For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning, that we through patience and comfort of the scriptures might have hope.
Romans 15:4



 A Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough

Copyright 2002 James Melough

Nothing is known of this prophet.  He appears briefly on the stage of time to deliver God’s message, and then disappears from the historical record.  His name means serving Jehovah.

The exact date of the prophecy is uncertain, ranging from about 840 to 580 BC, 840 BC being the one accepted by many  competent Bible scholars, and the one seeming to have the strongest historical support.

Those against whom the prophecy is directed are the Edomites, descendants of Esau (also called Edom, and meaning red, see Ge 25:30).  The land of Edom is also called Seir, meaning shaggy: hairy: goat-like, 2 Chr 20:10; 25:11; Ezk 35:15, the name  being related to the fact that Esau (Edom) was a hairy man, Ge 25:25.  The destruction of the Edomites was God’s recompense of their bitter enmity against Israel, the descendants of Jacob, Esau’s twin brother.  History records nothing of them after 70 AD, yet Scripture indicates that Edom will be revived, and will be one of the countries against whom the wrath of God will be directed in the Tribulation, see Isa 11:14; 34:5-8; 63:1-6.  Some, however, believe that the language in these passages relative to Edom is figurative of God’s enemies in general, and should not be taken literally. 

Secure in their rocky fastnesses they preyed on the caravans which had to pass through their territory on their way to the north, the tolls they exacted making them wealthy and powerful.

The Bible Knowledge Commentary makes the interesting observation that, “Judgment against Edom is mentioned in more Old Testament books than it is against any other foreign nation.”  See, for example, Jer 49:7-22; Joel 3:19; Ezek 35:5.

However much Israel may have sinned, and however severely God may have had to chastise them, the fact remains that they are His chosen and beloved people, and He will requite in terrible judgment all who have sought their harm.  Edom is one of the nations that has already suffered His retributive judgment, but Scripture makes it clear that His ultimate judgment of the nations that have hated His people will come in the impending Tribulation era, see verses 15-21, that judgment being directly related to their attitude towards Israel during that terrible era, see Mt 25:40.

It may be helpful at this point to glance briefly at Edom’s history, leaving the details for discussion as we examine the book verse by verse.

The territory of Edom (or Seir, as it is sometimes called), is a narrow strip of land about one hundred miles long, and twenty to twenty-five miles wide, the river Zered, which flows into the south eastern end of the Dead Sea, being its northern border.  The lower half of the rift valley which runs from the Sea of Tiberias to the Gulf of Aquabah, was its western border; the Arabian Desert, its eastern frontier; and the waste land towards Midian, its southern limit.

Esau (Edom) appears to have seized the territory from a people known as the Horites.

Nebuchadnezzar’s destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, and his carrying away captive into Babylon many of the people of Judah,  set in motion a series of events having far reaching consequences.  It was around that same time that the Nabataens, Arabs from the eastern desert, began to encroach into Edom, with the result that many of the Edomites simply abandoned the land and moved into the territory once possessed by Judah.  As more Nabataens spread into Edom, more Edomites  moved into Judah, those who remained being eventually absorbed by the Nabataens, their identity as Edomites thus being brought to an end.

It was these Nabataens who were responsible for carving out of the solid red rock the amazing houses, palaces, and temples of the city of Petra (Greek translation of Sela), described poetically as “the rose-red city half as old as time.”  Those structures remain today just exactly as when they were carved about 2300 years ago.  Many believe that it is in that city that many Jews will find refuge during the Great Tribulation.

Greek influence was also spreading, and because the Greek word for Edom was Idumea, the territory of Judah and of those living there, came to be known as Idumea and Idumeans respectively, so that in time the Edomites who had settled in Judah were simply known as Idumeans, the name Edomite gradually ceasing to be used.

About 126 BC, a Jewish leader, John Hyrcanus, subdued these former Edomites, compelled them to be circumcised, and to adopt Judaism; and so much had they become a part of Judaism, that when the Jews began their fatal rebellion against Rome in AD 70, the former Edomites joined them, and were virtually exterminated by the Romans, so that since AD 70 there is no historical record of them.  Thus God, in His own time, and in His own way, executed His threatened judgment against Edom.

It is this extermination of them that has led some to believe that the mention of Edomites in connection with the Tribulation judgments, is to be understood figuratively as referring merely to all who hate God’s people.

In favor of a literal view, however, is the fact that in the slaughter of AD 70, undoubtedly some of the Idumeans (Edomites) escaped death; and it may well be that they have multiplied, and will be revealed by God in the Tribulation, just as will be the tribal identity of every Jew, even though that identity is unknown today by anyone except God.  It is to be recognized also that those Edomites, who were absorbed into the Arab tribes who subjugated them, did not die: their identity was lost - to man, but not to God.  How many there are may also be revealed in the Tribulation.

Herod the Great, king of Judea from 37 BC to 4 BC, was an Idumean.

What isn’t generally recognized, however, is that in the typological language of Scripture Esau (Edom) always represents the flesh, while Israel represents what is of the Spirit in the believer, Edom’s hatred of Israel portraying the enmity that exists between the flesh and the Spirit, as declared by Paul, “For the flesh lusteth against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other....” Ga 5:17.  The desires of the flesh are the direct opposite of those of the Spirit.  The hatred of Edom for Israel therefore allegorizes the enmity between the flesh and the Spirit, and the practical lessons of this little book will be more easily perceived if we keep that in mind as we read. 

Incidentally, the blood relationship between Edom and Israel, reflects the relationship between the flesh and the Spirit in the believer: both exist in the same individual.  The same truth is typologically portrayed in the two parts of Israel, Judah representing what is of the Spirit in the believer; and the ten tribes, Israel, what is of the flesh; and again in the division of Israel into another two parts: the believing remnant, representing what is of the Spirit; and the apostate mass, what is of the flesh.

It should be noted also that in the utter destruction of Edom (Esau), and the exaltation of Jacob (Israel), we have a demonstration of a principle that pervades Scripture, and is declared in Heb 10:9, “He taketh away the first, that he may establish the second.”  See also 1 Cor 15:42-58.  All that pertains to the flesh must perish; that which is of the Spirit will endure for ever.



     Scripture portions taken from the Holy Bible, King James Version
© 2000-2005 James Melough