338 - The Shortest Old Testament Book (Obadiah)
Obadiah’s short prophecy against the nation of Edom offers us a valuable but perhaps uncomfortable lesson. It is not just treacherous actions that invite God’s judgment but also attitudes of pride and hatred and delight in the downfall of others.
The Shortest Old Testament Book
There is an old saying that good things come in small packages. Now I don’t think that is always true—I think my pickup truck is a good thing, and it definitely won’t fit in a small box! But the truth remains that sometimes the most important things in life are not big or loud—they are small, yet powerful.
In our Wisdom Journey, we drop anchor here for one session in the little book of Obadiah. It is only twenty-one verses long and is the shortest book in the Old Testament. But let me tell you, this small package carries a profound message to this day.
We know next to nothing about the prophet Obadiah, except the meaning of his name, which is “servant (or worshiper) of Yahweh.”
We also know that the Lord gave him a message to deliver, primarily to the nation of Edom. Now we have already uncovered prophecies against Edom in Isaiah, Jeremiah, Lamentations, and other books. But Obadiah is devoted almost entirely to declaring God’s judgment on Edom, and I believe that suggests Obadiah’s prophecy was written before all the other prophets.
Edom lay south of the Dead Sea. The Edomites were descendants of Jacob’s brother Esau, which explains why Obadiah uses Esau as another name for Edom. Despite the ancient family relationship, Edom was a long-standing and unrelenting enemy of Israel.
Obadiah’s prophecy begins with a pronouncement of the coming destruction of Edom in verses 1-9. He says in verses 2 and 3:
Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be utterly despised. The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?”
How is that for humility? The Edomites have become convinced they are invincible. Their strongholds in the mountains—with their most famous city, Petra, literally carved into the mountains—have given them the sense that they can never be defeated.
Edom says, “Who will bring me down?” Well, in verse 4 God answers, “I will bring you down.” What some army cannot do; God will do.
The Lord says in verse 7, “All your allies . . . have deceived you . . . those who eat your bread have set a trap beneath you.” In other words, God’s is going to turn their allies—the friends who added to the Edomites’ confidence—against them and use them to bring about the downfall of Edom.
Edom’s great pride will turn into great humiliation. This will be especially humiliating to Edom because they also took pride in their wisdom. In fact, Edom was known for its wise men. You might remember Eliphaz, one of Job’s friends, was from Teman, a city in southern Edom (Job 2:11), and Jeremiah spoke of the wisdom associated with Edom (Jeremiah 49:7).
Yet, all their wisdom had just made them proud and foolish. The Lord says in verse 8, “Will I not on that day . . . destroy the wise men out of Edom?”
Here is a powerful lesson for our world today. The things we often admire—physical strength, intellectual ability, powerful friends—can never replace simple, genuine faith in God. You are not going to find peace and satisfaction in muscles or money or fame. And they certainly cannot deliver you from the judgment of God.
Next, Obadiah lays out the causes of Edom’s destruction in verses 10 through 14. Verse 10 announces, “Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.” Edom’s violence, by the way, was unprovoked, it was continual, and it was constantly directed against his “brother Jacob.”
We can look at these verses as listing various causes of Edom’s coming destruction, but there is just one overriding cause given to us here in verse 10—violence. Now we usually think of violence as physical harm done to others, but I want to point out the kind of violence God refers to here.
Verse 11 speaks of the Edomites standing “aloof, on the day that strangers carried off [Judah’s] wealth.” This probably refers to the attack of Philistines and Arabs mentioned back in 2 Chronicles 21:16-17. The people of Edom did not participate directly in ransacking Judah, but the Lord says to them here, “You were like one of them.” In other words, by standing by and doing nothing to help the people of Judah, the Edomites were just as guilty as the Philistines and Arabs.
Second, Edom is guilty of gloating over Judah’s fall. Verse 12 says, “Do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin.”
The verb tense here and in the following verses place this prohibition in the future. That is, the Lord is prophesying the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC in these verses and warning Edom against celebrating Jerusalem’s destruction. But that will in fact end up happening, as Jerusalem falls to the Babylonians.
Again, the Edomites will not directly destroy Jerusalem, but they will delight in it. Even more, verses 13-14 indicate they will take away some of the plunder for themselves and even turn over some of the fugitives of Judah to the Babylonians.
Again, Edom isn’t pictured here as actively engaged in violence. But their self-centered and vindictive and calloused attitudes that ignore the Israelites’ plight, gloat over it, and seek to benefit from it is violence in the eyes of God—and it calls for His judgment against them.
That judgment is coming. In fact, by New Testament times, Edom no longer existed as a nation. They were displaced from their homeland, and the last remnant of Edomites will cease to exist as a distinct people after the destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70.
This was the judgment of God. Now again, Edom’s sins were not as appalling as those of the Babylonians. They did not do anything directly to bring about Judah’s downfall; they just stood by and cheered it on.
Let’s learn this lesson today: we cannot excuse sinful attitudes just because our outward actions do not seem all that bad. Oh no, God looks at our heart. What is He seeing in there where nobody else sees? Does He see hateful attitudes toward others? Does He see us rejoice when our enemies fail or fall? Or does He see concern and compassion, even for those who might hate us?
Finally, in verses 15 through 21, we find a prophecy of the coming day of the Lord. Here the “day of the Lord” refers to the end-time judgment of the nations described in Matthew 25 and back in Joel 3.
In the context of Obadiah, Edom is presented as an example and a foretaste of the coming judgment from God.
The final verses of Obadiah remind us that God is not only just; He is also faithful to His promises. The people that Edom despised are going to be restored. They “shall be holy” (verse 17), the kingdom will be restored as the “house of Jacob” (that is, Judah) and the “house of Joseph” (that is, Israel); they are going to be reunited (verse 18) once again, and they will possess the land God promised them centuries ago in His covenant promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
And with that the book of Obadiah ends with a glimpse of Jesus Christ’s millennial kingdom here in verse 21 as the final prophecy declares: “And the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”
Frankly, that sums up all of human history. Yes, we need to be prepared to suffer injustice in this world, but we have the assurance of God that we are on the winning team; there is coming a day when justice and righteousness will reign on earth because Jesus Christ, our Savior and God, will reign on earth. So, let us be patient, and persistent, and faithful to our coming King.
 The position taken here is that Obadiah was written about 845 BC shortly after a coalition of Philistines and Arabs attacked Judah during the time of King Jehoram and carried off some people and possessions. While this date is argued by many scholars, many others suggest a much later date, just after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.
 The outline followed here has been borrowed from Jarl K. Waggoner, Prophets for Our Time: An Exposition of Obadiah and Jonah (Resource Publications, 2009).
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