Obadiah. What About Edom?

Key Notes: No future for Edom. A palindrome of judgment.

Obadiah is the smallest book in the Bible, a single chapter with 18 verses. The author does not identify himself except by name. We can only surmise the time of his writing. It is a remote book, dealing with a small, extinct tribe, little quoted and seemingly quite unimportant. We shall see that there is a great deal hidden here and worth our attention, since “all Scripture is …profitable….” (IITim.3:16). Wherever you look in Scripture, there is a message. In Obadiah, there are several.

1:1   Obadiah’s vision is about Edom. A battle cry is sounded to go against Edom.

Edom is another name for Esau and for his country. Esau was Isaac’s firstborn. He migrated to Edom probably around 1800 BC (Abraham lived at about 2000 BC). Jacob and his Israel family would be delayed 400 years in Egypt, so Edom was well established before the Exodus.

Edom was south and east of the Dead Sea, along the Arabah, a dry stream-bed reaching from the Dead Sea to Elath on the Gulf of Aqabah. Elath was the port city on the Red Sea and opened to ports east. Edom had principal cities of Bozrah, Sela (Petra), Teman, Dedan and Elath. Eliphaz, the friend of Job (Job 4) was from Teman.

1:2–4   The future of Edom is nil, in part because of its pride and sense of security. Petra was one of its unique cities, built into the walls of a canyon and accessible through a mile-long narrow crevice call the Siq. It would be easy to defend. Petra is still a major attraction for tourists visiting Jordan today.

1:5–6   If thieves plunder, they only take what is of great value and easily carried. No one could imagine that Edom would be completely pillaged.

1:7–9   Edom would be deceived by her allies and her wise men would be helpless to explain. Edom had a reputation for wisdom, with Eliphaz, Job’s friend, as an example.

1:10–14   The second indictment of Edom was the abuse of Israel when Jerusalem was being attacked. The occasion for this attack is not certain, because Jerusalem was attacked by the Babylonians at least five times before the final assault by Nebuchadnezzar in 587–6 BC. Jerusalem had been under attack at least three times before the Babylonians came.

  1. Shishak of Egypt hit Jerusalem in the fifth year of Rehoboam, Judah’s first king after Solomon. I K. 14:25–26; II Chron. 12:2–12
  2. Philistines and Arabs attacked Jehoram (II Chron. 21:16–17) and took away his wives and children. It is believed that Joel 3:4–8 refers to this time when Israelites were being sold to the Greeks as slaves by Philistines and Sidonians.
  3. Jehoash of Israel broke down the wall of Jerusalem in the reign of Amaziah. II K. 14:13–14; II Chron. 25:23–24
  4. The Babylonians attacked Jerusalem when Jehoiakim was king. II K. 24:1; II Chron. 36:3, 7
  5. The Babylonians resumed their attack on Jerusalem under Jehoiachin. II K. 24:10; II Chron. 36:10

Referring Obadiah’s times to the Philistine-Arab assault (II.) gives us a date of about 840 BC, and also makes possible a prophecy that the same kind of harassing would occur again at the time of Jerusalem’s final fall in 587–586BC. (Ezek. 25:12–14). Thus the verses could be read as a contemporary event and also a future one.

The passage can be read as a palindrome.

       5. Violence done to your brother Jacob
            4. You stood by at the looting
            3. You gloated over his misfortune
            2. You rejoiced over their ruin
            1. You boasted in the day of distress
            2. You went into their gates.
            3. You gloated over their disaster
            4. You looted their goods
            5. You cut off their refuges and delivered up survivors.

It is clear that Edom did not make the primary attack, but they approved of it and took the opportunity to cheer the attackers on and help them by cutting off the flight of refugees and giving up survivors to the enemy.

1:15–16   The Day of the Lord is near not only for Edom, but for all the nations. When Nebuchadnezzar attacked Israel, he also wiped out all the nations around. They all drink the cup of God’s wrath, stagger and fall dead. (Jer. 25:16). In the final Day of the Lord, all the nations of the world will be under judgment.

1:17–18   Some of Israel will escape, but there will be no survivors in Edom.

1:19–21   In the Lord’s Kingdom, Israel will be regathered. They will occupy Philistia which inhabited the Shephelah, the coastal plain on the Mediterranean. Gilead is east of the Sea of Galilee. Exiles from Halah are those deported by the Assyrians. (II K. 17:5–6). God knows them—although they are called the Ten Lost Tribes and He will bring them back. Sepharad is an unknown location. The name could be Sardis in Asia Minor or Sparta in Greece. Medieval Judaism attached the name to Spain, and Jews who come from the Moorish countries of Spain and Portugal are called Sephardic.

Those from Mt. Zion will rule Mt. Esau, fulfilling the ancient prophecy that the elder would serve the younger.


There are at least five of the prophets who report God’s plan for the sons of Esau, plus one false prophet— Balaam. Num. 24:18

  1. Isaiah 34 & 63:1–6
  2. Jeremiah 49:7–22 – This writing strongly resembles Obadiah
  3. Ezekiel 25:12–14
  4. Amos 1:11–12
  5. Malachi 1:2–5

Such extensive coverage emphasizes the importance of Edom. All of these prophecies spell destruction for Edom and we wonder why.

Esau and Jacob were twins born to Isaac and Rebekah. Before they were born, it was prophesied that Esau would serve Jacob. That would set the stage for conflict, but in itself there is no spiritual implication. Neither of the brothers would be what we would call a fine, upright person. Jacob was grasping, devious and religious. Esau was bluff, macho and pagan.

Esau went downhill from the first. When he casually traded his birthright for a pot of lentils, he showed his disregard for his family. The birthright was no small matter. When he lost the birthright, losing the blessing was almost automatic, as the blessing was embedded in the birthright, the rights of the firstborn. The birthright contained five privileges.

  1. First-born sons were dedicated to God. Ex. 13:15; 22:29
  2. They received a double portion of the family inheritance. Deut. 21:17
  3. They received the father’s blessing, as Jacob did from Isaac by deception (Gen. 27:27–29). Isaac’s blessing on Jacob contains part of the blessing God gave to Abraham (Gen. 12:2–3). God later extended the blessing of Abraham to Jacob. Gen. 35:11–12
  4. They carried the responsibility for the family after the father died.
  5. The later kingdom of Israel belonged to the firstborn. II Chron. 21:3
  6. Esau lost the blessing because [I think] his parents refused to give it to him. Before the blessing ceremony, Esau had married two Hittite women, Judith and Basemath. They made life bitter for Isaac and Rebekah. (Gen. 26:34–35). By these marriages, Esau committed himself to leaving the family of Abraham and giving himself over to pagan gods.

    Genesis 36 gives the lineage of Esau, the chiefs and their cities. The gods of the Edomites are not recorded in Scripture, but were Kaush (Gaus), Hadad (the storm-god of Assyrians), Ai, and curiously, “Edom” and “Esau.”

    Although Jacob and Esau made a superficial reconciliation (Gen. 33), hostility between the tribes was endemic. Early in Israel’s journey into the wilderness, Amalek, grandson of Esau (Gen. 36:9–16), attacked Israel’s rear guard. That kind of war targets the weak, the sick, and the aged. Moses’ prayer enabled Israel to prevail in a desperate battle. (Ex. 17:8f)  The attack was never to be forgotten. (Deut. 25:17) Edom would not let Israel cross its territories when wandering in the wilderness. (Num. 20)

Edom was counted as one of Saul’s (Israel’s) enemies. (I Sam. 14:47). Doeg the Edomite, chief of Saul’s shepherds, did not hesitate to kill all the members of the priestly family as a favor to Saul. (I Sam. 22:7,‘). Saul was assigned to wipe out Amalek (I Sam. 15:2f)—and failed.

David attacked and destroyed Edom as an armed force (II Sam. 8:14; I K. 11:6). In another battle, Abishai, one of David’s generals, killed 18,000 Edomites (II Chron.‘:12). Amaziah later killed 10,000 Edomites (II Kings 14:7).

The Nabateans (Arabs) drove the Edomites out from their territory in the 3rd century BC. Judas Maccabeus defeated them. (I Macc. 5:3,65). John Hyrcanus subdued them completely (129 BC) and forced them to become Jews. They were caught in wars between Jews and Romans and were exterminated.

The last of the Edomites were the Herods (there were five in NT), who are infamous for trying to kill the newborn Christ and harassing the Christians.

Obadiah gives us three important lessons.

•Pride is sin. v. 3
“There are six things the Lord hates…a proud look…” (Prov. 6:17).

•Don’t depend on your geography to save you. v. 3
“Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchman stays awake in vain.” (Psa. 127:1)

•Don’t gloat over your enemy. v. 12, 13
“Do not rejoice when your enemy falls and let not your heart be glad when he stumbles, lest the Lord see it and be displeased and turn away His anger from him.” (Prov. 24:17)

The New Testament gives us two important lessons on Esau.

Why did God not choose Esau? Why should He choose either Esau or Jacob? Neither of them deserved it. In His mercy, God chose Jacob—and the nation of Israel, from whom comes the Messiah. Why did He not choose them both? That God's election might be clearly seen. Rom. 9:9–13

What was wrong with Esau?
“See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no ‘root of bitterness’ spring up and cause trouble, and by it the many become defiled; that no one be immoral or profane like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.” (Heb. 12:15–16). He failed to obtain the grace of God. That implies that we can obtain grace for the asking and that Esau could have also, at least in the beginning.

The root of bitterness is  “…one who, when he hears the words of this sworn covenant, blesses himself in his heart, saying, ‘I shall be safe, through I walk in the stubbornness of my heart.’” (Deut. 29:18–19)  This passage in Deuteronomy defines a root of bitterness. Hebrews implies that Esau had a bitter attitude toward God that led him to go his own way. It contaminated his lineage, like a root buried deep, with disastrous consequences.

Only the Holy Spirit can change our hearts. May He be gracious to us.