I personally cannot remember a time anyone mentioned to me they were studying through Obadiah in their devotions. I cannot even remember the last time I heard a sermon on Obadiah—if at all. I am willing to bet you could say the same. Perhaps, that’s because Obadiah is hard to understand.
Lost somewhere in the dark corner of your Bible is a brief, but largely unfamiliar book called Obadiah. You may, like me, have trouble separating the pages between Amos and Jonah just to get to it. That’s because, although Obadiah is an easy read (only 21 verses long), it is in the running for the most forgotten book in our Bibles.
I personally cannot remember a time anyone mentioned to me they were studying through Obadiah in their devotions. I cannot even remember the last time I heard a sermon on Obadiah—if at all. I am willing to bet you could say the same. Perhaps, that’s because Obadiah is hard to understand. Some believers may have a difficult time finding application in a book about a mysterious nation called Edom. Why struggle through the confusing prophecy of Obadiah when you can bask in the glorious gospel of Ephesians?
But I want to challenge this assumption that Obadiah is not worth the time or the effort. I believe it deserves more attention than it gets, because it contains far more application than we realize.
That is how God has designed every book in our Bibles. Each one offers a unique contribution to the canon that informs our theology and practice in a way that is distinct from all the others. The particular situation at the time it was written creates a vacuum for God’s truth to speak into it. That truth is then sealed by inspiration to be profitable for all of God’s people afterwards (2 Timothy 3:16–17). Obadiah is no exception.
What Was Happening When Obadiah Was Written?
To uncover the profound truth within Obadiah that makes it stand out from the rest of Scripture, we first need to understand what was happening in Israel at that time that caused this prophecy to take shape. The book itself does not directly tell us what was going on, but there are good historical and literary reasons to believe that Obadiah was written in the aftermath of the Philistine-Arabian invasion of Jerusalem around 850 B.C. You can read about this event in 2 Chronicles 21:16–17. King Jehoram dragged the entire nation of Judah into such terrible idolatry that God stirred up the Philistines and Arabians to attack Jerusalem and plunder its possessions.
Judah’s defeat also allowed for a new player to enter the game. For the first time in its unimpressive history, the small nation of Edom overpowered Judah. They let the Philistines and Arabians do the heavy lifting and then shared in the spoil once the city was overrun. They pillaged its property and murdered its survivors.
This was a new low for Judah. They may not have liked what the Philistines and Arabians did to them, but they took what Edom did to them much more personally. That’s because, Edom, unlike Philistia or Arabia, has always been Israel’s archenemy.
Hundreds of years prior to the invasion, this rivalry was born. Isaac’s wife Rebekah gave birth to twins and named the older son, Esau, and the younger son, Jacob (Gen 25:21–26). Jacob would become the nation of Israel, but Esau would become the nation of Edom. God prophesied this would happen before they were born, “Two nations are in your womb; And two peoples will be separated from your body; And one people shall be stronger than the other; And the older shall serve the younger” (Genesis 25:23).
For nearly 1,000 years, this prophecy held true: Israel dominated Edom, and Edom despised Israel for it (Numbers 20:14–21). But Jehoram’s wickedness opened the door for Edom to close the gap. They rebelled against Judah’s rule and never returned to their yoke of slavery (2 Chronicles 21:8, 10).
What does any of this have to do with the importance of Obadiah?
He could choose Jacob as His people, which He did—or He could have chosen Esau. They were twins after all; there was no difference between them genetically and there would prove to be no difference between them morally, either. In theory, if one day God got tired of Jacob, He could always replace him with Esau. Edom could be God’s “Plan B,” an alternative to Israel, and Judah knows this.
For this reason, Judah was not as concerned about defeat at the hands of the Philistines or the Arabians; instead, they were worried about Edom’s newfound leverage over them: “The younger now serves the older!” they thought. “What if God has traded us for our twin?” The Philistines and Arabians may have put Judah’s life in jeopardy, but Edom put the fate of their existence on the line along with all of God’s promises. Edom posed a greater threat.
What Is Obadiah All About?
In the wake of this turmoil, Obadiah was drafted to prove the opposite. Whereas Judah feared that Edom was evidence that God no longer loved them, God demonstrates in Obadiah that Edom is the smoking gun proving that He loves them far more than they ever imagined.