The prophecy of Obadiah is uncommon among Old Testament literature in that it is an oracle directed against the sin of a foreign nation – not Israel; yet this fact does not mean that ministry to God’s chosen nation is absent from its intention. Obadiah’s words are primarily an oracle of doom against the foreign nation of Edom. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob, who became a nation increasingly resented by their brother-neighbor, Judah. This resentment came to a head as Judah’s capital of Jerusalem became distressed by the hostile takeover of their enemy. After having been plundered, ravaged, and taken away into exile in Babylon, their brothers, the Edomites, not only exhibited an unbrotherly spiteful delight in the trials, but actually participated in the invasion of the city, even lying in wait for the fugitives who sought to escape the city (see vss. 11-14).
While the vision of Obadiah concerns the fall of Edom, yet as far as we know, the book was not delivered to Edom, but to Israel. An important question to ask about the book of Obadiah is: “Why was Israel told about Edom’s future judgment?” To answer this question, we must first understand the context in which Obadiah proclaimed his prophecy.
The series of historical references to the overthrow of Jerusalem (vs. 11-14) would suggest that Obadiah was written around or after 586 BC, long before the Jew’s return from Babylonian exile. We can infer from this that Israel received this prophecy while they were suffering under the Lord’s severe discipline as exiles in Babylon. This book appears to have been intended by the Holy Spirit to be a comfort to God’s people even while they were under His discipline. As we saw last time in the book of Lamentations chapter 3, God remained faithful to His people, even while chastening them. Even in exile, the Lord still cared about them, He would not ignore the wickedness of their enemies, and He would justly punish their enemies for their mistreatment of His people. In so doing Obadiah’s words are like a balm for the festering sore which developed from their national humiliation and sibling’s taunting. God promises retribution, but He lifts His people above the plane of human resentment and revenge to a final restitution of the nation (vss. 17-21).
Read the book of Obadiah slowly and carefully; as you do, consider what spiritual applications might be made from both God’s censure of the nation and His promise to restore His people amid captivity.