Obadiah, Book of
Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. The theme of the book is the destruction of Edom. Consequent upon the overthrow of Edom is the enlargement of the borders of Judah and the establishment of the kingship of Yahweh. Thus far all scholars are agreed; but on questions of authorship and date there is wide divergence of opinion.
1. Contents of the Book:
(1) Yahweh summons the nations to the overthrow of proud Edom. The men of Esau will be brought down from their lofty strongholds; their hidden treasures will be rifled; their confederates will turn against them; nor will the wise and the mighty men in Edom be able to avert the crushing calamity (Ob 1:1-9). (2) The overthrow of Edom is due to the violence and cruelty shown toward his brother Jacob. The prophet describes the cruelty and shameless gloating over a brother's calamity, in the form of earnest appeals to Edom not to do the selfish and heartless deeds of which he had been guilty when Jerusalem was sacked by foreign foes (Ob 1:10-14). (3) The day of the display of Yahweh's retributive righteousness upon the nations is near. Edom shall be completely destroyed by the people whom he has tried to uproot, while Israel's captives shall return to take possession of their own land and also to seize and rule the mount of Esau. Thus the kingship of Yahweh shall be established (Ob 1:15-21).
2. Unity of the Book:
The unity of Obadiah was first challenged by Eichhorn in 1824, 1:17-21 being regarded by him as an appendix attached to the original exilic prophecy in the time of Alexander Janneus (104-78 BC). Ewald thought that an exilic prophet, to whom he ascribed 1:11-14 and 19-21, had made use of an older prophecy by Obadiah in 1:1-10, and in 1:15-18 of material from another older prophet who was contemporary, like Obadiah, with Isaiah. As the years went on, the material assigned to the older oracle was limited by some to 1:1-9 and by others to 1:1-6. Wellhausen assigned to Ob 1:1-5,7,10-11,13-14,15b, while all else was regarded as a later appendix. Barton's theory of the composition of Obadiah is thus summed up by Bewer: "Ob 1:1-6 are a pre-exilic oracle of Obadiah, which was quoted by Jeremiah, and readapted with additions (Ob 1:7-15) by another Obadiah in the early post-exilic days; Ob 1:16-21 form an appendix, probably from Maccabean times" (ICC, 5). Bewer's own view is closely akin to Barton's. He thinks that Obadiah, writing in the 5th century BC, "quoted 1:1-4 almost, though not quite, literally; that he commented on the older oracle in 1:5-7, partly in the words of the older prophet, partly in his own words, in order to show that it had been fulfilled in his own day; and that in 1:8,9 he quoted once more from the older oracle without any show of literalness." He ascribes to Ob 1:10-14 and 15b. The appendix consists of two sections, Ob 1:15a,16-18 and Ob 1:19-21, possibly by different authors, Ob 1:18 being a quotation from some older prophecy. To the average Bible student all this minute analysis of a brief prophecy must seem hypercritical. He will prefer to read the book as a unity; and in doing so will get the essence of the message it has for the present day.
3. Date of the Book:
Certain preliminary problems require solution before the question of date can be settled.
(1) Relation of Obadiah and Jeremiah 49.
(a) Did Obadiah quote from Jeremiah? Pusey thus sets forth the impossibility of such a solution: "Out of 16 verses of which the prophecy of Jeremiah against Edom consists, four are identical with those of Obadiah; a fifth embodies a verse of Obadiah's; of the eleven which remain, ten have some turns of expression or idioms, more or fewer, which recur in Jer, either in these prophecies against foreign nations, or in his prophecies generally. Now it would be wholly improbable that a prophet, selecting verses out of the prophecy of Jeremiah, should have selected precisely those which contain none of Jeremiah's characteristic expressions; whereas it perfectly fits in with the supposition that Jeremiah interwove verses of Obadiah with his own prophecy, that in verses so interwoven there is not one expression which occurs elsewhere in Jer" (Minor Prophets, I, 347). (b) Did Jeremiah quote from Obadiah? It is almost incredible that the vigorous and well-articulated prophecy in Obadiah could have been made by piecing together detached quotations from Jer; but Jeremiah may well have taken from Obadiah many expressions that fell in with his general purpose. There are difficulties in applying this view to one or two verses, but it has not been disproved by the arguments from meter advanced by Bewer and others. (c) Did both Obadiah and Jeremiah quote from an older oracle? This is the favorite solution among recent scholars, most of whom think that Obadiah preserves the vigor of the original, while Jeremiah quotes with more freedom; but Bewer in ICC, after a detailed comparison, thus sums up: "Our conclusion is that Obadiah quoted in Ob 1:1-9 an older oracle, the original of which is better preserved in Jer 49:1-39." The student will do well to get his own first-hand impression from a careful comparison of the two passages. With Ob 1:1-4 compare Jer 49:14-16; with Ob 1:5-6 compare Jer 49:9,10a; with Ob 1:8 compare Jer 49:7; with Ob 1:1-21:9a compare Jer 49:2Jer 2:1-37b. On the whole, the view that Jeremiah, who often quotes from earlier prophets, draws directly from Obadiah, with free working over of the older prophets, seems still tenable.
(2) Relation of Obadiah and Joel.
There seems to be in Joe 2:32 (Heb 3:5) a direct allusion to Ob 1:17. If Joel prophesied during the minority of the boy king Joash (circa 830 BC), Obadiah would be, on this hypothesis, the earliest of the writing prophets.
(3) What Capture of Jerusalem Is Described in Ob 1:10-14?
The disaster seems to have been great enough to be called "destruction" (Ob 1:12). Hence, most scholars identify the calamity described by Obadiah with the capture and destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in 587 BC. But it is remarkable, on this hypothesis, that no allusion is made either in Obadiah or Jer 49:7-22 to the Chaldeans or to the destruction of the temple or to the wholesale transportation of the inhabitants of Jerusalem to Babylonia. We know, however, from Eze 35:1-15 and Ps 137:7 that Edom rejoiced over the final destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans in 587 BC, and that they encouraged the destroyers to blot out the holy city. Certain it is that the events of 587 accord remarkably with the language of Ob 1:10-14. Pusey indeed argues from the use of the form of the direct prohibition in Ob 1:12-14 that Edom had not yet committed the sins against which the prophet warns him, and so Jerusalem was not yet destroyed, when Obadiah wrote. But almost all modern scholars interpret the language of Ob 1:12-14 as referring to what was already past; the prophet "speaks of what the Edomites had actually done as of what they ought not to do." The scholars who regard Obadiah as the first of the writing prophets locate his ministry in Judah during the reign of Jehoram (circa 845 BC). Both 2 Kings and 2 Chronicles tell of the war of rebellion in the days of Jehoram when Edom, after a fierce struggle, threw off the yoke of Judah (2Ki 8:20-22; 2Ch 21:8-10). Shortly after the revolt of Edom, according to 2Ch 21:16 f, the Philistines and Arabians broke into Judah, "and carried away all the substance that was found in the king's house, and his sons also, and his wives; so that there was never a son left him, save Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons." Evidently the capital city fell into the hands of the invaders. It was a calamity of no mean proportions.
The advocates of a late date call attention to three points that weaken the case for an early date for Obadiah: (a) The silence of 2 Kings as to the invasion of the Philistines and Arabians. But what motive could the author of Chronicles have had for inventing the story? (b) The absence of any mention of the destruction of the city by the Philistines and Arabians. It must be acknowledged that the events of 587 BC accord more fully with the description in Ob 1:10-14, though the disaster in the days of Jehoram must have been terrible. (c) The silence as to Edom in 2Ch 21:16 f. But so also are the historic books silent as to the part that Edom took in the destruction of Jerusalem in 587. It is true that exilic and post-exilic prophets and psalmists speak in bitter denunciation of the unbrotherly conduct of Edom (La 4:21-22; Eze 25:12-14; 35:1-15; Ps 137:7; Mal 1:1-5; compare also Isa 34:1-17 and Isa 63:1-6); but it is also true that the earliest Hebrew literature bears witness to the keen rivalry between Esau and Jacob (Ge 25:22 f; Ge 27:41; Nu 20:14-21), and one of the earliest of the writing prophets denounces Edom for unnatural cruelty toward his brother (Am 1:11 f; compare Joe 3:19 (Heb 4:16)).
(4) The Style of Obadiah.
Most early critics praise the style. Some of the more recent critics argue for different authors on the basis of a marked difference in style within the compass of the twenty-one verses in the little roll. Thus Selbie writes in HDB: "There is a difference in style between the two halves of the book, the first being terse, animated, and full of striking figures, while the second is diffuse and marked by poverty of ideas and trite figures." The criticism of the latter part of the book is somewhat exaggerated, though it may be freely granted that the first half is more original and vigorous. The Hebrew of the book is classic, with scarcely any admixture of Aramaic words or constructions. The author may well have lived in the golden age of the Hebrew language and literature.
(5) Geographical and Historical Allusions.
The references to the different sections and cities in the land of Israel and in the land of Edom are quite intelligible. As to Sepharad (Ob 1:20) there is considerable difference of opinion. Schrader and some others identify it with a Shaparda in Media, mentioned in the annals of Sargon (722-705 BC). Many think of Asia Minor, or a region in Asia Minor mentioned in Persian inscriptions, perhaps Bithynia or Galatia (Sayce). Some think that the mention of "the captives of this host of the children of Israel" and "the captives of Jerusalem" (Ob 1:20) proves that both the Assyrian captivity and the Babylonian exile were already past. This argument has considerable force; but it is well to remember that Amos, in the first half of the 8th century, describes wholesale deportations from the land of Israel by men engaged in the slave trade (Am 1:6-10). The problem of the date of Obadiah has not been solved to the satisfaction of Biblical students. Our choice must be between a very early date (circa 845) and a date shortly after 587, with the scales almost evenly balanced.
4. Interpretation of the Book:
Obadiah is to be interpreted as prediction rather than history. In 1:11-14 there are elements of historic description, but 1:1-10 and 15-21 are predictive.
Comms.: Caspari, Der Prophet Obadjah ausgelegt, 1842; Pusey, The Minor Prophets, 1860; Ewald, Commentary on the Prophets of the Old Testament (English translation), II, 277 ff, 1875; Keil (ET), 1880; T.T. Perowne (in Cambridge Bible), 1889; von Orelli (English translation), The Minor Prophets, 1893; Wellhausen, Die kleinen Propheten, 1898; G.A. Smith, The Book of the Twelve Prophets, II, 163 ff, 1898; Nowack, Die kleinen Propheten, 1903; Marti, Dodekapropheton, 1903; Eiselen, The Minor Prophets, 1907; Bewer, ICC, 1911. Miscellaneous: Kirkpatrick, Doctrine of the Prophets, 33 ff; Intros of Driver, Wildeboer, etc.; Selbie in HDB, III, 577-80; Barton in JE, IX, 369-70; Cheyne in EB, III, 3455-62; Peckham, An Introduction to the Study of Obadiah, 1910; Kent, Students' Old Testament, III, 1910.
John Richard Sampey