The Book of Obadiah

I. Title

        The title is the same in Hebrew as it is in English and Greek translation. The name Obadiah means "servant of Yahweh". It was a relatively common Old Testament name.

II. Author and Setting

        Virtually nothing is known about Obadiah; even the date of writing is obscure, though two dates dominate the discussion.

A. Early Date

        Some postulate that Obadiah wrote the book sometime between 847 and 841 BC, when Edom revolted against Judah. Just before Jehoram died, the Philistines and Arabians invaded Jerusalem, while Edom watched from the sidelines. Those who hold to an early date point out that Amos and Jeremiah seem to make reference to part of Obadiah's prophesy.

B. Late Date

        Most scholars consider the calamity Obadiah describes in 11-14 is the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587-586 BC. The Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem is the only one of which it is recorded that the Edomites participated (Psalm 137:7 and 1 Esdras 4:45). The reference to the suffering caused by the fall of Jerusalem are so vivid that G.A. Smith, for example, believes that it indicates that Obadiah wrote very early in the exilic period. Others, however, believe that the latter half of Obadiah better fits a post-exilic background.
        Verse seven states that the Edomites have been driven out of their old land (cf. Mal. 1:3-4). After the fall of Jerusalem, Edomites under Arab pressure began moving into the Negev (cf. 1 Esdras 4:50), which subsequently came to be known as Idumea. By the late sixth century BC, Arabs had largely pushed the Edomites out of the area of Petra, which had at one time been the Edomite capital. Verses 8-10 announce the future extermination of the Edomites, so this prophesy had to be given before its fulfillment during the time of the Maccabees (see Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews, 13.257). The territory occupied by the Jews according to verses 19-20 is the area just around Jerusalem, as in the days of Nehemiah (Nehemiah 11:25-36). Thus, the latest clear indication of a date for the prophesy would place it in the mid fifth century BC.

C. Parallels with other prophecies:

        Other prophetic denunciations of Edom include Isaiah 34:5-17, 63:1-6, Jeremiah 49:7-22, Lamentations 4:21-22, Ezekiel 26:12-14, Joel 3:19, and Amos 1:11-12.
        There are many identical phrases in Obadiah 1-9 and Jeremiah 49:7-22, suggesting some literary relationship between the two. The different order of the phrases in the two prophecies makes it possible that they are both quoting some earlier divine oracle against Edom. Since some of the additional material in Jeremiah is characteristic of that prophet, and since the order is more natural in Obadiah, it is likely that the latter is closer in form to the original prophesy. Some scholars, however, hold that either Jeremiah (so Keil) or Obadiah (so Hitzig) made use of the other.
        Several phrases are found in both Obadiah and Joel:

Obadiah 10 is the same as Joel 3:19
11 is the same as 3:3
15 is the same as 1:15, 2:1, 3:4, 3:7, and 3:14
18 is the same as 3:8

        It looks like in Joel 2:32 that Joel, with the words "as Yahweh said", is quoting, perhaps from Obadiah 18. It seems likely, then, that Obadiah came before Joel, and had an influence on him. This lends further support to the contention that Joel is post-exilic.

III. An Outline of Obadiah

I. Edom will be destroyed 1-9
II. Edom will be punished because of its sin against Israel 10-21

Questions on Obadiah

1. When did Obadiah prophesy?
2. What nation is being judged by God in Obadiah?
3. For what sins is the nation judged?