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God’s Word for You

Obadiah 1a The vision of Obadiah

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 13, 2018


Obadiah is more like the major prophets than many of the minor prophets. His book “flows in the mainstream of Israelite prophetic tradition,” which means that for us, a quick study of Obadiah can be a quick review of the main themes of many of the Old Testament prophetic books. The book is short—just 21 verses (Haggai has 38), yet it is part poetry (verses 1b-18) and part prose (verses 1a and 19-21). The prophets who wrote in poetic form utilized a standard form of poetry: parallelism. This is the easiest kind of poetry to translate into another language because it almost never depends on rhyme and rarely does it depend very much on its meter or rhythm.

There are some themes in the book that will be familiar to us. Obadiah covers a remarkable amount of geography (about 15 different locations are mentioned), and he refers to Jacob and Edom (Esau), which takes us back into the Jacob-Esau story in Genesis 25-36 and helps to set up Malachi’s “Jacob I loved; Esau I hated” (Malachi 1:2-3) which Paul takes up in Romans 9:13ff.

Obadiah’s imagery is focused on local features (eagles and their nests, the mountains of Edom, etc.) which were known both to the author and those who knew the territory of Edom. Did the prophet mean for his words to be read by the Edomites? This is a question we will reserve for later.

Outline of the Book:

I, The Lord pronounces doom for Edom (1-4)
II, The Lord pronounces doom for Edom a second time (5-7)
III, The Lord pronounces doom for Edom a third time (8-18)
  A, Accusation and warning to Edom (8-15)
  B, Restoration and victory for Judah (16-18)
IV, Israel restored: the LORD will be king (the Messiah) (19-21)


The vision of Obadiah.

Who was Obadiah? His name means “Servant of the LORD.” There are ten or twelve different Obadiahs in the Bible, depending on how you count them. A couple of them are mentioned in late books (Ezra 8:9; Nehemiah 10:5 and 12:25), but the rest are either in 1 Kings 18 or scattered throughout 1-2 Chronicles. The ancient church felt that the one in 1 Kings 18 was probably the one who wrote this book. That Obadiah hid a hundred prophets from bad King Ahab in some caves, supplying them with food and water. This was in the time of Elijah (1 Kings 18:4). However, that Obadiah also calls Elijah “you troubler of Israel” (1 Kings 18:17). We don’t really know anything about this author.

Could he be a contemporary of Jeremiah? This question is raised because a couple of passages (1-4 and 5-6) are similar to Jeremiah 49:14-16 and 49:9-10. This is the same chicken-and-egg question that gets raised with Jude and 2 Peter chapter 2. The Greek tenses in Jude (present) and 2 Peter (future) help us to figure out the relationship of those two letters (not to mention Jude 3, where he admits he’s not writing the letter he wanted to write, but had to dash something off more quickly). Does something like this help us to see the relationship between Jeremiah 49 and Obadiah? Some think it does. But there are some important factors to consider:

  • Jeremiah’s themes and vocabulary in chapter 49 are “thoroughly at home in the book of Jeremiah and need not be considered later editorial insertions” (Raabe).
  • Jeremiah’s ‘Edom Oracle’ does not accuse Edom of sins and crimes against Judah but Obadiah does.
  • Jeremiah 49:12 speaks of Jerusalem / Judah drinking the cup of wrath in the future tense, but Obadiah 16 places this in the past tense.
  • Without Jeremiah 49, Obadiah 16 seems almost unintelligible.
  • Other Jeremiah verses, 38:22 and 49:7, are also echoed Obadiah 7 and 8.
  • All of these interdependencies make a possible third source quite unlikely, and a dependence of Obadiah on Jeremiah (i.e., Obadiah written later) seem more likely. Paul Raabe (LCMS Pastor and author of the Anchor Bible commentary on Obadiah) and Martin Luther hold this position.

However, all commentaries on Obadiah fail to take into account the first word of the book when pursuing this question. Is the book a reworking of some other material? If so, can Obadiah call his book his “vision” in the true prophetic sense? I think that we need to allow the text of the book speak, and set aside this (admittedly interesting) discussion. In the case of Obadiah, we must not question where the words came from, but firmly believe that they came from God himself.

This leaves our question about who Obadiah was in the wind. We don’t know. The Hebrew order of the Minor Prophets suggests that the rabbis felt he lived before recent memory, and they didn’t associate him with Jeremiah at all. In fact, they put him with or before Jonah, a contemporary of Elijah and Elisha. So, maybe he really did live long before the exile, or maybe he lived through it. What we have is his text, not his biography.

The word “vision” (hazon) is a thing seen in a kind of ecstatic state, different from a dream. The boy Samuel saw one at a time “when there were not many visions” and he was afraid to tell his master about it (1 Samuel 3:1, 15). Isaiah uses “vision” as the title of his book (Isaiah 1:1) and Nahum uses it for a kind of subtitle (Nahum 1:1). Daniel had visions (Daniel 2:19) and Ezekiel, too (Ezekiel 7:13), but Jeremiah says that in his time they were rare (Jeremiah 14:14) and that the true prophets “no longer find visions from the Lord” (Lamentations 2:9, a hint at least that Obadiah is not from the time of Jeremiah at all).

A vision might be accompanied by physical manifestations: “At this, my body is racked with pain, pangs seize me, like those of a woman in labor; I am staggered by what I hear, I am bewildered by what I see. My heart falters, fear makes me tremble; the twilight I longed for has become a horror to me” (Isaiah 21:3-4).

Habakkuk was told to record his vision “so that a herald may run with it.” So sometimes visions may have been private (Job 33:15-18), but other times they were meant for everyone to hear.

The vision here in Obadiah is for everyone to hear. Here in this little book, the Law of God will condemn proud hearts and call them to stop sinning. Here in Obadiah, the Gospel of God will be proclaimed in the thrill of God’s grace. One of my professors once told us to paint hell black with our preaching and to paint heaven a brilliant white, and Obadiah does both of these things. These few words are quick to read, and that’s a blessing. But we mustn’t let the brevity of the Old Testament’s shortest book lead us to think that it isn’t wonderful or meaningful. There are not pages to unfold here; only paragraphs, but they are, every one of them, the holy word of God.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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