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Who Was Obadiah?
Jacob and Esau's Long Struggle
The Background of Obadiah
Outline of Obadiah
The Message of Obadiah

Who Was Obadiah?

There are 12 other men named Obadiah in the Old Testament:

An official in Ahab’s court: 1 Kings 18

A descendent of Solomon: 1 Chron. 3:20

A descendent of Issachar: 1 Chron. 7:3

A descendent of Saul: 1 Chron. 8:38; 9:44

A priest of the temple: 1 Chron. 9:16

The second of David’s mighty men from Gad: 1 Chron. 12:9

The father of a chief officer of the tribe of Zebulun: 1 Chron. 27:19

A Levite teacher sent by Jehoshaphat to Judah: 2 Chron. 17:7

A supervisor of Josiah’s temple reconstruction: 2 Chron. 34:12

A household "head" brought by Ezra to Jerusalem: Ezra 8:9

A signer of Nehemiah’s written covenant with the Lord: Neh. 10:5

A gatekeeper of the restored Jerusalem walls: Neh. 12:25

And then there is the prophet whose book bears his name: Obadiah. There have been several speculations as to whether or not Obadiah the prophet can be identified with any of the men listed above, but even those promoting a certain position usually qualify their remarks with some uncertainty.

Some "favorites" in terms of identifying Obadiah have been that he was the court official of Ahab or that he was the husband of the widow to whom Elisha gave the miraculous supply of oil (2 Kings 4). These two men could, of course, be regarded as the same man; that is, that Obadiah died while in service to Ahab, and his widow then came into financial distress.

Of each of the Obadiahs mentioned, my own inclination is toward the Levitical teacher whom Jehoshaphat sent to Judah. Since Obadiah the prophet ministered in Judah, it seems a logical fit. Nevertheless, it is impossible to say for certain who the prophet was beyond the pages of his book.

His name means "Servant of Yahweh", which can be regarded just like the name Theophilus in Luke 1:1-4 and Acts 1:1,2 – Theophilus means "Friend [or Lover] of God". There is speculation that Theophilus might have been a generic name for Luke’s readers, that we all should see ourselves as loving God and being His friend, and thus having a keen, personal interest in the details of Jesus’ life. Thus Obadiah, though not subject to much debate about being a real person, could very easily be seen as a "generic" believer in the God of Israel. His words, attitudes, and actions should be our words, attitudes, and actions.

Jacob and Esau:

A struggle from Genesis to Herod the Great

The foundations for Obadiah’s message were laid centuries before his time and in the very womb of Rebekah (see Genesis 25). We know of Jacob’s sojourn in Paddan-aram where he worked 14 years for Laban in exchange for Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29). During the time Jacob’s house was becoming the seeds of Israel’s twelve tribes, Esau was also enlarging his family and increasing both in political and economic power. Genesis 36 details Esau’s lineage and geographic distribution.

After Jacob returned to Canaan, and after a brief encounter at Isaac’s burial, there is no record of interaction between the brothers or their families. This lasted until the time that Israel came out of bondage in Egypt, a period of 430 years. When Moses lead Israel from Goshen, he requested permission from the king of Edom for Israel to pass through their country, but the king refused (Numbers 20:14-21). While travelling around Edom the Israelites came to Moab, who also refused permission to travel through their land. This was when Balaam prophesied that Israel would smite Edom (Numbers 24:18).

For some interesting highlights of Edom’s history and their relationship with Israel, read the following passages:

Deuteronomy 2: Moses retells how God told him to treat Edom with respect.

Judges 5: Deborah and Barak

Judges 11: A retelling of Israel’s requests and refusals: Edom, Moab, Arnon.

2 Sam. 8:14: King David put garrisons in Edom.

1 Kings 11:14: Hadad the Edomite was one of Solomon’s adversaries.

1 Kings 22:44: There was no king in Edom in the days of Jehoshaphat.

2 Kings 3: An incredible alliance between Jehoshaphat, the king of Israel, and the king of Edom.

2 Kings 8 – Edom revolts from under the rule of Jehoshaphat’s son.

2 Chron. 25:20 – Israel sought after the gods of Edom

Psalm 137:7-9 – Is this a reference to the same event as in the book of Obadiah?

Jeremiah 49:7ff – An echo of Obadiah’s message

Ezekiel 25:12ff – Israel is the agent by whom God’s judgment will be brought to Edom

Ezekiel 35:15 – Edom’s gloating will be visited on them by God

Malachi 1:1 – Part of God’s judgment was already past at the time of Malachi

Hebrews 12:15 – Esau is an example of a profane person

When Edom was finally driven from their land (5th-6th century BC), they settled in southern Judea (called Idumea in Greek). There they were forced to become Jews around 120 BC under the rule of John Hyrcanus, one of the Maccabees. Herod the Great was Idumean, an Edomite1.

The Background of Obadiah

Along with the general history of Israel and Edom being in conflict, there were several times when Edom made peace with Israel, revolted against Israel’s rule, joined in alliances with Israel and in alliances against Israel. Some passages describing these erratic behaviors are listed below. (Note that these passages cover about 500 years of time!)

 2 Kings 3

 2 Chronicles 20:1-2, 10, 11, 22-26

 2 Chronicles 21

 2 Kings 8

 2 Kings 14:7

 2 Chronicles 25:11,12

 2 Chronicles 28:17

 Psalm 137:7

Outline of Obadiah

Title: Patience in Tribulation

Theme: Overcoming "When will God do something about this?"

1. The Cause of Edom’s Destruction (1-4)

- Everyone hates a bully (1,2)

- Higher than any man, lower than God (3,4)

2. The Degree of Edom’s Destruction (5-9)

- Stripped clean of everything (5,6)

- No friends or alliances (7)

- God will confound Edom’s wisdom (8)

- They will be lost (9)

3. The Cause of Edom’s Destruction (10-14)

- Violence against their brother (10)

- Gloating over Israel’s distress (11)

- Pillaging the downtrodden (12-14)

4. The Degree of Edom’s Destruction (15-18)

- Equitable judgment (15,16)

- Jacob will consume Edom completely (17,18)

5. Israel Will Inherit Edom (19-21)

- Those scattered among the nations will possess the nations (19-20)

- Edom will be excluded from the kingdom of God (21)

The Message of Obadiah

This is, without a doubt, a message of condemnation. It is clear that the judgment of God against Edom was the result of Edom’s great pride and dreadful treatment of Israel. It is also a message of comfort to Israel, but in this we must be careful.

Why should Edom’s destruction bring comfort to Israel? Does God want us to take pleasure in the downfall of the wicked? Read Ezekiel 18:21-23, 30-32; 33:10,11. There is great danger in subtly shifting our attitude from that of God’s perspective to assuming the attitude of, "You’ll get yours!"

Our attitude should echo the very words we find in Obadiah when he describes Israel and Edom in personal, family terms:

vv.6, 8, 9: "Esau" – this personalizes the message

vs. 10 – "brother" and "Jacob" is used to show the family relationship

vs. 10 – "you" and "his" in the singular, this is still family

vs. 12 – "your brother’s day"

vs. 18 – houses of Jacob, Joseph, and Esau.

We should understand that God is a God of vengeance and judgment, but we should view the calamity of others as we would that of a brother. The comfort of Obadiah’s message is not based upon Esau’s fall, but on God’s perfect righteousness which sees all and brings all into account. We may not see nor experience in any way God’s deliverance from distressing trials, but we can find peace and comfort in knowing that nothing is hid from His eyes. The comfort is to be found in God Himself and the fact that His Word will not fail us: Joshua 23: 14–15

… and you know in all your hearts and in all your souls that not one word of all the good words which the Lord your God spoke concerning you has failed; all have been fulfilled for you, not one of them has failed. And it shall come about that just as all the good words which the Lord your God spoke to you have come upon you, so the Lord will bring upon you all the threats, until He has destroyed you from off this good land which the Lord your God has given you.


1 John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Victor Books. 1985.



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