Who Was Obadiah?
There are 12 other men named Obadiah in the Old Testament:
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 Lukes 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.
A struggle from Genesis to Herod the Great
The foundations for Obadiahs message were laid centuries before his time and in the very womb of Rebekah (see Genesis 25). We know of Jacobs sojourn in Paddan-aram where he worked 14 years for Laban in exchange for Leah and Rachel (Genesis 29). During the time Jacobs house was becoming the seeds of Israels twelve tribes, Esau was also enlarging his family and increasing both in political and economic power. Genesis 36 details Esaus lineage and geographic distribution.
After Jacob returned to Canaan, and after a brief encounter at Isaacs 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 Edoms history and their relationship with Israel, read the following passages:
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 Israels 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
Outline of Obadiah
Title: Patience in Tribulation
Theme: Overcoming "When will God do something about this?"
1. The Cause of Edoms Destruction (1-4)
2. The Degree of Edoms Destruction (5-9)
3. The Cause of Edoms Destruction (10-14)
4. The Degree of Edoms Destruction (15-18)
5. Israel Will Inherit Edom (19-21)
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 Edoms 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 Edoms 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 Gods perspective to assuming the attitude of, "Youll get yours!"
Our attitude should echo the very words we find in Obadiah when he describes Israel and Edom in personal, family terms:
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 Obadiahs message is not based upon Esaus fall, but on Gods perfect righteousness which sees all and brings all into account. We may not see nor experience in any way Gods 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: 1415
1John F. Walvoord and Roy B. Zuck. The Bible Knowledge Commentary: Old Testament. Victor Books. 1985.