This book of twenty‐one verses, the shortest in the Hebrew Bible, is formed of three distinct parts. Vv. 1–4 announce the Lord's decision to destroy Edom because of its pride and its betrayal of Judah. Vv. 15–18 announce the day of the Lord for all nations. And vv. 19–21 proclaim that the Lord's dominion will be demonstrated by the return of dispersed Israelites to live in Canaan.
The title gives us no information about the author except a name; Obadiah means “servant of the Lord.” It gives no help in dating the book, though internal references imply that the destruction of Jerusalem of 587/586 BCE had already occurred.
The book's concentration on Edom calls for a review of the relation of that country to Judah and Israel. Biblical tradition sees the Edomites as distant relatives of Israel through a common ancestor, Isaac. The Edomites are understood to be the descendants of Esau, as Israelites are descendants of Jacob (Gen. 25.19–26; 36). Already settled in Edom when Moses led the Israelites toward Canaan, they refused the Israelites passage through their territory (Num. 20.14–19). Edom and Judah were rivals for territory and power through the period of the monarchy. Although neither 2 Kings nor 2 Chronicles mentions Edom's participation in the sack of Jerusalem in 587/586 BCE, other books imply their guilt (e.g., Ps. 137.7; Lam. 4.21–22; Isa. 63.1–6; Joel 3.19; Mal. 1.4). All mention of Edom ends during the early part of the fifth century BCE, but no account of its destruction is available.
The book is called a “vision”; the books of Isaiah and Nahum share that description. It apparently describes a literary form that allows the readers to hear God announcing his decisions relating to history. All the forms are highly dramatic and include insights into the happenings of the heavenly court where the Lord reigns.
Obadiah's position among the Minor Prophets is stable in most texts. It is a pivotal book in the ascending scale toward Micah in the center. It is an exponent of the return‐from‐exile style of eschatology (vv. 19–21), also found in Amos 9, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel. This contrasts with the view in Hosea, Joel, and the books after Micah, in which the future of Israel is seen as being a worshiping people among the empires, hoping for a rebuilt Temple but not expecting a return to political power.
The first part of the book (vv. 1–18) proclaims the Lord's readiness to exact retribution from Edom for wrongs done to Judah, her neighbor.
The last section (vv. 19–21) proclaims the hope that the kingdom of God will be established, that the dispersed people of Israel and Judah will return to their homelands, and that they will have power over their neighbors, especially Edom.
The central message of the book is found in v. 21: the dominion of God is sure and secure. The book should be read in the context of the Minor Prophets and of Isaiah, for Obadiah's views are balanced by Habakkuk and other books from Micah through Malachi. They put much more emphasis on the future Israel's worship of the Lord in Jerusalem than on political power over others.
John D. W. Watts