Obadiah is a much over looked book in the Old Testament. Taking its place among the Minor Prophets, Obadiah’s twenty-one verses make it the shortest book in the OT. The message of the book is directed toward the people of Edom who looked on in fiendish glee as Jerusalem was overrun and plundered by foreign armies. While the book is a pronouncement of judgment against the ancient land of Edom, as shall be discovered, there is a treasure of truths contained within that are applicable for our lives.
The book is named after the prophet who received the vision (1:1). Obadiah means “servant or worshipper of the Lord.” The name Obadiah is associated with at least twelve other characters in the Old Testament, but none appear to be the Obadiah named in the book. Nothing is known of the prophet beyond what is found in the twenty-one verses preserved for us. From his own words it is clear he is a pious, patriotic, and passionate man who put into words the message burning in his soul.
The date of the book is open to debate by scholars. The two most likely dates are: (1) Eighth century BC; and (2) Shortly after 586 BC. There is a prophet Obadiah in the days of Elijah and Elisha, which if the same person would suggest the earlier date. However, few scholars contend it is the same Obadiah as the minor prophet. The later date seems more appropriate, as the prophecy of Obadiah was issued in a response to a time when Jerusalem was overtaken by foreign forces, who the prophet indicates the Edomites in some way conspired with the enemy (v. 15). That seems to indicate that the incident referred to is the 586 BC destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar. If such is the case, the date of the book is best dated sometime after the 586 BC strike of Babylon. The latter date would make Obadiah a contemporary of the prophet Jeremiah, which is indicated by similar pronouncements against Edom by the two prophets (Jer. 49:14-16 and Obadiah v. 1-4).
The book of Obadiah tells the story of two individuals, Jacob and Esau; two nations, Israel and Edom. Though twin brothers, their descendants became rivals. Jacob was the father of Israel, and Esau became the father of the Edomites. Through this ancient land of Edom, the Israelites, coming out of Egyptian slavery, marched as they came into the promised land of Israel. As they came into the land, they had difficulty with the Edomites who were nemeses of Israel from the very beginning. The Israelites and Edomites were continually antagonist. This struggle began in their mother’s womb, continued after they were born, and continued on in their descendants. They were always opposed to one another. Anytime calamity happened to the Israelites the Edomites fiendishly rejoiced. Obadiah issued a declaration that because of their active opposition to the Jews, judgment would eventually be visited upon them. The prophet’s pronouncement came to pass. While “the final fate of the Edomite kingdom remains completely shrouded in darkness,” the nation was eventually swept into the forgotten pages of history (Martin North, History of Israel, (London: Black, 1959), 294).
How does Obadiah’s prophecy against a now forgotten nation speak to us in the twenty-first century? One must remember that every passage has an interpretation, and it also has various applications. While the interpretation of the book focuses on the doom of Edom who was always actively opposing Israel, there is a practical application that we see in regard to the hostile opposition that existed between Jacob and Esau; between Israel and Edom.
We know from experience and from the teaching of the New Testament there is active opposition between the Old Man and the New Man; between the Flesh and the Spirit; between the New Nature and the Old Nature. Paul makes it clear in Galatians 5:17 that the New Man and the Old man, the Flesh and the Spirit are contrary one to the other. They are always opposed to one another. Yes, Jacob and Esau, Israel and Edom, is a picture of the perpetual opposition that takes place between the Flesh and the Spirit; between the New Nature and the Old Nature. The two irreconcilably are opposed to one another. There is an Edom in all of us.
Like the Edomites, the Flesh is filled with pride (v. 3-4), which leads to self-sufficiency (v. 4), envy, hatred, indifference, unbrotherly conduct, gloating over the misfortune of others (v. 10-14). What a perfect description of the Old Man who opposes the New Man. Edom was guilty of pride, and pride is the root of all human evil. It is pride that defies God; it is pride the resulted in Lucifer becoming Satan; it is pride that creeps into the life of the Christian that actively opposes what the Lord is desiring to accomplish and bring to pass in us. There is an Edom in all of us.
While every Christian has an Edom within, that is not the end of the story. Obadiah records in verses 15-16 that judgment is determined upon Edom, and Jacob (Israel) will reign again (20-21)! That Jacob will come out on top is certain, it is evitable and inescapable, for the Lord is forever against the opposition of Edom and no peace will be made with them. In the same respect, the Lord is against the Flesh, no peace can be made with it. There was no hope for Edom; there is no hope for Flesh. There was no reforming Edom; there is no reforming the Flesh. Just as peace was not made with the Edomites; we are not to make peace with the Flesh. The characteristics of Edom had all the characteristics of the Flesh. But, again, Jacob will reign and govern; the Spirit will reign over the Flesh.
It is by the power of the Cross and through the coming of the Holy Spirit we overcome the Edom within us. At the cross sin (the Flesh) was judged, and at Pentecost the power of the Holy Spirit was sent Who enables us to overcome in the Spirit the Flesh. Have we embraced the promise that Edom is judged and Israel restored? Have we yielded to the cross where pride, self-sufficiency, and all the negative characteristics of Edom were judged? Who is ruling in our lives, Esau or Jacob, Edom or Israel, the Flesh or the Spirit, the Old Man or the New Man?
There may be an Edom in us all, but Christ, the Prophet greater than Obadiah, has declared that Edom has been judged, the Flesh has been defeated, and deliverance has been provided. O, what a Savior