The Minor Prophets: Obadiah

Obadiah is one of the shortest books in the entire Bible. However, just because it is short does not mean that it has nothing to say. One of the things I have learned in my study of the minor prophets is that most of the books are short but very impactful. Even if they seem to have nothing to do with us in this time period, they communicate some kind of message that we can use.

Obadiah is completely unknown to us. We know that he was a prophet who probably prophesied shortly after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC, but we don’t know where he was from or any other detail about his life. This is a common theme throughout the entire Bible, which makes sense when you realize that this book was written over 2,500 years ago. As stated in my previous post about Amos, this should not shake our faith in the infallibility of scripture. The main theme of the Bible is not details of people’s lives, but rather God’s relationship with humanity.

At first glance you may read the book of Obadiah and wonder how in the world it could possibly apply to us today. It is only 21 verses long and is directed mainly toward the nation of Edom. How can a book that was written so long ago to a nation that doesn’t even exist anymore have any kind of application to us? It is a fair question and one that certainly does have an answer. If you look close enough you will realize that the theme of Obadiah is a timeless message that teaches us how to treat one another.

Let’s start at the beginning. The nation of Edom descended from Jacob’s brother, Esau. It is clear from scripture that Jacob and Esau had a very complicated relationship that turned heated for a while. However, it seems as if they made up and moved on with their lives. The story of their descendants is far different though, and involves much more animosity. The two nations were constantly at war and trying to wipe the other one out.

And so we arrive at the book of Obadiah. Jerusalem has fallen and Edom is loving it. Not only are they rejoicing at the fall of the great city, but they also apparently aided the Babylonians in plundering it. It seems as if they finally have the upper hand in the struggle with their brother nation. But the prophet Obadiah says that they should not celebrate so quickly.

He unleashes a scathing tirade against Edom for how they treated their brother in his time of need. They can rejoice for now, he says, but God is not done with the tribe of Israel. They will eventually have the last laugh. As with most of the other prophets, he ends his book by talking about the future restoration of Israel. When the Messiah comes Israel will rule the world, and Edom will be a fading memory.

Obadiah’s main message targets Edom for taking advantage of the helpless nation of Israel. Sound familiar? It should. The theme of the strong exerting power over the weak is a constant message of the major and minor prophets. Edom thought that their lofty dwelling in “the clefts of the rocks” would protect them. They would soon find out that no matter where they went judgment would find them, and it would come at the hands of the very power that they had aided in plundering Jerusalem.

There is a bit of twisted irony in Obadiah’s message to the Edomites. Just as they had used their strength to take advantage of the weak, Babylon would use their strength to overcome the weaker Edom. Esau’s descendants were about to find out that it really is a dog eat dog world, and they were not the top dog in the food chain. The lesson here is very simple. Be careful when you exploit the weak, because sooner or later you will be the weaker one and there will be no mercy. It is a message from scripture and history that people just cannot seem to learn.

In contrast to Edom, Jesus encourages his followers to take on the role of a servant. We are not to seek to lord authority over anyone. God is the ultimate Judge, and he is the one who ultimately has all power. As long as sin and death reign in this fallen world the strong will seek to exert power over the weak. Not so for the Christian. All you need to know about Christianity is seen in the image of the Creator washing the feet of his disciples. This is not a picture of the strong taking advantage of the weak, but rather of the strong serving the weak.

Who would have thought that we could learn so much from such a short book? This is why I love the word of God. The messages and applications are endless, and all of them deal with how we treat God and our neighbor. As Jesus said, all of the law is based on loving God and loving our neighbor. Obadiah doesn’t say much, but what he does say teaches us a lot about how we should treat one another.

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