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.
Without Obadiah, our Christian faith would be woefully deficient
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?
When Jacob and Esau were conceived, God had a choice
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.
It is important that we view Obadiah through this lens. The prophecy may have been addressed to Edom (v. 1), but it would have been read by Judah. It was not meant to be a warning to Edom as much as it was meant to be encouragement to Judah.
Obadiah is not just about judgment;
it is about God’s unwavering love through His use of judgment
The book is organized around this theme by answering three key questions Judah would be asking: How far will God’s love go (vv. 1–9), how long will God’s love last (vv. 10–16), and how good will God’s love get (vv. 17–21)?
How Far Will God’s Love Go? (vv. 1–9)
At this moment, Judah is devastated and left wondering, “God claims to love us, but is His love really that strong?” In other words, “How far will God’s love go?” Judah needs to know that God still loves them, not Edom. The best way to communicate his love is to prophesy in graphic detail how God plans to obliterate their challenger.
After announcing Edom’s demise (vv. 1–2), God targets Edom’s top three strengths: security, wealth, and reputation. Edom relied on their impenetrable cities nestled high in the mountains, their excessive riches gained from international trading, and the depth of their intelligence accumulated by global connections and alliances. But God turned Edom’s strengths into weaknesses. He promised to drag them down from their cities (vv. 3–4), to pillage their land until there is nothing left (vv. 5–6), and to strip them of their dignity by the same allies they trusted (vv. 7–9).
This is the extent to which God is willing to go to show just how much He loves His people.
God is willing to take what could have been His “Plan B” and raze it to the ground
When Judah sees how far Edom will fall, how much Edom will lose, and how great Edom will suffer, they will realize just how far God’s love for them will go: There is no extent to which God’s love will not go.
How Long Will God’s Love Last? (vv. 10–16)
At this point, Judah may be tempted to think, “God may love us this much now, but will He always love us this way?” In other words, “How long will God’s love last?” For this reason, Obadiah takes a panoramic picture of Edom’s fate from now until the end of time to show that God’s love will never fade. He lists three historical moments where Edom oppresses Judah: the current time, the immediate future, and the distant future.
The current time reflects the Philistine-Arabian attack on Jerusalem that just took place (vv. 10–11). The immediate future anticipates a time when Edom will be tempted to join another raiding party all over again (vv. 12–14). We know from history that this event will turn out to be the Babylonian exile in 586 B.C. The distant future marks a time that has yet to happen when Edom will strike one final blow to Jerusalem (vv. 15–16). It is at this moment that God will utterly destroy Edom along with all of Judah’s enemies during the great and terrible Day of the Lord.
From beginning to end, the message has never changed: God will hold Edom accountable for mistreating God’s chosen son. Judah needs to understand that each successive victory for Edom does not diminish God’s love for them; it only intensifies it. When Judah sees how angry God is at Edom today, how serious God takes what Edom will do tomorrow, and how vindictive God will act toward Edom in the future, they will realize just how long God’s love for them will last: There is no test of time God’s love will not endure.
How Good Will God’s Love Get? (vv. 17–21)
But perhaps Judah is still not convinced. They may argue, “God may not love Edom like we thought, but it certainly does not look like He loves us either. How do we know God’s wrath against Edom is a demonstration of His love toward us?” In other words, “How good will God’s love get?” Obadiah, therefore, turns his attention to Judah directly and lists two pairs of categories of benefits Judah will receive as a direct result of Edom’s destruction: spiritual and physical benefits, and individual and communal benefits.
On the one hand, Judah will escape God’s wrath during the Day of the Lord, because God will make them holy (v. 17a). But, on the other hand, Judah will also acquire all of Edom’s material possessions (17b). God will meet both their spiritual and physical needs. Similarly, on the one hand, Judah will reduce Edom to nothing; they will leave no survivor (v. 18). But, on the other hand, Judah will also enlarge its own territory (vv. 19–20).
God will satisfy both individual and communal needs
When all is said and done, all of Israel will forever stand as the unanimous victor over Edom, because the kingdom will belong to the Lord and to those whom He loves (v. 21).
How good will God’s love get? God’s love will permanently reshape every aspect of the lives of His people. When Judah sees how much they will gain spiritually and physically or how much things will change individually and communally, they will realize just how good God’s love for them will get: There is nothing better God’s love will not give.
Why Is Obadiah Important for the Church?
What makes Obadiah a unique addition to our Bibles? It reveals to us a new ingredient in God’s character: His love is unwavering. Faced with the option of exchanging a corrupted people for a brand-new model (Edom), God did not hesitate to squash the model in order to prove His undivided loyalty to Judah (Malachi 1:2–5). There is no extent to which His love will not go. There is no test of time His love will not endure. There is nothing better His love will not give. There simply is nothing that can separate Judah from God’s love.
This is what makes Obadiah a timeless, indispensable contribution not only to our canon, but even to our Christian lives. Romans 8:38–39 agrees:
For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
How far did God’s love go? He sent His one and only Son to die in our place (Romans 5:8). How long will God’s love last? It will carry on for all eternity (Romans 6:23). How good does God’s love get? It offers salvation, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation, sanctification, and glorification, to name just a few of its countless benefits (Romans 8:29–30).
We can trust that the kind of unwavering love God has for Judah is the same kind of unwavering love He has for you and me. When you face adversity that makes you believe that God has stopped loving you, remember Obadiah: God’s love never wavers.