OBADIAH - INTRODUCTION
Bible Study - Commentary by Jim Melough
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
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
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.
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
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.