The Book of Obadiah: A Brief Summary

Book Outline:

I. The Vision of Obadiah (1:1)
i. Edom's destruction foretold (1:1-9)
II. Bitterness Instead of Forgiveness (1:10)
i. The cause of Edom’s destruction (1:10-14)
III. Justice on the Day of the Lord (1:15)
i. Edom's destruction complete (1:15-21)
IV. The Kingdom is the Lord’s (1:21)


The book of Obadiah (meaning “servant of the Lord), a Minor Prophet in the Old Testament, is a prophecy written to the Southern Kingdom of Judah and alternates to the nation of Edom. The book begins by calling itself a “vision” which is an indication also shared by Isaiah (1:1) and Nahum (1:1).

This book is the shortest book in the Old Testament consisting of only 21 verses. Despite its brevity Dr. Gleason Archer says it “bears the distinction of being the most difficult of all the prophecies to date.” Scholars, liberal and conservative, are divided over the dating of the text to this day. The date is either shortly after Judah and Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians in 585 B.C. or much earlier when Jehoram was king of Judah in 848-841 B.C.

The prophetic content of this book focuses upon the ancient feud between Israel and Edom. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau and therefore still held malice towards the Israelites because of Jacob cheating Esau of his birthright (Genesis 25:21-34; 27:41). It foretells of the doom of Edom for their pride and malice towards Israel (1:1-16). It also foretells the deliverance of God’s chosen people (1:17-21).

In the book of Obadiah we see that the Edomites stood by, encouraged, and even looted while the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem (1:12-14). They refused Israel passage through Edom (Numbers 20:14-21) and even rejoiced over their capture (Psalms 137:7). The name Edom comes from a Hebrew root word that means "red." Edom was once located south of the Dead Sea in an area with numerous rocky cliffs that provided cover and concealment ideal for military positioning. Ironically, much of the sandstone of this area is red in color.

Due to the influence of the Persian Empire the territory of Edom would become a province called Idumea, the Greek form of Edom, which was a name extant during the times of Christ. In the Maccabean period (165-142 B.C.) John Hyracanus, a Jewish revolutionary leader, forced the Idumeans to accept Judaism. Herod the Great, a Roman appointed king of Israel during the time of Christ, was of Idumean descent. After Titus Flavius Sabinus Vespasianus, a Roman Emperor, destroyed Jerusalem in 70 A.D. the Idumeans disappeared from history.


The book of Obadiah focuses upon the relationship between Jacob (ancestor of the Judeans) and Esau (ancestor of the Edomites) as well as Messianic and eschatological undertones. It speaks of Gods principle of justice rather than betrayal returned for betrayal as is common in the human condition. “Obadiah also provided the people concrete hope in that he declared the defeat of a perennial enemy, Edom.”

Justice and vengeance belongs to God and is trans-covenantal (spans both Old and New Testaments). While alluding to Deuteronomy 32:35 the Apostle Paul confirms this:

Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord. (Romans 12:19)

Esau had reason to have anger towards Jacob yet his descendants—generations removed—still held on to bitterness and rancor. This reveals their inability to forgive and simultaneously their willingness to enact justice themselves. Much like sibling rivalry the two nations were in conflict and the Edomites were constantly treating Israel cruelly.

Betrayal and bitterness are both nasty attitudes and emotions that eat at an individual’s physical and spiritual health like cancerous tumors. They have the ability to affect one both spiritually and physically. When betrayal is from those closest to us the pain is more severe. The Edomites mistakenly felt secure in their fortified position amid the rocky and mountainous terrain of Edom. Security and confidence will never survive apart from God and no location is beyond the sight and reach of the eyes and hand of God.

Summary of Verse Selections:

In 1:1 we see the supernatural origin of Obadiah’s writings by the inclusion of the term “vision.” The Hebrew word used here (chazon) refers to the direct communication between God and man rather than a mere dream. Using this term places the prophet on greater footing for it indicates he has heard and seen from God Himself and thus has specific insight for the recipients of the prophecy.

In 1:2-9 the prophecy is focused upon the Edomites and reminding them that no matter how impregnable or inaccessible in their mountainous homeland they become Gods power and promises stand much higher. The Edomites felt they were exalted and soared as eagles with their “nest among the stars” (1:4 NIV) yet God is able to bring them down. God sternly reveals their betrayal and treachery. God promises to destroy them and not just deliver light punishment but once His judgment was come it would be complete.

Walter Elwell notes, “Theives steal only what they want (or can carry), and grape pickers may overlook a few grapes. However, on the day Edom is ransacked and pillages nothing will remain untouched by the looters. Even the most mundane of possessions will be pillages by the ruthless invaders.” The punishment will run so deep that even the “hidden treasures” (1:6) will be pillaged. This punishment is also recorded in Jeremiah 49:9-10 where God concludes that the Edomites will be “no more”.

If grape-gatherers came to you,
Would they not leave some gleaning grapes?
If thieves by night,
Would they not destroy until they have enough? But I have made Esau bare;
I have uncovered his secret places,[2]
And he shall not be able to hide himself.
His descendants are plundered,
His brethren and his neighbors,
And he is no more. (NKJV)

1:7 promises that even the allies of Edom will deceive and trap them. Their allies will eat their bread and the Edomites “will not detect it” (NIV). In 1:8 subtle irony exists wherein the “wise” and men of “understanding” will be “cut down” (1:9). Their pride (1:3); Jeremiah 49:7) had blinded them and lulled them into a false state of security which meant certain doom. Even the brave warriors of Edom will become terrified and cut down. The writer of Proverbs speaks of this very thing:

When pride comes, then comes shame;
But with the humble is wisdom. (NKJV)

Keil and Delitzch indicate the Edomites were “celebrated for their wisdom” and in fact “Eliphaz, the chief opponent of Job in argument, was a Temanite (Job 2:1; Teman was a geographical location in Edom). With this withdrawal of wisdom and discernment, even the brave warriors lose their courage. The heroes are dismayed, or fall into despair.”

1:10-14 is still focused upon the descendant of Esau as it explains the cause of their doom. 1:10 begins with “because” which is an indication of a slight shift in the tone of this prophecy. The prophecy lists their “violence” (NIV) against the descendants of Jacob.

The Edomites failed to ally themselves with Judah against a common foe (1:11); they rejoiced and boasted in the day of Judah’s misfortune (1:12); they marched into the gates of Jerusalem after it had been attacked simultaneously seizing their wealth (1:13) and in the “day of their trouble” they waited in ambush at a strategic intersection to cut down and turn over those fleeing Jerusalem to the Babylonians (1:14).

The response from God in these passages indicated that opposition to God and His people will not go without recompense. The arrival of divine justice however cannot be calculated by human methods because the appropriate action will be given in His time.

1:15, considered the second portion of this prophecy, alternates its focus from Edom (particular) to the whole world (universal). Edom then becomes an example of God calling all nations or all people to repentance. Not only shall Edom experience the “day of the Lord” (NIV) but “all the nations” (NASB) of the earth as well. The “day of the Lord” here refers to that great day when God will reveal Himself to enact judgment and just punishment (see Joel 1:15). This will be the time when God will destroy evil.

“As you have done, it will be done to you” is also recorded in 1:15. This notion of retribution is clearly taught throughout the Old Testament. Alternatively called, “an eye for an eye” is also found in Exodus 21:24-25; Leviticus 24:20 and Deuteronomy 19:21 which indicates that punishment will be equivalent to the crime. Obadiah also includes the idea that their sins will “return upon your head” which may have resemblance with an earlier statement made by Moses:

But if you do not do so, then take note, you have sinned against the LORD; and be sure your sin will find you out. (Numbers 32:23 NKJV)

1:17-18 records that the “house of Jacob” will be holy and a fire and the “house of Joseph” a flame. This speaks of deliverance for Mount Zion (commonly used to refer to Jerusalem). The coupling of Jacob and Joseph here refers to most if not all of the twelve tribes of Israel. David Baker notes that “the entire nation of twelve tribes will ultimately be restored, to the detriment of those who persecuted her.” Conversely, the “house of Esau will be stubble” (NIV) that is obviously set ablaze by the former houses mentioned. From this consummation there will be “no survivors” (NIV).

1:19-21 speaks of the destruction of Israel’s enemies. Once the destruction has taken placed they will take possession of their land, and this territory will be expanded. The “deliverers” (1:21) mentioned are possibly exiles or the remnant who will return. At the time of Obadiah’s prophecy the kingdom was not the Lord’s, as it was in the hands of sinful leaders, but through divine certainty it will fully be under the Lord’s rule (1:21). “The kingdom will be the LORD’s” (NIV) is a quote from Psalm 22:28. This statement apparently refers to the fulfillment of Israel’s Davidic Kingdom under the reign of the Messiah Jesus Christ (Daniel 2:44, 7:14, 27; Zechariah 14:9; Luke 1:33; Revelation 11:15: 19:6)

1. Archer, L. Gleason. A Survey of Old Testament Introduction. © 1968 Moody Press pg. 296
2. Walter A. Elwell and Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology, electronic ed., Baker reference library; Logos Library System (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1997, c1996).
3. Walter A. Elwell, Evangelical Commentary on the Bible, Baker reference library (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Baker Book House, 1996, c1989). Ob 10.
4. Carl Friedrich Keil and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament. (Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 2002). 10:240.
5. D. A. Carson, New Bible Commentary : 21st Century Edition, 4th ed. (Leicester, England; Downers Grove, Ill., USA: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994). Ob 15.


noel angel roque said...

nice post!

Anonymous said...

Really helpful post. I'm just beginning to learn about the Edomites, and Edom's relationship with Judea: past, present and future. Obadaih is a good place to start. I would also recommend (for others interested in Edom) to look at Psalm 83.

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