“Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because that Edom hath dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and hath greatly offended, and revenged himself upon them; Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also stretch out mine hand upon Edom, and will cut off man and beast from it; and I will make it desolate from Teman; and they of Dedan shall fall by the sword” (Ezekiel 25:12,13).
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Very little is known about the prophet Obadiah, whose vision of the doom of Edom and the restoration of Israel comprise the shortest book of the Old Testament. Yet his message is not obscure, because his words are quoted and his thoughts are repeated by other Bible authors, such as Jeremiah and John the Revelator. The book of Obadiah is 21 verses long. The first 16 describe God’s punishment upon Edom because of their actions when Israel was under attack by other enemies. The Edomites joined the attackers, taking a spoil in Jerusalem and blocking the way of the fleeing Jews, instead of helping their relatives, the Israelites.
The next five verses describe blessings from God upon the house of Jacob — deliverance from captivity, a return to their land, a triumph over their enemies, and holiness upon mount Zion.
Bible historians are divided between two possibilities as to when Obadiah wrote this prophecy. One group says that the attack upon Israel mentioned by Obadiah was the attack of Nebuchadnezzar in 606 BC., so they conclude Obadiah must have written his prophecy around 600 BC.
The other group notes that Jeremiah quotes Obadiah. Since Jeremiah’s prophecy was shortly after 600 BC, Obadiah’s prophecy must have been earlier for Jeremiah to have known of it. They suggest the attack Obadiah describes was by the Philistines and Arabians recorded in 2 Chronicles 21:16,17. This would put Obadiah’s writing around 900 BC, some 300 years before Nebuchadnezzar’s attack.1
From Obadiah’s brief and vague description of the attack, it is difficult to say if it was Nebuchadnezzar’s attack in 606 BC or some other. But there are some hints, and an interpretation of the symbolic aspect of Obadiah’s prophecy, that help give us a clue.
The land of Edom lay to the south of the two tribe kingdom of Judah, between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. Modern day Israel includes the western half of ancient Edom. The eastern half is in southern modern-day Jordan. The capital city of Edom was Bozrah.
Verses 1-9 tell of God’s judgment and punishment of Edom. Edom is being spoken to here, so it should be remembered that the words “thee” or “thy” refer to Edom. The next seven verses tell why Edom is to be punished.
The Historical Setting
In verse 10 Obadiah rebukes the Edomites for violence against their brethren the Israelites, “thy brother Jacob.” Edom was the name given to Esau after he sold Jacob his birthright as firstborn son of Isaac (Genesis 25:30). Ill will between Jacob and Esau continued through their children and their children’s children for over a thousand years down to the time of Obadiah.
In verse 11, “in the day that thou stoodest on the other side” implies that, geographically, Edom was on one side of Jerusalem and the attackers came from the other side. Edom is south of Jerusalem, indicating that the attackers came from the north. Verse 14 supports this: “Neither shouldest thou have stood in the crossway, to cut off those of his that did escape; neither shouldest thou have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress.”
As the Jews fled southward to escape their attackers, the Edomites, to the south, blocked their escape path. Instead of helping the Jews, they hunted them out of their hiding places, putting them into the hands of their attackers.
(1) Editor’s Note: The 12 Prophets were intended to be in chronological order. Obadiah is after Amos and before Jonah and Micah; so perhaps about BC 765.
The attackers were likely the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar, because they would have come from the north, while the Philistines and Arabs would have come from the west and south, the same side as Edom. The latter would contradict verses 10 and 14 about Edom being on the opposite side of the attackers and hindering the fleeing Israelites.
The Babylonians would have followed the banks of the river Euphrates northward to the hills of modern day Turkey, then turned southward along the Mediterranean coast and attacked Israel from the north. The Edomites joined the attack both to curry favor with the attacking Babylonians as well as carry off a spoil and avenge a thousand-year-old grievance. The Edomites were opportunists and did not consider that Babylon might turn against Edom.
The Judgment on Edom
The Babylonians first welcomed the alliance with the Edomites against Israel and then they turned and conquered them also. “The vision of Obadiah: Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom; We have heard a rumor from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the heathen, Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle. …. All the men of thy confederacy have brought thee even to the border: the men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee, and prevailed against thee; they that eat thy bread have laid a wound under thee: there is none understanding in him” (verses 1,7).
The conquest was complete. “If thieves came to thee, if robbers by night, (how art thou cut off!) would they not have stolen till they had enough? if the grapegatherers came to thee, would they not leave some grapes?” (verse 5). Mere thieves would have been easier on Edom. Thieves take as much as they can carry and leave the rest. Similarly, harvest workers take most of the grapes but leave some grapes, or gleanings as in the margin. But Babylon left nothing after its conquest of Edom. Edom of verses 3 and 4 was cut off completely forever, as we read in verses 8 and 9. Her treachery in assisting the Babylonians against the Israelites was repaid in kind by Babylonian treachery of turning upon their former allies, the Edomites, and conquering them, too. Notice the last part of verse 15: “as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.”
The Symbolic Application
Obadiah 1 and 2 remind us of Revelation 17:4 and 16. “And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: … And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire.”
Here, the woman symbolizes Papacy and the beast represents the nations who were allied with its churches from AD 539 to AD 1799. Verse 16 describes an event still future when the ten horns of the beast representing the ten divisions of Christendom, the people of the so-called Christian nations, rise up against the nominal church systems with destructive fury.
Obadiah 3 through 6 describe a similar attitude as seen in Revelation 18:7,8. “How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her.”
Obadiah 8 and 9, which speaks of the dismay of the leaders of Edom, has its parallel in Revelation 18:9-11: “And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more.”
Obadiah 10-14, which we considered earlier, speaks of the treachery Edom committed against natural Israel. Parallel to these verses are the many verses in Revelation that speak of the persecution of true spiritual Israel at the hands of the whore, the harlot, Babylon, or nominal spiritual Israel. Among these scriptures is Revelation 18:24: “And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth.”
Obadiah 15 and 16 are the last two verses in the first part of the prophet’s vision which speak of the doom of Edom. Their parallel is in Revelation 18:3,6: “All nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. …. Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double.” In Obadiah’s account, both Edom and the heathen which later rose up against Edom, drank the intoxicating wine of triumph and conquest over God’s literal holy mountain, the city of Jerusalem, in 606 BC. In the Revelation 18 parallel passage, both the nominal churches and the civil governments drink the wine of fornication and celebrate their temporary triumph over the true church, the symbolic holy mountain of God. For a time, they drink together in an unholy union of church and state. But at the end, as Obadiah 16 indicates, the civil governments drink alone in the nominal church’s place, “as ye have drunk.” Then they (the heathen in verse 16, symbolizing the civil governments after the church systems are destroyed) “shall be as though they had not been” when Christ’s kingdom is established, and the nations are overthrown. The parallel passage to this is in Revelation 18:15-21. The parallels and similarities between Obadiah’s vision of the doom of Edom and John’s, the Revelator vision of the destruction of Babylon are striking.
An Apparent Inconsistency?
There is one apparent inconsistency in this application of the literal events in Obadiah. If the literal country of Edom was attacked and destroyed by the literal country of Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar shortly after 606 BC and if literal Edom symbolizes Babylon, who does literal Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar symbolize? Can Babylon attack Babylon?
Babylon is not mentioned by name in Obadiah; so there is no actual inconsistency. However, Babylon as used in the Scriptures is a term that has more than one meaning. Sometimes Babylon has a narrow, specific meaning, such as the Catholic Church by itself or perhaps Catholic and Protestant churches together. Sometimes Babylon has a wider or general meaning including not only the Catholic and Protestant churches but also the nations and their civil organizations as well.
In Obadiah, as in Revelation, we have a picture of the civil elements of Christendom rising up against the ecclesiastical elements with which they formerly cooperated. In Obadiah, Easu/Edom was the brother of Jacob/Israel and well represents a false Christianity that sold its birthright for present earthly advantage. While no great enemy of Edom is named in Obadiah, we have suggested above it was Babylon. In Revelation, the woman and beast are the ecclesiastical and civil sides of Rome. To false Christianity, the great enemy identified in Revelation 17:16 is the “ten horns,” the civil portion of larger Babylon that formerly supported Papacy. Already, today’s governments of western and central Europe appear to be irreversibly Leftist/Atheist, and therefore hostile to Roman Papacy.
“But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it. And they of the south shall possess the mount of Esau; and they of the plain the Philistines: and they shall possess the fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria: and Benjamin shall possess Gilead. And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south. And saviors shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s” (verses 17-21).
The return of the house of Jacob to its possession of land mentioned in verse 17 had a literal fulfillment in 536 BC, when Cyrus the Persian gave his decree that Jews taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar could return to their former country. Verse 18 describes a vengeance of the Israelites upon the literal Edomites when they returned, and this may have had a literal fulfillment. The historian Josephus recounts how Judas Maccabeus led an army against the descendants of the few Edomites who survived Babylon’s attack and slew most of them. The apocryphal books of first and second Maccabees also include a record of Edomites being taken captive into slavery to serve the Jews.
Verse 19 describes the land Israel shall repossess. Esau or Edom is the southern extremity; the Philistines were to the west in what is now the Gaza strip, Ephraim was to the north of Jerusalem, although there were tribes even further north than Ephraim; and Gilead was to the east, on the eastern bank of the Jordan River. Most of this land Obadiah describes is presently part of Israel or under its control, and we expect even more land and returning Jews to be added to that nation.
Verse 20 hints at this with the reference to the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad. Bible expositors give various interpretations to the location of Sepharad. Some say Spain and France, far to the west, others say a region of Babylon near the Euphrates far to the east. Perhaps the vagueness of this reference, to Sepharad, is meant to convey that wherever the captives are, from east to west, they will return.
This and other prophecies of the return of the Jews to the land God gave them have yet to see their fulfillment. As these prophecies are being fulfilled, the full extent of “Jacob’s Trouble” will come upon regathered Israel, followed by the establishment of Christ’s kingdom as verse 21 describes.
Earth’s Kingdom Established
In the symbolic application of the final five verses of Obadiah, Mount Zion symbolizes the heavenly phase of God’s kingdom. When the kingdom on earth is established, deliverance, redemption from sin through Christ and the resurrection power, will issue forth from Mount Zion upon the inhabitants of earth. There shall be holiness — righteousness — under the terms of the Messianic reign.
Before that kingdom of holiness is fully set up, verse 18 tells us that the last remnants of the old order, this present evil world, must be swept away. Perhaps the house of Jacob and the house of Joseph mentioned in verse 18 refer to the restored nation of Israel and the resurrected Ancient Worthies respectively in their early work of drawing all nations to Jerusalem and putting down any last rebellion to the new kingdom arrangement. When their work is done, “there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau,” meaning that the last vestiges of Christendom will be done away with, “for the LORD hath spoken it.”
Symbolically, verse 19 suggests that the kingdom’s borders will extend throughout the world from north to south and east to west, including mountains, plains, fields and Gilead. In Gilead healing balm was produced. Indeed, the Kingdom will heal mankind of all their sin. The mention of the Philistines and Esau suggests that the former enemies of God will be brought under kingdom rule.
Verse 20 speaks of the returned captives of Israel: literally the exiles of the Babylonian captivity and symbolically all of mankind, who have been captive in the great prison house of death. All who are in their graves will come forth.
Obadiah saves the most beautiful words of his vision for last. The saviors of verse 21 are our Lord Jesus and his bride, the church, who will be priests and kings on mount Zion, in heaven. And the Ancient Worthies, the earthly visible representatives of the kingdom, will be as judges on earth, of what was formerly the mount of Esau, the old order. The Ancient Worthies will instruct the people in righteousness and teach them to walk up the highway of holiness. What a beautiful picture of the kingdom!
Finally, the ending “Iah” of Obadiah’s name means “of God.” In Hebrew, God’s name is Yahweh or Yah for short. “Obad-i-jah” means “servant of God.” The Arabic counterpart of Obadiah is Abd-u-Allah or Abdullah or Abdul, which is a common name in the Middle East.
Obadiah’s name declared he was a servant of the most high God. We, likewise, are servants of God. Obadiah was a prophet, an ambassador of God. We, likewise, are ambassadors for Christ. Obadiah saw the persecution of Jerusalem and was given a vision of the destruction of the old order of things, as well as the establishment of the new. We, as members of spiritual Israel, have a vision of the divine plan of the Ages as well as a more sure word of prophecy now in process of fulfillment. This fulfillment will shortly culminate in the final destruction of the old order, the complete restoration of Israel, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God.
Obadiah said in closing, “the Kingdom shall be the LORD’s.” This was Obadiah’s vision; this is our vision as well.