Introduction to Obadiah; The Identity of Edom (Obadiah)
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Rulers and Prophets of Israel and Judah
Nothing is known of the prophet Obadiah beyond the words of his prophecy. His name, meaning "Servant of the Eternal," may have been a name or it may have simply been used as a title. As to when he lived and preached, while most modern scholars date his book to the time immediately following the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C., "some scholars date the book very early, in the mid-ninth century b.c., following raids by the Philistines and Arabian tribes during the period of King Jehoram of Judah (see 2 Chr. 21:16, 17). This date would make the Book of Obadiah the earliest of the prophetic books" (Nelson Study Bible, introductory notes on Obadiah). Under inspiration, the prophet Jeremiah later utilizes some of Obadiah's prophecy in his own prophecy against Edom (see Jeremiah 49:7-22).
As mentioned, Edom or Esau rebelled in the days of King Jehoram against Judah, and they would continue to be in revolt (see 2 Kings 8:20-22). The book of Obadiah describes in more detail the future of Edom. Indeed, the prophecy of Obadiah is clearly for the end time, as the reference to the "day of the Lord" shows (verse 15; compare Joel 2:1-2)as well as the references to the return of all Israel, the ultimate defeat of Edom and the establishment of the Kingdom of God (verses 17-21).
Yet who is Edom today? As discussed earlier, Edom is another name for Esau (Genesis 25:30). Esau and his descendants originally lived in the region of Mount Seir (Genesis 36:8-9), southeast of Judea, in what is now southern Jordan, around the city of Petra. The Greeks and Romans called this area Idumea (i.e., Idum = Edom). Because the Bible refers to end-time Jordan as "Edom, Moab, and the prominent people of Ammon" (Daniel 11:41), it is evident that many Edomites must still live there. It should also be noted that Idumea extended into southern Judah: "The Edomites were gradually pushed into the southern half of Judea, including the region around Hebron, an area which the Greeks later called Idumaea" ("Idumaea," Unger's Bible Dictionary, 1966). (The biblical king Herod the Great was an Idumeanan Edomite). One of Esau's grandsons (and a tribal chief) was Amalek (Genesis 36:10-16), who became father of the Amalekites. Some rabbinical schools in Israel teach that the Palestinian Arabsthe most fervent adversaries of the modern Israeli stateare Amalekites. In light of the prophecy in Exodus 17:16 of conflict between the Amalekites and Israelites from generation to generation, there may be considerable validity to this identification (see also Obadiah 10). Jordan's population is heavily Palestinian, and many of the Palestinians in Jordan and Israel are evidently Edomite by descent.
This identification of the Palestinians becomes clearer from a careful reading of Obadiah 19. It is speaking of territoriesthat those who control particular territories in the Holy Land will come to possess additional territories there. In context, we can see that Israelites in this verse are retaking areas that the Edomites have stolen. Fascinatingly, the areas listed as doing the taking here are areas that are today populated by Jews. The areas being taken back are now populated by Palestiniansthus apparently identifying the Palestinians as Edomites, at least in large measure. Notice: "The South [the Negev, now held by the Israelis] shall possess the mountains of Esau [southern Jordan and perhaps the area of Hebron, the southern West Bank now populated by Palestinians], and the Lowland [the Shephelah, or lower hills between the central hill country to the east and the coastal plain to the west, now populated by Jews] shall possess Philistia [most of which is now the Gaza Strip, territory now held by Palestinians]. They [the Jewish Shephelah inhabitants] shall possess the fields of Ephraim and the fields of Samaria [the northern West Bank, now occupied by Palestinians]. Benjamin [the area around Jerusalem, presently held by the Israelis] shall possess Gilead [northern Jordan]."
But Edom's descendants may be found elsewhere as well. Besides their sedentary life in the Mount Seir region, some of them appear to have become nomadic, ranging over vast territories as early as patriarchal times. A text from the ancient city of Ugarit, on the northern Syrian coast, mentions "the well-watered land of Edom," which was evidently in some proximity. Later, in the sixth century B.C., Nebuchadnezzar carried many Edomites of the Mount Seir region away captive to Babylon and other Babylonian territories. Perhaps that is why we find the city of Basra in Iraqpossibly a slight variation of the biblical Edomite city of Bozrah (Genesis 36:33; 1 Chronicles 1:44; Isaiah 34:6; 63:1). It is thus likely that there are still Edomites in Iraq and scattered throughout the Middle East. During the laxity of Persian rule, Edomite wandering appears to have resumed. The chief tribe of Edom was Teman (see Obadiah 9), named after Esau's eldest grandson (Genesis 36:10-15). And the rocky plateaus of Persia and Turkestan eventually became known as the land of Temani. In Turkestan in Central Asia was a city named Amalik, seemingly after Amalek. The name of Teman appears to have come down to us in the form of the name Ottomanthat is, the Ottoman Turks (only the vowels in spelling being changed over the centuries). While the Turks appear to be a somewhat mixed people, it does seem that a large number of them are Edomites. The historical Hor Turks may be named after the Horites, who were closely associated with the Edomites in Genesis 36.
Perhaps most surprising is to find that elements of Edom may be found in Europe. The Jewish Talmud says that Edomites settled very early on in southern Italy. It is believed by many Jews that the people of Edom became dominant among the early Romans, establishing themselves as the ruling elite among them and later among the Germans. There may be some truth in this, as Isaiah 34 and 63 describe the ultimate destruction of end-time Babylon (a power bloc led by a final resurrection of the Roman Empire) as the destruction of Edom and the Edomite capital of Bozrah. However, Edomites in Europe would seem to make up a rather small percentage of the population there. (More research on the modern identity of Edom can be found at www.british-israel.ca/Turkey.htm and at www.britam.org/now72.htmlwith the caution that the citing of outside sources for further study is not an endorsement of everything in those sources).
The Fate of Edom (Obadiah)
Despite their self-imagined greatness and pride, God says he will make the Edomites small and despised among the nations (Obadiah 2). Their dwelling in the "clefts of the rock" (Obadiah 2; Jeremiah 49:16) may refer to the rock-hewn city of Petra mentioned earlier (the word for "rock" being the Hebrew Sela, equivalent to the Greek Petra), and perhaps other rock fortresses. High above Petra and on other mountains of Edom were high places for worship, lookouts and refuge. "Some of the mountain peaks of Edom reach over six thousand feet; Jerusalem [by comparison] is about 2,300 feet above sea level" (Nelson Study Bible, note on Obadiah 3). Yet the Edomites would be brought downnot just physically, but figuratively from their exalted prideful arrogance (Obadiah 4; Jeremiah 49:16).
In Obadiah 5 God says that grape gatherers or even thieves would take merely their fillnot everything. But God will go way beyond this. Edom will be utterly laid bare, completely plundered of everything and everyone (Obadiah 6; see Jeremiah 49:9-10).
In verse 7 of Obadiah we see Edom in a "confederacy"an allianceperhaps the same one prophesied in Psalm 83:1-8. In any case, we see that the Edomites' allies will turn on them. Yet the Edomites won't be able to see it. Their "wisdom" or cunning (as the Hebrew could also be rendered) and understanding will not reveal itas God will confound and destroy them (Obadiah 8-9; Jeremiah 49:7).
Proverbs 24:17 says, "Do not rejoice when your enemy falls, and do not let your heart be glad when he stumbles." A comparison of that principle with Obadiah 12-14 shows one of the major reasons God is and will be angry with Edom. In the past invasions of Israel and Judah, Edom has often cheered it on and even participated, as will again be noted in the Bible Reading Program comments on Amos 1:11-12 (another prophecy of Edom). Apparently, the Edomites of the end time will continue in the same pattern, cutting off the escape of Israelites, contributing to their devastation and turning them over to the enemy (Obadiah 10-11, 13-14).
Yet Edom will pay dearlyas will all nations that have dealt maliciously with God's people (verses 15-16). But it will be particularly bad for Edom. At the time of Christ's return, Obadiah tells us, the land of Edom will be destroyed, and it appears from verse 18 that, at that time, none of the physical descendants of Esau will survive. (We will examine this matter further when we later read the prophecy of Edom in Jeremiah 49:7-22.)
This does not mean, however, that none of the Edomites will ever be in the Kingdom of God. They will be raised in the second resurrection, which will take place after the Millennium of Christ's reign (Revelation 20:5), and which is commonly referred to in the Church of God as the "Great White Throne Judgment" (see verses 11-12). At that time, everyone who has not been called by God in this age prior to Christ's return will be given an opportunity to accept God's way of life and enter into His Kingdom. And those of the first resurrection at Christ's returnthe comparatively few called and faithful people of this agewill be there to help guide and teach those who will be raised in that second resurrection.
As we've seen, Obadiah evidently concerns the Israelites retaking Palestinian territories at the return of Christ. Verse 20 then concerns the redistribution of the land to all of Israel and Judah returning from captivity. The "land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath" is perhaps the entire Holy Land, stretching up into former Phoenician territory in modern Lebanonthough it could be that only northern Israel is here denoted as the land for the returning house of Israel. Then notice the "captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad." The last word here may come from sephar, "which in the Aramaic vernacular would denote furthermost limit or seacoast" (Seth Ward, "On the History of the Term 'Sepharad,'" Foundation for the Advancement of Sephardic Studies and Culture, www.sephardicstudies.org/ward2.html). By early medieval times, the Jewish people of Spain were referring to themselves as Sephardic Jews, evidently from this term. Perhaps it refers to the Jews who have been scattered since the Diaspora. They return to possess the cities of the Negev.
Finally, observe again this very encouraging promise at the end of the book of Obadiah: "Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord's" (verse 21). Who are these "saviors," or deliverers, who judge? Describing the time of Jesus Christ's return, Daniel 7:22 says, "Judgment was given to the saints of the most High; and the time came that the saints possessed the kingdom" (KJV). Yes, God's saints, glorified as divine kings and priests, will be given the privilege of playing a part in saving Israel and the rest of mankind. What an awesome future!
Regarding the closing words of the prophecy, "the kingdom shall be the Lord's" (Obadiah 21), The Nelson Study Bible says this in its note on the verse: "These were Obadiah's last words against all human arrogance, pride, and rebellion. Edom had thought itself indestructible; but the Lord humbled that nation and restored the fallen Judah [and will do so in a far greater way for all Israel in the future]. Many people are tempted to consider themselves beyond the reach of God. But God will bring them low, just as He will lift those who humble themselves before Him. And one great day, He will establish His just rule over all."