Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament, containing only 21 verses. Nothing is known about the prophet for multiple reasons. First, this book gives no background about him, including his father’s name. This leads to the second reason, which is that there are several men named Obadiah mentioned in the Hebrew Scriptures, none of whom was called a prophet. Third, the name “Obadiah” in Hebrew means “servant of Jehovah,” which could simply be a title or pseudonym for this prophet, rather than his proper name. Though possible, this seems unlikely, since Obadiah seemed to have been a somewhat common name.
The recipient of this prophecy was the nation of Edom. According to Genesis 25:30, “Edom” was a nickname for Jacob’s brother, Esau. It was a play on the Hebrew word, ‘adom, which means “red.” This explains the frequent mention of Israel (Jacob’s family) being the relatives of Edom (Esau’s family) throughout.
Obadiah’s prophecy seems to naturally fall into at least three sections. Obadiah 1-9 begins by noting that this was a vision from God and that Obadiah was simply repeating God’s words to Edom. God message was harsh: No matter what Edom thought, they were in danger of destruction at God’s own hand. They would actually have been better off to be attacked and plundered by another nation, because they would not have lost everything (Obadiah 4-5). However, under God’s attack they would be totally annihilated. They would find no refuge as even their allies would turn against them.
In Obadiah 10-14 God revealed the reason for his wrath against them: they had stood by and watched while Israel was invaded. Which attack this was is unknown, as Israel and Judah were invaded multiple times during the 200-300 years of the divided kingdom after Solomon’s death. Rather than helping their cousins, the Edomites actually celebrated Israel’s calamity. Not only did they just watch, they pretended as if they were in league against Israel, rejoicing and boasting over the Jews, participating in ransacking the Israeli cities, and even prohibiting the Jews from fleeing by blocking the road and capturing their refugees. For all of this, God placed the Israelite blood on the hands of the Edomites, claiming “you violently slaughtered your relatives” (Obadiah 10). Obadiah 12-14 also contains a distinctive cadence, which the NET translates as “You should not have…” This phrase appears eight times in these three verses, God charging Edom with a series of offenses.
The third section (Obadiah 15-21) details exactly what God would do to Edom. “Just as you have done, so it will be done to you.” Not only would Israel escape complete destruction – both in this attack and all future invasions – but they would end up taking over key parts of Edom’s land, including their prized mountain and secure area (Petra), and God himself will one day be their king. In comparison, “There will not be a single survivor of the descendants of Esau!” In a bit of what some may call poetic justice, this prophecy of Edom’s demise was fulfilled in A.D. 70, when Edom stood alongside Israel when Rome attacked Jerusalem. Jerusalem did fall, and Edom was eradicated. However, true to God’s word, Israel not only survived that attack, they continue to survive and will one day be the preeminent nation on Earth with Jesus himself reigning from Jerusalem, as Obadiah and the many other prophets foretold.