Steven H. Sanchez


Obadiah, the shortest Old Testament book, highlights God’s judgment of His enemies. It reveals a God who provides protection and vindication for His people, Israel, and promises to punish their enemy, Edom. The Edomites’ name comes from their ancestor Esau, who was given the name "Edom" ("red") because he traded his birthright for some red stew (Gn 25:30). The Edomites occupied territory on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. Frequently aggressive towards Israel, Edom was the repeated subject of prophetic rebuke (Pss 83:6; 137:7; Is 11:14; 21:11–12; Jr 25:21; 34:5–8; 49:7–22; Lm 4:21; Ezk 25:12–14; 35:1–15; Jl 3:19; Am 1:11–12; Ml 1:2–5).

Author. The name Obadiah means "servant of Yah[weh]," (the Lord) and he may be one of several Obadiahs mentioned in the Bible (1Kg 18:3–16; 1 Ch 3:21; 7:3; 8:38; 9:16; 9:44; 12:9; 27:19; 2 Ch 17:7; 34:12; Ezr 8:9; Neh 10:5; 12:25). Tradition identifies him as Ahab’s godly servant (1 Kg 18).

Date. Possible dates for this book include the ninth century BC during the reign of Jehoram, a son of Ahab (852–841 BC); at the end of the eighth century BC, during the reign of Ahaz (735–715); or the beginning of the sixth century, just after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

While many argue that only the fall of Jerusalem could have inspired such a scathing prophecy, the multiple invasions of Judah could also qualify as sufficient cause for this prophecy.

Three arguments support dating Obadiah before the fall of Jerusalem. First, Jeremiah seems to be aware of Obadiah and used his ideas prior to captivity (cf. Ob 1–2 with Jr 49:14–15; Ob 5 with Jr 49:9; Ob 6 with Jr 49:10).

Second, vv. 12–18 warn Edom against future aggression, indicating that both Judah and Edom existed after the message was given. This could not be the case after the destruction of Jerusalem because Edom fell in 553 BC, before the Jewish people returned to Jerusalem in 539 BC.

Third, it is likely the northern kingdom, Israel, was not dwelling in Ephraim and Samaria when Obadiah prophesied because v. 19 promises a restoration in the future. The only time Israel was not present in this region and city was after Shalmaneser V destroyed the northern kingdom in 722 BC. Therefore, the date of Obadiah is most likely (but not certainly) during the co-regency of Judah’s King Ahaz (735–715) and his son Hezekiah (729–686).

Purposes. The purposes of the book are threefold. Primarily, it is designed to comfort Judah, showing that God will defend them and defeat their enemies. To Edom, and other nations, it is a warning that God will punish them for aggression against Israel. For all believers, it provides consolation in learning that God will defend His people.

Themes. The Lord’s power to judge His enemies is a major theme of this book. Although many passages describe God as kind, loving, merciful, generous, patient, understanding, and forgiving (e.g., Ex 34:6; Ps 103:8), He also hates sin and judges those who oppose Him (e.g., Ex 34:14; Dt 4:24). The Bible presents a holistic view of God as both just and loving. God uses this message to comfort godly sufferers throughout the ages, reminding them of His power to crush their oppressors.

Another theme is God’s commitment to defend His people Israel. He has bound Himself to Israel by covenant and He will keep His promise to protect them (Gn 12:3; Zch 2:8).

Background. The Edomites had a history of conflict with Israel. The first of twin boys born to Isaac and Rebecca, Esau (Edom) sold his birthright to his brother Jacob, gave up the privileges of the firstborn (Gn 25:31), and later lost his father’s blessing to Jacob (Gn 27:5–10). Although Esau initially plotted revenge, eventually his anger subsided (Gn 27:41–43; 33:4, 9, 11, 12–14). Centuries later, however, after the exodus from Egypt, Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, refused Israel safe passage through their territory (Nm 20:18; Jdg 11:17).

Under Saul, the relationship between Israel and Edom was fractious (1Sm 14:47). David (ca. 1010–971) exerted control with devastating consequences for Edom (2Sm 8:13–14; 1Ch 18:12). Solomon included Edom in Israel’s sphere of influence, but eventually a native ruler, Hadad, rebelled against him (1Kg 11:14). Many of the kings of Judah, including Jehoshaphat (2Kg 3:9; 2 Ch 20:1, 2, 10), Jehoram (2Kg 8:20; 2Ch 21:8–16), and Ahaz (2Kg 16:6; 2Ch 28:17), struggled to keep Edom under control. The Edomites supported Babylon in the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC (Lm 4:18–22; Ezk 25:12–14; 35:1–15), thereby becoming emblematic of Israel’s enemies.


I. The Title of the Book (1a)

II. God’s Declaration of the Punishment of Edom (1b–9)

III. God’s Justification of the Punishment of Edom (10–11)

IV. God’s Warning to Edom against Future Aggression (12–14)

V. God’s Judgment of Edom in the Future Day of the Lord (15–21)


I. The Title of the Book (1a)

1a. Obadiah’s message is a vision, describing how God spoke to the prophet (cf. Nm 12:6–8). The opening words, Thus says the Lord God, establishes the authority of Obadiah’s message—it is from God Himself. Concerning Edom indicates it is about Edom and perhaps even meant for Edom to read. The opening phrase likely functions as a subtitle (cf. Jr 49:7).

II. God’s Declaration of the Punishment of Edom (1b–9)

A. The Coming Punishment (1b)

1b. The prophetic message begins with God’s declaration that Edom’s judgment is imminent. Obadiah heard a report from the Lord, reflecting the prophet’s testimony that God had spoken to him. That an envoy has been sent among the nations implies that Edom will receive this word from God too (cf. Jr 49:14). With the exhortation to Arise, God calls the armies of heaven to battle against Edom.

B. The Coming Humiliation (2–3)

2–3. The aim of this divine campaign of judgment is to humble Edom (v. 2). God says I will make you small among the nations, promising to reduce Edom to nothing. The parallel statement, you are greatly despised, indicates both the explanation and certainty of judgment.

The Edomites believed themselves to be secure against attack (v. 3). This arrogance of … heart has deceived them into believing they were invulnerable. Their position in the clefts of the rock suggests their natural defenses gave them the illusion of security. The Nabateans would later use the Edomite region to build Petra in the rocky canyons. The Edomites trusted in themselves, asking rhetorically, Who will bring me down to earth?

C. A Comprehensive Punishment (4–9)

4. The prophet further depicts Edom’s complete judgment, describing the nation as an eagle with its nest among the stars, that is, high in the mountains. But even from there, God will bring Edom down. The repetition of the phrase declares the Lord reminds the people that it is Israel’s God who will humiliate Edom.

5–9. God illustrates the severity of impending devastation by comparing it to thieves. Even a thief does not take everything in a robbery (v. 5), but God will thoroughly ransack Edom (v. 6). Edom’s full destruction is indicated by the exclamation, O how you will be ruined! (v. 5). This suggests the prophet’s relief and, by extension, the satisfaction of all who have suffered indignities at the hand of the wicked (cf. Rv 19:1–4).

Obadiah reinforces his point with the image of grape gatherers (v. 5), who always intentionally leave some fruit on the vines for the poor to glean (Lv 19:10; Dt 23:22; 24:21; Ru 2:2–3). In contrast, when God "harvests Edom" nothing will remain of their hidden treasures.

The prophet uses the name Esau for the first time in v. 6 (also vv. 8 and 9), hinting at the ancestral relationship between Esau and Jacob (cf. v. 10). This is to remind the Edomites of Jacob’s privileged covenantal position versus Esau’s unfortunate status.

Edom will also suffer a reversal of fortune when her allies turn on her (v. 7). These forces now will send [the Edomites] forth to the border. Nations with whom Edom had peace treaties, who shared bread together, their friends, will ambush and displace them.

The parenthetical interjection there is no understanding in him suggests the surprising nature of Edom’s destruction, heightening their humiliation. Expecting that Edom will not believe Him, God asks, Will I not on that day do it?, implying "Yes, I certainly will."

III. God’s Justification of the Punishment of Edom (10–11)

Having described the humiliating future judgment of Edom, God now justifies His actions as a legal case, giving the bill of particulars against Edom.

A. Edom’s Violence against Judah (10)

10. The first charge is violence to your brother Jacob. Edom’s guilt was compounded because Esau and Jacob were brothers. Relatives should not treat each other as Edom acted toward Judah. The consequence of this violence will be shame.

B. Edom’s Indifference to Judah’s Distress (11)

11. The second charge is that Edom stood aloof as Judah’s enemies pillaged God’s people, acting as one of Judah’s enemies and failing to come to Judah’s aid. Instead of defending a brother nation, Edom watched as strangers carried off Judah’s wealth, and foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem. These enemies were the Arameans and Philistines (2Kg 16:5; 2Ch 28:5, 17–18), who invaded Judah at the same time they invaded the northern kingdom. Edom’s passivity while Judah suffered identified Edom as an enemy.

IV. God’s Warning to Edom against Future Aggression (12–14)

God will judge Edom for her history of hostility toward Judah. Here God warns Edom against any future aggression against Judah.

A. Do Not Celebrate Judah’s Suffering (12)

12. God’s first warning was that Edom should not gloat or rejoice at Judah’s future distress. Yet Edom failed to heed this when Babylon conquered Judah (cf. Ezk 35:1–15, esp. v. 15).

B. Do Not Participate in War against Judah (13–14)

13–14. God’s second warning was that Edom should not use the day of Judah’s disaster as a pretext for invasion. The image of Edomites enter[ing] the gate and loot[ing] Judah’s wealth indicates active participation in attacks against Judah. In an attempt to humiliate the fleeing Judahites, Edom might be tempted to cut down their fugitives, capture others, and imprison their survivors. Yet, Edom ignored this warning and urged the Babylonians to destroy Jerusalem (Ps 137:7).

V. God’s Judgment of Edom in the Future Day of the Lord (15–21)

The day of the Lord refers to a period of time at the end of days when God will render judgment on those who reject Him (see the comments at Zch 14:1–2 and the introduction to Joel). Citing this day serves as a reminder that God does not always judge sin immediately. However, God will ultimately provide deliverance for the oppressed, and He will punish all oppressors.

A. The Judgment and Eradication of Edom (15–16)

15–16. Why should Edom heed God’s warnings? For the day of the Lord draws near on all the nations. The time is coming when God will judge all nations, not just Edom. The principle of retribution, as you have done, it will be done to you, will be enforced (cf. Mt 5:7; 26:52; Jms 2:13). Edom is compared to a person who became drunk in God’s house, presumably rejoicing over Judah’s humiliation and the temple’s desecration (God’s holy mountain). In normal drunken revelry, the drinking comes to an end, but in a startling reversal, all the nations, including Edom, will be forced to drink a cup of judgment continually. They will be forced to drink and swallow until they become so incapacitated that it will be as if they had never existed.

B. The Deliverance and Glory for Israel (17–21)

17–18. The Lord will use a divine reversal to grant Israel deliverance in the very place desecrated by their enemies (v. 17). Zion refers to the temple mount (Is 18:7), indicated by the parallelism with verse 16. The temple will be holy—sanctified by its deliverance. As a result, the house of Jacob will possess what was previously taken.

This divine reversal continues with Israel becoming the instrument of judgment (v. 18). Using the ancestral names Jacob and Joseph, to represent Israel, God declares the nation will become a fireand a flame, consuming their enemies as stubble. As when flame burns stubble, so there will be no survivor of the house of Esau. The assertion, for the Lord has spoken, confirms that this will take place with certainty. Although the Edomites disappeared from history much earlier, this passage depicts the final battle, when Israel will be granted a great victory from their messianic King (cf. Zch 12:6 and comments there). Edom is used as an archetype of the nations gathered against Jerusalem during the last battle (cf. Am 9:12).

19–21. These events will affect Israel’s future borders (vv. 19–20). Those who live in the Negev, the region south of Judah, will take possession of Edom, the mountain of Esau (cf. 2Ch 20:10). The inhabitants of the Shephelah (the hill country of western Israel) will take the Philistine Plain (modern-day Gaza Strip). Judah will also branch into Ephraim and Samaria. Israel’s territory at the end of days will increase dramatically in fulfillment of the Abrahamic covenant (Gn 12; 15; Is 27:12–13; Ezk 36:33; Am 9:14–15)

Although some prophets foretold the partial regathering of the Jewish people while still in unbelief as a precursor to end-time events (cf. Ezk 37 and comments there), other prophets also predicted that once Israel believes in the Messiah Jesus at the end of the tribulation, the Lord would fully restore all the remaining Jewish exiles to the land. Obadiah’s promise of restoration refers to this full regathering at the end of the tribulation. He predicts that someday, Israel’s exiles will be restored to the land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath or modern Sidon on the Mediterranean Sea.

Exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will once again possess the cities of the Negev. Possible locations for Sepharad include modern-day Turkey, Greece, or Spain. This return is from afar, not just from Babylon. When the Jewish people believe in Jesus as their Messiah and Deliverer, He will bring them back. They will travel great distances to return to their promised homeland, and their borders will be larger than present-day Israel. In that day, deliverers will become the judges of Edom’s land (the mountain of Esau), perhaps a reference to earthly rulers from Israel, serving under the Messiah in the messianic kingdom.

Finally, Israel will ascend Mount Zion to judge the mountain of Esau (v. 21). Judah’s enemies, Edom included, will be punished, and the world will know for certain that the kingdom will be the Lord’s (v. 21; for the concept of "Kingdom of the Lord" see the comments on Mt 3:1–4; 13:1–17).

This theme finds its ultimate fulfillment in the future work of Jesus the Messiah, who, during His ministry on earth, reminded His followers that He would return to judge and rule the nations (Mt 19:28; 25:31–33; John 5:24–29).

This will be a day of salvation for Israel and all those who trust in Him (Zch 12), and a day of destruction for those who will not (Rv 19:11–16).


Allen, Leslie C. The Books of Joel, Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. NICOT. Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans, 1976.

Armerding, Carl E. "Obadiah," The Expositor’s Bible Commentary, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein. Vol 7. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1985.

Baker, David W. Joel, Obadiah, Malachi, The NIV Application Commentary. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006.

Boice, James Montgomery. The Minor Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1983.

Chisholm, Robert B., Jr. Handbook on the Prophets. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2002.

Feinberg, Charles L. The Minor Prophets. Chicago: Moody, 1976.

Finley, Thomas John. Joel, Amos, Obadiah. Chicago: Moody, 1990.

Neihaus, Jeffrey J. "Obadiah," The Minor Prophets: An Exegetical and Expository Commentary. Ed. Thomas J. McComisky. Vol. 2. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 1992.


Return to Bible Study Materials

Return to Home Page 返回主頁