Study of the Prophets: Class #9 Obadiah (Introduction)
We now go from the 8th century prophecies of Amos, to the 9th century prophecies of Obadiah. Although Obadiah precisely dates himself, and there is a difference of opinion among scholars as to the exact time, the evidence favors 9th century. It is likely that Obadiah prophesied during the reigns of Jehoram and Joash, the two kings of Judah. One event that helps us determine the time of Obadiah’s ministry concerns the destruction of Jerusalem shortly before the writing of Obadiah’s book, which was accompanied by a time of mockery by the Edomites who lived south of Jerusalem. The book is written concerning Edom which has profound significance to the future of Edom (Rome) and the Catholic Church. Verse 11 of Obadiah speaks of the Edomites in this way: “ In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast one of them.”
This type of situation occurred three times in the history of Judah. The first was during the reign of Jehoram (853-841 B.C.E.) Edom revolted against Judah during this time (II Kings 8:20-22; II Chron. 21:8-10), and Arabians and Philistines severely devastated the land (II Chron. 21:16, 17). A second occasion occurred during the reign of Ahaz (743-715 B.C.E). This time Edom was involved in an attack against Judah (II Chron. 28:16, 17). , and there was an invasion by the Philistines (II Chron. 28:18.). The third time occurred in 586 B.C.E when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem. On this occasion the city suffered devas- tation but there east no direct attack from Edom. Nevertheless, Edom was happy to see the Judean destruction at the hands of the Babylonians (Ps. 137:7).
Of the three times aforementioned, the one having most commend is the one involving Jehoram. The attack of the Arabians and Philistines was severe and fits I with Obadiah’s description. It is stated that this combined enemy “came up into Judah, and brake into it, and carried away all the substance that was found in the king’s house, and his sons also, and his wives; so that there was never a son left him save Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons” (II Chron.21:17). In respect to Edom, the indication is that “the Edomites revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day” (v.10).
Another source of evidence that Obadiah was written in the 9th century is found in the order in which the book is located in the Minor Prophets as arranged in the Old Testament. It falls among the first six of these prophets, all of which date either in the 9th or 8th century. Those that follow come from the seventh century, the exile, and after the exile. This arrangement would be peculiar if Obadiah were written as late as the time of the exile.
With the established time of the writing of the book of Obadiah established as in the 9th century, we can describe the setting. It was a time of great unrest and turmoil. Jehoram was the king and the son of Jehosaphat who was a good king but married Jehoram to Athaliah, daughter of Ahab and Jezebel, most likely because of an existing alliance between Judah and Israel (I King 22:44;II Chron.18:1;21:6;22:3,4,10). This union was detrimental to Jehoram and Judah, just as the marriage of Ahab to Jezebel had worked to the detriment of Ahab and Israel. No longer were the honest ways of Jehoshaphat followed. Instead, Jehoram allowed Baal worship in all of its degradation to infiltrate and defile the land. What’s worse, he killed all of his brothers in order to assure his continued reign (II Chron. 21:4), most likely the influence of Athaliah. He was the only king in either Judah or Israel to do such a thing. It followed the pattern of Abimelech in the days when the judges, when he killed his 70 brothers to secure his own throne. Athaliah’s influence in this is strongly suggested by her own actions a few years later when she killed every one of her own grandchildren in order to seize the throne of Judah for herself (II Chron. 22:10).
Just as is happening in America today, G-d withdrew His blessing from the people and permitted the inroads of the enemies previously mentioned. Edom had been brought under Juda’s control by Jehoshaphat, but now the country revolted and became independent again. Then the invasion of the Arabians and the Philistines was devastating. This combined enemy actually entered the king’s house carried away all the wealth, captured his two wives, and all his sons except Jehoahaz (Ahaziah). This removed all possibility that any of these sons would someday assume the throne. When Ahaziah was later killed while visiting in Israel (II Kings 9:27-29), Athaliah, knowing that the only possible heirs were her grandchildren, killed them. Leaving her as the only possible heir.
The specific time in Jehoram’s reign when Obadiah wrote his book is probably best placed shortly after the destruction brought on by the Arabians and Philistines. This would account for the prominent place Obadiah gives to this event. However, his general ministry would have preceded and followed this particular narrative. He may have ministered during the wonderful reign of Jehoshaphat, at a time when G-d’s ways were adhered to by the people. If this is true, it would have made the contrasting activity of Jehoram and Athaliah all the more shocking. We may get somewhat of a glimpse into the contrast by examining the 1950s in America, compared to the social philosophy now. And we have not yet even experienced the punishments that are to follow for our society’s rebellion against G-d’s Torah. It may even be possible that Obadiah ministered at least part of the time of Athaliah’s reign, observing her wickedness first-hand.
There is little known about Obadiah’s personal life or his work. There is a possibility that he was the same Obadiah who was a chirf officer under Ahab. This officer appears in the biblical account as a person whom Elijah met when her returned to Israel and living in Zarephath (I Kings 18:3-16). The date for the two Obadiah’s makes this identification at least a possibility, for both men lived at about the same time, in the middle of the 9th century. However, there are two arguments that seem to negate the first option. One is that Obadiah of Ahab’s reign lived in the northern kingdom, and the Obadiah who wrote the book probably lived in the southern kingdom. The second argument is that the two contrast in character. The Obadiah who met Elijah did not offer to help Elijah and was quite unsympathetic to Elijah’s cause. The Obadiah who wrote the book was used of G-d to write his book. If the two were the same, there had to be a radical change of heart after meeting Elijah, which is admittedly possible, if not probable.
It is safe to say that the Obadiah who wrote the book was a follower of G-d. His writings confirm this statement. The theme of the book foretells a coming punishment of Edom. However, the sin of the Edomites that incur this punishment is that of continued violence against her brother Jacob/Israel; G-d’s Chosen People that continues to this day. G-d will defend His own honor, despised by Edom as evidenced by their attack then and now on Israel. God would bring destruction upon Edom as Edom brought destruction upon Jerusalem (.15). In contrast, Obadiah write that there would be deliverance and holiness for Zion, as the house of Jacob would possess all her possessions (v.17). Amazingly, this has not happened yet, but it will happen at G-d’s appointed time, just as di all the prophecies in G-d’s Torah.
Obadiah was also knowledgeable of the world around him. He knew of Edom, what they had done, and he was very interested in what G-d was going to do to them in return. He had much knowledge of current events outside of Judah and Jerusalem. This should prompt us to also become aware of our political and global surroundings. None of the prophets buried their heads in the sand and hoped for the best. None of them were narrow-minded with limited knowledge of their surroundings. No, they took an interest in what was going on around them; how else could they be ready for the task G-d would bestow upon them? We all must prepare ourselves diligently to be able to accept any opportunity G-d may present. He prepares us by calling us out, encouraging and leading us, refining and chastising us; but we must not rebel or become slothful in our Torah study and lifestyle. We must accept our challenges and opportunities with joy, knowing that G-d is the One who places us where He will for His ultimate glory. So did the prophets follow G-d and subject themselves to His will, whatever it might be. I am certain they must have had concerns about prophesying in such hostile environments. Remember, it is in the darkest hour that the light often shines the brightest. In times of unrest and turmoil, people such as Obadiah can provide the greatest contrast, unpopular as it may be. Obadiah was well prepared for his task as he evidently took advantage of any information concerning world affairs that was available.
It is interesting that although he lived during a time of unrest and rebellion in his homeland, he did not address the sins in his immediate geographical area as did prophets such as Amos. G-d specifically inspired Obadiah to address his prophesies to Edom. Surely, Obadiah was very verbal in is protests. He no doubtedly engaged in preaching at the gates of the city and contacted specific individuals, calling on them to conform toe G-d’s will. He may even have reprimanded Jehoram himself, ignoring the potential danger from Athaliah. It would be interesting to learn more of his oral ministry, but G-d chose not to have this area of his life documented in scripture.
As in introductory summary, the book of Obadiah is as follows:
Discussing the coming destruction of Edom (vv. 1-9) due to Edom’s attitude and behavior towards Judah (vv.10-14):
I. The prediction of Edom’s destruction (1-9)
II. The cause of Edom’s downfall; attitude and behavior towards Israel (10-14)
III. The Day of the L-rd (15-21).
Next week we will get into specifics starting with Chapter 1
• Credit for much of the information in this teaching is given to Leon J. Wood, the author of “The prophets of Israel” 1979. And others who have contributed to the body of knowledge concerning the prophets of Israel.
May HaShem be glorified through this teaching and the learning of those who seek to follow the G-d of Avraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
Rabbi Tamah Davis