Authorship

Obadiah is named after its writer, whose name means “Servant (or Worshiper) of the Lord.” The name was a noble and a common Old Testament name, and we know nothing more about the man, his family tree, or even the specific time he lived and served. There is a late Jewish tradition that this prophet was the same Obadiah who served as King Ahab’s God-fearing palace manager (1 Ki 18:3ff), but this is not supported by any other evidence.1The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.

Date of Writing

Obadiah is perhaps the most difficult Old Testament book to assign a date to. The words of Obadiah 11-14 give us the only clue about the lifetime of Obadiah, if we assume they refer a known event of Old Testament history. Still, this information can be understood in at least two different ways. There is really no way to determine with certainty which of two events is referred to.

The invasion of Jerusalem may well refer to the Babylonian intrusions and eventual conquest of the city in 605 BC, 597 BC, and especially 586 BC. If so, Obadiah was a contemporary of Jeremiah. Similarities between these verses and Jeremiah 49:7ff have led many to make this connection. There are also similarities to messages of Ezekiel (Ezek 25:12ff, 35:1ff). If asked which prophet first issued the words, most thoughtful scholars place Obadiah prior to Jeremiah. (The idea has also been advanced that there was a third source, now lost, common to both prophets. This is a possibility but one based on pure conjecture.)

The described invasion of Jerusalem, however may refer to much earlier event, such as the one that took place over 250 years earlier when Philistines and Arabs overran the city during the reign of Jehoram (see 2 Ki 8:20-22 and 2 Chr 21:8-20). The Edomites were likely allies in this offensive. This may be the same event Amos had reference to in Amos 1:6. Because of its position near the front of “The Twelve” in the Hebrew Bible, it might be concluded that the Jews considered the book that ancient, and we would date it approximately 845-840 BC. If this is so, Jeremiah used Obadiah’s words and adapted them for use concerning the later Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem.

See also the Chronology of the Prophets and the Chronology of Latter Prophets and Intertestamental Period.

Purpose

There is at least a two-fold message in this shortest book of the Old Testament. The first emphasis is the judgment pronounced upon Edom because of its pride and lack of love over Judah. It should be kept in mind that while Edom does refer to the actual descendants of Esau, the Edomites also seem to be used by Old Testament prophets as representative of people anywhere who are hostile against God’s people. The closely related second point made by Obadiah is that the Lord will eventually work deliverance for his people, a truth that is connected with the coming Day of the Lord as surely as is the downfall of their enemies.

A third message or emphasis may well be added to these, one not explicitly stated but certainly implied in the first two. This has to do with the Lord’s supremacy over the nations. He rules universally, remains aware of the sins of nations, and administers divine justice as he controls the destinies of human governments. This truth permeates virtually all Old Testament prophecy.

Christ Connection

The book of Obadiah talks about “the Day of the Lord” or Judgment Day, when all nations will be judged (Ob 15).  However, God promises to save his people, the house of Jacob, from destruction at that time (Ob 17). All believers are included in his people through his Son, Jesus (Rom 9:6-8; 11:25-27; Eph 2:12-13; 3:6), and therefore can look forward to that day with joy and confidence thanks to Christ (Lk 21:28; 1 Thes 5:9-11).

Notable Passages

  • Obadiah 15
  • Obadiah 17

Outline

In a book that contains only 21 verses, an elaborate outline is hardly needed. However, the following shows the division of topics in these 21 verses.

  1. The Oracle against Edom (Ob 1-9)
  2. The Cause of Edom’s Downfall (Ob 10-14)
  3. The Coming Day of the Lord (Ob 15-21)
  4. The Lord’s Message against Edom (Ob 1-14)
  5. The Lord’s Day establishes Justice (Ob 15-21)

References   [ + ]

1. The introductory information on this page is adapted from Professor Emeritus Forrest Bivens’ course notes for Senior Old Testament Isagogics at Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary. Used with permission.