Commentary on Obadiah

January 19, 2004



The prophetic book of Obadiah, though shortest in the Hebrew portion of the Bible, is no slouch in robust impact. Only 21 verses, it can be read in just a few minutes. To digest it properly, it may prove helpful to read it a number of times, from several different translations, asking the Lord for insight.

The theme of this book is the abuse of God's people, God's land, and God's Holy Hill, the Temple Mount in Jerusalem. The villain, the guilty party, will end up belittled, loathed, and devastated. Obadiah is a book of recompense and deliverance, ending with "the Kingdom will be the Lord's".

The object of the prophet's ire (actually, the Lord's ire) is Israel's twin brother Esau (Edom), and his physical and spiritual descendants. Obadiah accuses Edom of "violence against your brother Jacob." (v 10) This is not an isolated incident of violence, but systematic, repetitive, unrelenting violence. The JPS translation of verse 10 is, "For the outrage to your brother Jacob, disgrace shall engulf you, and you shall perish forever."

The book can be considered a formal indictment of charges against Edom, as well as their accomplices. The indictment stipulates the most severe capital offenses, with an equally severe sentence to be executed. Cruel, sadistic, maniacal, unconscionable, monstrous are the crimes of Edom against Jacob.

One of the first questions asked when examining a prophetic passage is to what time frame does the prophecy apply? Some of the oracles that the prophets of God received applied to near term events, others to far term. In the case of Obadiah, it is both, or more correctly, it is a vision that in one glance encompasses a broad period of time. The abuses accumulate over a long time, and the ultimate solution culminates in the establishment of God's rule on earth.

Visions that prophets were given are not restricted to a thin slice of time, but sometimes encompass a very expansive one. They saw events that were to occur over a long time frame in a single scene. This is especially evident in some of the Messianic prophecies, where events from both the first and second comings of Messiah are communicated in one prophetic scene.

In Obadiah, a very broad chronological perspective is portrayed, all the way from back to the time of the destruction of the first Temple, through to the time of the end. The indictment of Edom contains charges of crimes at various points along the way.

Some may be tempted to relegate the scope of the prophecy to only the ancient Edomites. But given the futuristic scope of some portions, it is clear it applies to modern "Edomites" as well. How do we know that Obadiah's vision was not just against the Edomites of his day, but something future, extending to our day and beyond? Verses 15-17 about the apocalyptic Day of the Lord, and recovery of the Temple Mount, verses 19-20, geographic references to land reclamation not yet achieved, and verse 21 about God's future rule from Mt. Zion make that very clear.

This book, though brief, contains what I believe are allusions to events as varied as the destruction of both Temples in Jerusalem by the Babylonians and the Romans, to the Islamic seizure of the Temple Mount, to Arab complicity in the Nazi Holocaust, to Palestinian terrorism, to the destruction of the Muslim power base in Saudi Arabia, to the Jewish repossession of the Temple Mount and all the land promised by God.

Who are the Edomites, in the modern setting? There are two ways to determine this. The first is by comparing other Scriptures, and the second is to examine the specific characteristics of this group of people.

The most compelling Scriptural evidence to identify the Edomites is found in Ezekiel 36:5. The first fifteen verses of that chapter give God's viewpoint of the preeminent issue of our day, the ownership and eventual disposition of what the world calls the "West Bank." Verse 5 describes a conspiracy between the nations of the world and "Edom" to misappropriate that land that God had granted to Jacob. Therefore, we can conclude that Edom, in the modern context, is the West Bank Palestinians.

The book of Obadiah is also closely related to the prophecy of Ezekiel 35, which is a prophecy against the same group of people. Unmatched in scathing intensity, Ezekiel 35 functions in tandem with chapter 36. The latter describes the conflict over Judea and Samaria, and the former describes the fate of those who tried to steal that land from the Jews. The parties and the issues parallel those in Obadiah.

Large chunks of Obadiah are repeated in Jeremiah 49, in the oracle against Edom there. I am of the opinion that when portions are repeated nearly verbatim in other places in the Bible, it is very significant, a reinforcement of the importance of that message. In this case, the context in Jeremiah is important, I believe, in regards to other events prophesied in that same section of text.

In Jeremiah 48-49, Edom and several other neighbors of Israel are addressed. These include Jordan, Syria, Iran, and Arabia, and portions of these prophecies await future fulfillment. This provides additional support to our understanding that portions of the Obadiah prophecy against Edom also await future fulfillment.

The core of the indictment, in the center of the book, is a vigorous sevenfold vitriolic accusation. In verses 12-14, the repetitive use of "you should not have" at the beginning of each charge, combined with a variation on "on the day of their disaster" at the end of each, gives the effect of a pounding jackhammer, a damning verbal drubbing.

Here is the final charge in that indictment against Edom: "You shouldn't have stood at the crossroads, killing those who tried to escape. You shouldn't have captured the survivors, handing them over to their enemies in that terrible time of trouble." (v 14, NLT)

When, during a terrible time for the Jewish people, a time of death, were the Arabs accomplices of the agents of death by not allowing Jews to come to their place of refuge?

In the 1930s and 1940s, the Jewish people faced the worse crisis in their history. Simultaneously, the Lord had been opening the doors to their Promised Land once again through the Zionist movement. But the British heartlessly slammed the doors shut at that most critical time, primarily because of the influence of the Arabs. Succumbing to political pressure and physical duress, the Brits did not allow Jews to enter into their land, abandoning them to mass death in Europe under the Nazi scourge. Had it not been for Arab rioting and violence, the British would not have enacted those policies. Therefore, Edom was responsible for "killing those who tried to escape."

Obadiah's repetitive emphasis on "the day of their disaster", "day of their calamity", "day of their destruction", "day of their trouble", "day of their misfortune", "day of their ruin", "day of their anguish", does seem evocative of the Holocaust. It was utmost catastrophe the Jews suffered at the climax of their long period of calamitous exile, just prior to the repossession of their ancient homeland.

Though the Nazis were the chief slaughterers of Jews, the Palestinians were accessories and accomplices. The Palestinian leader Haj Amin al-Husseini, mufti of Jerusalem, was the dastardly notorious agitator of violence against Palestinian Jews in the 1920s and 1930s. Later, seeing a potential ally for his homicide campaign with the rise of Hitler, Husseini played no small part in the Holocaust. Living in Berlin during the war, he became very chummy with Hitler. Husseini worked together with him on various efforts, encouraging him to more forceful ruination of the Jews. To cite the details of this would be too involved for this article, but Husseini's guilt has been well-documented, including the development of a Bosnian Muslim division of the Waffen SS he personally recruited for Hitler.

Recalling that Obadiah takes a long view of Edom's crimes over time, we understand that the brutal mistreatment of the Jews is not a recent phenomenon. The previous verse in the list of indictments says, "You shouldn't have plundered the land of Israel when they were suffering such calamity. You shouldn't have gloated over the destruction of your relatives, looting their homes and making yourselves rich at their expense." (v 13 NLT) The extended calamity, when Israel was expelled from their land, began in 70 AD, and ended with the Holocaust.

God takes issue with the way that Jacob's close relative gloated, plundered, and looted during the time of his exile. According to the Divine view, Israel never relinquished ownership of that land, even after such a long time of absence. The Palestinians, who even today continue to make illegitimate claim to Israel's property, are guilty of pillaging that which does not rightfully belong to them. They seized Israel's goods and lands, just as verse 13 says.

To summarize, here is a list of several detailed characteristics of the Edomites that match the Muslim Palestinians.

(1) Violence against Jacob (v 10) "For the slaughter and violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever." (Obadiah 1:10 NRSV) "Because of the murderous history compiled against your brother Jacob..." (The Message) Is there a more fitting description than "slaughter and violence' for the way the Arabs have treated the Jews for decades, if not centuries?

(2) Celebrating disasters that befell the Jews (v 12) We have seen on this on our evening newscasts, the Palestinians partying in the streets after ghastly terror attacks. And even today, many Palestinians laud the Holocaust, wishing Hitler had finished the job.

(3) Handing over Jewish survivors in the day of their trouble (v 14) They did this in the 1930s and 1940s, forcing the British to enact laws of very little immigration during the mandate.

(4) "They entered the gates of my people" (v 13) The Palestinians took possession of land not theirs, including the Old City of Jerusalem for a time.

(5) Exhibiting an excessive arrogance, making them despised by people all over the world (v 2-4)

(6) Like an eagle (on the emblem of the Palestinian authority) (v 4)

(7) Gleefully, mockingly, reveling on God's holy hill - the Temple Mount (v 16) The Islamic preachers in the mosque there consistently spew out the worst kind of anti-Jew hate speech in their Friday sermons.

(8) Something symbolically called "Mount Esau" up on the Temple Mount - the structures there that represent the power of the Islamic deity (v 21)

(9) Israel is to finally recover much territory from them (v 19-20)

The illegitimate Palestinian claims are being made in the name of a fraudulent deity. Edom has become identified with the Islamic "god" named Allah, and this is also implied in the prophecy of Obadiah.

The evidence for this is the final verse. To quote from the JPS translation: "For liberators shall march up on Mount Zion to wreak judgment on Mount Esau."

What do we see here? Something called "Mount Esau" is up on the Temple Mount. But the Temple Mount will be liberated from this offending obstacle. Mount Esau is, I believe, the Dome of the Rock, and Al Aqsa Mosque. Some group of men will go up as liberators to "wreak judgment on Mount Esau." Those illicit edifices will be obliterated.

Mount Esau is physically located in what is today southern Jordan. But Mount Esau/Mount Seir is spiritually the evil enemy stronghold now on the Temple Mount. It is not the Temple Mount itself, but that last verse says that warriors will ascend the Temple Mount to "wreak judgment" on Mount Esau, that is, eradicating those offensive structures from God's Holy Hill.

If Mount Esau is the Islamic "holy places", this gives us clues about understanding other aspects of Obadiah. Another ally of the Palestinians, one that exerts a great deal of influence on world affairs, is also apparently alluded to in the prophecy. The Stone Edition Tanach translates verse 9 as "Your mighty ones to the south will be broken, so that every man will be cut off from the Mountain of Esau by the slaughter."

Who are the mighty ones to the south? The Saudis, keepers of the so-called "holy cities" of Mecca and Medina. They are called "mighty ones" because of their political and financial clout from the sale of oil. Since the 1920s, they have operated a scheme of virtual extortion of the Western world, forcing powerful nations to fall in line with their demands.

In verse 9, most translations don't say "south", they say Teman, which means south. Surprisingly, in Islamic theology, Teman is associated with Medina, one of their holy cities. It does not matter that the historical connection is shaky at best, what matters is the Muslims themselves make the connection. So this reinforces even more the idea that this verse is referring to the Saudis, and to the power of Islam itself.

Recall that "Mount Esau", from v 21, is apparently Al Aqsa Mosque and Dome of the Rock. So, let me propose a paraphrase of v 10: "Your mighty allies in the south, the Saudis, will be broken, and every man will be cut off from Al Aqsa."

It is indeed the Arab Muslims who have seized the Temple Mount, and it is they have committed prolonged violence against "their brother Jacob." In fact, in verse 10, where the primary charge against Edom is leveled, the root Hebrew word for "violence" there is transliterated Hamas! Hamas is the Islamic Resistance Movement, the primary Palestinian terrorist organization. This play on words, which Obadiah did not know, but God did, demonstrates His condemnation of Islamic terror against Israel.

It is not just Islam that will be the object of God's judgment, it is the entire rebellious world. Immediately after the sevenfold list of charges against Edom, the verdict is read in verses 15 and 16. This verdict, on "all the nations", implies that the whole world is culpable in the crimes against the Jews.

"The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been." (Obadiah 1:15-16 NIV)

Notice the emphasis on the Temple Mount, "my holy hill". Because this is the place where God indicated His name would dwell forever, because it is the place from which the Son will reign as King (Psalm 2:5-7), and because the nations of the world have joined forces in their evil attempts to commandeer that place, they will drink the full portion of the cup of His vindictive wrath. In the end, they will be as if they never existed.

Verses 19-20 of Obadiah are a marvelous recitation of very specific geographic promises of land recovery. Much of this land still in the hands of the Arabs, including the Gaza strip, the West Bank, portions of western Jordan in both the north and south, and portions of southern Lebanon.

These are especially interesting because they do not coincide with Israel's ultimate borders, which will extend much farther than this. Therefore, we can conclude, and this is corroborated by other prophecies, that the very detailed land repossession described in Obadiah is an interim phase, prior to what we call the Kingdom age. It's my opinion that this will be accomplished in a massive Arab/Israeli war, perhaps very soon.

The utter annihilation of Edom visualized to Obadiah was such a shock to the prophet that when writing it down, overcome with the trauma, he interrupted himself to interject "Oh, what a disaster awaits you!" (v 5) Edom would be betrayed by allies, despised by the world, covered with shame, ransacked, pillaged, obliterated. Yet it is only through God's prosecution of long-standing crimes, and the execution of justice for those crimes, that Edom's fate is determined. It is not an unjust fate.

Obadiah is not all a message of doom, as expressed by the Message Bible: "But not so on Mount Zion--there's respite there! a safe and holy place! The family of Jacob will take back their possessions from those who took them from them." (v 17) Ultimately, Obadiah is a message of recovery, restoration, and dominion.

Copyright 2004 Bob Westbrook - Use permitted with attribution and link