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Amos & Obadiah
18th century Russian Icon

Here is Lawrence Boadt’s commentary on Obadiah….

The small Book of Obadiah, whose twenty-one verses make it the shortest book in the Old Testament, gives us another picture of the terrible conditions in Judah during the period of exile. The message of Obadiah is aimed totally at the Edomites whose land was on the other side of the Dead Sea and below it. Their kingdom thus lay between the Arabian tribes in the deserts to the east and the Negev area of Judah. It was a harsh land, and the very name “edom” which means “red land” describes the poor sandy soil unfit for farming. Apparently at the same time that the Babylonian armies captured Jerusalem in 586, the king of Edom took the chance to seize large parts of the southern area of Judah. He may even have sent troops to help the Babylonians. Verses 13 and 14 suggest that Edomites were part of the forces that sacked Jerusalem.

Israel’s relations with the kingdom of Edom had always been difficult. The prophetic books contain many oracles directed against the Edomites in the strongest language used against any group in the Bible. Amos 1:11 accuses Edom of “pursuing his brother with the sword and casting off all pity.” Ezekiel 25 charges that “Edom has acted vengefully against the house of Judah and has seriously sinned in taking vengeance.” Lamentations 4 ends with the cry of the author, “But your iniquity, O daughter Edom, he will punish when he strips you bare in your sin.”

But no book reaches the peak of anger found in Obadiah. Much of his oracle is found repeated in Jeremiah 46, so that the two prophets may have used an older poem that was well known as the basis of their separate judgments against Edom. But many scholars believe that Jeremiah may have borrowed from Obadiah’s oracle because the latter seems so original in its power of expression. Verses 1-4 summon all the nations to fight against Edom in her mountain strongholds. Verses 5-9 go on to describe the people plundering her of all her riches. This is followed in verses 10-14 with a series of reasons why Edom has been condemned by God….

Finally, the book ends with an oracle in verses 15-10 that sees a day coming when Israel shall conquer Edom and rule over her land. This final poem does not react to the present situation of exile but looks ahead to a better time when the Lord would return as a warrior on his day of battle to defeat all of Israel’s enemies and make her once again powerful as in the times of David and Solomon….

Israel’s hatred of Edom no doubt had deep roots in earlier conflicts. The Book of Numbers tells at great length how the Edomites refused to let Israel pass through their territory on the journey to the promised land (Num 20:14-21). Later David defeated the Edomites and made them part of his empire (2 Sam 8:13-14; 1 Kgs 11:15-18). Two centuries later, Edom managed to revolt and free itself from Judah’s control for good (2 Kgs 8:20-24). In all of these battles, an undying hatred was born between the two nations. And yet the Bible remembers that the two peoples, Israel and Edom, were once brothers. The story of Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom) in Genesis 25 and 27 makes them twins from the same ancestor. But, of course, since a patriotic Israelite is telling the story, Jacob proves to be the better and smarter son whom God blesses, while Esau is scorned and laughed at as a kind of rough country bumpkin.

Edom’s power was short-lived after the fall of Jerusalem. Within the next forty years or so, Arab tribes from the east attacked and drove most of the Edomits out of their homeland and forced them to flee across to Judah’s Negev desert area. Since Judah was unable to stop them, they settled down there. In later centuries the area became known as Idumea—the home birthplace of Herod the Great at the time of Jesus.

Obadiah stresses God’s sense of justice against the wrongs committed by nations. The prophet prays not only for Edom’s immediate punishment but also in the long run for a reversal of her state so that she may become nothing again and Israel may be restored to greatness. It is not a book of easy rejoicing or the praise of a God of mercy, but it does reveal in its passion and anger a deep trust that God cares for those who suffer and will bring justice to the world sooner or later.

Perhaps the book of Obadiah also has something to say to us about family relationships. Think about how the conflict between Israel and Edom found its roots, hundreds of years previously, in the problematic relationship between twin brothers, Jacob and Esau. So often we think of personal relationships as affecting only ourselves, or perhaps our immediate family, co-workers, friends, or neighbors. However, the story of Israel and Edom shows us that a relationship gone wrong, even that between just two people, two brothers, can have negative ramifications for centuries, or even millennia. Think about how the current conflict in the Middle East really has its roots in family relationships gone wrong thousands of years ago. It all goes back to the story of Abraham, Sarah, Hagar, Isaac and Ishmael.

Perhaps if we meditate deeply enough upon this story it will, with the help of the Holy Spirit, motivate us to seek reconciliation when our own relationships, especially in our families, goes wrong. There are few things more healing than the power of forgiveness, a power and a love that can only come to us, at its deepest level, from the heart of God.


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