Obadiah Gives Warning and Comfort from God
“THE vision of Obadiah.” That is how the shortest book of the inspired Hebrew Scriptures begins. It contains both a warning of calamity for the land and the people of Edom (to the southeast of the Dead Sea) and a message of comfort for servants of God. Its opening words include the following:
“This is what the Sovereign Lord Jehovah has said regarding Edom: ‘There is a report that we have heard from Jehovah, and there is an envoy that has been sent among the nations, “Rise up, you people, and let us rise up against her in battle.”’”—Obad. 1.
The name “Obadiah” means “servant of Jah [Jehovah]”; and that is all we know about the writer of this prophetic book. However, the book of Obadiah is indeed beneficial for worshipers of God today. Jehovah’s dealings with Edom, as portrayed by Obadiah, furnish a warning example of how the Creator will one day rid the earth of all who hate God and his people. On the other hand, Obadiah cheers worshipers of God not only with the promise of freedom from oppression but with that of endless prosperity.
Appropriately, Obadiah’s message is called a “vision.” (Obad. 1) The Scriptures often refer to prophets as ‘seers.’ (1 Sam. 9:9; 2 Sam. 15:27; 1 Chron. 9:22) Even when nothing visible was seen by the prophet, prophetic communications often were called visions.—Dan. 9:24; Nah. 1:1.
HAUGHTY EDOM BROUGHT LOW
According to Obadiah, God would rouse up nations to wage destructive warfare against the Edomites. Since Obadiah’s report about this originated with “the Sovereign Lord Jehovah,” its fulfillment was certain.
The Edomites might have been inclined to ridicule such a prediction of calamity for their nation. The territory of Edom was mountainous. Earlier settlers of that area were called “Horites,” meaning cave dwellers. (Gen. 14:6; Deut. 2:12, 22) Their location high up in mountains difficult to approach made the Edomites feel overly secure from enemy attack.
In view of this, God declared through Obadiah: “‘Look! Small is what I have made you among the nations. You are despised very much. The presumptuousness of your heart is what has deceived you, you who are residing in the retreats of the crag, the height where he dwells, saying in his heart, “Who will bring me down to the earth?” If you should make your position high like the eagle, or if among the stars there were a placing of your nest, down from there I would bring you,’ is the utterance of Jehovah.”—Obad. 2-4.
The presumptuous Edomites were to be made “small” in both numbers and dignity. God would bring them to ruin no matter how high they might place their dwellings, or how remote these might be.
THOROUGHLY “SEARCHED OUT”
Jehovah next indicates how thoroughly Edom’s enemies would devastate that nation: “If it were thieves that came in to you, if despoilers came in by night, to what extent would you have been silenced? Would they not steal as much as they wanted? Or if it were grape gatherers that came in to you, would they not let some gleanings remain?”—Obad. 5.
Usually thieves steal only ‘as much as they want,’ rather than stripping a house bare. Similarly, grape gatherers would always leave some grapes behind. But with Edom things were to be different.
Obadiah explains: “O the extent to which those of Esau have been searched out! How his concealed treasures have been sought out!” (Obad. 6) Enemies of the Edomites were to comb through every cave and hidden retreat. They would not leave behind any concealed treasures.
NO HELP FOR EDOM
When enemy nations would begin war preparations against Edom, naturally that nation would seek help from peoples who pretended to be close allies. However, when the Edomites would send messengers to them seeking help and protection against invading forces, the messengers would be sent “as far as the boundary” of those lands where they sought help. They would be escorted out with no promise of assistance. The same treatment could be expected by Edomites fleeing across the borders of surrounding lands to escape death. They would either be refused entry or be expelled. (Obad. 7) Even among the Edomites themselves none would be sufficiently wise or mighty to avert disaster.—Obad. 8, 9.
The reason for such calamity for Edom is given in these words: “Because of the violence to your brother Jacob, shame will cover you, and you will have to be cut off to time indefinite. In the day when you stood off on the side, in the day when strangers took his military force into captivity and when outright foreigners entered his gate and over Jerusalem they cast lots, you also were like one of them.”—Obad. 10, 11.
The Israelites descended from Jacob and the Edomites from his twin brother, Esau. Because Jacob acquired the right of firstborn from his brother, Esau began to nurse murderous hatred toward Jacob. (Gen. 25:27-34; 27:30-45) Throughout their history the Edomites continued to manifest such hatred toward Israel. (Num. 20:14-21; 2 Ki. 8:20-22; 2 Chron. 21:8-10; 28:16-20; Ps. 83:4-8) During the ninth century B.C.E., through the prophet Amos, Jehovah denounced Edom “on account of his pursuing his own brother with the sword, and because he ruined his own merciful qualities, and his anger keeps tearing away forever; and his fury—he has kept it perpetually.”—Amos 1:11.
More than two centuries later an especially vicious display of such hatred occurred when the Babylonians under King Nebuchadnezzar destroyed Jerusalem and its temple. Looking back on this event, the inspired psalmist wrote: “Remember, O Jehovah, regarding the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who were saying: ‘Lay it bare! Lay it bare to the foundation within it!’”—Ps. 137:7.
Through Obadiah, God denounced Edom for such a hostile spirit, saying: “And you ought not to watch the sight in the day of your brother, in the day of his misfortune; and you ought not to rejoice at the sons of Judah in the day of their perishing; . . . And you ought not to stand at the parting of the ways, in order to cut off his escapees; and you ought not to hand over his survivors in the day of distress.” (Obad. 12-14) Edom’s treachery to Israel went even to the point of chasing down individuals running for their lives and handing them over to the enemy. But by acting that way the Edomites displayed ignorance of a vital fact. How?
‘THE DAY OF JEHOVAH IS NEAR’
Jehovah went on to say: “For the day of Jehovah against all the nations is near. In the way that you have done, it will be done to you. Your sort of treatment will return upon your own head. For in the way that you people have drunk upon my holy mountain, all the nations will keep drinking constantly. And they will certainly drink and gulp down and become as though they had never happened to be.”—Obad. 15, 16.
Edom joined enemies of God’s people in celebrating with drunkenness and revelry the defeat and plundering of Israel. Now it would be their turn to ‘drink the cup’ of God’s anger. Not only the Edomites, but all nations hostile to God’s chosen nation would one day become “as though they had never happened to be.”
EDOM BECOMES AS “STUBBLE”
Jehovah promised that the offspring of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob would gain possession of the land that later came to be called Palestine. (Gen. 15:7, 17-21) They did, but were exiled from it by the Babylonians, leaving the land a desolate waste.
Through Obadiah Jehovah guaranteed that the Israelites would repossess it, for God said through the prophet: “And in Mount Zion is where those escaping will prove to be, and it must become something holy; and the house of Jacob must take possession of the things for them to possess. And the house of Jacob must become a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau as stubble; and they must set them ablaze and devour them. And there will prove to be no survivor to the house of Esau; for Jehovah himself has spoken it.”—Obad. 17, 18.
No longer would Israel be divided into the two-tribe kingdom made up of Judah and Benjamin (sometimes called “Jacob” in the Bible) and the northern kingdom of 10 tribes (at times called “the house of Joseph”). These words predict restoration to unity of all 12 tribes of Israel. In contrast, Edom was to disappear. The Israelites were to devour those descendants of Esau as fire eats up stubble.
Did such a devastation of Edom actually take place? Yes, and in fulfillment of God’s pronouncement through Obadiah both Gentiles (verse 1) and Israelites (verse 18) played a part in it. Consider, please, some evidence confirming the fulfillment of what had been foretold.
Ancient inscriptions relate the conquest of Edom during the sixth century B.C.E. by Babylonian forces under King Nabonidus. According to C. J. Gadd, a scholar on the subject of Babylonian history and literature, the troops of Nabonidus that conquered Edom and Tema included Jewish soldiers. Commenting on this, John Lindsay writes in an article entitled “The Babylonian Kings and Edom”: “Thus, in part at least, the words of the prophet found a fulfilment when he wrote of Yahweh saying ‘I will lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my people Israel’ (Ezek. 25:14). We have also a partial fulfilment of the words of Obadiah who said that Edom’s ‘allies’, ‘confederates’, ‘trusted friends’ would ‘deceive’, ‘prevail against’ and ‘set a trap under’ them. Here we may see a reference to the Babylonians who, although in the days of Nebuchadrezzar were willing to allow them a share in Judah’s loss, under Nabonidus curbed once and for all the commercial and mercantile ambitions of Edom (cf. Obad. 1 and 7).”—Palestine Exploration Quarterly, January-June 1976, page 39.
This fits well with Biblical evidence concerning the time of Edom’s fall. As already noted, Edom was an independent nation when Jerusalem fell to Nebuchadnezzar’s forces. However, the book of Malachi, written about the middle of the fifth century B.C.E. (some 100 years after the campaign into Edom by Nabonidus), relates that God had already made Edom’s “mountains a desolated waste and his inheritance for the jackals of the wilderness.”—Mal. 1:3.
“AND THE KINGSHIP MUST BECOME JEHOVAH’S”
The Israelites were to repossess land from which they had been expelled during their exile in Babylon. In addition to this, the book of Obadiah describes an extension of territory for Israel in all directions. They would spread south into the Negeb, east into Edom’s former homeland and west into the Shephelah and Philistine land. Extension to the northwest would reach throughout the Phoenician coastland as far north as Zarephath between Tyre and Sidon. Northeastward they would extend throughout all the area formerly occupied by the 10-tribe kingdom of Israel, including Ephraim, Samaria and the area of Gilead east of the Jordan River. Rather than being confined in a distant foreign land, exiles of Jerusalem from even as far as Sepharad (believed to be in Asia Minor) would return and take possession of a territorial inheritance expanded southward into the Negeb where the Edomites had formerly usurped land.—Obad. 19, 20.
The book of Obadiah ends on an encouraging note, declaring: “And saviors will certainly come up onto Mount Zion, in order to judge the mountainous region of Esau; and the kingship must become Jehovah’s.” (Obad. 21) In the days following the death of Joshua, God raised up judges to “save” Israel from oppression and to regain territory taken over by the enemy, and Obadiah depicts the repatriated Israelites as acting in a similar capacity.—Judg. 2:16.
Happily, in an extended sense, this prophecy guarantees that one day all enemies of God will be annihilated and divine rule will extend earth wide. (Ps. 22:27, 28) That message of warning and comfort from the true God deserves the widest possible dissemination. Are you having a regular part in sharing it with others?
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Obadiah’s message—a warning of destruction for Edom and a promise of restoration for God’s people