Obadiah’s Context: Although the precise era in which Obadiah prophesied is unknown, it is likely that he ministered during the Exile of Judah (Southern Tribes) by the Babylonians. The situation in Obadiah is like that mentioned in Lamentations (4:18-22) and Ezekiel (25:12-14; 35:1-15), which could indicate a similar time period. If so, Edom had supported the foreign invaders in ravaging and subjugating the Southern Tribes. Nevertheless, Obadiah’s brief message is a powerful reminder of God’s absolute sovereign power to deliver His people.
Obadiah’s Message – Theological Theme(s): Prophetic oracles against foreign nations—though filled with condemnation and judgment—were intended as a message of hope to the people who were suffering under foreign oppression. Obadiah’s condemnation of Edom’s pride and treatment of God’s people contains both judgment and hope. Although the present suffering of God’s people may give hope to Edom, it is a false hope. It may have appeared that they were immune from defeat or destruction, but the doom of Edom was certain. This prophetic declaration of judgment looks forward to an era when God’s people are set free from the yoke of subjugation—a time when the promised restoration occurs, and God’s people are revived.
Significance of Obadiah’s Message for Christians:
1. God’s longsuffering (patience) toward rebellious people and nations does not mitigate His righteous judgment (cf. 2 Peter 3:8-10).
2. Although nations that reject God and oppress His people will die out, the LORD sovereignly preserves His chosen people throughout suffering and affliction.
3. The present suffering or persecution of God’s people will give way to a time of restoration and peace.
Further consideration of the biblical-theological message of Obadiah:
Throughout redemptive history, God’s messengers have used historical narratives as analogies to explain or interpret biblical doctrines. For example, both Paul (Romans 4, Galatians 3) and James (James 2) used Abraham’s life as an analogy to reinforce biblical doctrine. This method of teaching does not ignore the original meaning. To the contrary, it highlights the meaning by explaining specific aspects of the narrative in light of a particular doctrine. In the cases of Paul and James, each one is highlighting a specific aspect of Abraham’s life as an analogy to the doctrine of salvation. Paul uses the story of Abraham to teach the doctrine of justification by faith. Whereas, James uses the same narrative as an example of genuine faith over and against a counterfeit faith. These examples demonstrate how one narrative can be used to teach multiple points of theology.
Therefore, when Christians read prophetic writings that involve actual entities (i.e., Israel and Edom) it is appropriate to use them to teach and illustrate biblical doctrines that naturally flow from the original meaning. In the case of Obadiah, Israel (Judah) is understood as God’s elect and Edom is the nation that has consistently opposed and obstructed God’s people. This contrast is illustrative of several conflicts that Christians face individually and collectively. First, the church (body of believers) faces constant opposition from the “world”—a word which denotes both fallen human society and the enemies of God. Thus, it would be appropriate to see (by way of analogy) the conflict between Israel and Edom as one that continues today between the church and the world. Second, Christians individually encounter opposition to the gospel and kingdom-living in a variety of venues. It would be easy to overlook Obadiah’s message amid such strife; however, there is great value in reading, understanding, and reflecting on the truths expressed in Obadiah’s short sermon. Although the characters have changed, the message remains the same. God’s people may suffer at the hands of oppressors; however, they are being supernaturally preserved by the divine providence and sovereign authority of God.
It is important to understand the original meaning within its context (authorial intent, audience, etc.). However, our work as interpreters does not end there. We have a responsibility to demonstrate that the God who preserved and delivered an unworthy and unlikely people in the Old Testament is still doing the same work today.
Obadiah: The God Who Delivers the Oppressed
Obadiah 15-17, 21 (ESV)
For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. 16 For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, so all the nations shall drink continually; they shall drink and swallow, and shall be as though they had never been. 17 But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape, and it shall be holy, and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions. 21 Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.