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‘Ovadyah HaNavi’


‘Ovadyah [Obadiah] is the shortest book in the TaNaKh book with only twenty-one verses.  It was probably written shortly after the fall of Judah and Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 587 b.c.e. (see Melakhim Beit [II Kings] 25). The author, unknown apart from his name heading this message from God, brings hope to God’s people who have been devastated by the recent events.

Hope envelops the book even in identifying the source of the message as "YHWH" in the first and last verses (see also verses 4, 8, 15, and 18).  Judah, facing a destroyed capital and deposed king, feared that YHWH had forgotten or abandoned them because of their sins. Imagine their relief when He addressed them in this message. He is still their God, and they are still His people in spite of their sin.

‘Ovadyah also provided the people concrete hope in that he declared the defeat of a perennial enemy, Edom. The Edomites were related to the Israelites - as descendants of ‘Esaw [Esau], brother of Ya‘aqov Avinu [our father Jacob] (Bere’shit 36, especially verses 1 and 9) - though they did not get along well with each other during most of their history. Edom gave Israel trouble during their wanderings in the wilderness, and often during the monarchy.

Edom is the subject of the first part of ‘Ovadyah. Though considering itself impregnable due to its geographical setting in the inaccessible mountain crags of Transjordan (verse 3), it is not able to escape the wrath of its most powerful enemy. God will repay their pride in thinking that they are so secure they can blatantly oppose His people without reprisal (verse 4). It seems from the prophecy itself that Edom had not only stood by while Judah was under attack, but had gloated over its plight, even entering the capital, possibly to plunder, and also had turned over refugees to the conquerors in cold-blooded disregard for kinship loyalty (verses 11-14).

God promised not to leave Judah unavenged, but swiftly acted in judgment. Within the century, Edom’s fortunes started to slide, finally losing its land to the Arabs, though its ethnic presence is still evident in southern Transjordan and Israel, even in the later name of the Negev region in southern Israel into which it had expanded as Idumaea).

This response of judgment shows that opposition to God, whether direct or indirect, as here with the Edomites acting against His chosen people, will not go unnoticed. God, who is just and holy, takes appropriate action in His time. God’s punishment of its enemies brought some measure of comfort and vindication to Israel.

The second part of the book (from verse 15) shifts from a focus on Edom to the whole world. Edom is an example of God ultimately calling all nations to account for their deeds. As a day of judgment comes for Edom (verse 8), a wider-scale day of YHWH (verse 15) will bring judgment for all.

Punishment is closely related to the wrongdoing that caused it. The proud (verse 2) face humiliation (verse 3) and those who watched the looting of their neighbour (verses 11-14) will suffer the same fate themselves (verses 5-9). Those who endanger survivors of destruction (verse 14) will have no survivors themselves (verse 18); those who drive their kin from home and land (verse 14) will themselves be driven out (verses 7 and 19). This theological principle of lex talionis, or a crime resulting in a related and appropriate punishment, is specifically stated in verse 15. Common in the TaNaKh, it shows that judgment is not capricious, brought simply by the whim of a fickle God. It follows the breach of a known law. This punishment then provides security for the followers of a God who reveals Himself.