by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
April 25, 2007
In Genesis 27:39-40, Isaac prophesies concerning his elder son, Esau, after the young man had discovered that Jacob had stolen the patriarchal blessing from him, and tearfully begged his father to bless him also.
The gist of the prophecy is actually a curse, predicting that Esau's descendants would dwell away from fertile lands and plentiful rainfall, live in near-constant conflict, and serve Jacob's offspring except in infrequent instances of rebellion. It is no wonder that Esau's hatred for his younger brother burned so intensely.
Since Jacob would inherit the patriarchy from Isaac upon their father's death, Esau chose to move away to another land rather than chafe under his brother's future headship in Canaan. "Then Esau took his wives, his sons, his daughters, and all the persons of his household, his cattle and all his animals, and all his goods which he had gained in the land of Canaan, and went to a country away from the presence of his brother Jacob" (Genesis 36:6).
This occurred sometime between Isaac's giving of the blessing and Jacob's return to Canaan with his wives and children in Genesis 33. Before crossing the Jordan, Jacob had "sent messengers . . . to Esau his brother in the land of Seir, the country of Edom" (Genesis 32:3). At some point during those twenty years (Genesis 31:38), then, Esau had moved his family southeastward from Beersheba to the mountainous region east of Sinai between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba.
During those few years, Esau had built up a considerable following, amassing an army of 400 men (Genesis 32:6; 33:1). Obviously, over such a short time, these men could not all have been Esau's direct descendants or even all his servants. We can deduce their identity by assembling the clues found in Genesis 36:2, 8, 20, and 24. Evidently, Esau's wife "Aholibamah, the daughter of Anah, the daughter of Zibeon the Hivite" (verses 1, 24) was also a Horite, who were the people who "inhabited the land" of Seir (verse 20). When Esau migrated to Seir (verse 8), he essentially went to live with his Horite wife's family, aristocrats of the area (verses 29-30). Many of the 400 men, then, were probably Horites, relatives of Esau's wife.
Deuteronomy 2:12 records what happened in later times, when the Edomites grew populous and strong: "The Horites formerly dwelt in Seir, but the descendants of Esau dispossessed them and destroyed them from before them, and dwelt in their place, just as Israel did to the land of their possession which the Lord gave them." Because of both the Edomites' blood ties and their later conquest of the Horites of Mount Seir, the descendants of Esau later became identified as "Seir," as well as "Edom" and several other names.
One of the longest continuous prophecies concerning Edom comprises the shortest book in the Old Testament, the book of Obadiah. Whereas the first two parts of this series have concentrated on the beginnings and development of the sibling rivalry between Jacob/Israel and Esau/Edom, Obadiah lays out, in a succinct overview, its causes and resolution.
Recognizing the internal time markers in Obadiah is vital to understanding the prophecy. This little book confirms, not only Edom's part in the confederacy against Israel, but also that the evil alliance is joined at the end time. In Obadiah 15, 21, clear indicators of the end time appear:
For the day of the Lord upon all the nations is near; as you have done, it shall be done to you; your reprisal shall return upon your own head. . . . Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord's.
The prophecy will begin to be fulfilled in the years prior to the Day of the Lord, and ends as the millennial reign of Jesus Christ commences.
Edom's participation in the conspiracy against his brother Jacob is made definite in Obadiah 6-7:
Oh, how Esau shall be searched out! How his hidden treasures shall be sought after! All the men in your confederacy shall force you to the border; the men at peace with you shall deceive you and prevail against you. Those who eat your bread shall lay a trap for you. No one is aware of it.
Even his friends, his allies in the conflict with Israel, know that Edom is not to be trusted. They are acquainted with the character of this ancient people, and thus they will do what needs to be done to keep him from dominating them and getting them involved beyond what they are prepared to do. His allies will secretly plan to destroy him. Any confederacy Esau has with others will be short-lived, and this is especially true knowing the deceitful character of his associates! They, too, are untrustworthy bedfellows.
Yet, they are unified in their hatred of Israel, and particularly of the people of Joseph. However, their united hatred will fail to overcome the descendants of Jacob. Ultimately, says verse 18, "The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame," suggesting that God will direct the nations of Joseph to take the lead in punishing Edom. The result will be that "the house of Esau shall be stubble; they shall kindle them and devour them. And no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau." What a dire fate!
There is some debate as to when Obadiah was written, as the text itself gives no indication when the prophet may have penned it. However, from the way in which Edom is described in reacting to certain misfortunes that Judah experienced, scholarly opinion leans toward one of two historic periods. They are both, nonetheless, inconclusive.
The earlier period falls between 800 and 750 BC, placing Obadiah contemporary with Joel and Amos, who was likely in his prime, and a rather elderly Elisha. Obadiah may have bridged the latter two. The later date would consign the book to after the fall of Jerusalem (c. 587-586 BC). If this were the case, Obadiah's prophetic contemporaries would have been Jeremiah, Ezekiel, and Daniel.
Modern scholars lean toward this later date because they feel Obadiah describes the actions of the Edomites when the Babylonians came and overthrew Jerusalem. However, there was an earlier time in the days of Joram (or Jehoram) when a similar confederacy arose in which Edom may have been involved. Thus, the book of Obadiah could fit into both periods.
A deciding factor is where Obadiah appears in the Minor Prophets: The prophecy is linked with Joel and Amos; the three books are consecutive. Had its typical events occurred after the fall of Jerusalem, the prophecy would probably have been placed with Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. Since Obadiah appears with the first of the Minor Prophets in the inspired compilation of the canonical books, its authorship seems to coincide more with the earlier prophets than the later ones. However, the book's date is not critical because its prophesied events are to occur in the future—in the time of the end.
Obadiah means "servant (or worshipper) of Yah," which may have been his actual name or a title to mask his identity. It could refer to anyone who worships God. The Bible contains eight or ten Obadiahs, but none seems to fit the man who wrote the prophecy. History does not record whether he was well placed in the kingdom or whether he was a Jew, Levite, or a member of another Israelite tribe. All we know is that he was a servant of Yahweh.
This is in contrast to a prophet such as Amos, of whom we know a great deal:
The words of Amos, who was among the herdsmen of Tekoa, which he saw concerning Israel in the days of Uzziah king of Judah, and in the days of Jeroboam the son of Joash, king of Israel, two years before the earthquake. (Amos 1:1)
Amos is specific in terms of his time, place, identity, and occupation. He mentions the contemporary kings of Judah and Israel and even throws in a specific event—the great earthquake of c. 760 BC—to be thorough! On the other hand, Obadiah seems to have been inspired to keep these details hidden. He places himself in the background, identifying himself only as a servant, for God's message is what he wants his book to convey.
From the text itself, he appears to have been a competent writer, one who wrote passionately and poetically. He seems to have had a soft and empathetic heart, even toward his enemies. Beyond that, the man Obadiah is an enigma.
The prophecy can be outlined simply:
» Obadiah 1-4: God's pronouncement of judgment on Edom.
» Obadiah 5-9: How Edom will be annihilated.
» Obadiah 10-14: Why Edom will be annihilated.
» Obadiah 15-16: Edom and the Day of the Lord.
» Obadiah 17-21: Israel's complete triumph over Edom.
Obadiah is a study in God's punishment of a people for the things that they have done. They will be made to suffer the consequences of their hostile attitudes and aggression against Israel, as well as their constant attempts to impede the purpose of God through Israel.
As can be seen in the outline, each of the sections of this brief prophecy has a definite theme. Proverbs 16:18 provides the theme of the first: "Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall." Pride, says the well-known adage, is the father of all sin. Pride is the sin of Satan and of Babylon. It is also the sin of Esau.
The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom (We have heard a report from the Lord, and a messenger has been sent among the nations, saying, "Arise, and let us rise up against her for battle"): "Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be greatly despised. The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; you who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to the ground?'" Though you exalt yourself as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down," says the Lord. (Obadiah 1-4)
As mentioned above, Edom lived in the area east of the Jordan in the mountainous areas south of the Dead Sea—a dry, barren, rocky place. Here, in this end-time prophecy, Edomites are still living in this inhospitable place.
Verse 1 contains a parenthetical statement that informs us that God has sent a messenger among the nations, urging them to "rise up against her." This is how things really work: God is the prime mover of world affairs. He determines His purpose and starts affairs rolling toward its fulfillment by inspiring an idea. Then the political and diplomatic mechanisms of nations take over to bring it to fruition, guided and pushed all the while by God (see Isaiah 46:9-11; 55:11).
In this case, a national leader decides to send an ambassador to other nations to form a military alliance against Edom. The complaint, as explained in subsequent verses, is that Edom must be brought down to size, perhaps because she is not a team player, wanting all the glory and plunder for herself. That God is the ultimate author of this message means that it will happen as advertised.
Obadiah 2 adds emphasis to verse 1. The "I" is God Himself; it is His purpose to bring about Edom's national deflation. He wants Edom to recognize this! He thinks that the Edomites need to be brought into account for their actions and severely punished. Those among the nations who are scheming against Edom are merely agents God will use to fulfill His decree.
Verse 3 strikes at the root of Edom's problem: "The pride of your heart." It was easy for the Edomites to believe themselves to be invincible due to the nearly uninhabitable territory they dwelled in. To the west, where Israel lay, the geography made their territory nearly impregnable. Otherwise, they could feel secure because their fortresses were carved out of the rock, so they could either hunker down for long periods or engage in guerilla warfare. An attacking army could in no way pry them out, and they knew it. They felt invulnerable, and this filled them with pride.
"Pride" in verse 3 is the Hebrew word zadon, from the root, ziyd. This root is translated "cooked" in Genesis 25:29, where Jacob cooked a stew that the famished Esau desired. "Cooked" would be better translated "boiled" or "seethed." When heat is applied to water, it boils, and from this process, the Hebrews gained their understanding of pride.
Obadiah, it seems, specifically used this word to draw the reader's attention back to this incident, perhaps suggesting that Esau's selling of the birthright was rooted in his pride. Esau became heated and angry, and it manifested itself as haughtiness, arrogance, pride—the major trait he passed on to his descendants. Just as stew boils up under heat, so Edom puffs herself up thinking that she is self-reliant and invincible. God, however, is out to prove her wrong.
The Edomite challenge at the end of Obadiah 3 bears some scrutiny: "Who will bring me down to the ground?" This is remarkably similar to the words of Heylel in Isaiah 14:13-14 and to those of the great harlot in Revelation 18:7. This same pride will lead Edom into trouble. The Bible declares that, in all three of these examples, God will have the last word: He will humble them all. In Obadiah 4, He decrees, no matter how high and mighty Edom considers herself to be, "from there I will bring you down."