Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. And, apart from 2 and 3 John, the shortest in the Bible. This short and challenging book gives us some insights and perspectives on understanding YHWH’s dealings with the nations. The long-term repercussions of the sibling rivalry between Jacob and Esau and their descendants provides the backdrop. It also holds out the promise of YHWH’s restoration of His people. Let’s learn more about how the kingdom, power, and glory belongs to YHWH with this summary from the Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on Obadiah by Old Testament series editor Daniel I. Block.

The Dominion Belongs to YHWH

The theological significance of the book of Obadiah extends far beyond its witness to Edom’s place in history and their role as representatives of fundamental human depravity. This book offers a full-orbed vision of YHWH, climaxing in the final statement, “The dominion will belong to YHWH.” But what does this book tell us about the reign of YHWH and about the character of this king?

YHWH’s Messengers

Obadiah declares that YHWH announces his reign through authorized messengers. The book opens with a report of an envoy from the court of YHWH calling on the nations to rise up in battle against Edom, to which they willingly respond (v. 1). But Obadiah himself is one of these envoys who has access to the counsel of YHWH. In Deut 18:15-22 Moses had identified three features that would mark the badge of true prophets.

Prophets Like Moses

(1) They would be prophets after the order of Moses, into whose mouth YHWH would put his words and who would then speak for him (18:18).

Prophets Spoke for YHWH

(2) They would speak in the name of YHWH, which meant that to reject their word was to reject YHWH. Of course, these first two features could easily be forged. Jeremiah and Ezekiel spoke of self-inspired false prophets who claimed to run and speak for YHWH, but the visions they declared arose from their own imaginations (Jer 23:16-40; Ezek. 13:1-7).

By contrast, true prophets stand in the council of YHWH (ʿāmad bĕsôd yhwh) to hear the words they are to proclaim and to be commissioned to proclaim them (Jer 23:18, 22). Just as an earthly monarch would authorize trusted counselors to stamp official documents with his seal, so YHWH puts into true prophets’ mouths the verbal seals. Only he could authorize anyone to use the prophetic formulas that we find in Obadiah (vv. 1b, 4d, 8b, 18g). The four occurrences of these formulas confirm Obadiah’s status as a man carried along by the Holy Spirit and authorized to speak for God (2 Pet. 1:21).

Prophets Predicted Future Events

(3) According to Deut 18:15-22, the third mark of true prophets was fulfilled predictions. YHWH’s ability to predict events in the distant future and then to fulfill those prognostications distinguished him from all other gods (Isa 46:8-11). It did not take long for Obadiah’s prophecies concerning Edom to transpire. The chronicles of Nabonidus suggest that the announced judgment on Edom was fulfilled in 553 BC, when the Babylonian king conquered Edom. Although the Idumeans of Jesus’ day may have had some Edomite blood coursing through their veins, after the sixth century Edom as a nation ceased to exist. And unlike the sons of Jacob, the nation has never been resurrected.

The beginning of the fulfillment of Obadiah’s promised restoration of Israel and Zion followed soon thereafter. It was satisfied in small measure when Cyrus issued a decree in 538 BC that the exiles in Babylon could return to Jerusalem and rebuild the temple (2 Chr 36:22-23; Ezra 1:1-4). However, this never became the wholesale restoration envisioned by other prophets like Ezekiel in Ezek 34–48.

(1) Although 50,000 returned from exile (Ezra 2), this was a small fraction of the descendants of the twelve tribes.

(2) Although the Jews returned to the Promised Land, they occupied only a small region around Jerusalem.

(3) Although they rebuilt the temple, it was an unimpressive project, and in any case the glory of YHWH never returned (Hag 1–2).

(4) Although Zerubbabel, a Davidide, had been granted some authority in Jerusalem, he was only a governor, still under the suzerainty of Persia. But the restoration of 538 BC represented a down payment of the ultimate restoration and a reminder that YHWH had not forgotten his ancient covenant commitments to Abraham and his descendants.

YHWH Keeps His Promises

Obadiah’s vision of Jacob’s restoration reiterates what he must have known from Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. However, its roots are in Pentateuchal promises, most notably in YHWH’s own promise of restoration after judgment in Lev 26:40-45, in Moses’ reiteration and development of this theme in Deut 4:30-31; 30:1-10, and in the clear declaration in Israel’s national anthem, Deut 32:34-43. In the end YHWH’s memory of his irrevocable commitment to Israel and his compassion for his people would triumph (4:30-31).

YHWH Exalts and Humbles

Obadiah demonstrates YHWH’s kingship by bringing down the high and exalting the low. Some modern readers who do not take into account the background to the book find offense in Obadiah’s strong ethnic focus and his announcement of the elimination of an entire population. Some say this looks like divinely sanctioned and divinely inflicted genocide. To this we may offer three responses.

(1) The Edomites here are individuals, members of a family. They have collectively violated their brother when they should have protected him.

(2) The violence toward Jacob was only one manifestation of an overweening pride. Like Adam’s arrogant act of rebellion in Gen 3, so the sons of Esau’s actions called for their punishment.

(3) This treatment of Edom is consistent with YHWH’s response to others who stood in opposition to him. In Deut 7–8 Moses had declared that if the Israelites would forget their God and behave like Canaanites, they too would experience this fate — which they eventually had at the hands of the Babylonians in 586 BC. The demise of Edom is not merely the consequence of a capricious and violent God’s anger; it is his response to evil, a notion few modern readers understand.

Hannah and Mary

YHWH’s response to Edom concretizes the image that Hannah had expressed so eloquently centuries earlier in her oracular prayer (1 Sam 2:1-10) and that Mary would echo centuries later in her Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55).

Ezekiel and Isaiah

Closer to Obadiah’s time, Ezekiel had summarized the same principle in Ezek. 17:24:

I bring down the tall tree;

and exalt the low tree.

I cause the green tree to wither,

and make the withered tree thrive.

I am YHWH. I have spoken;

and I will perform.

Ezekiel also offered a concrete illustration of the principle in his oracles against Tyre in 28:1-19.

12 How you are fallen from heaven,

O Day Star, son of Dawn!

How you are cut down to the ground,

you who laid the nations low!

13 You said in your heart,

“I will ascend to heaven;

I will raise my throne

above the stars of God;

I will sit on the mount of assembly

on the heights of Zaphon;

14 I will ascend to the tops of the clouds,

I will make myself like the Most High.”

15 But you are brought down to Sheol,

to the depths of the Pit.

Isaiah 14:12-15

Although Obadiah shows some influence from Ezekiel, his characterization of Edom’s overweening pride as smugness of heart and setting his nest among the stars links this passage particularly with Isaiah’s portrayal of the star of the morning in Isa 14:12-15. Adapting this theme, and borrowing heavily from Jeremiah, as we have noted in the commentary, Obadiah speaks of YHWH’s making Esau small among the nations (Obad 2), responding to his arrogance and smugness by bringing this one who claims to live among the stars back down to earth (vv. 3–4).

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