1.1 The Date (of the prophet’s ministry and work)
The book of Obadiah concerns the nation of Edom to the south. The internal evidence of Edom mocking a military destruction of Jerusalem points to three possible dates in the period of Judah’s Old Testament history. By harmonizing the message of Obadiah with the available Old Testament historical record, Wood argues that the most probable date is during the reign of Jehoram (853-841 B.C.) as recorded in 2 Kgs. 8:20-22 and 2 Chr. 21:8-10. Wood also gives two reasons for later prophets’ dependency on Obadiah as further evidence that Obadiah is a ninth century prophet.
For instance, Jeremiah 49:7-22 seems to be dependent on Obadiah 1-6…First, Jeremiah often leans on other earlier prophets in his book; and second, the passage in Obadiah is both briefer and rougher in style, suggesting that Jeremiah gave it greater expansion and smoothness. Amos, who ministered in the eighth century, also seems to have been dependent on Obadiah; compare Obadiah 4 with Amos 9:2; Obadiah 14 with Amos 1:6, 9; Obadiah 19 with Amos 9:12; and Obadiah 20 with Amos 9:14.
Finally, Wood interprets the order of Obadiah in the canonical section of the minor prophets as corroborating an early date.
It falls among the first six of these prophets, all of which date to either the ninth or eighth centuries, while those that follow come from the seventh century, the exile, and finally after the exile. This placement would be strange if Obadiah were written as late as the time of the exile.
Alternatively, the view of the Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible is that of a sixth century date.
Others date the prophecy in connection with the Babylonian assaults on Judah that eventually resulted in her collapse in 586 B.C. Both Scripture (Ps 137; Eze 35:1-15) and Jewish tradition (1 Esdras 4:45 [a noncanonical book]) explicitly connect the Edomites with this final catastrophe. The text of the prophecy itself seems to refer more naturally to this event.
Since Obadiah himself does not date his prophecy, and there is little consensus among evangelical scholars regarding the dating question, we cannot be dogmatic about the answer. However, for the purposes of this study, a ninth century date is assumed.
1.2 Background History (historical setting of the prophet)
The culture of Judah during Jehoram’s reign was tumultuous and decadent. In an unprecedented move to safeguard his rule, the king murdered all his brothers (2 Chr. 21:4). He rebelled against the ways of his father, King Jehoshaphat, by rejecting the worship of Yahweh and allowing the cult of Baal to prosper within the borders of Judah. To punish the king’s wickedness, the Lord removed his blessing and permitted the Arabians and Philistines to attack the land and even invade the royal palace. They plundered the wealth of the house of Judah and captured the king’s wives and sons (except Ahaziah). Later, after Ahaziah was killed (2 Kgs. 9:27-29), Athaliah murdered all her grandchildren, thus removing all possible heirs and securing the throne for herself.
It was during this time of murderous politics, warfare and invasion, and national idolatry that the brother nation of Edom, once under the subjugated control of Judah during the reign of Jehoshaphat, gloated and exalted in Judah’s hardship. This contrast of relative peace and national piety associated with Jehoshaphat, and the unrest, unbridled power struggle, and spiritual adultery of Jehoram and Athaliah certainly informed Obadiah’s ministry.
1.3 Work and Person (character and ministry of the prophet)
Obadiah is a prophet of which little is known apart from his message. Some suggest he was the same Obadiah that met Elijah and was a chief officer under King Ahab, since they both appear in the ninth century Old Testament record. Wood explains that this identification is unlikely for two reasons.
One is that the Obadiah of Ahab’s reign lived in the northern kingdom, and the Obadiah who wrote the book probably lived in the southern kingdom. The other is that the two contrast in character. The Obadiah whom Elijah met did not wish to aid the prophet but showed himself quite unsympathetic to Elijah’s interest. The [prophet] Obadiah…was used of God to write one of the books of Scripture. If the two were the same, he experienced a radical change of life following the time of his meeting Elijah. This is possible but perhaps not likely.
The author of Obadiah devotedly worshipped the Lord. He was concerned about Edom and their cruel treatment of God’s covenant people. Obadiah was also aware of his world and saw contemporary international events from a heavenly perspective. His interests were not confined to Jerusalem or Judah, but rather “he knew of Edom, he knew what Edom had done, and he was interested in what God was going to do to this southern neighbor in return.” Wood observes that as a prophet, Obadiah likely “preached frequently in the gates of the city and contacted specific individuals, urging conformance to God’s will. He may have reprimanded Jehoram himself, in spite of the danger from Athaliah.” Beyond these specific duties of the prophets, Scripture does not permit us to speculate regarding further details of the person and ministry of Obadiah.
1.4 The Book (abbreviated outline and brief summary)
I. Title (1a)
II. Scene of Judgment in War (1b)
III. Divine Speech of Judgment and Hope (2-21)
A. Sentences Against Edom (2-9)
1. God’s Resolve to Humiliate Edom (2-4)
2. God Resolve to Loot Edom (5-7)
3. God Resolve to Kill Edomites (8-9)
B. Accusations Against Edom (10-14)
1. Edom’s Violence (10)
2. Edom’s Cruel Indifference (11)
3. Edom’s Cruel Boasting and Attacks (12-14)
C. Announcement of a New Order (15-21)
1. International Judgment to Come (15-16)
2. Judah’s Restoration and Expansion (17-21)
“Obadiah shares the theological underpinnings of other oracles against foreign nations. All of these oracles have at least three items in common.”
1. They express the universal rule of Yahweh.
2. They express the outworking in Israel of the Abrahamic Covenant: “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3).
3. They reflect the involvement of Israel’s prophets in Holy War as the messengers of the Divine Warrior.
Dillard and Longman describe the tone of Obadiah: “a sense of outrage permeates this little book, outrage directed toward Edom.” This theme of the providential order of the nations and the seeming current imbalance is carried to resolution in the distant future.
With the dynamic of the divine promises to Abraham and the blood relationship between Jacob and Esau as the literary backdrop for Obadiah, no wonder the sense of outrage at Esau’s treachery. Edom’s attack on Israel was more than simply a matter of international politics and opportunism: it was the betrayal of a brother and a strike against God’s plan for Edom established so many centuries ago when they came from Rebekah’s womb. This plan established in the distant past would yet be realized in the eschatological future: Edom will yet serve his brother as God had purposed.”
Despite the ominous oracle of judgment Obadiah prophesies against Edom, a message of hope, a mainstay among the prophets, is still evident. Robertson observes that when the messiah climactically comes to restore order to all things, Edom will be included among the elect and “the kingdom shall be the LORD’s” (Obad. 21).
The Covenant LORD lists Edom among the nations who “have my name called upon them,” indicating that they have become the elect of the Lord. Just as Israel was marked as the chosen of the Lord because God’s name was called upon them, so now Esau/Edom experiences that same privilege in connection with the reestablishment of the “fallen booth of David” (Deut. 28:9-10; Amos 9:11-12).
Truly the message of Obadiah is one of impending judgment yet with the hope of future restoration.
1. Leon J. Wood, The Prophets of Israel (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1979), pp. 262-63.
2. Ibid., p. 263.
3. Ibid., p. 264.
4. “Obadiah,” in Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Gen. Edit. R. Pratt, Jr. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2003), p. 1456.
5. Wood, Prophets of Israel, p. 264.
6. Ibid., p. 265.
9. “Obadiah,” in Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, p. 1457.
10. Raymond B. Dillard and Tremper Longman III, An Introduction to the Old Testament (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1994), p. 389.
11. Unless otherwise noted, all Scripture quotations are from the New King James Version (NKJV).
12. Dillard and Longman, Introduction to the Old Testament, p. 389. This is an abbreviated form of all three oracle commonalities.
13. Ibid., p. 389.
14. Ibid., p. 390.
15. O. Palmer Robertson, The Christ of the Prophets (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R Publishing, 2004), p. 249.