SURVEY OF OBADIAH – RETRIBUTION ON EDOM (AND THE NATIONS)
What Goes Around Comes Back Around — God will avenge Israel against Edom (and the nations).
Philippe R. Sterling
Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament. The name of the prophet means “servant of Yahweh”. He may have prophesied during the reign of Jehoram which lasted from 848 to 841 BC (see 2 Chron. 21). God declares judgment on Edom for its hostile attitude and actions towards Judah. Edom becomes a symbol for nations who are hostile to God’s kingdom program and who will face God’s judgment in the day of the LORD when He delivers and restores Israel. The book is a message of hope for Judah.
- The patriarchs of Edom and Israel were Esau and Jacob (see Gen. 25—27). Their conflict began with a struggle in the womb of Rebekah.
- The nation of Edom occupied the highlands and red sandstone cliffs on the southeastern edge of the Dead Sea.
- The Edomites had a strong tribal organization that formed a monarchy before Israel’s exodus from Egypt (Gen. 36:1-30).
- They denied the Israelites passage to the east and threatened them with force (Num. 20:14-21).
- Hostility endured for centuries. Saul, David, and Solomon had problems with Edom.
- During the reign of Jehoshaphat Edom joined the Ammonites and the Moabites in an attack against Judah, but then Ammon and Moab turned on the Edomites and destroyed them before destroying each other (see 2 Chron. 20:1-25).
- Edom revolted against Judah during the reign of Jehoram (2 Chron. 21:8).
- Edom attacked Judah during Ahaz’s reign (2 Chron. 28:17).
- Edom encouraged Babylon to destroy Jerusalem in 586 BC (Ps. 137:7).
- Herod the Great was an Edomite.
Literary Structure and Content
The Vision of Obadiah: This is the message from the Lord God that came in the form of a vision to Obadiah, “the servant of the LORD”, concerning Edom (1:1a).
I. Retribution on Edom: God will destroy Edom for its treatment of Israel (1:1b-14).
A. Certainty of Retribution: God will destroy Edom (1b-9).
1. God has summoned the nations to defeat a despised Edom in battle (1b-2).
2. The pride of Edom has deceived it into thinking that it cannot be defeated (3).
3. God will bring Edom down and leave it with nothing (4-6).
4. The alliances of Edom will turn against it (7).
5. The wisdom and military might of Edom will be of no help in its day of destruction (8-9).
B. Causes of Retribution: Edom did violence to Jacob (10-14).
Summary: God will cut off Edom because it did violence to Jacob (10).
1. Edom did not aid Jerusalem but helped its oppressors (11).
2. Edom gloated in the misfortune of Judah (12-13).
3. Edom killed or captured the fugitives from Judah (14).
II. Restoration of Israel: God will judge the nations and restore Israel (1:15-21a).
A. God and the Nations: God will judge the nations on the day of the LORD (15-16).
God’s destruction of Edom is similar to His destruction of all the nations when they oppose Him.
1. Day of the LORD: The day of the LORD draws near on all the nations (15a).
2. Law of Retribution: “As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own
3. God’s Holy Mountain: God will destroy the nations for what they do to Jerusalem (16).
The law of retribution is in keeping with God’s promise to Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you; and the one who curses you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3). It may also be a general rule of life. Galatians 6:7 states, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows; this he will also reap.” We have the contemporary proverb, “What goes around comes back around.” We can apply it as a negative form of the golden rule, “Don’t do unto others what you don’t want done unto you.”
B. God and the Nation: Israel will possess its land – including Edom (17-21a).
1. A holy remnant will possess Mount Zion (17).
2. God will use Israel to consume Edom (18).
3. Judah will possess the mountain of Esau and enlarge its territory (19-20).
4. The kingdom on Zion will judge Edom (21a).
And the kingdom will be the LORD’S (1:21b).
Theological Reflection and Application
The Book of Obadiah provides an example of the adage “pride goes before a fall” (see 1 Cor. 10:12). God is opposed to the proud, but gives grace to the humble (James 4:6; 1 Pet 5:5).
What goes around comes back around. A person's actions, whether good or bad, will have consequences for that person (Gal 6:7). How does the biblical principle of sowing and reaping differ from the eastern religious view of karma?
God installs His King upon Zion, His holy mountain (Ps. 2:6). Ultimately this King is the Messiah who strikes down the nations and rules over them with a rod of iron (Rev. 19:15). And the kingdom will be the LORD’S (Obadiah 1:21b).