Who Wrote Obadiah?
The book is named after the prophet Obadiah (1:1). The name, meaning “servant of the LORD,” is relatively common, referring to as many as twelve other Old Testament individuals.
When Was Obadiah Written?
Although the book contains some excellent historical references, the exact timeframe of these events is difficult to assign. The latest possible date is the late fifth century BC, since Malachi 1:2–5 speaks of Edom as already in ruins. The nations mentioned by the prophet (e.g., Philistia [Obad 19], Phoenicia [Obad 20]), however, are pre-exilic foes, suggesting a date as early as the eighth century BC.
Who Were the Edomites, to Whom Obadiah Wrote?
The Edomites trace their origin to Esau, the firstborn twin son of Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 25:24–26). Esau settled in a region of mostly rugged mountains south of the Dead Sea (Gen 33:16; 36:8–9; Deut 2:4–5) called Edom (Greek, “Idumaea”). It encompassed an area approximately 40 miles or 65 kilometers wide and 100 miles or 160 kilometers long, a land dominated by vast stretches of wilderness, narrow valleys, and rugged mountains, endowing her with an impenetrable defense (cf. Jer 49:16).
Edom enjoyed considerable wealth. She had an extensive copper mining and smelting industry. She exacted tolls from caravans traveling the fabled King’s Highway, which began at the Red Sea and ran along her eastern plateau to Damascus (cf. Num 20:17).
She was also known for her wisdom. Eliphaz, Job’s friend, came from Teman, a city in southern Edom (Job 15:1; Obad 7–8), and Job himself may have lived in the area as well (cf. Job 1:1; Lam 4:21).
The Edomites seemed to hold the descendants of Jacob in perpetual contempt (Amos 1:11; Ezek 35:5, 11–12). When Israel came out of Egypt, Edom denied them passage through her land (Num 20:14–21), requiring Israel to travel vast distances around her (cf. Num 33:41–44). Yet, Israel was instructed to be kind to Edom (Deut 23:7).
What Is the Primary Theme of Obadiah?
The theme of Obadiah is the day of the LORD (Obad 15). The judgment on Edom and on all nations who share her hostility toward the LORD and his people (Obad 15a, 16) will eventuate in blessing and prosperity for the remnant of Israel. As such, the book is a case study of Genesis 12:3: “I will bless those who bless you and him who dishonors you I will curse.”
The day of the LORD encompasses both the historical and the eschatological. The historical feature, describing Edom’s demise at the hands of other nations (Obad 1–9), is followed by a description of her cruelty toward Israel (Obad 10–14). The eschatological aspect is highlighted in Obadiah 15–21, where the prophet looks beyond the historical nation of Edom and serves notice that any nation who engages in actions contrary to God’s purposes will receive the same judgment (Obad 15).
Obadiah declares that God will judge the pride of Edom and all nations who share their hostility toward the LORD, while at the same time extending a message of blessing, prosperity, and hope to his people.
“But do not gloat over the day of your brother
in the day of his misfortune;
do not rejoice over the people of Judah
in the day of their ruin;
do not boast
in the day of distress.
. . .
For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.
As you have done, it shall be done to you;
your deeds shall return on your own head.”
— Obadiah 12, 15 ESV
I. The Judgment of Edom Enunciated (1–9)
A. The Superscription (1a)
B. The Battle Summons (1b–c)
C. The Nation Subjugated (2–4)
D. The Treasures Stolen (5–7)
E. The Leadership Slain (8–9)
II. The Crimes by Edom Explained (10–14)
A. They Ignored Judah’s Need (10–11)
B. They Rejoiced in Judah’s Demise (12)
C. They Plundered Judah’s Wealth (13)
D. They Prevented Judah’s Escape (14)
III. The Judgment of Edom Expanded (15–21)
A. The Extent of the Judgment (15–16)
B. The Escapees of the Judgment (17)
C. The Execution of the Judgment (18)
D. The Effects of the Judgment (19–21)
The Judgment of Edom Enunciated (1–9)
The Superscription (1a)
The prophecy opens with a simple introduction—“the vision of Obadiah.” Although divine revelations were given through various means (e.g., Num 12:6–8; Heb 1:1), this message came by means of a vision.
The Battle Summons (1b–c)
The prophet begins: “Thus says the LORD God.” Transliterated Adonai Yahweh, the former name means “master, owner,” highlighting God’s sovereignty over the world and history. The latter designation speaks of his eternal existence and eternal presence, reminding Israel of his unfailing love and commitment to the covenant he has made with them.
The vision is concerning Edom, Israel’s relative, neighbor, and intermittent enemy. Though the Edomites are addressed directly, the immediate recipients are the inhabitants of Judah. Having recently experienced the ransacking of their city, the looting of their wealth, and the slaying of their fugitives, the words serve as an encouragement to them.
For the third time, the prophet reiterates the source of the vision—it is from the LORD. In using the plural, Obadiah is most likely identifying himself with his people.
The vision reveals that a messenger has been sent among the nations. The messenger is most likely angelic, as in Jeremiah 49:14. Though the prophets occasionally confronted foreign nations personally (e.g., Jer 27:1–3; Jonah 1:2; 3:2–3), there is no indication that a personal emissary was sent to rally the nations against Edom.
Although Obadiah describes the envoy’s mission as completed, the verbs in verses 7–9 are clearly futuristic, indicating that Edom’s ruination is still future. By employing a past tense verb to describe an event yet future, a sense of certainty is given to the coming demise of Edom. The demise will come from “among the nations,” referring to a coalition of neighboring states whom the LORD will arouse against Edom (cf. Joel 3:7–10; Zech 14:2).
“Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle.” The redundancy depicts the urgency of the moment and begs for an immediate response.
The Nation Subjugated (2–4)
The oracle is directed against Edom. He begins with “Behold,” arresting the attention of the hearers/readers and marking the importance of the statement that follows. The focus of the phrase, “I will make you small,” is not geographical. Coupled with the subsequent phrase, “you shall be utterly despised,” it denotes a reduction to political insignificance.
Edom’s strategic location produced feelings of invincibility. Deep gorges emanating from peaks reaching 5,700 feet or 1,740 meters surrounded her like a fortress, generating an arrogant security: “the pride of your heart has deceived you.” Her superiority was based on presumption, not on fact.
Edom’s self-deception was founded on their dwelling place “in the clefts of the rock,” highlighting the rocky canyon walls surrounding her kingdom. The term rock (sela’) may also include an intentional reference to Sela, Edom’s well-protected capital city. Her “lofty dwelling” reiterates her inaccessibility and imposing fortifications.
An exaggerated arrogance, fueled by a presumption of invincibility, propels Edom to defiantly flaunt a challenge to any who will listen: “Who will bring me down to the ground?” Reminiscent of Goliath’s mockery of the God of Israel (1Sam 17:36, 45), she failed to realize that “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall” (Prov 16:18).
The arrogant challenge of verse 3 is answered in verse 4. The imagery is that of birds nesting in the inaccessible crevices of the sheer mountain walls surrounding Edom. The eagle illustrates strength (Exod 19:4), swiftness (Lam 4:19), loftiness (Prov 23:5), and tireless flight (Isa 40:31). Nesting “among the stars” heightens the metaphor, reminding them that even if they were able to dwell among the stars, they would be unable to elude their judgment (cf. Amos 9:2–4; Ps 139:8).
In bold contrast to Edom’s boast (Obad 3), the LORD replies, “From there I will bring you down” (Obad 4). Even when making their abode in the most inaccessible places, they would be accessible to the hand of the Sovereign of the universe.
The Treasures Stolen (5–7)
Although verses 2–4 establish the inevitability of the punishment, verses 5–7 stress its thoroughness with a series of rhetorical questions. The first interrogative highlights the normal practice of thieves, who seize only that for which they came. Because of the rugged mountains and narrow access through the gorges, robbery usually came by night.
The second question highlights their productive vineyards (cf. Num 20:17). Grape gatherers would inevitably leave some fruit hanging on the vine. At the close of both illustrations, the prophet completes the rhetorical query, “Would they not? Would they not?” thereby driving home the point of the metaphor. Contrary to the normal practice of thieves and grape gatherers, the aroused nations would strip Edom bare! Her well-stocked cities, laden with goods purchased from merchants traveling the King’s Highway, will be completely ravaged.
With poetic parallelism, Obadiah announces that Edom will be “pillaged, his treasures sought out!” The verbs are synonyms, conveying the idea of a thorough search and seizure—nothing will be left.
How can a nation so richly endowed and so naturally fortified be successfully invaded? Verse 7 reveals the answer. “All your allies” is literally rendered “all the men of your covenant.” Covenants were sacred trusts (cf. Ps 55:20; Amos 1:9), yet their allies will renege on their commitment; instead, they will “drive you to your border.” The intensive verb denotes a compelled expulsion.
“Those at peace with you” points to Edom’s neighbors with whom she enjoyed a bond of trust and friendship. But instead of enhancing her security, they will deceive her and prevail against her. Through calculated hostility, Edom’s friends will prevail against her.
“Those who eat your bread” signifies a third group—those who share in the bounty of Edom’s prosperity. In ancient Near-Eastern culture, eating together signaled a bond of friendship. The context may refer to food shared by parties when making a covenant (cf. Josh 9:12–15) or to poorer tribes inhabiting Edom’s outlying areas, denoting those to whom some of her bounty would inevitably extend. Even these will abuse Edom’s hospitality; instead, they will set a trap for them. Her allies, her friends, and even her very dependents would seek her ruination.
The verse closes with a parenthetical thought: you have “no understanding.” They will fall into the trap without anticipation, taken by complete surprise! They simply cannot understand how this could happen to them.
The Leadership Slain (8–9)
Obadiah relays the words of the LORD with the question, “Will I not . . . ?” If the LORD is able to facilitate a physical ruination that is so thorough, will he not also have the power to confound her wisdom and understanding? There is little doubt that an affirmative answer is expected.
“On that day” refers to the day of judgment just described in verses 6–7. But it can also point to the day of the LORD at the end of the age as well. Edom’s initial judgment (Obad 2–9) will have a day of the LORD essence about it, a preview of a more distant eschatological fulfillment (Obad 15).
The absence of understanding (Obad 7) results from the fact that the LORD will “destroy the wise men out of Edom and understanding out of Mount Esau.” Edom was well known for her sages (Job 4:1; Jer 49:7). But wisdom will forsake her. Though the devastation would come at the hands of the nations (Obad 1, 7), it is by the LORD’s orchestration. Mount Esau is undoubtedly a reference to the mountainous setting that defines her physical terrain.
Because wisdom and understanding are absent, Edom’s “mighty men will be dismayed.” Her warriors, deprived of leadership and wise counsel, will be dismayed and frustrated (Job 32:13), unable to resist the enemy. Teman, named after a grandson of Esau (Gen 36:9–11) and the home of Job’s friend Eliphaz (Job 2:11; 4:1), was one of the major cities of Edom, along with Bozrah and Sela.
In Hebrew thought, “every man” often reflects a majority rather than every human being. And so it is here. Edom as a nation will cease to exist, but a remnant of Edomites will be left (Amos 9:12).
The Crimes of Edom Explained (10–14)
In the opening portion of the prophecy, the author sets forth the certainty and extent of Edom’s judgment. Now the prophet unveils the evidence that underlies the judicial sentences of verses 2–9 and 15–21.
They Ignored Judah’s Need (10–11)
He begins with a general indictment—they carried out violence done against their brother Jacob. The reality of Galatians 6:7 is made powerfully clear: “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap.” The promise to Abram that “I will bless those who bless you, and the one who dishonors you I will curse” (Gen 12:3) is put on display.
The gravity of Edom’s offenses is magnified by the fact that they were committed against her brother Jacob. Her behavior violated the divine stipulations regarding family relationships (Deut 23:7). By referring to Israel as Jacob, the reader’s attention is drawn back to the birth of the twins and the origin of their struggles (Gen 25). Later, when Israel came out of Egypt, Edom denied Israel permission to travel through her territory (Num 20:14–21).
The charges are not insignificant. The term “violence” is used predominantly to describe violence resulting from murder (Gen 49:5–6), rape (Jer 13:22), and wickedness (Gen 6:11, 13). Consequently, they will be covered with shame. A proud nation that enjoyed immense abundance—security, wealth, wisdom, power—will experience the loss of honor and prestige. As a result, Edom will be cut off forever and no longer exist as a nation.
Having charged Edom with the general crime of violence, the prophet now unveils and amplifies the specific charges. “On the day, On the day” (Obad 11) is a repetitive theme throughout the immediate context. It is an obvious reference to Judah’s suffering when unidentified strangers and foreigners infiltrated Jerusalem. Even when Israel was suffering at the hands of complete strangers, Edom would not come to the aid of her own brother!
Furthermore, when Edom stood aloof, she was not a truly neutral observer. The context (Obad 12–14) indicates that she acted in a hostile sense, watching as the foreigners entered his gates, cast lots for Jerusalem (e.g., Joel 3:3; Nah 3:10; Zech 14:1), and carried off his wealth.
Though not an actual participant, yet in reality they were “like one of them.” They were fully cognizant of their brotherly duty, but they chose to “pass by on the other side” (Luke 10:31–32; cf. Jas 4:16–17).
They Rejoiced in Judah’s Demise (12)
The initial indictment (Obad 11) charges Edom with disregarding her brother’s desperate need of assistance. Now the accusation is explained with greater specificity: they rejoiced at the downfall of Judah. Using eight prohibitions, the prophet passionately admonishes the Edomites to “not gloat over the day of your brother.” The adversative conjunction “but” sets up a contrast with the preceding verse. “You have witnessed the downfall of Judah, but “do not gloat.” Literally, “Do not stare at” with scorn, “for” (Obad 15) your day of judgment is coming!
The prophet continues his reprimand: “do not rejoice over and do not boast.” The former phrase warns Edom not to maliciously celebrate Judah’s downfall. The latter prohibition, literally rendered “do not make large your mouth,” speaks of multiplying words (cf. Ezek 35:13) full of arrogance and pride (cf. Obad 3).
The “day of your brother” is identified by three subsequent descriptions: “the day of his misfortune,” “the day of their ruin,” and “the day of distress.” Each expresses the anguish and destruction brought upon Israel.
They Plundered Judah’s Wealth (13)
These three prohibitions represent an escalation in Edom’s role. In the previous verses (Obad 10–11), she spied on the enemy’s invasion from afar, gloating over her brother’s calamity. In the following verse (Obad 14), her involvement was a secondary one in which she maintained her distance. The present verse, however, reveals a more active role—entering the city and looting the wealth. Edom took advantage of Jerusalem’s ruined state. Realizing that the enemy had left the city vulnerable, they see their chance to enrich themselves.
Having entered the city, they looted their wealth, gorging themselves on the enemies’ leftovers. Though they did not participate in the desolation of Judah (Obad 11), they plundered her just like the enemy. She went from being a passive observer to an active participant.
The reference to “my people” speaks of an endearing relationship between the LORD and his covenant people (cf. Hos 1:10; 2:23). Edom has failed to account for the fact that she is dealing with the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
They Prevented Judah’s Escape (14)
The prophet sets forth two additional accusations against Edom. He passionately pleads for Edom to “not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives.” Apparently, the inhabitants of Edom would station themselves at strategic locations to intercept the fugitives. And “do not hand over his survivors.” Edom’s involvement progressed from standing aloof to plundering the leftovers to guarding the escape routes and to handing over to the enemy those who were fleeing the war.
The Judgment of Edom Expanded (15–21)
The Extent of the Judgment (15–16)
Earlier, divine judgment was focused solely on Edom. Now, God’s judgment is said to encompass all the nations. His judgment of Edom in history (Obad 2–9) is a preview of his future judgment on all nations who refuse to bow to the LORD. Edom has exemplified the character of all nations who fail to acknowledge him.
Obadiah introduces the urgency of the state of affairs, literally stating that “near is the day of the LORD.” Edom had her day against the LORD’s chosen people; now the LORD will have his day, a day when he eschatologically intervenes into the affairs of humanity. The conjunction “for” (Obad 15, 16) not only introduces the reason for the preceding prohibitions but also depicts the relationship of the punishment to the crime. “As you have done, it shall be done to you.” The penalty, corresponding to the nature of the infraction (Exod 21:24–25), is reiterated by the last phrase, “your deeds shall return on your own head.” God will recompense the deeds of the nations in a manner similar to Edom’s reprehensible actions toward her brother.
Continuing the theme of recompense, Obadiah states: “as you have drunk on My holy mountain.” Because the pronoun “you” is singular in verse 15 but plural in verse 16a, the prophet seems to be making a brief reference to Judah. In other words, Obadiah is comparing Judah’s punishment with the punishment on Edom and the nations. “For as” Judah was made to drink of God’s wrath due to her sinful ways, so too “all the nations shall drink continually.”
As a result, they will be as though they had never been. They will cease to exist as nations, but a believing remnant of the nations, including Edom, will survive (Jer 49:11).
The Escapees of the Judgment (17)
A reversal of Judah’s plight will come about when Messiah intercedes on her behalf. The day of the LORD will bring judgment on Edom and the nations, but it will inaugurate a period of unprecedented blessing and prosperity for Israel. In comparison to the nations (Obad 16), in Mount Zion there will be those who escape. The noun “escape” is employed frequently to describe God’s preservation and purification of a remnant in Israel (Ezek 7:16). Formerly, Edom endeavored to intercept those who attempted escape (Obad 14). Now there is a complete reversal. The LORD will provide protection and escape for the remnant (Isa 31:5; Amos 9:8; Zech 12:8).
It is doubtful that Israel’s return from the Babylonian captivity is in view here. The context indicates that their territory will extend well beyond the borders enjoyed by the returning Babylonian exiles. Rather, the context points to the millennial rule of Messiah, who will reside in their midst and provide a safe haven for them (Prov 18:10). Everything will be holy, set apart to manifest Messiah’s glory (Zech 14:20–21).
The prophet continues his focus on the restoration of Judah. Israel will be given the inheritance promised to her (Exod 6:8; Ezek 33:24).
The Execution of the Judgment (18)
The LORD had enlisted the nations to bring judgment on Edom (Obad 1, 7); now those who escape (Obad 17) will be divinely empowered to dispose of the house of Esau (Obad 18) and the surrounding nations (Obad 19–20). Using the metaphor fire/flame, Obadiah likens Esau to dry stubble, illustrating the swiftness and completeness of the judgment (cf. Exod 15:7; Nah 1:6). Just as Edom had attempted to cut down Judah’s fugitives and survivors (Obad 14), so now the devouring flames of Jacob and Joseph will not leave any survivors.
“The house of Joseph” (Obad 18) includes the northern ten tribes (Isa 11:12–14; Zech 10:6). The northern tribes, exiled by the Assyrians (722 BC), will be restored to the land also. Together once again, the twelve tribes of Israel will collectively subdue the house of Esau. It will occur, for the LORD has spoken!
The context denotes a future event—a time when all nations are judged (Obad 15, 16), not just Edom and when the nations are subjugated at the hands of both the house of Jacob and the house of Joseph (Obad 18). Further, at this time, Israel’s borders (Obad 20–21) will be restored to an extent not realized since the days of David and Solomon.
The Effect of the Judgment (19–21)
As a result of the divine judgment, the LORD will empower his remnant to repossess the former territories once held by David and Solomon, fulfilling the promises made to Jacob in his ladder dream at Bethel (Gen 28:14). The borders will extend to the Negev in southern Judah. To the west, they will reclaim the Shephelah, a region of fertile valleys and low-lying hills predominantly occupied by the Philistines. To the north, they will possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria, a reference to the northern ten tribes. Gilead to the east speaks of the Trans-Jordan region (2Kgs 10:33).
Enabled by the LORD (Isa 11:15–16), the judgment on Edom and the nations permits the exiles to return to the land promised to their forefathers. Zarephath, located along the Phoenician coast between Tyre and Sidon, was a part of the original settlement plan under Joshua (Josh 19:28). The location of Sepharad is unknown.
The LORD will also provide divinely empowered saviors (Obad 21). Like the judges whom the LORD raised up to deliver his people during the time between the conquest and the monarchy, so he will appoint similar leaders to help rule in the millennial kingdom.
Their responsibility will be to rule Mount Esau. Because the context expands the judgment on Edom to include all the nations (Obad 15), it can be assumed that the scope of governance extends beyond Edom to embrace all the nations. Mount Zion will be the administrative center of Messiah’s rule (Isa 2:1–4). Obadiah envisions the restoration of Israel to her divinely appointed role of leadership among the nations (cf. Exod 19:6a).
The prophet concludes, “And the kingdom shall be the LORD’s.” Throughout her history, Israel was repeatedly seduced into worshipping other gods. Obadiah anticipates the time when the kingdom will belong exclusively to the LORD (cf. Zech 14:9). The closing phrase reflects the eventuality of Revelation 11:15: “The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord, and of his Christ; and he shall reign forever and ever.”
Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976.
Block, Daniel I. Obadiah: The Kingship Belongs to YHWH. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2013.
Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets, vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1983.
Busenitz, Irvin A. Commentary on Joel and Obadiah. Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publishing, 2003.
Finley, Thomas J. Joel, Amos, Obadiah, The Wycliffe Exegetical Commentary. Chicago: Moody, 1990.
McComiskey, Thomas Edward. The Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1993.
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All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. Copyright © 2000; 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
This edition (version 1.0) was published 06/24/2021 and may be cited in print works as follows: Busenitz, Irvin A. Obadiah. TGCBC. Austin, TX: The Gospel Coalition, 2021.
This commentary was adapted with permission from Irvin A. Busenitz, Commentary on Joel and Obadiah (Fearn, UK: Christian Focus Publishing), 2003.
This work is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0
1:1 The vision of Obadiah.
Edom Will Be Humbled
Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom:
We have heard a report from the LORD,
and a messenger has been sent among the nations:
“Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!”