Quarrels between family members certainly rank among the most divisive and intense of arguments. When passions go unchecked, even minor issues can become reasons for brothers and sisters, parents and children, and other family members never to speak to one another again. An ancient family quarrel forms the background for the next book in our year-long study, Obadiah.
Obadiah’s prophecy against Edom for its treatment of Judah must be seen in the context of the traditional rivalry between the two nations. This rivalry goes all the way back to the patriarchal period and the Lord’s word that Rebekah’s two sons would be at odds with one another (Gen. 25:19–28). Indeed, Jacob and Esau routinely battled: the younger, scheming brother regularly took advantage of the older brother, whose passions were controlled by his appetite and not the fear of the Lord (vv. 29–34; 27:1–45). Although Jacob and Esau eventually reached a reconciliation of sorts (chap. 33), their descendants never fully got along. Edom, made up of Esau’s offspring, was particularly embittered toward Israel and Judah, the people descended from Jacob. The Edomites even refused the wandering Israelites the right to pass through their country after the exodus (Num. 20:14–21). Sadly, two nations that were supposed to be brothers hated one another.
God’s judgment on Edom’s maltreatment of Judah is the theme of the book of Obadiah. In a culture that prized hospitality, Edom’s refusal to show empathy or to assist its brother Judah during an invasion of Jerusalem was particularly heinous (Obad. 10–11). The precise invasion that prompted Obadiah to write is hard to identify. A variety of different dates have been suggested, but it is impossible to be certain regarding when Obadiah ministered. All we know about the prophet is that his name means “the Lord’s servant,” and the book itself does not identify its historical circumstances precisely. Since Obadiah describes the calamity of Jerusalem (v. 13), we are dating the book at the time of the exile of Judah into Babylon, which would have provided Judah’s hateful older brother a good opportunity to rejoice in his misfortune (2 Kings 25:1–21).
Although Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, its prophecy of Edom’s fall is a great comfort. It reminds God’s people that the Lord will not long tolerate their enemies. All who stand against the saints impenitently will be “utterly despised” (Obad. 2).