Neglected Books of the Old Testament: Obadiah
The Book of Obadiah is one of the shortest books in the Bible—only 21 verses long—and is one of the few Old Testament books not read in the Mass. You will find the book between the Book of Amos and the Book of Jonah in your Bibles.
The background to the book is Judah’s relationship with neighbouring Edom, a kingdom which was situated at the southern end of the Dead Sea, southeast of Judah, and southwest of Moab, now part of the territories of the State of Israel, and the Hashemite Kingdom of Jordan. In Genesis 25:23, in Rebekah’s dialogue with the Lord, she is told that in her womb were “two nations… two peoples” which would be divided, “the one shall be stronger than the other, the old shall serve the younger”; the two being referred to are Esau and Jacob, the fathers of Edom and Judah respectively (Edom means ‘red’ in Hebrew, alluding to the account of Esau in Genesis 25:25 being born ‘red’; also perhaps a reference to the reddish mountains of the kingdom). As the verse from Genesis suggests, relations between the two were not harmonious. Numbers 20:14-21 tells us of how Edom refused passage to Israel during the exodus. Furthermore, Edom is associated with burning the Jerusalem temple and the destruction of the city, as 1 Esdras 4:45-47 suggests, but the historicity of this is disputed among scholars. Nonetheless this sets the background behind the message of the Book of Obadiah.
The book’s message is essentially the destruction of Edom: “Will I not on that day, says the Lord, destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of Mount Esau?” (Obad. v. 8); “there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau; for the Lord has spoken” (v. 18). Edom’s fate is due to the violence done on its part to its brother Jacob—Judah—the Lord’s chosen one (cf. v. 10).
Ultimately the message of Obadiah is that the Lord will not let his people’s enemies escape punishment. In justice the Lord will hold them to account. What the Edomites inflict upon the Lord’s true worshippers (the name ‘Obadiah’ means ‘worshipper of the YHWH/the Lord), will be done unto them too, with the added punishment of never rising again. The message is a reminder that God is faithful to his people and that all that rightly belongs to her shall be given her.