1. Title. The book is named after the prophet whose message it bears. Obadiah (Heb. ‘Obadyah) means “servant of Yahweh.” Obadiah was a common name among the Jews of OT times (see 1 Kings 18:3, 4; 1 Chron. 3:21; 7:3; 12:9; etc.).
2. Authorship. Although a number of OT characters were named Obadiah, none of them can positively be identified as the author of the prophetic book. References to the southern kingdom of Judah indicate that Obadiah belonged to that nation.
3. Historical Setting. Since Obadiah does not identify the kings under whose reigns he ministered, as did Hosea (Hosea 1:1) and others, we are dependent upon internal evidence to determine the date of the book. The problem resolves itself into the question of when the looting of Jerusalem, referred to in vs. 10-14, took place.
According to one view the occasion was the conquest of Jerusalem by the Philistines and the Arabians (see 2 Chron. 21:8, 16, 17). It is assumed that the Edomites were included in the general term “the Arabians,” inasmuch as in the reign of Jehoram, “Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah” (2 Kings 8:20-22). This would place the prophecy of Obadiah in the 9th century B.C. According to a second view Obadiah is referring to the calamities that befell Judah at the time of the Babylonian invasions, culminating in the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. The similarity of Obadiah’s denunciation of Edom to that of Jeremiah (Jer. 49:7-22) and that of Ezekiel (Eze. 25:12-14; 35; cf. Ps. 137:7) has been urged as supporting the later date. This commentary leans to the later date, dces so without prejudice toward the possibility of an earlier one (see p. 22).
4. Theme. The book describes the punishment that is to come upon Edom for its cruel attitude toward Judah in a time of crisis, and the ultimate triumph of God’s people and kingdom. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau (Gen. 36:1), the brother of Jacob (Gen. 25:24-26). The hostility that existed between the Edomites and the Jews was particularly bitter, as is often true of family quarrels. This hostility had been of long standing, probably derived from the birthright incident (25). It came to the surface when the descendants of Esau refused permission to the children of Israel to go through their land on the way to Canaan (Num. 20:14-21). The animosity was apparent in the wars that Saul waged against the enemies of his people (1 Sam. 14:47). David took severe measures against the Edomites, slaying “every male” and placing garrisons “throughout all Edom,” making them “servants” (see on 2 Sam. 8:13, 14; 1 Kings 11:15). The clash between the two enemies continued under David’s son, Solomon (1 Kings 11:14-22). During the reign of Jehoshaphat, the Edomites, called “the children of Seir” (see Gen. 32:3; 36:8; Deut. 2:5), together with the Moabites and the Ammonites, invaded Judah (2 Chron. 20:22). The independence they lost under David they regained under Jehoram (2 Chron. 21:8-10). The struggle between Edom and the Israelites was again taken up when Amaziah of Judah successfully attacked the Edomites, capturing their stronghold, Sela, and putting many of them to death (2 Kings 14:1, 7; 2 Chron. 25:11, 12). Still incompletely subdued, they again attacked Judah in the time of Ahaz (2 Chron. 28:17). When Jerusalem was destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar the Edomites rejoiced over the calamities that befell Judah (see on Ps. 137:7).
Following the pronouncement of doom upon Edom the prophet turns to promises of restoration for Israel. The house of Jacob would again “possess their possessions” (Obadiah 17), and extend their boundaries (vs. 19, 20).
I. The Prediction of Doom Upon Edom, 1-16. A. Summons to heathen nations to attack Edom,1, 2.