The book of Obadiah -- shortest of all the prophetic books -- is occupied, in the main, as the superscription suggests, with the fate of Edom. Her people have been humbled, the high and rocky fastnesses in which they trusted have not been able to save them. Neighbouring Arab tribes have successfully attacked them and driven them from their home (vv, 1-7).[1] This is the divine penalty for their cruel and unbrotherly treatment of the Jews after the siege of Jerusalem, vv.10-14, 15b. Nay, a day of divine vengeance is coming upon all the heathen, when Judah will utterly destroy Edom, and once again possess all the land, north, south, east and west, that was formerly theirs, and the kingdom shall be Jehovah's, vv.15a, 16-21.
[Footnote 1: Verses 8, 9, which imply that the catastrophe is yet to come, and speak of Edom in the third person, appear to be later than the context. For "thy mighty men, O Teman," in v.9a, probably we should read, "the mighty men of Teman."]

The date of the prophecy seems to be fixed by the unmistakable allusion in vv.11-14 to the capture of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar in 586 B.C. -- an occasion on which the Edomites abetted the Babylonians (Ezek. xxxv.; Lam. iv.21 ff.; Ps. cxxxvii.7). But the case is gravely complicated by the similarity, which is much too close to be accidental, between Obadiah 1-9 and the oracle against Edom in Jeremiah, xlix.7-22 (especially vv.14-16, 9, 10, 7, 22); and, though in one or two places the text of Obadiah is superior (cf. Ob.2, 3; Jer. xlix.15, 16), the resemblance is such that the passage in Jeremiah must be dependent on Obadiah. Now the date assigned to Jeremiah's oracle is 605 B.C. (xlvi.2); but obviously Jeremiah could not adopt in 605 a prophecy which was not written till 586. A way out of this difficulty has usually been sought in the assumption that both prophets have made use, in different ways, of an older oracle against Edom, vv.1-9 or 10. But there is no adequate reason for separating vv.11-14, which must refer to the capture of Jerusalem in 586, from vv.1-7. The assumption just mentioned becomes quite unnecessary when we remember that Jeremiah xlix.7-22, as we have already seen, is probably, at least in its present form, from a period very much later than Jeremiah. The priority therefore rests with Obadiah, whose prophecy has been utilized in Jeremiah xlix.

In vv.1-7 the catastrophe is not predicted for Edom, it has already fallen: it was probably an earlier stage of the Bedawin assaults, whose desolating effect upon Edom is described in Malachi i.1-5, and must therefore be relegated to a period about the middle of the fifth century. We are probably not far from the truth in dating Obadiah 1-14 about 500 B.C. The memory of Edom's cruelty would still rankle a generation after the return.

But in vv.15a, 16-21 the literary and religious colouring is different; vv.1-14 is marked by a certain graphic vigour, vv.15-21 is diffuse. The judgment of Edom in vv.1-14 is in vv.15-21 made only an episode in a great world-judgment. Above all, in v.1 the nations are to execute this judgment, in v.15 they are to be the victims of it. Further, vv.19, 20 seem to imply an extensive dispersion of the Jews. Probably, therefore, this passage expresses the bold eschatological hopes of a later time, when Judah was to be finally redeemed and the heathen annihilated. The section may be later than the oracle in Jeremiah xlix, as no use is made of it there.

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