The Book of Obadiah, at only twenty-one verses, is not something that a great deal of Bible readers put any amount of time into really contemplating. Unlike a short letter like Philemon, which was composed at the same time of Colossians, there is really no text that Obadiah can be amended to as a kind of “appendix.” It is easy when accessing commentaries on the Minor Prophets (also called the Twelve Prophets), to just flip over the Book of Obadiah, and not really pay any attention to what it communicated to an audience within Ancient Israel.
How important is the Book of Obadiah? Well for starters, the name of the Prophet it features, Ovadyah, means “servant of the Lord.” Given the fact that Obadiah has a generic name like this, some might be tempted to think that the prophecies delivered are actually via some kind of an anonymous voice. Perhaps this servant of God, whoever he was, was actually just a literary figure declaring a message regarding something that had already transpired? These might be some of the claims against the genuine involvement of a real prophet named Obadiah, that one might encounter, and it could be used to dismiss the value of a text like the Book of Obadiah. If we treat the Book of Obadiah as the genuine product of a prophet named Obadiah, even if some of the prophecies might be considered “fulfilled”—the text still has important lessons to teach us about God’s involvements in human affairs. But how can any of us evaluate if Obadiah is largely “fulfilled,” if we have perhaps not even glanced through it?
The main focus of the Book of Obadiah is that a rebuke is issued by the Lord against Edom. There is no full agreement among conservative interpreters as to when this was originally delivered. Some favor an earlier dating for Obadiah’s prophecies, during the reign of Jehoram, while others favor a dating sometimes subsequent to the fall of Judah to the Babylonians. The point to be taken from the tenor of Obadiah, is that the Edomites were not to rejoice over the fall of their neighbor. The Lord decrees,
“See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised. The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down” (Obadiah 2-4).
The rebuking from the Lord, upon the Edomites, that is intended to humiliate their great pride, makes up a considerable bulk of the short Book of Obadiah:
“If thieves came to you, if robbers in the night—Oh, what a disaster awaits you—would they not steal only as much as they wanted? If grape pickers came to you, would they not leave a few grapes? But how Esau will be ransacked, his hidden treasures pillaged! All your allies will force you to the border; your friends will deceive and overpower you; those who eat your bread will set a trap for you, but you will not detect it. ‘In that day,’ declares the Lord, ‘will I not destroy the wise men of Edom, men of understanding in the mountains of Esau? Your warriors, O Teman, will be terrified, and everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter. Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in disaster. You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble’” (Obadiah 5-14).
While some might think that Obadiah has nothing to say about the future, there is, in fact, a future word describing the Day of the Lord, and the end-time restoration of Israel:
“The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been. But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance. The house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; the house of Esau will be stubble, and they will set it on fire and consume it. There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.’ The Lord has spoken. People from the Negev will occupy the mountains of Esau, and people from the foothills will possess the land of the Philistines. They will occupy the fields of Ephraim and Samaria, and Benjamin will possess Gilead. This company of Israelite exiles who are in Canaan will possess the land as far as Zarephath; the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the towns of the Negev. Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the Lord’s” (Obadiah 15-21).
When was the last time that you took a look at the Book of Obadiah? Even if short, Obadiah does have something to communicate about the future. The Edomites were told by God not to rejoice over the downfall of Judah. Sometime in the future, Obadiah’s word about a final judgment to be issued by the Lord upon Edom, will come to pass. Perhaps we need not skip over Obadiah any longer, as it does contain some key statements regarding the restoration of all Israel… How will any of us—most especially Messianic Believers—learn to appreciate the short, but distinct, place of the Book of Obadiah within the Tanach canon?