by Al Maxey


The name Obadiah means "Servant of Yahweh" (literally -- "One who serves or worships Jehovah"). This prophecy has the distinction of being the shortest book in the OT. There are twelve different individuals in the OT with this name (a very common name), but no indication that any of these other individuals are to be identified with this particular prophet.

Nothing is known about his life, background or personality except what little can be inferred from this prophecy. It is assumed that he was a native of Judah. Others feel he may also have been among the circle of prophets attached to the Jerusalem Temple. The Jewish Talmud states Obadiah was not Jewish, but rather an Edomite proselyte God used to rebuke his own people.


In addition to being the shortest book in the OT, Obadiah also "bears the distinction of being the most difficult of all the prophecies to date" (Gleason Archer). His work is ascribed to periods ranging from 845 to 400 BC. There are two major theories:

  1. 585 BC --- This is the view held by most liberal scholars. It places this prophecy about a year after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians.

  2. 845 BC --- This is the view held by "a good majority of the evangelical scholars of the 19th and 20th centuries" (Archer). It places the prophecy during the days of King Jehoram (848 - 841 BC) when Jerusalem was attacked by the Philistines and Arabians (with probable cooperation from the Edomites --- II Kings 8:20; II Chron. 21:8-10, 16-17). This view seems to be the most probable. (For an excellent defense of this position see -- A Survey of OT Introduction, by Gleason L. Archer, Jr., p. 299-303, and A Commentary on the Minor Prophets, by Homer Hailey, p. 28-29.)


This is one of seven OT books which is not quoted in the pages of the NT. However, there are obvious relationships with several other OT books:


This prophecy is against the people of Edom. The Edomites were descendants of Esau (Genesis 36:8-9), whereas the Israelites were descendants of Jacob, the twin brother of Esau. Thus, the peoples were very closely related.

From the very beginning there was enmity between these two brethren --- an enmity which carried over to the nations which descended from them.

The people of Edom were continually filled with hatred for Israel. Speaking of these people, Amos 1:11 says, "he pursued his brother with the sword, while he stifled his compassion; his anger also tore continually, and he maintained his fury forever." As a result, Malachi 1:3-4 says that the Lord would utterly destroy the Edomites. They had become the people "toward whom the Lord is indignant forever!"

During their later history the Nabatean Arabs took over the territory of Edom and drove them from their land. They fled to the area south of the Dead Sea, and in time came to be known as the Idumaeans. Around 120 BC they were conquered by John Hyrcanus of the Maccabees, who forced many of them to be circumcised and to accept the Law of Moses.

During the trial of Jesus Christ we see the final confrontation --- Jesus (a descendant of Jacob) stood before King Herod (a descendant of Esau).

"By 100 AD the people of Edom had become lost to history" (Homer Hailey). "If you travel today in the region of Edom, you will find nothing but the most stark wilderness and the most isolated emptiness ..... it is one of the most formidable, forsaken spots on earth" (Briscoe). They will "become as if they had never existed!" (Obad. 16).


The city of Jerusalem had been attacked by the Philistines and Arabians. The city had been stormed and looted. Edom, who was in a state of revolt, sided with the invading forces and shared in the spoils (Obad. 11). They gloated over Israel's misfortune (Obad. 12-13), and killed or imprisoned those who fled the destruction (Obad. 14).


This book is structured around two major themes:

  1. The destruction of Edom --- also referred to as Esau and Teman

  2. The vindication of Judah --- also referred to as Jacob, Jerusalem, and Mount Zion

The use of Jacob and Esau in particular, along with such phrases as "your brother," draws attention to the blood relationship between these two nations. "It is the violation of these ties that occasion both Obadiah's denunciation of Edom and the necessity for Judah's restoration" (Expositor's Bible Commentary).