The Bible records that once they parted ways, Jacob remained in Canaan (and this land eventually became known as Israel after Jacob's name was changed- Gen. 35:9-15) while Esau moved on and settled in Seir (Gen. 33:1-20) which later took the name Edom. The territory of Edom was located south of the Dead Sea and northeast of the Gulf of Aquaba (modern day Jordan). It prospered from the copper mines in its mountains which were also an advantageous place to live. Whoever controlled Edom, had access to its wealth. Both Egypt and Assyria dominated this region at one time or another.
The prophet we are considering this week is Obadiah. After the lengthy collections of Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel, Obadiah's succinct one-chapter message is a nice break! But don't let its length fool you; Obadiah's message has just as much punch as the others. Obadiah's main concern is the treatment Edom has given to Israel. A survey through the Old Testament would certainly have us wondering whether or not Edom was a friend to Israel, or a foe (Gen. 33:4; Dt. 2:2-8; 2 Ki. 3:9; Am. 1:11-15; Ob. 1:10). Edom's relationship with Israel was tumultuous from the start (Gen. 25:23), continued to be antagonistic through the days of Israel's settlement (Num. 20:14-21) and eventually escalated to all-out animosity and oppression. Biblical history documents that Edom attacked Israel twice. The first time was during the reign of Jehoram (853-831 B.C.) during a revolt (2 Ki. 8:20-22; 2 Chr. 21:8-10). The second time was during the reign of Ahaziah (743-715 B.C.). Although technically "brothers" (Ob. 1:10), Edom disregarded its family ties with Israel and chose to loot Jerusalem and enslave the people (Ob. 1:12). And while Edom did not take part in the sacking of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar (825 B.C.), they apparently demonstrated their pleasure in some way over the city's demise. This behavior provoked the Lord's anger.
Obadiah, whose name means "Servant of Yahweh", is virtually unknown. The book can be divided into three segments: vv. 1-9 (which depict several geographic characteristics of Edom: homes built in the mountains, marauding band of thieves and vineyards on the mountainsides), address God's retribution for Edom's maltreatment of Israel; vv. 10-14 explain God's forthcoming judgment; and vv. 15-21 speak about a future "day" when God will judge all the nations in the same way and by the same standards as He did Edom. At that time the exiles will be able to posses the land with the territory of Judah taking center-stage. All these details are proclaimed with the confidence that they are God's word and not those of anyone else, including Obadiah (vv. 1, 4, 8, 18) so they will most assuredly come to pass.
The times that Obadiah spoke in were turbulent. Just preceding Obadiah's ministry, the good king Jehoshaphat had brought about peace and piety in Israel. However his son Jehoram did not continue on in his father's footsteps. This seems to be due to the fact that he married Jezebel's daughter Athaliah who was a carbon copy of her mother. Murder and treachery dominated the courts of Jerusalem. The chaotic destruction of the power-hungry queen was mirrored in the chaotic relationship with Edom. And yet Obadiah's closing verses indicate that God was determined to rectify this situation. It must have been difficult for Obadiah to speak forth God's word in this kind of environment. Yet his book shows that he was a devoted follower of God and therefore carried His message to the people who needed to hear it.
God's desire for His people to speak out during turbulent and corrupt times has not changed. It may be even more important today considering the turbulence and corruption we are experiencing on a global scale! Before His death and resurrection Christ told His disciples to expect opposition to the Gospel message (Matt. 10:16-33; Lk. 12:8-12) but never to fear the consequences of speaking out. And during His last time with them, Jesus encouraged them not to be afraid to speak out on His behalf for the power of the Holy Spirit would enable them to be His witnesses wherever they were (Ac. 1:8). That is encouraging news for me! I know I am timid when it comes to declaring God's truth even in the smallest of circles. I know I must speak out for Jesus but am I able to do it? Yes! If I rely on the Holy Spirit to give me the words to say as the disciples did, the outcome of my words may make a huge impact (Ac. 17:16-34). So I will strive to be an Obadiah from now on. What will you do?
Ann H. LeFevre, M. Div.
Week of June 21, 2015