The Book of Obadiah is the most “minor” of the Minor Prophets. It’s only 21 verses and the shortest book in the Old Testament.
Obadiah’s name means “servant of Yahweh.” We don’t know exactly when he lived and wrote the book, although the book itself gives some clues. It clearly refers to a time when Judah and Jerusalem were invaded and plundered. Most scholars believe this is speaking about what happened in 586 BC when Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army ransacked Jerusalem and deported most of her inhabitants into exile.
The Edomites, descendants of Esau, in some way participated in this. At the very least they delighted in and benefited from Judah’s downfall. The relationship between Judah and the Edomites goes all the way back to the sibling rivalry that existed between twin brothers Jacob and Esau. The descendants of these two men eventually grew into separate nations. The descendants of Esau became known as the Edomites, and Jacob’s, of course, the Israelites. The land of Canaan couldn’t sustain them both so Esau moved to the hill country of Seir, and later Edom.
The animosity between these two groups flared up generations later after Israel was freed from slavery in Egypt. Moses asked permission to pass through Edom on their way to the Promised Land, but the king of Edom refused (Num 20:14-21). Years later, David conquered the Edomites, and through the reign of Solomon they were subject to Israel. A grudge that started with the bickering of two twin boys had mushroomed into two proud nations at war.
When Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonian army ransacked Jerusalem and deported most of her inhabitants into exile, the Edomites gloated. God’s people wondered, “God, where’s your justice? How can you stand by and allow our enemies to do this, especially our own brothers? Don’t you care?”
The overall purpose of the book is to announce the destruction of Edom because of her pride and sin against Judah. The prophet also wants to comfort Judah by announcing Edom's destruction and Judah's restoration and deliverance in the Day of the Lord.
Obadiah can easily be preached in one sermon. Below is an outline of the three major sections of Obadiah. It’s possible for each section to be preached separately, especially with bringing in relevant cross references.
Text: Obadiah 1-9
Title: The Judgment of Edom
Big Idea: Pride deceives us by causing us to trust in things that ultimately fail us.
Obadiah begins as God announces his plans to judge Edom. God says he’s declaring war on Edom, inviting surrounding nations to join in the battle. Though Edom was great in her own eyes, God will make her small.
Edom was enormously proud. God speaks of “the pride of your heart.” Edom had many reasons to be proud. First, there were her natural defenses. He notes, “you live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights.” The central area of Edom has red sandstone cliffs, easily fortified, that rise to the height of over 5,000 feet. No wonder the Edomites said to themselves, “Who can bring me down to the ground?”
Second, Edom was proud because of her wealth. She was situated along the great trade routes between Syria and Egypt. Trade brought business and they grew rich. But God says when he’s done with her nothing will be left! “But how Esau will be ransacked, his hidden treasures pillaged!”
Third, Edom was proud because of her wisdom. Verse 8 mentions “the wise men from Edom.” They were known for their wisdom—not God’s wisdom, but worldly wisdom. Scholars say the Edomites are unique in that they left no record of allegiance or dependence on any god. Perhaps they were the first secular society. They thought so much of themselves they didn’t need God in their lives.
Text: Obadiah 10-14
Title: The Charges Against Edom
Big Idea: Pride manifests itself as we fail to act as our brother’s keeper.
What made all of Edom’s sins especially deplorable is they were directed towards “your brother Jacob.” God goes all the way back to the story of those two brothers, Jacob and Esau. He reminds them they were brothers who aren’t supposed to treat each other that way. They should rush to one another’s defense. God himself had said to Israel, “You shall not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother” (Deut. 23:7a). The Edomites had trampled on this sacred relationship.
God mentions several things to indict the Edomites: First, Obadiah speaks of “the violence done to your brother Jacob.” Second, their indifference. Verse 11 says they “stood aloof” when strangers carried off their wealth and foreigners entered their gates. Third, they gloated, rejoiced, and even boasted over their brother’s calamity. Finally, Obadiah says they kicked Israel when they were down, marching through their gates and seizing their wealth. Their proud hearts were more than willing to personally benefit from Israel’s misfortune. The Lord says three times “you should not” have done this.
Text: Obadiah 15-21
Title: The Outlook for Edom
Big Idea: Pride comes before a fall: God is still in charge, and all who proudly oppose him and oppress his people will be brought down, while his people who trust in him will be vindicated.
God says the day is coming when Edom and all the proud who defy him will be brought down . Edom did lose its independence about 100 years later. From 312 BC her land was controlled by the Nabateans. Eventually, the Edomites were thrown out of their own land and forced to live in the southern part of Judah.
Edom’s judgment typifies what will happen to all nations who proudly oppose God and oppress his people, which is good news for God’s people. God says to his people, “I’ll bring you back. You’ll possess the land. You’ll inhabit the very places your enemies lived. You’ll worship in your temple. You’ll find deliverance on Mt Zion.” And they did. After 70 years in exile they came back and rebuilt their temple. But this isn’t just about Israel. What God did with Israel is an example of what he’ll do in that final, climactic Day of the Lord at the end of history. In that day, “the Kingdom will be the Lord’s.”
This is prophetic literature. Like all of the prophets, Obadiah’s writing is full of poetic imagery. It is critical to decipher between what is literal and what is figurative. When the Lord says, through Obadiah, “Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down” (v. 4), he’s clearly speaking figuratively of Edom’s pride. It’s also important to understand that, as with much of prophetic literature, the prophet speaks in the same breath of events soon to happen as well as those that will take place at the end of time. While Edom’s demise is imminent (v. 8), the final verse of Obadiah points to a time beyond the immediate fulfillment in Edom: “Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the Lord’s” (v. 21).
General tips/starters for application
Introduction:I started my single sermon on Obadiah by talking about sibling rivalry:
Sibling rivalry is a reality of life. For those who have a sibling or two, it starts young. Like the first-grader who came home and proudly reported to her dad she was now officially a "Brownie." Not to be outdone, her three-year-old brother rushed up and proudly announced he was a cupcake! I can relate. I was “blessed” with just one brother. We competed at everything, and being the younger, I usually lost … Sibling rivalry can get serious, too. It can cut deep and last a lifetime. The Bible is full of these stories: Cain and Abel, Joseph and his brothers. The story of the Prodigal Son is about two brothers, torn apart by rebellion, jealousy, and pride. Nowhere is this truer than in the relationship of twin brothers, Jacob and Esau …
Pride:Much of Obadiah is an indictment on pride and how it deceives us as we trust in things that ultimately fail. There is a lot of rich illustrative material on this subject. In my sermon, I described it like this:
Natural defenses. Powerful allies. A booming economy. Intellectual prowess. No wonder they were so proud! But one of the things we know about God is he hates pride. The first sin was the sin of a proud angel who wanted to be equal with God. Later, he tempted the first woman by saying, “Eat this fruit and you’ll be like God.” To this day, the evil one loves to cultivate within individuals or nations an attitude that says, “I can do it myself. I don’t need God. I don’t want anyone running my life except me. I have what it takes.” The Edomites trusted in all these things. People today trust in all these things. What do you trust in? God wants you secure not in your accomplishments, your bank account, your brains, your experience, but rather in him … Obadiah says to the proud, trust not in yourself, or else he’ll bring you down … And usually the way that happens is the very thing you trust in fails you.
My brother’s keeper: The worst thing about Edom’s sinful pride is that it was manifested in relation to their brother, Judah. In my sermon, I addressed this as follows:
Maybe you wonder, How do I know if I have Edomite pride running through my veins? Look for the signs. Pride that resides and hides deep in our heart eventually shows up; it leaks out. Obadiah would ask, how do you treat your brother? When your brother is down, when he’s hurting, when you might be tempted to give him another kick, or just be a little too curious over the details, what do you do? You ask, who is my brother? We can answer that on three levels. First, your brother is anyone in your biological family … But it’s more than that. Your brother is also your neighbor. Jesus said, “Love your neighbor as yourself.” … But, most importantly, your brother is anyone you’re related to in Christ Jesus … How you think about, talk about, and treat them is very important to your Father.
Pride comes before a fall: I spoke about this in the following way:
God says what will happen to Edom typifies what will happen to all nations who proudly oppose God and oppress his people. This is true of the US. We love our country. We pray for our country. But where are the great kingdoms and empires today who in the past have proudly vaunted themselves? Has God not made them small? Some years ago Ruth Bell Graham was reading about the moral condition in our country and she turned to her friend and said, “I think that if God does not bring judgment on the US one day he will have to apologize to Sodom and Gomorrah.” A catastrophe awaits every nation that vaunts itself against the Lord.
Later, I applied this more personally:
All of this is meant to be a message of encouragement to God’s people. He wants us to know that though the proud often prosper while you suffer, he’s still in charge. He’s in charge of the affairs of both nations and individuals. That includes all the details of life. It’s hard to believe that when things aren’t going your way. It makes it even harder when someone far worse than you is getting all the breaks. But God is still in charge …
We need to believe, as our economy spirals downward, or a child grows distant from the Lord, or a job search goes on and on. Obadiah reminds us God is still in charge. He rules over the affairs of our lives. And he promises the day will come when the tables will be turned and the kingdom will be the Lord’s.
The king is coming. His name is Jesus. Remember what he said? “He who exalts himself will be humbled; but he who humbles himself, will be exalted.” If you’re the one who is down; if you’re the one being kicked and laughed at as the Israelites were, and if you KNOW this King, then that will be a great comfort to you. But if you’re among the proud, if you’re one of those who says, “I trust in no one but myself,” you’re in danger. Deliverance is found in him, the one who died on Mt. Zion. Put your trust in him; make him your fortress and you will be safe forever!
Conclusion: In my conclusion I compared the prideful Herod Antipas with King Jesus:
Herod exalted himself and said, “What’s in it for me?” But Jesus humbled himself and said, “I’m here to do my Father’s will. He has sent me to give my life for my brothers, so they can find life.” And in the end, Jesus was raised up in glory; Herod died at an unknown date while in exile in Gaul.
God hates the sin of pride.
God cares about how we treat our brothers.
God will keep his word and judge those who proudly oppose him and his people.
God is sovereign over history and in the end he’ll vindicate his people and reign over all.
My Encounter with Obadiah
My sermon on Obadiah was entitled, “Your Brothers’ Keeper?” This sermon was part of a twelve-part series in which we did one sermon on each of the Minor Prophets. Our series title was, “Taking God Seriously.” Our overall purpose was to inspire what was the outstanding quality of these men—moral courage. They were the John Wayne’s of the Bible. They rode into town and said what nobody wanted to hear. We also wanted to address many of the same problems in our society and the church that the prophets addressed: idolatry, injustice, immorality, knowing that all these things have taken root among God’s people.
Tremper Longman III and David E. Garland. The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Daniel-Malachi (Vol. 7). Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2009.
David W. Baker, T. Desmond Alexander, and Bruce K. Waltke. Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries: Obadiah, Jonah, and Micah. Downers Grove, Illinois, 2015.
Stuart Briscoe. Taking God Seriously: Major Lessons from the Minor Prophets. US: CLC Publications, 2013.
James Montgomery Boice. The Minor Prophets: Hosea-Jonah. Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Publishing Group, 2006.
Mark Mitchell is the lead pastor of Central Peninsula Church in Foster City, California.