The book of Obadiah
Pride and brotherly love
by Anton Chan
The message of the book of Obadiah speaks of the pride of the Edomites and their lack of brotherly love toward Israel. It brought the judgment of God to this small, yet powerful, nation that was an enemy of Israel for a thousand years.
Obadiah means "a servant of the Lord" and there are at least twelve Obadiahs mentioned in the Old Testament. I Kings 18:13 first mentions a Obadiah who saved more than a hundred prophets by hiding them from Jezebel and giving them food and water. He also talked to Elijah. Ezra 8:9 refers to the last Obadiah who returned from exile with Ezra in Babylon.
The book of Obadiah, with only one chapter of 21 verses, is the shortest book of the Old Testament. Scholars do not have any evidence which Obadiah mentioned in the Bible authored the book of Obadiah. There are several similarities between Obadiah 1-6 and Jeremiah 49:9 and 14-17. Other passages are similar to Joel and Amos. There is a debate about which is the original text and who wrote it. Another theory is that both were copied from a third source, a collection of oral saying by the prophetic circles.
Looking at the Edomites’ behaviour in the text, it is possible that the book was written during King Jehoram's reign (930-913BC) and the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians in 586 BC. The probable date of writing would be 586 BC and before 553 (Babylon's destruction of Edom). However, the correct date of this writing, and which Obadiah wrote it, is not significant to the understanding of the book’s message. It is the Lord's way for us to focus on the message rather than the writer.
The Edomites were the descendants of Esau. It holds a historical position as a brother nation of Israel (Gen 25). When Israel requested to pass through their land to enter Canaan, Edom refused and came out to confront the Israelites with a large army and a firm hand (Numbers 20:20-21). The Edomites became enemies of Israel and fought many battles with her. They celebrate and gloated over the successful invasion of Jerusalem (vv.10-14, 16). The book of Obadiah describes Edom's transgression against their blood brother, Israel. They had cruelty of feet (v11), heart (v12), tongue (12), eyes (13), and hands (v13). They stood by when Jerusalem was invaded and rejoiced over the captivity of the sons of Judah. They showed a total indifference and lack of love towards their relatives. In conflicts arising from human relationships, those between blood brothers are painful. It is even worse when nations feud.
The English Standard Version Study Bible suggests five themes of the book of Obadiah. They are:
1. Enemies will be put to shame because of their enmity against God’s people (v. 10). 2. Every proud human effort at self-security will ultimately fail before God’s coming judgment (vv. 1–9). 3. God’s retributive justice is strict and fair, with the punishment corresponding to the misdeeds (v. 15). 4. Reunited Israel will experience God’s deliverance (vv. 16–17), possess the Promised Land, and defeat and rule over Edom (vv. 17–21). 5. In the future, Yahweh will definitively manifest his kingly rule (v. 21).
The outline of Obadiah can also be seen in two parts: the poetic (vv 1-18) and prose (vv 19-21). It can also be read as four sections (vv 1-4, 5-7, 8-18, and 19-21). Let us look at Obadiah's first section (vv 1-4) about pride being the main problem of the Edomites.
The Lord pronounced Judgement against Edom because of they were proud that no one could bring them down from their lofty dwelling (v 3). It is not difficult to imagine that the Edomites lived in the mountains that were both beautiful and made them impregnable to the surrounding nations. They felt that they had created, by their own hands, an extraordinarily strong nation above that of their neighbours. They believed that they lived at the same level as God. They were like the eagles and lived among the stars. Edom's attitude toward God and their fellowmen is representative of the human heart.
Scripture warns us repeatedly about pride and teaches us about the value of humility. Before a downfall, the heart is haughty, but humility comes before honour. (Proverbs, 18:12). Pride ends in humiliation, while humility brings honour. (Proverbs 29:23, NLT). Human pride will be brought down, and human arrogance will be humbled. Only the LORD will be exalted on that day of judgment. For the LORD of Heaven’s Armies has a day of reckoning. He will punish the proud and mighty and bring down everything that is exalted. (Isaiah 2:11-12). The Bible records the account of prideful fallen angels (Isaiah 14:12-15). Jude 1:6 says, "And the angels who did not stay within their position of authority, but left their proper dwelling, he has kept in eternal chains under gloomy darkness until the judgment of the great day."
Pride says that we can find confidence, trust in wealth, and have no need for God in our lives. A rich, powerful and influential family in Singapore took a poor and powerless maid to court accusing her of stealing from the family. The maid was sentenced to four years in jail. However, a pro bono lawyer and others defended the maid against social injustice. Eventually, the case was overturned by the High Court upon appeal. The maid was acquitted and set free. The wealthy family did not show grace and wisdom. It is a case of “Pride leads to disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” (Proverbs 11:2, NLT).
Are you proud? Are you smart, educated, hold a high-profile job, and are part of a wealthy family but have no love and compassion for the weak and powerless, even friends and impoverished relatives? The message of Obadiah provides us with a clear warning about the lack of brotherly love for others. It is another reason for judgment against Edom.
The Lord says in Obadiah (v 10):
“Because of the violence against your brother Jacob,
you will be covered with shame;
you will be destroyed forever.”
Scripture records bitterness, hatred, and long-standing hostility between the twin brothers, Esau and Jacob (Gen 25:25-34; 27:1-41). Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, refused to allow Moses and the Hebrews, who were escaping from Egypt, to pass through their territory on the way to the promised land (Numbers 20:14-21). They showed no mercy or compassion towards their brothers. Obadiah's (11-14) message portrays Edom’s abusive behaviour towards the Israelites for which the Lord brought judgment upon Edom. Edom will be destroyed forever, thus said the Lord.
As Jesus sat on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came to him privately and asked: "Tell us, when will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?" (Matthew 24:3). Jesus answered his disciples with an “eschatological discourse,” predicting both the destruction of Jerusalem and the coming of the Son of Man. Jesus told his disciples three parables: The ten virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) - which teaches about being always prepared of his return, the bags of gold (Matthew 25:14-30) – about using given talents wisely and, finally, the sheep and goats (Matt 25: 31-46) which closes with this warning: “Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” Matthew 25:45-46 is about the consequences: “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." Jesus commands and expects all of us, as his disciples, to love and care for those who lack the necessities of life.
A few hours before his death, Jesus said to his closest disciples:
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples if you love one another." (John13:34-35, NIV)
The Israelites, in exile in Babylon, sat on the river bank and recalled in pain and sadness what their brethren did to them. They cried out to God: "Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did on the day Jerusalem fell. "Tear it down," they cried, "tear it down to its foundations!" (Psalm 137:7). They appealed to God, cursing Edom and Babylon (Psalm 137: 8-9). The Lord responded and brought these two nations to the task. Today, both Edom and Babylon have disappeared from history.
In contrast, another psalmist prayed, acknowledging the need for brotherly love: “How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!” (Psalm 133:1).
As in all prophetic books, Obadiah ends his message with hope and restoration of Israel, despite the destruction of the Holy City, Jerusalem, and the temple. God’s message to the Jewish people is filled with divine promises and deliverance. He will deliver them (17-18), God will defeat their enemies (19-20), and God will establish His Kingdom (21).
Rev 11:15b echoes the divine promise:
“The kingdom of the world has become
the kingdom of our Lord and his Messiah,
and he will reign forever and ever.”