom to summon the surrounding nations to war against Judah (Obadiah 1:1); but Jehovah will thwart the scheme; the doom of Edom is decreed (Obadiah 1:2). Though she thinks herself secure in her lofty rock-hewn dwellings, though she may rise like an eagle and build her nest among the stars, Jehovah will bring her down and humble her (Obadiah 1:3-4). The destruction will be complete; even the most securely hidden treasures will be removed (Obadiah 1:5-6). The nations with which she sought alliances will prove treacherous; her own wise men and men of war will be cut off (Obadiah 1:7-9).

The judgment will fall because Edom has done violence to Jacob in the day of Jerusalem’s calamity (Obadiah 1:10-11). The prophet, either in reality or imagination, sees the Edomites rejoicing in their inhumanities, and bids them emphatically to desist from cruel looks and words (Obadiah 1:12), from overt acts of spoliation (Obadiah 1:13), and from cutting off the fugitives at the crossways, and delivering to the enemies “those of his that remain in the day of distress” (Obadiah 1:14).

From the description of the crimes the prophet turns once more to the retribution. The Edomites are to be cut off forever; and though the judgment will fall upon all nations the Edomites will suffer most (Obadiah 1:15-16).

The announcement of doom upon its enemies is followed by a promise of restoration to Israel. A remnant will escape in Mount Zion (Obadiah 1:17); the redeemed of the house of Jacob and of the house of Joseph will be used by God to bring destruction upon the house of Esau (Obadiah 1:18). Edom destroyed, the territory of the purified remnant will be extended in every direction (Obadiah 1:19-20). “Saviours” will arise in Zion, whose sway will extend over the Mount of Esau, and over all will be established the rule of Jehovah (Obadiah 1:21).



1. Announcement of the judgment Obadiah 1:2-9

(1) Inability of Edom’s natural defenses to save her Obadiah 1:2-4

(2) Completeness of the destruction Obadiah 1:5-6

(3) Treachery of her allies Obadiah 1:7

(4) Failure of Edom’s wisdom and might Obadiah 1:8-9

2. Causes of the judgment Obadiah 1:10-14

(1) The unbrotherly conduct of Edom toward Judah Obadiah 1:10-11

(2) Warning to desist from this conduct Obadiah 1:12-21. The terrors of the day of Jehovah Obadiah 1:15-16


1. Restoration of a remnant Obadiah 1:17

2. Conquest of Edom and other surrounding nations Obadiah 1:18-20

3. Jehovah’s universal sway Obadiah 1:21