The Prophet Obadiah
1. Author and Time of Writing
The book of the prophet Obadiah is the shortest book of the OT with 21 verses only. We do not know anything of the book’s author but his name (Obadiah = servant or worshipper of Jehovah). More than ten persons of the OT bear the same name but none of them is identical with the prophet. This fact makes it difficult to date the time of writing. This is why the scientists’ opinions regarding the time of writing vary greatly.
Many would place Obadiah into the time of king Jehoram of Judah (848 – 841 BC) under whose reign the Edomites revolted from under the dominion of Judah (2 Chron. 21:8-10). In this case Obadiah would have been the first writing prophet in the history of Israel. Other scientists, however, think that Obadiah lived and ministered at the time of Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC or even later as he obviously must have known this event.
Be it as it may the place of the book of Obadiah in the canon of the Hebrew OT and of the Scriptures has been secured and undisputed for ages.
2. Purpose of Writing
The only subject of this short prophetical book is the nation of Edom whose hatred for Israel will eventually lead to their total destruction. Edom is the name of Esau’s descendants. The nation of Edom lived in the mountains of Seir south of the Dead Sea down to the Gulf of Akaba (Gen. 36:8-9). Esau was Jacob’s twin brother. Already before their actual birth God announced that the older son Esau would serve the younger son Jacob (Gen. 25:23). Out of despising his birthright rose Esau’s hatred against Jacob (Gen. 27).
Around 300 years later when the Israelites were on their journey from Egypt to Canaan the Edomites would not let them pass through their territory (Num. 20:14-21). Then 400 years later the Edomites became David’s servants (2 Sam. 8:13-14). During Jehoram’s reign however the Edomites revolted from under the dominion of Judah (2 Kings 8:20). There were further fights between Edom and Judah under the reigns of Jehoshaphat, Amaziah and Ahaz (2 Chron. 20:10; 25:11; 28:17). Edom rejoiced over Jerusalem’s destruction in 586 BC (Ps. 137:7; Lam. 4:21). Only the Babylonians devastated a few years later Edom itself. This is when the Nabathean Empire arose in Edom. During the time of the Maccabees Edom was annexed with the Jewish state by John Hyrcanus. When the Romans conquered Judea the Idumeans ( Edomites) family of Herod reached the royal dignity. Since Jerusalem’s destruction in 70 AC the Edomites disappeared from history.
In a future day however Edom will appear again. The nation characterized by un-judged brotherly hatred for God-given blessings will flee from the coming king of the north (Dan. 11:41). But God Himself will punish them afterwards (Is. 34:5-8; Jer. 49:7-22). The means of God’s punishment will be His people Israel (Is. 11:13-14; Ez. 25:12-14) and this at the beginning of the millennium when the Lord Jesus will have appeared as Messiah already (Is. 63:1-5; Ez. 35:1-15).
Obadiah in his short prophecy over Edom describes the threat of this final judgment and the reasons for it. But at the same time he informs that the day of Jehovah will be a day of general judgment over the nations and a time of restoration for the people of Israel.