Edom lived in the area east of the Jordan in the mountainous areas south of the Dead Sea—a dry, barren, rocky place. Here, in this end-time prophecy, Edomites are still living in this inhospitable place.
Verse 1 contains a parenthetical statement that informs us that God has sent a messenger among the nations, urging them to "rise up against her." This is how things really work: God is the prime mover of world affairs. He determines His purpose and starts affairs rolling toward its fulfillment by inspiring an idea. Then the political and diplomatic mechanisms of nations take over to bring it to fruition, guided and pushed all the while by God (see Isaiah 46:9-11; Isaiah 55:11).
In this case, a national leader decides to send an ambassador to other nations to form a military alliance against Edom. The complaint, as explained in subsequent verses, is that Edom must be brought down to size, perhaps because she is not a team player, wanting all the glory and plunder for herself. That God is the ultimate author of this message means that it will happen as advertised.
Obadiah 1:2 adds emphasis to verse 1. The "I" is God Himself; it is His purpose to bring about Edom's national deflation. He wants Edom to recognize this! He thinks that the Edomites need to be brought into account for their actions and severely punished. Those among the nations who are scheming against Edom are merely agents God will use to fulfill His decree.
Verse 3 strikes at the root of Edom's problem: "The pride of your heart." It was easy for the Edomites to believe themselves to be invincible due to the nearly uninhabitable territory they dwelled in. To the west, where Israel lay, the geography made their territory nearly impregnable. Otherwise, they could feel secure because their fortresses were carved out of the rock, so they could either hunker down for long periods or engage in guerilla warfare. An attacking army could in no way pry them out, and they knew it. They felt invulnerable, and this filled them with pride.
"Pride" in verse 3 is the Hebrew word zadon, from the root, ziyd. This root is translated "cooked" in Genesis 25:29, where Jacob cooked a stew that the famished Esau desired. "Cooked" would be better translated "boiled" or "seethed." When heat is applied to water, it boils, and from this process, the Hebrews gained their understanding of pride.
Obadiah, it seems, specifically used this word to draw the reader's attention back to this incident, perhaps suggesting that Esau's selling of the birthright was rooted in his pride. Esau became heated and angry, and it manifested itself as haughtiness, arrogance, pride—the major trait he passed on to his descendants. Just as stew boils up under heat, so Edom puffs herself up thinking that she is self-reliant and invincible. God, however, is out to prove her wrong.
The Edomite challenge at the end of Obadiah 1:3 bears some scrutiny: "Who will bring me down to the ground?" This is remarkably similar to the words of Helel (who became Satan) in Isaiah 14:13-14 and to those of the great harlot in Revelation 18:7. This same pride will lead Edom into trouble. The Bible declares that, in all three of these examples, God will have the last word: He will humble them all. In Obadiah 1:4, He decrees, no matter how high and mighty Edom considers herself to be, "from there I will bring you down."
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part Three): Obadiah
There is some debate as to when Obadiah was written, as the text itself gives no indication when the prophet may have penned it. However, from the way in which Edom is described in reacting to certain misfortunes that Judah experienced, scholarly opinion leans toward one of two historic periods. They are both, nonetheless, inconclusive.
The earlier period falls between 800 and 750 BC, placing Obadiah contemporary with Joel and Amos, who was likely in his prime, and a rather elderly Elisha. Obadiah may have bridged the latter two. The later date would consign the book to after the fall of Jerusalem (c. 587-586 BC). If this were the case, Obadiah's prophetic contemporaries would have been Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
Modern scholars lean toward this later date because they feel Obadiah describes the actions of the Edomites when the Babylonians came and overthrew Jerusalem. However, there was an earlier time in the days of Joram (or Jehoram) when a similar confederacy arose in which Edom may have been involved. Thus, the book of Obadiah could fit into both periods.
A deciding factor is where Obadiah appears in the Minor Prophets: The prophecy is linked with Joel and Amos; the three books are consecutive. Had its typical events occurred after the fall of Jerusalem, the prophecy would probably have been placed with Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Since Obadiah appears with the first of the Minor Prophets in the inspired compilation of the canonical books, its authorship seems to coincide more with the earlier prophets than the later ones. However, the book's date is not critical because its prophesied events are to occur in the future - in the time of the end.
Obadiah means "servant (or worshipper) of Yah," which may have been his actual name or a title to mask his identity. It could refer to anyone who worships God. The Bible contains eight or ten Obadiahs, but none seems to fit the man who wrote the prophecy. History does not record whether he was well placed in the kingdom or whether he was a Jew, Levite, or a member of another Israelite tribe. All we know is that he was a servant of Yahweh.
This is in contrast to a prophet such as Amos, of whom we know a great deal:
The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. (Amos 1:1)
Amos is specific in terms of his time, place, identity, and occupation. He mentions the contemporary kings of Judah and Israel and even throws in a specific event - the great earthquake of c. 760 BC - to be thorough! On the other hand, Obadiah seems to have been inspired to keep these details hidden. He places himself in the background, identifying himself only as a servant, for God's message is what he wants his book to convey.
From the text itself, he appears to have been a competent writer, one who wrote passionately and poetically. He seems to have had a soft and empathetic heart, even toward his enemies. Beyond that, the man Obadiah is an enigma.
The prophecy can be outlined simply:
» Verses 1-4: God's pronouncement of judgment on Edom.
» Verses 5-9: How Edom will be annihilated.
» Verses 10-14: Why Edom will be annihilated.
» Verses 15-16: Edom and the Day of the Lord.
» Verses 17-21: Israel's complete triumph over Edom.
Obadiah is a study in God's punishment of a people for the things that they have done. They will be made to suffer the consequences of their hostile attitudes and aggression against Israel, as well as their constant attempts to impede the purpose of God through Israel.
Richard T. Ritenbaugh
All About Edom (Part Three): Obadiah