It is unfortunate that the only thing which some people know about this book is that it contains only one chapter, making it the shortest book in the Old Testament. Like other prophets, Obadiah’s message was based on, “Thus says the Lord” (1:1,4,8,18). When God says something, it is important, regardless of how many times He says it or how many words He speaks to get His message across!
Historical setting: Obadiah, whose name means “servant of Jehovah,” does not spell out for us when he did his prophetic work. Because he does not mention any specific kings, we are unable to date his writing by appealing to the reign of any monarch.
The book looks back at a time of destruction for the children of Judah (1:12). Some Bible students suggest that this has reference to the destruction of Jerusalem at the hands of the Babylonians in B.C. 586. Others think Obadiah points to an attack on Judah at a much earlier time during the reign of King Jehoram (848-844 B.C.; 2 Chronicles 21:8- 10,16,17). In any case, Obadiah does not mention the destruction of the temple, does not note who the attackers of Judah were, and does not refer to any deportation of God’s people.
A brief overview: (1) Obadiah’s vision of Edom’s coming doom (1:1-9), (2) Edom’s sins – the reasons she deserved to be punished (1:10-16), and (3) deliverance in Mount Zion (1:17-21).
Some key thoughts:
(1) The coming doom of Edom – In the very first verse of the book we learn that this is going to be a message about Edom: “Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom . . .” (1:1). “Edom” was another name for Esau, Jacob’s brother (Genesis 36:1,8,9). Just as there had been problems between Esau and Jacob, so there often were feelings of hostility and conflict between Israel (Jacob’s offspring) and Edom (Esau’s offspring).
Obadiah portrays the Edomites as not being innocent before the Lord, and He would punish them for the evil which they had done. Edom learned the hard way that sin is a reproach to any people (Proverbs 14:34). Edom was a nation of pride and self-trust, boastfully asking, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” (1:3). In the next verse, we hear God’s thundering response: “I will.” Yes, Jehovah told the proud folks of Edom, “I will bring you down” (1:4). God told them, “The pride of your heart has deceived you” (1:3). Edom trusted in her geographic location, (1:3,4) and her human alliances (1:7), but neither of those could provide security for her against God’s mighty hand, in which she should have trusted.
A second fault of the Edomites was their mistreatment of God’s people (1:10-14). They did violence against their brother, Jacob (1:10). They rejoiced at the destruction of Judah (1:12), and acted without human decency toward the Israelites in the day of their affliction (1:13,14).
(2) Standing “on the other side,” as the Edomites did (1:11), is the same as standing with the enemy. It is not that the Edomites raised a hand to harm the descendants of Jacob when Jerusalem was captured and plundered. No, their fault lie in that they did not raise a hand to aid them. Edom did not instigate the crimes against God’s people, but she was guilty all the same. Obadiah’s charge against the Edomites was, “Even you were as on one of them” (1:11). What did our Master say? “He who is not with Me is against Me, and he who does not gather with Me scatters abroad” (Matthew 12:30). There is no middle ground: we either stand with the Lord, or else we stand against Him. Some may not think of themselves as open opposers of the Lord and His Cause, but, in fact, if they are not on the His side, they are opposing Him.
(3) Nations reap as they sow – Obadiah declared, “For the day of the LORD upon all the nations is near” (1:15). In the Old Testament, the phrase “the day of the LORD” was a day of doom/destruction for the enemies of God, but a day of deliverance for His righteous servants. Someone said, “There is nothing so costly to governments as sin and unrighteousness.” The destiny of each nation lies in the hands of the Almighty! As individuals, families, congregations, and nations, we reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7).
Many nations today are sowing humanism, evolution, sexual immorality, and the constant pursuit of material riches. When they do so, what harvest can they expect other than corruption and destruction?!
(4) The availability of God’s deliverance – “But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance” (1:17). Through Obadiah, the Lord foretold a time that His people would be blessed by deliverance (1:17), holiness (1:17), and saviors (1:21). According to God, each of these would be available in Mount Zion. “Zion” points to a stronghold and protected place of the Lord God. As a whole, the Bible points to spiritual safety with God, that is, spiritual deliverance by Him in spiritual Zion. We now enjoy spiritual security in the Christ (Romans 3:23-25), and the church is the spiritual house/kingdom/Zion over which Jesus reigns through His word (Luke 1:31-33; Ephesians 5:23,24).
Obadiah’s pointed message reminds all who read it that God holds each of us accountable for our actions. Let us not take this truth lightly!
— Roger D. Campbell