It’s the shortest book in the Old Testament—only 21 verses—and I don’t think I’ve heard it preached or taught. According to my guest, Jonathan Gibson, associate professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary, the message of Obadiah is “the realization of the Lord’s sovereignty and the role reversal of Edom and Judah on the day of the Lord.”
Essential to understanding and teaching the book is its connection to the narrative of Jacob and Esau; Obadiah applies events from the biographies of Esau and Jacob to Edom and Judah. Rather than teaching Obadiah as a warning against human pride, Gibson suggests that the book should be presented as as the outworking of God’s covenant promise to Abraham to bless those who’ve blessed him and curse those who’ve dishonored him.
Books by Jonathan Gibson
- From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective (edited with David Gibson)
- Reformation Worship: Liturgies from the Past for the Present
- The Moon Is Always Round
Recommended Resources on Obadiah
- NIV Proclamation Bible
- ESV Expository Commentary, Volume VII with commentary on Obadiah by Max Rogland
- The Minor Prophets, Volume Two edited by Thomas Edward McComisky, with commentary on Obadiah by Jeffrey J. Niehaus
- Obadiah message by David Cook
- Obadiah message by Christopher Wright
- Obadiah lecture (RTS) by Richard Belcher
The following is an uncorrected transcript generated by a transcription service. Before quoting in print, please check the corresponding audio for accuracy.
Jonathan Gibson: Obadiah is inviting us to read this book with the backdrop of the Esau-Jacob narrative where the divine economy of the older shall serve the younger was set in the tent of Rebecca as God announces to her the twins in her womb. And so what’s happening here is Edom’s actually going to be destroyed, yes, for their pride, yes, for their wickedness and attacks on Judah, which is just in and of themselves wrong. But ultimately, what’s also at play is that they’ve struck against the sovereignty of God.
Nancy Guthrie: Welcome to “Help Me Teach the Bible.” I’m Nancy Guthrie. “Help Me Teach the Bible” is a production of the Gospel Coalition sponsored by Crossway, a not-for-profit publisher of the “ESV Bible,” Christian Books, and tracks. Learn more at crossway.org. Well, this is really a rather significant interview for me today in that I started out recording these interviews I think sometime back in 2015, and my goal was to record an episode on every book of the Bible. Of course, I’ve done a lot of episodes that were more topical on aspects of teaching the Bible, but I did wanna work my way all the way through every book of the Bible. And with this recording today, this is the last book of the Bible that I haven’t yet done an interview on. My guest today is Jonny Gibson. And, Jonny, really, there’s no pressure or anything, you know, to hear my last interview, but I’m really hoping that you’ll be brilliant.
Gibson: Well, thanks for having me on, but I’ve just realized this is your ultimate final episode. So, yes, I’m feeling a little bit of pressure.
Guthrie: The thing is I wouldn’t have asked you to do it if I didn’t think you were up to the task.
Gibson: That’s right. That’s right.
Guthrie: I know you are. My friend, Jonathan Gibson, is an associate professor of Old Testament at Westminster Theological Seminary. So I know you teach a lot of Hebrew, Jonny, and you like the rest of the world, I suppose you had your classes transformed from being in-person to online this spring as we’ve been dealing with COVID-19. What’s that been like for you?
Gibson: Yeah. We as a seminary had to transition within a week to teaching students in class to online. The seminary was well set up for it because we’ve been doing online degrees for a while now. But if I’m honest, it wasn’t a pleasant experience. I prefer teaching people in a classroom rather than looking at a camera.
Guthrie: What’s the big difference for you personally?
Gibson: Nobody laughed at my jokes, you know, basically cracking jokes, and they were, you know, diving. Yeah. It’s that dynamic, isn’t it, of just being in a room looking into people’s eyes and seeing, you know, the penny drop and having that sort of feedback that’s unspoken given to you or also then questions in the class after you’ve taught something that they’re able to say, “I didn’t understand this. What do you mean by this?” And that moment of clarification is not just for that student but actually for everybody as they’re listening in, and you sort of lose some of that. And then there’s just sort of person-to-person communication rather than just the virtual communication. I think theological education is not just information transfer, which is the danger with online courses. It’s about character formation and learning in community, you know, in fellowship together. And, I think, that all that’s really lost with some of the online.
Guthrie: Yeah. So, Jonny is the author of numerous books. He’s written a couple of books that I like to tease him are good alternative doorstops.
Gibson: Very good doorstops.
Guthrie: One of them is called From Heaven He Came and Sought Her: Definite Atonement in Historical, Biblical, Theological, and Pastoral Perspective. I mean, the title itself is, you know, pretty daunting but a fabulous and beautiful book. And then maybe a couple of years ago, you put out a book that was in some ways wasn’t it a surprising best-seller called Reformation Worship in which you collected all of these worship liturgies from throughout history, and lots of people wanted to read those.
Gibson: Yeah. It was a bit of a surprise how well it sold, yeah. I think that’s because there is a renewed interest in liturgy even from the younger generation. The millennials as they’re called now are actually wanting some more structure in our public worship, and, I think, the Reformation and its liturgies give us that.
Guthrie: Yeah. And then most recently, you put out a book that is shall we say very different?
Gibson: Just a wee bit different.
Guthrie: A wee bit different, yes. This is a small little book but a book that I know is so precious to your heart, and it’s called The Moon Is Always Round. Tell us about that.
Gibson: It’s a book that is a story…a true story of a conversation between my son Ben and I after he had met his little sister Leila in hospital on the 17th of March 2016. Very sadly, our daughter Leila was stillborn at full term, and on the way home from the hospital after Ben had come to meet her, he asked me a question. He said, “Will mummy ever grow a baby that wakes up?” I said, “I don’t know if mommy will ever grow a baby that wakes up, but let’s pray that she does.” And then we started to have a conversation. He asked, “Why isn’t Leila coming home?” And I said, “Because Jesus called her name.” And he said, “After she’s been with Jesus for a few days, will she come to us?” And I said, “No, when you’re with Jesus, you don’t wanna go anywhere else.” And then he said, “Does she not like us?” And I said, “No, she does like us, Ben, but she just likes Jesus more.” And he then said, “But, daddy, why isn’t she coming home?” And I said, “Ben, I don’t really know why.” But then we started to talk about the moon because months previous to this, I had taught him a little catechism on the moon.
He had become fascinated with the moon as a little kid. And I would hold him up in the evenings to the bedroom window, and we’d look for the moon. And I’d say, “Ben, what shape is the moon?” And he’d say, “It’s a crescent moon or a half-moon or a three-quarter moon.” And then I would say, “Ben, what shape is the moon always?” And he’d been taught to say the moon is always round. And then I would say, “And what does that mean?” And he would say, “It means God is always good.” So it was this sort of very simple three question and answer catechism on the moon. But as we’re driving home that night, it just came to me, and I said, “Ben, do you remember the catechism about the moon?” And he said, “Yeah.” And I said, “You know, today, Ben, it’s hard to see the whole of the moon. It’s hard to see the whole of God’s goodness in why Leila has died. But we need to remember the moon is always round even when we can’t see it just like God is always good even when we can’t see it in the midst of our griefs and hardships.”
So that was a real conversation I had with him, and it just struck me how profound it was to have that with a three and a half-year-old who was grappling with the death of his little sister. And so I felt inspired over a few years later to put it into a little kid’s book, and so the book is based on that conversation. It’s very simple book, and it sort of just tells that story of Ben’s anticipation of meeting his little sister, but actually, in the end, he doesn’t really meet her in person alive. And I’m trying to convey to children when life circumstances get difficult and dark, we need to remember that God is always good even when we can’t see it just like the moon is always round even when you can’t see all of it.
Guthrie: So this book has been out a number of months now. I wonder if you’ve begun hearing from people who’ve used it with their children. Have you?
Gibson: Yeah. I am. You know, when it first came out, I would get an email or a handwritten note from mothers, from children every week. I was quite surprised. I never got those notes for Reformation Worship. Yeah. And that has actually continued, not maybe as regularly, but just recently, I heard from a woman in Spain who has a niece in Argentina who’s just lost a child. And so she asked me could I help get her a book to the niece in Argentina, and she’d find the book so helpful. I’ve had little children write to me and say, you know, “My mother lost two babies. We had twins in the womb, and these are their names. And I’m sorry that Leila died.” This is beautiful little note from a little girl.
I was sent an email recently from South Africa. Joe Hox, who’s the illustrator who did the beautiful illustrations in the book, had heard incidentally by someone else about an orphanage in South Africa in Cape Town who were using the book. And the orphanage had sent this email to a connection to Joe Hox with some photos, and they said, “Here’s some photos of these orphans reading ‘The Moon Is Always Round.”‘ And they said, “These orphans were found in shoeboxes and in rubbish dumps in South Africa, and their favorite book is The Moon Is Always Round.” The photo was of them all sort of hoarding around, reading the book, and then the next photo was them outside at night, all arms locked together as orphans, looking off into the distance at the moon.
And it’s very, very moving to think of our daughter Leila, who we call Leila the Evangelist, having ministry to orphans in South Africa. We like to think of her as our little evangelist. It’s a phrase that Ian Hamilton used at her funeral. He sort of threw it out in passing Leila the Evangelist that she pointed us all to another world. She pointed us all to God. And that’s what we are encouraged by with the book is that our daughter is still pointing people to the goodness of God even in the dark. So, yeah, it’s been lovely hearing from people. I know it’s been used in church services quite a bit by some ministers as illustration, and then they encourage people to get the book. Yeah. So we’re encouraged on that front.
Guthrie: Well, I am moved and encouraged just as you share that. Thank you for doing that. Well, in some ways, it feels like turning away from that to talk about the book we’re going to talk about today, and yet it isn’t. We’re going to talk about…I don’t know. Is this the shortest book of the Bible, the book of Obadiah?
Gibson: I believe so. Yeah. It’s certainly the shortest book of the Old Testament.
Guthrie: Old Testament. Yeah, 21 verses. I don’t think, Jonny, that I’ve ever heard a sermon from Obadiah. So, clearly, this is a book that we ignore. In fact, I have to confess. You know, I had to pick 10 prophetic books for my book The Word of the Lord that I did on the prophets. Well, I didn’t even consider Obadiah So, Obadiah, kind of ignored. Why do you think that is?
Gibson: Well, I think, partly because it’s the shortest book of the Old Testament. So it’s a bit like 2 John and 3 John. You know, it gets neglected. I think where it’s situated in the Minor Prophets doesn’t help it. It’s the fourth book after Hosea, Joel, Amos. Then you have Obadiah, and then Jonah. So it’s nestled between Amos, which is better known and then Jonah, which is very well known. And then also those who do read it, it’s quite an obscure book in some respects, especially the final verses about Saviors going up onto Mount Zion and ruling over Mount Esau and all this land allocation. And so it’s a bit hard to work out how, you know, you would apply it.
Jerome, the early church father who translated the Bible into Latin said, “Obadiah is as difficult as it is brief.” And, I think, that sort of captures it. There’s quite a number of difficult technical issues in it. And if you are a Bible teacher and you’re trying to teach it, you actually come across those. And so it perhaps puts people off having to deal with him. It’s also a book that’s not quoted in the New Testament. There’s about 10 Old Testament books that are not directly quoted in the New Testament. So it’s not on our radar like other books are. And also, to actually understand it, I think, you have to do quite a lot of work for such a small book. It requires quite a bit of work to really set it in its historical context.
Guthrie: Well, that’s a good place for us to start perhaps, you cluing us in on that work that we might need to do if we actually do wanna teach this. So, my guess is that first…that we gotta start back in Genesis, Genesis 25 to 27. Is that where you’d start?
Gibson: Yes. The nations, Edom and Judah find their origins in the patriarchal fathers, Esau and Jacob. So that’s where we need to start with sort of in the tent of Rebecca, if you like, where the divine economy is set for these two sons, these twins, that the older shall serve the younger. So you’ve got Genesis 25, 27. You’ve also got when Jacob goes out of the land for 20 odd years, and then he comes back in, and Esau goes out of the land and settles in Mount Seir. And they have a fairly peaceful settlement in that incident as they exchange lands, if you like. But then when Israel comes out of Egypt and they’re passing near Edom, and they want to pass through the land, Edom won’t let them and are hostile to them. That’s in Numbers 20. And then you have a prophecy in Numbers 24 where it’s prophesied that Edom will be destroyed by Israel as subdued by them.
Then you have numerous passages that referred to different historical events, altercations, and attacks we might say between Edom and Judah. You’ve got Deuteronomy 2, 23, 33. You’ve got Judges 5, 11, 1 Samuel 14, 2 Samuel 8, 1 Kings 3, 9, 11, 2 Kings 8, 14, 2 Chronicles, 20, 21, 25, 28, Psalm 79, 83, the well-known Psalm 137, “By the rivers of Babylon.” There’s a reference there to Edom helping the Babylonians as Jerusalem was destroyed. And then you’ve got the prophets taking up oracles against the nations and including Edom in that. You’ve got Isaiah 34, 63, Jeremiah 27, 49, Lamentations 4, Ezekiel 25, 35, Amos 1, 9, and then Malachi 1, which is perhaps maybe one of the better-known ones, “Jacob I have loved. Esau I have hated.”
So, you’ve got quite a number of biblical passages that you really need to read around to be able to understand the history of Esau, Jacob, and then the life histories of Edom and Judah. Because, I think, what’s going on in the book of Obadiah is if you notice that there are seven references to Esau and two to Jacob. And this is the most that Esau’s ever referenced outside the book of Genesis. And so why is Obadiah referring to Edom as Esau? Well, actually, it’s Esau redivivus. Esau has come back to life, if you like, through the nation of Edom. And in a sense, Edom recapitulates the attitude of Esau against Jacob after he stole his birthright. And so you’ve got this hostility and vengeful spirit of Esau trying to kill Jacob. And that is played out in the life history of Edom as it relates to Judah. So, I think, Obadiah is inviting us to read the book of Obadiah against the backdrop of the Jacob, Esau narrative in Genesis.
Guthrie: And you’re gonna show us how to do that I hope throughout the book. Maybe the next thing to do is just to say, “Okay. These 21 verses.” Is there a basic structure? You know, sometimes in prophetical books, we struggle to find a structure. Is there a structure to the book of Obadiah that we should see?
Gibson: Yeah. I think that’s a really helpful point, Nancy, that structures tell stories. I got that from Bryan Chapell in his little book on Christ-Centered Worship. Structures tell stories. And, I think, getting the internal structure of a book really enables the Bible teacher and preacher to tell the story of the book well. And Obadiah like most books does have a structure. Some commentators will divide it very simply into two parts, verse 1 to 14, a general threat against Edom or the Day of Judgment for Edom, and then verses 15 to 21, the day of the Lord against Edom and the nations. Others will go for a threefold division as sort of verses 1 to 9, Edom’s coming defeat, 10 to 14, Edom’s crimes against Judah, and then verses 15 to 21, the day of Yahweh and the day of the Lord, restoration of Israel’s sovereignty. I prefer to divide it according to its genre. So, actually, verses 1 to 18 are poetry. Verses 19 to 21 is prose.
So I see the opening as the vision of Obadiah, verse 1A, and then the Lord’s speech is verses 1B, “Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom” all the way through to verse 18. And then verse 19 to 21 is actually prose, and so, I think, this is Obadiah’s commentary on the Lord’s speech. So we have two main parts, if you like, the Lord’s speech, 1 to 18, and then Obadiah’s commentary, 19-21. I think the Lord’s speech can then be divided into two. Verses 1 to 7, I think, is the announcement of Edom’s deception. They are self-deceived, verse 3. The pride of their heart has deceived them that they think they’re impregnable where they live up in the high mountains, but actually, God is rising the nations to come and attack them.
And they’re also deceived externally outside of themselves with their allies in verse 7. So you have this announcement of Edom’s deception in verses 1 to 7 and then verse 8, “Will I not on that day.” I think that’s a marker that sets verse 8 off from verses 1 to 7 where we have the introduction to this concept of the day of the Lord. And from verse 8 to 18, we have the announcement of Edom’s destruction connected to the day of the Lord. There’ll be a day of the Lord for Edom and the day of the Lord for the nations. I think within that section, versus 8 to 18, we have a number of subsections, which may help just with the logical flow of the book. So verse 8 to 9 is the coming day of destruction. Edom’s wisdom and might will be destroyed.
Verse 10 to 11, we have the reason for the destruction, because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, because of this breach of covenant kinship. And then verses 12 to 14, we have a warning of future breaches of covenant kinship. Maybe we can go into that a little later about how we date the book of Obadiah. And then verses 15 to 18, we have the reason for the future warning against breaches of covenant kingship, “For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.” So, Esau is gonna be consumed as will the other nations, and Jacob will be saved. So, I think, that’s how you can divide up that second part of the Lord’s speech, verses 8 to 18.
And then you have Obadiah’s commentary, verses 19 to 21, which is really the announcement of Israel’s restoration. And I say Israel, not just Judah, because you’ll notice there in verse 18 it says, “The house of Jacob shall be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame.” And, I think, that’s talking about the southern and the northern kingdoms being reunited again. So it’s really Israel’s restoration in the end, not just Judah’s. So I hope that’s helpful. That’s a structure that I work with in Obadiah.
Guthrie: Let me ask you about something. All right. So, you talked about dividing it by genre. I’ve got a couple of different translations open right now, and I’m looking at the page. And so you said that verses 19 through 21 were more prose rather than poetry. But in both of the translations I have opened to they continue to be set like poetry.
Gibson: Yeah. They are, but actually, if you do the statistical analysis of what’s called prose particles like definite articles, relative pronouns, verbs, etc., in prose and Hebrew, actually, verses 19 to 21 fit the prose genre and whereas versus 1 to 18 are actually very much poetry. So there is actually in the Hebrew a very stark contrast but, yes, our English translations do set out verses 19 to 21 as if the poetry just continues.
Guthrie: Let’s say that you were going to teach Obadiah, Johnny. What is the aim of your message going to be when you teach on Obadiah? And I’m gonna assume that you’re gonna do it in one message, but if you’re not, tell me so. But what’s your aim in your message?
Gibson: So, you know, this is a judgment oracle against Edom and the nations for their acts of wickedness against God’s people, and it announces salvation for Judah in this case. My one way of summarizing the book of Obadiah in a single sentence is to say that the theological message of Obadiah is the realization of the Lord’s sovereignty in the role reversal of Edom and Judah on the day of the Lord, so the realization of the Lord’s sovereignty in the role reversal of Edom and Judah on the day of the Lord. And, I think, verse 21 really captures it, “Saviors will go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”
And what I really mean by rule reversal or there’s a divine reversal going on here is that during Obadiah’s time, Edom was on the ascendancy. I did Edom about the 9th century BC, not during the exile. I think versus 12 to 14 are commands of a future potential attack, and Obadiah’s warning Edom not to repeat past attacks on Judah, which we know that there is numerous throughout the history of these two nations. So, I think that he’s situated in the 9th century, speaking forward into incidences like the reeds on Jerusalem and then ultimately the destruction of Jerusalem with the Babylonians.
But during Obadiah’s time, Edom was on the ascendancy, and Judah was on the descendancy, becoming increasingly vulnerable to attacks from her closest neighbors like Edom. And this would eventually end in the destruction of Judah’s capital Jerusalem and the exile of the people of Judah. And as long as Edom rises in ascendancy and remains politically dominant over Judah and as long as Judah is oppressed and attacked by Edom, vulnerable to attack and eventually ending up in exile, then the Lord, the God of Judah will not be seen to be king.
So, let me put it like this. One commentator says, “To all the world around, Judah’s weakness must have seemed a mirror of the weakness of Yahweh, surely a subordinate deity who yielded to the pressure of the stronger gods of Babylon, Edom, and the like.” And so Obadiah is speaking in a context where Judah is being attacked, it’s being oppressed by its twin brother Edom. And so long as Edom keeps striking against the divine economy, which was set in the tent of Rebecca, the older shall serve the younger. But so long as Edom keeps striking against that, God is not seen to be sovereign, and so Edom really needs to be subdued. Edom needs to be ruled or destroyed in order for the kingship to be seen to belong to God. And so, I think, that’s what the book of Obadiah is really about.
It’s God saying, “Enough is enough of this rebellion against my divine purpose to have Judah possess his own land and rule, you know, the land and also the nations from Mount Zion.” And so this is an announcement of the sovereignty of God in the role reversal of Edom and Judah on the day of the Lord. And we see that role reversal in different ways. You know, in verses 1 to 7, you have a reversal through deception. So, Edom in its pride views itself as impregnable from enemy attack because of their high dwellings in the mountainous regions of Seir. But their pride will deceive them from within, and they’ll be brought low. So they start high, and they end up low.
And then also there’s the reversal of the treaties they have with other nations, verses 7, will turn to treacheries. They’ll be deceived. There’s a bit of irony here. They’re known for their wise men for their wisdom, verse 8, and yet they will be…verse 7, they’ll have no understanding because they’ll become deceived by their own allies who will turn and attack them. So we have this reversal for Edom going on in verses 1 to 7. That then continues in verses 8 to 18 where you have this application of the law of retribution, you know, verse 15 there, “As you have done, it should be done to you. Your deeds shall return on your own head.” So for the day of Edom’s crimes, there’s going to be a day of reckoning, the day of the Lord.
And this is really the playing out of the Abrahamic covenant promise that God made that the one who curses you, I will curse. And you see Edom is cursing God’s people by attacking them, and so God’s going to curse them. And so there’s a reversal there. And there’s, again, irony here because Edom will try to cut off Judah’s fugitives. They won’t allow there to be any survivors, verse 14, and yet the punishment coming on Edom will be the exact same, verse 9 and 10. They will be cut off, verse 18. There will be no survivor for them. So this in a sense is a prophecy giving poetic justice to Edom that there will be a reversal. They’re on the ascendancy, they’re attacking God’s chosen son Judah, but actually, in the end, they will be brought low and will be destroyed.
And then that role reversal climax is in verses 19 to 21 with the land possession. So we know from Ezekiel 35 that Edom during the exile started to migrate into the Negev and started to try to grasp back the land from Judah. Now, we know this historically that that happened that they started to migrate in. And in a sense, it’s a bit like Esau coming back to life, grasping for his birthright. You see, he gave up the birthright, which was really giving up the land. And that’s what Edom’s trying to do. They’re trying to come back into the land and take the land again like they want their birthright back. Verse 17, “The house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions.”
Jacob like the father Jacob went into exile to the east, and then he returned to possess his possession, the Promised Land. Well, Judah goes into exile to the east, and they will return to possess their possessions. They’ll possess the Promised Land. So you can see how the life histories of Edom and Judah play out following the pattern of Esau and Jacob. But also verses 19 to 21 tell us that those of the Negev shall possess Mount Esau. So, Esau is not gonna be dispossessed by Judah. So you see the role reversal there where Edom were dispossessing Judah. Now Judah will dispossess Edom.
So, I think, that’s the sort of way in which the sovereignty of God plays out through the book that God is bringing the nations on Edom. They’ll be self-deceived by their pride, and they’ll be deceived by the nations. The treaties will turn to treacheries. God will enact the law of retribution on them, and then God will ensure that His divine purpose that was set in the tent of Rebecca will actually be played out in the life histories of these nations. Judah will possess the land, and Edom will be dispossessed of their land.
Guthrie: So, Jonny, if I’m teaching this and I’m thinking, “Okay. I see the people I’m teaching. Their eyes are glazing over with some of these history and these historical geographic references,” but then I see this repeated issue of pride on the part of Esau/Edom because they’re kind of synonymous to each other I suppose. As a teacher, am I going right or wrong if I want to take this book and try to say something to the people I’m teaching about the dangers of pride?
Gibson: I would say this is one of the missteps in preaching Obadiah for one or two sermons on it. And, I think, that this is maybe a misstep to think that this is an oracle against pride. And, of course, there’s the proverb, you know, “Pride comes before a fall.” And it seems like God is announcing a fall here on Edom from a great height. They’ll be brought low. And yet again, we need to sort of follow the structure and see the thought flow. So, Edom’s self-deception and then deceived by the allies will lead to their destruction and then also ultimately to Israel’s restoration.
The judgment that’s going to fall on Edom, I mean, yes, it’s going to fall because they’re proud, but actually, it’s verse 10 that really gives us the reason for God’s judgment on them, “Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.” I think this gets to the heart of the book. And, again, notice the language, “Your brother Jacob.” Obadiah’s inviting us to read this book with the backdrop of the Esau, Jacob narrative where the divine economy of the older shall serve the younger was set in the tent of Rebecca as God announces to her the twins in her womb.
And so what’s happening here is Edom’s actually going to be destroyed, yes, for their pride, yes, for their wickedness and attacks on Judah, which is just in and of themselves wrong. But ultimately, what’s also at play is that they’ve struck against the sovereignty of God that God has chosen Jacob and not Esau, that He’s given Jacob his land. And actually, in His grace, he gave Esau their own land, but Esau has become land-hungry again. They started to grab for their old birthright, their old land. And that’s really, I think, what’s at the heart of this. I think that’s why you have the climax in verse 21, “Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau. See, the older shall serve the younger. And the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” Only when the divine economy is back in order in history with Judah back in their land and Esau out of their land and subdued by Judah do we have God to be seen to be king ruling over the nations as he had purposed from the very beginning.
Guthrie: So we really need this basis of Jacob and Esau, which actually I kind of see as a great opportunity for a teacher to show the unity of scripture in terms of that story that began in Genesis. It was about so much more. Then also in showing the unity of scripture, we want to get to Christ, and we want to figure out how in this book we’re going to get to the gospel of Jesus Christ, not just jumping there, not trying to impose something, but authentically, organically from these 21 verses itself. So, I wonder, Johnny, if you were teaching this and you wanna get to Christ, where are the opportunities to do that?
Gibson: Yeah. This is probably where the tricky issue is for us Bible teachers. How do we take an obscure book like Obadiah and get to Christ? I think as you said, we don’t wanna jump there too quickly. So, if I can just mention a bit of history, which isn’t recorded in the Bible, but it’s there in extra-biblical sources for us. You know, the judgment that’s announced here in Obadiah, the day of the Lord that’s announced for Edom, it occurs in phases and stages. So, Nabonidus, the King of Babylon, invaded Edom in 553 BC and basically decimated the nation. And so, I think, that’s probably the first fulfillment of this prophecy by Obadiah about the destruction of Edom. And then you have the Nabataean, the Arab tribes, migrate in and sort of push the remaining Edomites out of their land, and they start to move into the Negev. And then in the 2nd century, you have a Jewish ruler, the John of Hyrcanus, who forced the Edomites to be circumcised. And so you have a number of events later on in history where the fulfillment of Obadiah’s prophecy becomes true.
Interestingly, the Edomites who settled in the Negev eventually formed their own region called Idumea and had their own king. And King Herod is Idumean. He’s an Edomite, which, I think, makes fascinating connection to Christ because King Herod when Jesus is born tries to kill him. You see Esau redivivus. Esau is coming back to life. And also at the cross, you know, another King Herod sentences him to death. Jesus meets his twin brother, if you like. And so, I think, that’s where we start to see some connections here into the New Testament.
But how do we take the book of Obadiah and actually apply it to Jesus? Well, I think, when we understand Jesus as the true Israel, the true Judah, we can start to see connections to him from this book. So as with Jacob, Judah, Jesus was insulted, attacked, deceived by those closest to him. But in the end, he is rescued, restored, and vindicated, and given possession and rule over the kingdoms of the world. Jesus experienced his own day of the Lord in Jerusalem in his death and resurrection. The Day of the Lord is really an event that was to do with salvation through judgment. And Jesus himself experiences his own day of the Lord on the cross and in his resurrection.
So, while Obadiah speaks generally of Judah’s ultimate vindication in the eyes of the world of saviors going up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, I think, if we view Jesus as the anti-type of Israel who rules his people and the nations from the heavenly Mount Zion after his ascension into heaven, then we can start to see connections here to Jesus. So the experience of Jacob, Judah in redemptive history culminating in their going under God’s punishment into exile finds its New Testament counterpart, not first in the Church, but in the head of the Church, Jesus Christ, the Lion of Judah, who underwent his own exile in the cross. So, I think, that’s how we can…so typology is really the issue. You can get Jesus through typology.
Guthrie: And just as I look through these brief verses of Obadiah, I see so many little phrases. Like going back to…you talked about it in verse 10, “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob.” And so you’ve got the sense in which that’s Esau against Jacob. It’s Edom against Israel. But, yeah, we could say Herod against Jesus. We could talk about, you know, the whole nation against Jesus on the cross. There was violence done against him.
And then I look at this numerous times this word gloat over you is used, and, of course, we know Jesus enemies. At the cross, there’s that sense in them gloating over him in his calamity. But I also think about verse 16, this picture, “Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually. They will drink and drink and drink and be as if they had never been.” I wonder if I would look for a way to think about Jesus when he says, “If this cup can’t pass from me, I will drink it.” And, I think, he’s referring back to Jeremiah in this cup of judgment, but it really relates to this cup and this drinking as well, doesn’t it, that Jesus on the cross is experiencing this judgment by drinking this cup of God’s wrath?
Gibson: Yes. In Obadiah 16, it’s to do with the final judgment on the nations, which is described in this picture of drinking a cup of wrath, and Jesus anticipated that judgment for his people on the cross. So, yes, he goes into his own exile. He drinks the cup of God’s wrath so that Jacob, his chosen people, Judah, his people, can be saved from that judgment on that final day. So, yeah, I think, there are connections there as well. And the gloating one that you mentioned, the mocking as I mentioned earlier, you know, Jesus is insulted. He’s attacked. He’s deceived by those closest to him. Edom was Judah’s twin brother as Esau was to Jacob, and yet Jesus is deceived by those closest to him as well. And so, I think, we can see connections from Obadiah to Jesus that are quite organic and natural when you work in that sort of paradigm of typology of Jesus being the true Israel, the true Judah.
There is also another interesting connection. I think what we have is an indirect connection to Obadiah in the day of Pentecost. So, Peter on the day of Pentecost in Acts 2 preaches, and he quotes Joel 2:28-32, you know, “And it shall come to pass afterwards, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh. Your sons and your daughters will prophesy.” And he ends it by saying, “And it shall come to pass, that everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved.” Now, when you go back and you read the Joel text, the very next line in Joel, Peter only quotes half of verse 32. He ends with verse 32 but only the first part. The second part says, “For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said.” Now, those words, “For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape” are identical to Obadiah 17, “For in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape.” But notice what Joel says, “As the Lord has said.” So Joel is quoting Obadiah here.
So, we could say that Peter makes a connection to Obadiah via Joel. Okay. Now, some will say, “Well, he didn’t quote that verse from Joel in his Pentecost sermon.” But, I think, New Testament uses of the Old Testament are a bit like an iceberg. You know, the bit above the surface of the water is the quote or the illusion but underneath is a large context that comes with it. And so just because he didn’t quote the second part of verse 32 doesn’t mean it’s not there at play, if you like, or perhaps the other illustration is, you know, those Russian dolls, the babushka dolls stacking dolls where you have a doll within a doll. Well, perhaps we could look at it here as Peter has the Joel doll in his hands, but actually, embedded inside the Joel doll is the Obadiah doll. Joel is quoting Obadiah. And if Peter’s quoting Joel, then in a sense we’ve got a connection to Obadiah.
Now, what does all of that mean? Well, it means that the day of the Lord that Obadiah speaks about is fulfilled in the life, death, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus and the outpouring of his spirit as the gospel goes forth from Jerusalem to the ends of the earth, as Gentile nations like Edom are ruled from the heavenly Mount Zion. So, perhaps we could understand the saviors in verse 21 that go up to Mount Zion in Obadiah as spirit anointed men like the judges of old but now even more holy are going out into the world and conquering the nations for Christ. So I actually think the saviors going up to Mount Zion are Christ and the apostles and ministers who are called to preach the gospel, to throw down every argument that raises itself against God, and to rule over the nations by preaching the gospel and calling people to repentance.
John Chrysostom has an interesting quote about the Apostle Peter, which, I think, is reminiscent of Obadiah in verse 18. John Chrysostom said of the Apostle Peter, “He was a man of fire, walking among stubble,” a man of fire, walking among stubble. And Obadiah 18, “The house of Jacob shall be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble.” And, I think, that’s a picture of Christ and the apostles going about their work of proclaiming the kingdom of God is they’re subduing the nations, which is what’s going on in the book of Obadiah here.
Guthrie: And by subduing, there’s an element both of destruction but also salvation. Is there not?
Gibson: Yeah. I think, you know, we tend to read some of the Old Testament prophecies of these destructions of the nations being, you know, complete annihilation. There’s two ways to destroy an enemy. The one is to annihilate them and the other is to make them your friend. And, I think, that’s what’s going on here. You know, there are people from Idumea who go out to hear Jesus preach in Mark chapter 3. You know, the Edomites go to hear him, and I like to think that some of them responded to that message.
You also have a connection interestingly in Acts 15 where James quotes Amos 9, which speaks of the remnant of mankind, but actually, the Hebrew is the remnant of Edom. Now, the consonants in Hebrew are the same for Edom as they are for mankind, Adam, or Edom. And so the Septuagint version of Amos 9 seems to maybe be what James is quoting there. And so Edom, yes, they are their own nation, but maybe they’re a picture of humankind as well. And actually, what James is saying is that the Gentiles were meant to come into the kingdom and be converted and become a part of Israel. And so, I think, that’s what Obadiah 21 is about. The saviors will go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, to rule over mankind, to convert Gentile nations to come and worship on Mount Zion.
Guthrie: That makes me think into Revelation 22 about that Tree of Life in the new garden to come, in the new heaven, in new earth, and that its leaves were for the healing of the nations. And isn’t it God working out His salvation purposes to save those from among the nations?
Gibson: Yeah. That’s the beautiful thing about the Day of the Lord. Again, in the Old Testament, we tend to think of it as just damnation and judgment, but actually, it’s salvation through judgment. There were two sides to the coin of the day of the Lord. There was judgment, yes, but there was always salvation. And that’s what C. H. Dodd called the two-beat rhythm of biblical history, judgment, salvation. Everywhere you see judgment, you’ll see salvation. And judgment is not the final word in the gospel. Salvation is. And that’s what we hold out to people as we preach and teach from the book of Obadiah that there is salvation available for all those who submit to the divine economy that God has established, and that is that He is going to save a people for himself. And, I think, there’s also the warning in 2 Thessalonians 1. Paul speaks about God is going to afflict those who afflict you. And so, I think, actually from Obadiah, we can preach a warning to people as well that the Church of Jesus Christ is precious to him. It’s his body. It’s like on the road to Damascus when Jesus confronts Saul, and he says, “Why are you persecuting me?”
You know, what’s interesting there is Paul wasn’t persecuting Christ. He was persecuting Christians, but Jesus says, “Why are you persecuting me?” And the point there is that Jesus and the Church, the head and the body are so united that to persecute the Church’s to persecute Christ. And Obadiah is teaching us that God in the Old Testament is saying that “You cannot curse my people and not be cursed.” And Paul in 2 Thessalonians 1 is saying the same thing. On the Day of Judgment, on the final ultimate day of the Lord, God is going to afflict the punishment on those who have afflicted His people. So, I think, from Obadiah via 2 Thessalonians 1, we can also preach a message of warning to the world, be careful how you treat the Church of Jesus Christ because it is his body. It is his special people.
Guthrie: Well, Jonny, perhaps we can close this way. Would you speak directly to the person who’s thinking about trying to teach Obadiah? Maybe they’re working through a series on Old Testament prophets, and they’ve got one week on Obadiah. You know, there are so many of the same notes in this book that we find in prophetic books especially similar notes to Joel and Amos. How would you encourage them and challenge them as they prepare to teach Obadiah, why they wanna do it, how they wanna go about it, and then what they’re gonna be calling people…how they’re gonna be calling people to respond to what they’ve taught from the book of Obadiah?
Gibson: Yeah. The first thing would be don’t avoid it. It is neglected. So I’d encourage all of us to take the opportunity, small groups from the pulpit, conferences, etc., to get Obadiah back on the map. And as we do that, it’s good to get some good commentaries that can help us because it is an obscure book. So, I think, Jeffrey Niehaus’s commentary on the Minor Prophets is good, or Max Rogland’s ESV commentary is helpful. Get a good commentary so you don’t feel lost in some of the technical issues. And as you prepare it, aim to really get inside the structure. Structures tell stories. And if you can get to the structure of Obadiah and see the progression from Edom’s deception, to Edom’s destruction, to Israel’s restoration, then you can start to develop the thought flow for your own Bible talk or sermon.
The way that I think of Obadiah in one sense is it’s a bit like teaching people how to say the Lord’s Prayer from the Old Testament. You know, our Father in heaven, hallowed be your name. Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven. And that’s why I’ve mentioned the Jacob, Esau story as the necessary backdrop because what Esau was doing and what Edom did and its history was to strike against the will of God that He had set down in the tent of Rebecca for these two nations.
And really, what Obadiah is saying, “May your will be done on earth, Lord, as it is in heaven. May your kingdom come. May Edom and all the nations see that the kingship belongs to you and to no other as you redeem your people out of the persecution that they’ve faced by Edom and by different nations.” So that’s one way that I would encourage people to think of it. It’s a way to teach your people how to pray the Lord’s Prayer from the Old Testament.
Guthrie: Thank you so much, Johnny. You’ve been listening to “Help Me Teach the Bible” with Nancy Guthrie, a production of the Gospel Coalition, sponsored by Crossway. Crossway is a not-for-profit publisher of the “ESV Bible,” Christian books, and tracks. Learn more about Crossway’s gospel-centered resources at crossway.org.