The Expository Files.

Obadiah's Prophecy

Minor Prophets Series (#2)


The shortest book in the Old Testament is the book of Obadiah. It was written about five centuries before Christ and deals with some things that were going to happen to the ancient kingdom of Edom, and has some things to say that are needful for today. Not only does Obadiah deal with the coming destruction of the nation of Edom, he also tells why God is so angry with them. However, it is the end of this short book that captures our attention as it foretells of the coming of God's kingdom and salvation for those of all nations. Not only did the prophecy of Edom's destruction come to pass just as predicted, so also did the prophecy of salvation find its fulfillment in Christ Jesus.

Historical Background
"The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom-" (Obadiah 1). The nation of Edom was made up of the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob and the son of Isaac. Jacob, from whom the nation of Israel came, and Esau seemed to be in constant competition with one another. This friction began while they were yet in the womb (Genesis 25:22-26). Esau sold his birthright to Jacob for a bowl of stew because he thought he was so hungry. Hatred and bitterness existed on the part of Esau toward Jacob after that, and grew in its intensity after Jacob tricked him out of his father's blessing. Esau wanted to kill Jacob and so Jacob fled and did not return home for many years. The book of Hebrews warns Christians not to belittle the value of spiritual blessings and uses Esau as an example: "That there be no immoral or godless person like Esau who sold his birthright for a single meal." (Hebrews 12:16). It seems as if the nation of Edom had adopted their ancestor's lack of morality and spirituality.

As the descendants of these two individuals grew into nations over the centuries, they were separated from one another by Israel's servitude in Egypt. It was during the Exodus that the two nations first came into contact. Israel expected Edom's cooperation because of their common heritage through Isaac, but the Edomites were hostile. When asked for permission to pass through their land on the way to Canaan, Edom refused and threatened to attack (Numbers 20:14-21) In the future, Edom would delight at any calamity that would befall Israel, at times joining with Israel's enemies in looting the land. Finally, Edom was conquered by David (II Samuel 8:14). Edom successfully revolted years later during the reign of Jehoram, but soon both Israel and Edom became subjects of Babylon. Interestingly enough, Edom became known as Idumea from which the Herods came who ruled when Jesus lived.

Edom's Transgressions
"The arrogance of your heart has deceived you... because of the violence to your brother Jacob... foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem -- you too were one of them... ." (Obadiah 3,10,11). Edom had become a carnal people with no thought given to loyalty, justice or mercy. With greed they would look upon the possessions of others, happy to take advantage of the misfortune of others to enrich themselves. They were extremely prideful thinking themselves indestructible. They were wrong about that as Obadiah warns and history bears out.

Edom was prideful (vs. 3). The wise man said, "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before stumbling. It is better to be of a humble spirit with the lowly, than to divide the spoil with the proud." (Proverbs 16:18,19). Pride was the source of Edom's weakness.

Edom was violent (vs 10). Edom's children grew up in an environment of violence and a "might makes right" attitude. Certainly such attitudes were displayed toward one another as well as outsiders.

Edom gloated over their brother's disaster (vs. 12). They rejoiced over the disaster of others. Instead of compassion there was rejoicing. Edom was a cruel and callused people.

Edom joined in looting Israel (vs 13). Self interest brought about treachery. It was a nation without ethics or principles.

Edom oppressed the fugitives (vs. 14). Edomites would set up ambushes to attack fleeing refugees to rob, kill or enslave.

For these reasons God promises to send judgment upon Edom. "The day of the Lord draws near on all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done unto you. Your dealings shall return on your own head." (vs. 15) Edom would dismiss the warning. Their arrogance would not allow them to admit the possibility of their defeat. Their high mountain fortresses make them impervious to attack. Yet the Lord promises to bring them down (vs. 3,4).

Modern Applications
"For whatever was written in earlier times was written for our instruction, that through perseverance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope." (Romans 15:4). God promises to bring judgment upon Edom. God continues to involve Himself in human events as His purpose dictates. I do not suppose it would have been easy for the Israelite of Obadiah's day to find much evidence of God's intervention, but later Israelites would be able to look back and see it. Sometimes I suppose it is difficult to see God at work in our own world. Part of the reason is that we do not know the all end results toward which God is working. Also, we do not see things as God sees them and our ways are not His ways (Isaiah 55:8). Additionally, God achieves His purposes sometimes by direct intervention while at other times simply by permitting things to occur. For example, He permitted Judas to betray His Son because the betrayal advanced His purpose to provide the world a Redeemer.

The point is this: Do not think that God's purposes will be thwarted by man. Even when our nation and world seems to be going in the opposite direction from which they should, trust God to achieve His purposes, and live by faith.

Another point is how God looks upon actions and attitudes such as pride, indifference toward others' misfortune, and greed. To be envious of our brothers or sisters or to be bitter toward them is un-Christlike and shameful. In Jesus' parable of the good Samaritan He shows in the conduct and attitude of the priest and Levite how ungodly it is to be able to help a brother in need but refuse (Luke 10:31-32; see also Philippians 2:2-4; James 3:14-15; I John 3:14-16; 4:20,21).

Mount Zion

"But on Mount Zion there will be those that escape, and it will be holy... the deliverers will ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Esau, and the kingdom will be the Lord's." (Obadiah 17,21). In the final section of the book of Obadiah there is a prophecy concerning the Lord's coming kingdom. Note several aspects of this prophecy and its fulfillment in Christ:

"And the house of Jacob will posses their possessions." (vs 17b). The house of Jacob refers not merely to the physical descendants of Israel, but to spiritual Israel, the redeemed in Christ (Luke 1:33).

The possession of the nations in verse 19 by Israel refers to Gentiles from these places accepting Christ as their king and has reference to the conversion of the Gentiles (see Numbers 24:15-24; Amos 9:11-12). This is the application of this prophecy that is made in the New Testament (Acts 15:15-18). The point is this: We live in a time when many look at the world the same way the Edomites did. Because of this, there is suffering and godlessness. Is there any escape? Yes: The Lord has provided deliverance. We may take refuge on Mount Zion and put our trust in King Jesus. He will deliver us and give eternal victory. "But you have come to Mount Zion... to the general assembly and church of the first-born who are enrolled in heaven, and to God, the judge of all, and to spirits of righteous men made perfect, and to Jesus, the mediator of a new covenant." (Hebrews 12:22-24). We are now invited to take our places on spiritual Mount Zion, the church of Christ. "Therefore, since we have received a kingdom which cannot be shaken, let us show gratitude, by which we may offer to God an acceptable service with reverence and awe; for our God is a consuming fire." (Hebrews 12:28,29).

 By Jon W. Quinn  
From Expository Files 4.2; February 1997