Obadiah (Background)

Oct 6th, 2009 | By | Category: Obadiah, Verse by Verse --Studies led by Br. Frank Shallieu (Click on Book name)

Obadiah (Background)

Before actually commencing the study, we would like to consider some historical background that is essential for understanding verse 1.

The Book of Obadiah is fourth in the listing of the 12 minor prophets. Generally speaking, the listing is in chronological order with the exception of Obadiah, which stands out like a sore thumb as not fitting the sequence. Although no specific king’s reign is mentioned to pinpoint the time setting and Obadiah’s relationship to the chronology of the kings, internal evidence in the book helps us to know when Obadiah gave his message, as will be seen.

We think the reason Ezra, who superintended the compilers of the Old Testament, inserted Obadiah after Amos, rather than much further on, is that this book concerns only Edom (or Esau) from beginning to end. Moreover, it seems to be a sequel to the prophecy of Amos, part of which pertains to Edom, and provides more details with regard to that message of rebuke.

In the last chapter, Amos 9:12 states, “That they [Israel] may possess the remnant of Edom, and of all the heathen [nations], which are called by my name, saith the LORD that doeth this.”

Almost all Bible commentators connect Obadiah 1:1-3 with Jeremiah 49:14-16 because the language is nearly identical. “I have heard a rumour from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent unto the heathen, saying, Gather ye together, and come against her, and rise up to the battle. For, lo, I will make thee small among the heathen, and despised among men. Thy terribleness hath deceived thee, and the pride of thine heart, O thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, that holdest the height of the hill: though thou shouldest make thy nest as high as the eagle, I will bring thee down from thence, saith the LORD” (Jer. 49:14-16). The question is, Who prophesied first? Did Obadiah get these thoughts from Jeremiah, or vice versa? We feel that Jeremiah, being the major prophet the Lord used for a long period of time, prophesied first. In the comparable starting verses, Jeremiah said “I,” whereas Obadiah said “we,” speaking belatedly and meaning himself and Jeremiah. Obadiah’s message was declared after Jeremiah was off the scene and was down in Egypt. Thus Obadiah was in a position to carry on with the prophecy against Edom.

In Jeremiah 25:1, the prophet wrote, “The word that came to Jeremiah concerning all the people of Judah in the fourth year of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, that was the first year of Nebuchadrezzar king of Babylon.” Jeremiah 1:1-3 tells the period covered by his prophecy: “The words of Jeremiah … To whom the word of the LORD came in the days of Josiah the son of Amon king of Judah, in the thirteenth year of his reign. It came also in the days of Jehoiakim the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the end of the eleventh year of Zedekiah the son of Josiah king of Judah, unto the carrying away of Jerusalem captive in the fifth month.” Josiah reigned for 31 years. Therefore, if Jeremiah began his ministry in the 13th year of that reign, he prophesied for the remaining 18 years. Jeremiah 25:1 states that Jeremiah continued to prophesy in the fourth year of Jehoiakim, which was also the first year of Nebuchadnezzar. Thus far Jeremiah’s ministry was 18 + 4 = 22 years long. At the end of the Book of Jeremiah are clues that the prophet was still on hand in the 37th year of Jehoiachin’s captivity. “And it came to pass in the seven and thirtieth year of the captivity of Jehoiachin king of Judah … that Evil-merodach king of Babylon in the first year of his reign lifted up the head of Jehoiachin king of Judah, and brought him forth out of prison” (Jer. 52:31). The 37th year of Jehoiachin’s captivity corresponds with the 43rd or 44th year of Nebuchadnezzar. To repeat: Jeremiah prophesied for 22 years up to the fourth year of Jehoiakim, which was also the first year of Nebuchadnezzar, who reigned for 45 years. In the 43rd or 44th year of King Nebuchadnezzar, Jeremiah was still on hand, and the 37th year of Jehoiachin’s captivity corresponds with Nebuchadnezzar’s death because Evil-merodach, the king’s oldest son, succeeded to the throne at that time. The first act of Evil-merodach was to show kindness to King Jehoiachin of Israel by releasing him from prison and bringing him up to the king’s table.

Thus, to calculate the length of Jeremiah’s ministry, we add 22 + 45 for a total of 67 years. Moreover, as the son of a priest, Jeremiah was in the priesthood and would not have started his ministry until age 30 (Jer. 1:1). If 30 years are added to 67, we can conclude that Jeremiah had a long ministry and was at least 97 years old when he died. He was in Israel for much of his ministry, then he went down to Egypt with the vinedressers, and finally he elected to go to Babylon when Nebuchadnezzar came to Egypt and killed the vinedressers. In other words, the king spared Jeremiah, and in Babylon the prophet wrote the Book of Lamentations, which tells about the mourning Israelites who were there. In captivity, the Jews were told to sing a song, but their reply was, “How can we sing a song in a foreign land under these circumstances?” (Psa. 137:1-4). Jeremiah was an eyewitness.

The fact that Jeremiah chapter 52 lists the number of captives taken by Nebuchadnezzar each time he invaded Israel shows that the prophet had access to the archives of the king of Babylon. We believe that Jeremiah handed over his records to Daniel because when Daniel prayed at the end of the 70 years, he realized the captivity, or desolation, God had predicted through Jeremiah had been accomplished (Dan. 9:2).

In summary, Obadiah copied Jeremiah, just as Micah had previously copied Isaiah (compare Isaiah 2:2-4 and Micah 4:1-3).

Jeremiah 25:9,11 reads, “Behold, I will send and take all the families of the north, saith the LORD, and Nebuchadrezzar the king of Babylon, my servant, and will bring them [1] against this land, and against the inhabitants thereof, and [2] against all these nations round about [Ammon, Moab, Edom, etc.], and will utterly destroy them, and make them an astonishment, and an hissing, and perpetual desolations…. And this whole land shall be a desolation, and an astonishment; and these nations shall serve the king of Babylon seventy years.”

The various nations that were involved in the judgment are mentioned in Jeremiah 25:19-26.

“Pharaoh king of Egypt, and his servants, and his princes, and all his people; And all the mingled people, and all the kings of the land of Uz, and all the kings of the land of the Philistines, and Ashkelon, and Azzah, and Ekron, and the remnant of Ashdod, Edom, and Moab, and the children of Ammon, And all the kings of Tyrus, and all the kings of Zidon, and the kings of the isles which are beyond the sea, Dedan, and Tema, and Buz, and all that are in the utmost corners, And all the kings of Arabia, and all the kings of the mingled people that dwell in the desert, And all the kings of Zimri, and all the kings of Elam, and all the kings of the Medes, And all the kings of the north, far and near, one with another, and all the kingdoms of the world, which are upon the face of the earth: and the king of Sheshach shall drink after them.” The name Edom stands out. Jeremiah had a commission to pronounce a judgment against all of these nations, among whom was Edom. Notice also the last clause: “The king of Sheshach shall drink after them.” The king of Sheshach was the king of Babylon, referring to the Chaldean people, who will drink the cup of judgment after all of the other nations.

Nebuchadnezzar was God’s “servant” in punishing the other nations, but in the end, the king of Babylon himself would be punished, that is, after the 70 years were accomplished (Jer. 25:9).

Jeremiah 25:28 reads, “And it shall be, if they refuse to take the cup at thine hand to drink, then shalt thou say unto them, Thus saith the LORD of hosts; Ye shall certainly drink.” When God spoke to the various nations through Jeremiah, He told them to willingly submit to the king of Babylon. If Judah had obeyed, the land would not have become a desolation. Since none of the nations obeyed, all were captured, with the spared individuals being taken into captivity in Babylon. Some of the peoples were told they could return to their homeland after the 70 years (for example, Moab and Ammon). However, neither the Philistines nor Edom were given this promise because of the antitype as Christendom, which will be utterly destroyed. The prophecy of the Book of Obadiah concerns Edom from start to finish, so that will be the focus.

Incidentally, the fact that the Philistines were not promised a return to their homeland suggests that the Gaza Strip will become part of Israel in the Kingdom. Non-Israelites who live within the borders will be nominal subjects of Israel.

Jeremiah 27:1-3 reads, “In the beginning of the reign of … [Zedekiah—see verses 3, 12, and 20] the son of Josiah king of Judah came this word unto Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Thus saith the LORD to me; Make thee bonds and yokes, and put them upon thy neck, And send them to the king of Edom, and to the king of Moab, and to the king of the Ammonites, and to the king of Tyrus, and to the king of Zidon, by the hand of the messengers which come to Jerusalem unto Zedekiah king of Judah.” Note: Some King James margins make the correction “Zedekiah” based on context.

As instructed, Jeremiah made all these yokes, one for each nation. We believe he then proceeded as follows. The kings from all these nations communicated with each other by sending ambassadors, or messengers, with letters and correspondence. For example, if the king of Edom had something to say to the king of Israel, he sent a messenger. When an ambassador came to Israel from a foreign nation, Jeremiah gave him a wooden yoke and a judgment message. Upon returning home, each ambassador told his king that he had been insulted by a strange person in Jerusalem who put a yoke on his neck and uttered a denunciation. By using this technique, Jeremiah ensured that the prophecy against each nation was carried back to the respective king.

Jeremiah kept one wooden yoke on his own neck and tried to persuade the king of Judah to submit to the king of Babylon. The message was, “Put your neck under the yoke of King Nebuchadnezzar so that your land will not be spoiled.” Then along came a false prophet, Hananiah, who took the yoke off Jeremiah and smashed it (Jer. 28:1-11). Hananiah called Jeremiah a false prophet and prophesied that within two years, Nebuchadnezzar would restore Jehoiachin and that there would be peace. Jeremiah next made a yoke of brass and said to Hananiah, “Try to break this yoke! Now we will see who is the true prophet. You are going to die this year because you are a false prophet” (Jer. 28:12-17 paraphrase). And Hananiah did die within that year. Now the yoke had become an irrepressible conflict, meaning that the judgment had passed the point of no return. Judah would surely go into Babylonian captivity because Zedekiah would not obey the message. (Zedekiah listened to Jeremiah but would not carry out the instructions.)

The above introduction helps to explain the purpose of the Book of Obadiah and what the prophet’s commission was. Jeremiah was now off the scene, being down in Egypt. Therefore, Obadiah picked up the strain and carried it forth, using part of Jeremiah’s message as well as that which God commissioned him, in a fresh sense, to deliver to the Edomites.

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