Obadiah means “servant of Jehovah,”and there are a number of men in the old testament by this name, including one godly man who was a servant to the wicked king Ahab. This man hid one hundred prophets in a cave when Queen Jezebel was trying to murder them (1 Kings 18:3-16). There is no way to know if this is the man who penned the book of this name, for the Bible says nothing about him; no family name, no hometown, nothing of his life.
Obadiah foretells doom and destruction for the nation of Edom while promising that the house of Jacob would eventually be restored. The people of Edom were descendants of Esau (thus, “cousins” of Israel) and even though Jacob and Esau eventually made peace (Genesis 33:1-17). Their descendants, however, fought continually; their national relationship was marked by fear, hatred, envy, and resentment.
When the nation of Judah was conquered by the Babylonians in 586 B.C., the Edomites rejoiced (Ezekiel 25:12-14; Joel 3:19; Obadiah 11-12) and worked to head off those who tried to escape Jerusalem (verse 14). After it fell, they plundered the city’s ruins (verse 13). Though they were a relatively insignificant nation, God remembered their jealousy and bitter hatred of Israel and did not leave their sins unpunished!
Obadiah begins his message by noting that God has “sent an envoy to all nations” to cause them to “rise up against [Edom] in battle.”Notice how God includes Himself in this matter, as if He is one among the nations who will act against Edom. Obadiah relates the true status of Edom in the world, along with their sins. He does not mention Israel until verse 10, but it is clear that Edom’s hatred toward them is not God’s only grievance against them. His awareness of their sins shows us that God is aware of and active toward all peoples and nations, not just Israel (or now, the church).
Pride heads the list of Edom’s national sins. Their pride caused a false sense of security, leading them to believe that no consequence of their selfishness could affect them. “Dwelling in the rock” evidently refers mainly to their fortified cities. The seeds of their destruction were planted by their own arrogant confidence that they were safe in spite of their sins. They discounted the God they should have known and obeyed.
Obadiah’s second charge (in verse 5), that “thieves would steal only enough”implies that the Edomites’ greed had no limits. The prophet’s words warn them that all their treasures –even their most precious, hidden riches –would be plundered and taken, leaving them wretched and destitute. Unrighteous rulership challenges a people to “rise above” their leaders, to establish justice in spite of them. Even civil rulers are responsible be-fore God (Romans 13:3-6). Civil power imposes the obligation to establish and encourage genuine justice and morality (Proverbs 21:1-3); it is never a license to legitimize sin.
Verse 10 links Edom’s judgement to the evil they had done to the house of Jacob. The Lord’s retribution against them is for them to be “cut off forever.” This singles them out (in verses 11-14) for “special attention” as the Lord judges all the nations. They had plundered their own brethren, and would learn by bitter experience the truth of Numbers 32:23 –when we sin against God our sins will“find us out.”
n contrast to God’s judgement against Edom, the comforting words of verses 17-21 give the remnant of God’s people a reason for hope. Obadiah provides a superb illustration of God’s law of “sowing and reaping” (Galatians 6:7-9, cf. Hosea 8:7), and reveals the destiny of Jacob’s and Esau’s descendants as opposites not only of one another, but also as the opposite of what the Edomites would desire and expect. Obadiah holds out no hope for the descendants of Esau, but he concludes with words of comfort for the captive Jews, promising that they would return to their land.