The message that Obadiah brings to Judah, the southern kingdom, comes to him in a vision. He speaks for God here. The message concerns Edom. Edom is the name of the descendants of Esau. I always remember that this is a prophecy of judgment on Edom by the saying, “Edom was bad, so God sent Obadiah.” The emphasis is the saying in on the word “bad.” Esau was Jacob’s twin brother. Their struggle began in Rebekah’s womb. They contended with each other having different interests in life, and Jacob tricked their father Isaac into bestowing on him the family blessing, which generally would have been Esau’s. Jacob fled from his brother for his life to Haran, where he married Rachel and Leah and brought the twelve patriarchs into the world. Their animosity kept them apart even when Jacob moved back to the promised land. There seems to have been a continual struggle between Judah and Israel against their distant relatives, the Edomites. Ogilvie describes the Edomites, “They were a hard, earthy people, proud, cruel, and fierce. There is no evidence that they had any religion. Their problem was not syncretism with other gods; they had no gods at all. The only thing that bordered on religious fervor was their concentrated, persistent, bitter hatred against Israel. They fostered and perpetuated an implacable feud with the descendants of Jacob that was expressed repeatedly throughout the evolving history of the two nations.”[1]

Edom was bad throughout the history of their relationship with Israel. This specific time most likely refers to Jerusalem’s destruction and the Temple’s dismantling. The Babylonians were instruments in God’s hands in judging Judah, just as the Assyrians were instruments in God’s hands in judging the northern kingdom of Israel. But while the Babylonians were killing and enslaving the Judeans, some were fleeing for their lives. A contingent escaped into Egypt before the Babylonian Army enslaved them. But Edom would attack those fleeing Jerusalem and kill the stragglers. The Apocryphal book of Esdras says that the Edomites even helped destroy the Temple. This moved God to bring similar judgment on Edom. They would not be excused from their cruelty to those fleeing for their lives. Edom would be held accountable. As descendants of Esau, Edom were relatives of Judeans, the descendants of his brother Jacob. God thought it particularly appalling that a brother would attack another brother when they most needed help. Kicking your enemy when they are down is not pleasing to God. God sent Obadiah to tell Edom they had not escaped God’s judgment. “The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom: We have heard a report from the Lord, and a messenger has been sent among the nations: ‘Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!’”

God is truly sovereign over all nations. Bridger says, “God is not at work in some things in history but in all of history; in all its events, processes, agents and actors.” All the nations are tools He uses to accomplish his will, “in war and peace, in the rise and fall of Empires, in the powerful and the powerless, in all things both good and bad. The decisive thing however is that it is God acting always in his own character; the One who is holy and just, wise and good.”[2] We do not always understand what God is doing and why, but we are called to live by faith. We are called to trust God to be working all “things together for good for those who love God and are called according to His purpose,” as Paul says in Romans 8:28.

[1] Ogilvie, Lloyd J., and Lloyd J. Ogilvie. 1990. Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah. Vol. 22. The Preacher’s Commentary Series. Nashville, TN: Thomas Nelson Inc.

[2] Bridger, Gordon. 2010. The Message of Obadiah, Nahum and Zephaniah: The Kindness and Severity of God. Edited by Alec Motyer and Derek Tidball. The Bible Speaks Today. Nottingham, England: Inter-Varsity Press.