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The Book of Obadiah is the smallest among the prophets, and the smallest in all the Old Testament. Yet there is none which better illustrates many of the main problems of Old Testament criticism. It raises, indeed, no doctrinal issue nor any question of historical accuracy. All that it claims to be is The Vision of Obadiah;[454] and this vague name, with no date or dwelling-place to challenge comparison with the contents of the book, introduces us without prejudice to the criticism of the latter. Nor is the book involved in the central controversy of Old Testament scholarship, the date of the Law. It has no reference to the Law. Nor is it made use of in the New Testament. The more freely, therefore, may we study the literary and historical questions started by the 164 twenty-one verses which compose the book. Their brief course is broken by differences of style, and by sudden changes of outlook from the past to the future. Some of them present a close parallel to another passage of prophecy, a feature which when present offers a difficult problem to the critic. Hardly any of the historical allusions are free from ambiguity, for although the book refers throughout to a single nation—and so vividly that even if Edom were not named we might still discern the character and crimes of that bitter brother of Israel—yet the conflict of Israel and Edom was so prolonged and so monotonous in its cruelties, that there are few of its many centuries to which some scholar has not felt himself able to assign, in part or whole, Obadiah’s indignant oration. The little book has been tossed out of one century into another by successive critics, till there exists in their estimates of its date a difference of nearly six hundred years.[455] Such a fact seems, at first sight, to convict criticism either of arbitrariness or helplessness;[456] yet a little consideration of details is enough to lead us to an appreciation of the reasonable methods of Old Testament criticism, and of its indubitable progress 165 towards certainty, in spite of our ignorance of large stretches of the history of Israel. To the student of the Old Testament nothing could be more profitable than to master the historical and literary questions raised by the Book of Obadiah, before following them out among the more complicated problems which are started by other prophetical books in their relation to the Law of Israel, or to their own titles, or to claims made for them in the New Testament.

The Book of Obadiah contains a number of verbal parallels to another prophecy against Edom which appears in Jeremiah xlix. 7–22. Most critics have regarded this prophecy of Jeremiah as genuine, and have assigned it to the year 604 B.C. The question is whether Obadiah or Jeremiah is the earlier. Hitzig and Vatke[457] answered in favour of Jeremiah; and as the Book of Obadiah also contains a description of Edom’s conduct in the day of Jerusalem’s overthrow by Nebuchadrezzar, in 586, they brought the whole book down to post-exilic times. Very forcible arguments, however, have been offered for Obadiah’s priority.[458] Upon this priority, as well as on the facts that Joel, whom they take to be early, quotes from Obadiah, and that Obadiah’s book occurs among 166 the first six—presumably the pre-exilic members—of the Twelve, a number of scholars have assigned all of it to an early period in Israel’s history. Some fix upon the reign of Jehoshaphat, when Judah was invaded by Edom and his allies Moab and Ammon, but saved from disaster through Moab and Ammon turning upon the Edomites and slaughtering them.[459] To this they refer the phrase in Obadiah 9, the men of thy covenant have betrayed thee. Others place the whole book in the reign of Joram of Judah (849—842 B.C.), when, according to the Chronicles,[460] Judah was invaded and Jerusalem partly sacked by Philistines and Arabs.[461] But in the story of this invasion, there is no mention of Edomites, and the argument which is drawn from Joel’s quotation of Obadiah fails if Joel, as we shall see, be of late date. With greater prudence Pusey declines to fix a period.

The supporters of a pre-exilic origin for the whole Book of Obadiah have to explain vv. 11–14, which appear to reflect Edom’s conduct at the sack of 167 Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar in 586, and they do so in two ways. Pusey takes the verses as predictive of Nebuchadrezzar’s siege. Orelli and others believe that they suit better the conquest and plunder of the city in the time of Jehoram. But, as Calvin has said, “they seem to be mistaken who think that Obadiah lived before the time of Isaiah.”

The question, however, very early arose, whether it was possible to take Obadiah as a unity. Vv. 1–9 are more vigorous and firm than vv. 10–21. In vv. 1–9 Edom is destroyed by nations who are its allies; in vv. 10–21 it is still to fall along with other Gentiles in the general judgment of the Lord.[462] Vv. 10–21 admittedly describe the conduct of the Edomites at the overthrow of Jerusalem in 586; but vv. 1–9 probably reflect earlier events; and it is significant that in them alone occur the parallels to Jeremiah’s prophecy against Edom in 604. On some of these grounds Ewald regarded the little book as consisting of two pieces, both of which refer to Edom, but the first of which was written before Jeremiah, and the second is post-exilic. As Jeremiah’s prophecy has some features more original than Obadiah’s,[463] he traced both prophecies to an original oracle against Edom, of which Obadiah on the whole renders an exact version. He fixed the date of this oracle in the earlier days of Isaiah, when Rezin of Syria enabled Edom to assert again its independence of Judah, and Edom won back Elath, which Uzziah had taken.[464] Driver, Wildeboer 168 and Cornill[465] adopt this theory, with the exception of the period to which Ewald refers the original oracle. According to them, the Book of Obadiah consists of two pieces, vv. 1–9 pre-exilic, and vv. 10–21 post-exilic and descriptive in 11–14 of Nebuchadrezzar’s sack of Jerusalem.

This latter point need not be contested.[466] But is it clear that 1–9 are so different from 10–21 that they must be assigned to another period? Are they necessarily pre-exilic? Wellhausen thinks not, and has constructed still another theory of the origin of the book, which, like Vatke’s, brings it all down to the period after the Exile.

There is no mention in the book either of Assyria or of Babylonia.[467] The allies who have betrayed Edom (ver. 7) are therefore probably those Arabian tribes who surrounded it and were its frequent confederates.[468] They are described as sending Edom to the border (ib.). Wellhausen thinks that this can only refer to the great northward movement of Arabs which began to press upon the fertile lands to the south-east of Israel during the time of the Captivity. Ezekiel[469] prophesies that Ammon and Moab will disappear before the Arabs, and we know that by the year 312 the latter were firmly 169 settled in the territories of Edom.[470] Shortly before this the Hagarenes appear in Chronicles, and Se’ir is called by the Arabic name Gebal,[471] while as early as the fifth century “Malachi”[472] records the desolation of Edom’s territory by the jackals of the wilderness, and the expulsion of the Edomites, who will not return. The Edomites were pushed up into the Negeb of Israel, and occupied the territory round, and to the south of, Hebron till their conquest by John Hyrcanus about 130; even after that it was called Idumæa.[473] Wellhausen would assign Obadiah 1–7 to the same stage of this movement as is reflected in Malachi i. 1–5; and, apart from certain parentheses, would therefore take the whole of Obadiah as a unity from the end of the fifth century before Christ. In that case Giesebrecht argues that the parallel prophecy, Jeremiah xlix. 7–22, must be reckoned as one of the passages of the Book of Jeremiah in which post-exilic additions have been inserted.[474]

Our criticism of this theory may start from the seventh verse of Obadiah: To the border they have sent thee, all the men of thy covenant have betrayed thee, they have overpowered thee, the men of thy peace. On our present knowledge of the history of Edom it is impossible to assign the first of these clauses to any period before the Exile. No doubt in earlier days Edom was more than once subjected to Arab razzias. But up to the Jewish Exile the Edomites were still in 170 possession of their own land. So the Deuteronomist[475] implies, and so Ezekiel[476] and perhaps the author of Lamentations.[477] Wellhausen’s claim, therefore, that the seventh verse of Obadiah refers to the expulsion of Edomites by Arabs in the sixth or fifth century B.C. may be granted.[478] But does this mean that verses 1–6 belong, as he maintains, to the same period? A negative answer seems required by the following facts. To begin with, the seventh verse is not found in the parallel prophecy in Jeremiah. There is no reason why it should not have been used there, if that prophecy had been compiled at a time when the expulsion of the Edomites was already an accomplished fact. But both by this omission and by all its other features, that prophecy suits the time of Jeremiah, and we may leave it, therefore, where it was left till the appearance of Wellhausen’s theory—namely, with Jeremiah himself.[479] Moreover Jeremiah xlix. 9 seems to have been adapted in Obadiah 5 in order to suit verse 6. But again, Obadiah 1–6, which contains so many parallels to Jeremiah’s prophecy, also seems to imply that the Edomites are still in possession of their land. The nations (we may understand by this the Arab tribes) are risen against Edom, and Edom is already despicable in face of them (vv. 1, 2); but he has not yet fallen, any more than, to the writer of Isaiah 171 xlv.—xlvii., who uses analogous language, Babylon is already fallen. Edom is weak and cannot resist the Arab razzias. But he still makes his eyrie on high and says: Who will bring me down? To which challenge Jehovah replies, not ‘I have brought thee down,’ but I will bring thee down. The post-exilic portion of Obadiah, then, I take to begin with verse 7; and the author of this prophecy has begun by incorporating in vv. 1–6 a pre-exilic prophecy against Edom, which had been already, and with more freedom, used by Jeremiah. Verses 8–9 form a difficulty. They return to the future tense, as if the Edomites were still to be cut off from Mount Esau. But verse 10, as Wellhausen points out, follows on naturally to verse 7, and, with its successors, clearly points to a period subsequent to Nebuchadrezzar’s overthrow of Jerusalem. The change from the past tense in vv. 10–11 to the imperatives of 12–14 need cause, in spite of what Pusey says, no difficulty, but may be accounted for by the excited feelings of the prophet. The suggestion has been made, and it is plausible, that Obadiah speaks as an eye-witness of that awful time. Certainly there is nothing in the rest of the prophecy (vv. 15–21) to lead us to bring it further down than the years following the destruction of Jerusalem. Everything points to the Jews being still in exile. The verbs which describe the inviolateness of Jerusalem (17), and the reinstatement of Israel in their heritage (17, 19), and their conquest of Edom (18), are all in the future. The prophet himself appears to write in exile (20). The captivity of Jerusalem is in Sepharad (ib.) and the saviours have to come up to Mount Zion; that is to say, they are still beyond the Holy Land (21).[480]

172 The one difficulty in assigning this date to the prophecy is that nothing is said in the Hebrew of ver. 19 about the re-occupation of the hill-country of Judæa itself, but here the Greek may help us.[481] Certainly every other feature suits the early days of the Exile.

The result of our inquiry is that the Book of Obadiah was written at that time by a prophet in exile, who was filled by the same hatred of Edom as filled another exile, who in Babylon wrote Psalm cxxxvii.; and that, like so many of the exilic writers, he started from an earlier prophecy against Edom, already used by Jeremiah.[482] [Nowack (Comm., 1897) takes vv. 1–14 (with additions in vv. 1, 5, 6, 8f. and 12) to be from a date not long after the Fall of Jerusalem, alluded to in vv. 11–14; and vv. 15–21 to belong to a later period, which it is impossible to fix exactly.]

There is nothing in the language of the book to disturb this conclusion. The Hebrew of Obadiah is pure; unlike its neighbour, the Book of Jonah, it contains neither Aramaisms nor other symptoms of decadence. The text is very sound. The Septuagint Version enables us to correct vv. 7 and 17, offers the true division between vv. 9 and 10, but makes an omission which leaves no sense in ver. 17.[483] It will be best to give all the twenty-one verses together before commenting on their spirit.



Thus hath the Lord Jehovah spoken concerning Edom.[484]

“A report have we heard from Jehovah, and a messenger has been sent through the nations, ‘Up and let us rise against her to battle.’ Lo, I have made thee small among the nations, thou art very despised! The arrogance of thy heart hath misled thee, dweller in clefts of the Rock[485]; the height is his dwelling, that saith in his heart ‘Who shall bring me down to earth!’ Though thou build high as the eagle, though between the stars thou set thy nest, thence will I bring thee down—oracle of Jehovah. If thieves had come into thee by night (how art thou humbled!),[486] would they not steal just what they wanted? If vine-croppers had come into thee, would they not leave some gleanings? (How searched out is Esau, how rifled his treasures!)” But now to thy very border have they sent thee, all the men of thy covenant[487] have betrayed thee, the men of thy peace have overpowered thee[488]; they kept setting traps for thee—there is no understanding in him! “[489]Shall 174 it not be in that day—oracle of Jehovah—that I will cause the wise men to perish from Edom, and understanding from Mount Esau? And thy heroes, O Teman, shall be dismayed, till[490] every man be cut off from Mount Esau.” For the slaughter,[491] for the outraging of thy brother Jacob, shame doth cover thee, and thou art cut off for ever. In the day of thy standing aloof,[492] in the day when strangers took captive his substance, and aliens came into his gates,[493] and they cast lots on Jerusalem, even thou wert as one of them! Ah, gloat not[494] upon the day of thy brother,[495] the day of his misfortune[496]; exult not over the sons of Judah in the day of their destruction, and make not thy mouth large[497] in the day of distress. Come not up into the gate of My people in the day of their disaster. Gloat not thou, yea thou, upon his ills, in the day of his disaster, nor put forth thy hand to his substance in the day of his disaster, nor stand at the parting[498] of the ways (?) to cut off his fugitives; nor arrest his escaped ones in the day of distress.

For near is the day of Jehovah, upon all the nations— 175 as thou hast done, so shall it be done to thee: thy deed shall come back on thine own head.[499]

For as ye[500] have drunk on my holy mount, all the nations shall drink continuously, drink and reel, and be as though they had not been.[501] But on Mount Zion shall be refuge, and it shall be inviolate, and the house of Jacob shall inherit those who have disinherited them.[502] For the house of Jacob shall be fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, but the house of Esau shall become stubble, and they shall kindle upon them and devour them, and there shall not one escape of the house of Esau—for Jehovah hath spoken.

And the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau, and the Shephelah the Philistines,[503] and the Mountain[504] shall possess Ephraim and the field of Samaria,[505] and Benjamin shall possess Gilead. And the exiles of this host[506] of the children of Israel shall possess(?) the 176 land[507] of the Canaanites unto Sarephath, and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad[508] shall inherit the cities of the Negeb. And saviours shall come up on Mount Zion to judge Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be Jehovah’s.

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