In the Hebrew-Aramaic part of the Bible, Obadiah is the shortest book. With the exception of the name “Obadiah,” this book includes no specifics about the prophet. The reference to the despoiling of Jerusalem (verse 11) makes it evident that the message against Edom could not have been proclaimed until after the Babylonian monarch Nebuchadnezzar with his forces conquered the city. In the mid-sixth century BCE, Babyonlian king Nabonidus engaged in a military campaign against northern Arabia, and it is commonly believed that the kingdom of Edom came to its end at that time. This would have fulfilled the word of YHWH through Obadiah and Jeremiah, indicating that the message about the calamity to befall Edom must have been proclaimed before then.
A significant part of the “vision of Obadiah” is similar in wording to the expressions of judgment against Edom contained in the book of Jeremiah. (Compare Obadiah 1-4 with Jeremiah 49:14-16; Obadiah 5-8 with Jeremiah 49:7, 9, 10.) Basically the same testimony from Jeremiah and Obadiah could have served to emphasize that the word of YHWH regarding Edom would without fail be fulfilled.
Obadiah may have been the source of compositions other than the “vision” that is associated with his name. An extrabiblical psalm among the Dead Sea Scrolls (4Q380 1 ii 8, 9) bears the superscription, “Praise [song of praise] of Obadiah.” Only a fragmentary portion of one line of this psalm is extant and is insufficient for conveying a complete thought.
The opening words, “Vision of Obadiah [Abdias (LXX)],” function as a superscription and provide the only identification of the prophet through whom the message was made known. “Obadiah” means “servant of Yah” (the abbreviated form of the divine name [YHWH]). The designation “vision” indicates that the message was divinely revealed to the prophet and may have been impressed on his mind by means of a dream or while he was in a trance. (Verse 1)
Obadiah did not proclaim his own words but made known what YHWH had revealed to him (“thus said the Lord YHWH”), and the message related to Edom (“Idumea” [LXX], the land the Edomites inhabited). The Hebrew preposition that precedes “Edom” is le and, depending on the context, can convey various meanings, including “to,” “toward,” “concerning” or “about,” and “for.” In relation to Edom, translations commonly read “about” or “concerning” Edom. According to the Septuagint, the message is directed “to Idumea,” as the definite article that precedes “Idumea” is in the dative case, literally meaning “to the.” (Verse 1)
As the Septuagint rendering “I have heard” indicates, Obadiah is represented as using the first-person plural verb for “hear” in an editorial sense when saying, a “report we have heard” [literally, a ‘hearing we have heard’] from YHWH.” Thus the focus is again on YHWH as the source of the message. In the Hebrew text, the messenger who had been sent among the nations and the sender of the messenger are not identified. Since, however, YHWH is the one who revealed the message, he would reasonably be the one sending the messenger for the purpose of having the warriors of certain nations prepare themselves to undertake a military campaign against Edom. Although the Septuagint rendering is specific in identifying God as doing the sending, it makes no mention of a messenger but reads, “and besieging he sent out to the nations.” In view of the words that follow, this could be understood to mean that he sent a message for the nations to besiege “Idumea” or Edom. (Verse 1; see the Notes section.)
A number of nations were to be involved in the fulfillment of the word of YHWH. From this standpoint, the messenger could be spoken of as having been sent “among the nations.” The message directed to the people of these nations is, “Rise up [meaning to rise up to engage warfare] and let us rise up against her [the land of Edom] for battle.” (Verse 1)
As a nation, the Edomites considered themselves secure, but YHWH would make Edom “small,” insignificant, weak or helpless among the “nations” that would war against it. To foreign invaders, Edom amounted to nothing. It would be “exceedingly despised,” looked upon contemptuously as something to be seized and despoiled. (Verse 2; see the Notes section.)
“Insolence of heart” had deceived the nation of Edom. In their “heart” or their inmost selves, the Edomites haughtily imagined that no one could utterly destroy them. They regarded the natural barriers of their mountainous territory as furnishing sure protection. They had their residence in a “crag,” providing them with a strategic advantage if faced with the threat of an enemy invasion. (Verse 3; see the Notes section.)
With reference to Idumea (Edom), the Septuagint reads, The “haughtiness of your heart has lifted you up, [you] the one tenting in the holes of the rocks, elevating his dwelling.” The arrogance that originated in the “heart” or the inmost selves of the people resulted in a highly exalted view of their being safe in their land as residents in the crags. (Verse 3)
Edom is represented as saying self-assuredly, “Who will bring me down to the earth [or to the ground]?” The implied answer to the rhetorical question is that no enemy invader would be able to dislodge them from their secure position. (Verse 3)
Although Edom might appear to be “high like an eagle,” with the nation’s nest or residence being elevated as if “set among the stars,” YHWH would bring it down. In keeping with his purpose, he would let Edom be conquered. (Verse 4)
The phrase about “thieves” entering Edom and “despoilers” coming at night (literally, “despoilers of night”) concludes with a form of the Hebrew verb damáh preceded by ’eyk and may be translated as an exclamation. “How you have been destroyed!” This may be understood to mean that the devastation of Edom was so certain that it could be expressed as already having taken place. The rendering of the Septuagint is, “Where would you have been thrown away?” This question apparently relates to what those who acted as thieves and robbers would have done to Idumea (Edom). (Verse 5)
Either during the day or at night, “thieves” would steal what they considered to be valuable to them, leaving other items untouched. Under the cover of darkness, “despoilers” would seize what they desired and, in the process, ruin things that they would not take. The answer to the rhetorical question about thieves is that they would steal only what they wanted (“their sufficiency”). As for those gathering grapes, they would leave gleanings behind. (Verse 5; see the Notes section.)
Developments regarding Edom would be different. Enemy invaders would completely despoil and desolate everything. This is expressed as if it already had been accomplished. “How they have been searched out!” The mention of “Esau” that follows identifies those who would be “searched out” as being the descendants of Esau (the Edomites), the twin brother of Jacob, the patriarch from whom the Israelites descended. Enemy invaders would “search out” the Edomites wherever they may have concealed themselves, and would also “seek out” Esau’s (“his”) “hidden treasures.” This would differ from the action of thieves who would quickly seize what they wanted and not take the time to search everywhere in a house to find and steal everything of value that might be concealed. (Verse 6; see the Notes section.)
In the Masoretic Text, no identification is provided for the border to which “Esau” (the people of Edom) is sent. According to Rahlfs’ printed text of the Septuagint, the reference is to Esau’s “borders” (“your borders”), and those who did the sending are identified as the “men of your [Esau’s] covenant.” This could mean that former allies would not permit fleeing Edomite refugees to enter their land but would turn them away at Edom’s borders. Another possibility is that, when faced with a serious enemy threat, the Edomites would send messengers to their allies, but these allies would send the messengers back to their land, refusing to render aid. A number of translators have interpretively rendered the Hebrew text to apply to former allies who would turn against the Edomites and fight against them. “All the people who are your friends will force you out of the land.” (NCV) “Your allies have deceived you; they have driven you from your country.” (GNT, Second Edition) “Your allies can’t be trusted. They will force you out of your own country.” (CEV) (Verse 7)
The men or people with whom the Edomites had entered into a “covenant” or an alliance would deceive them, either providing no assistance when they were threatened with attack or actually fighting against them. According to the Septuagint, they would rise up against the Edomites. Those who had at one time been at “peace” with them would “prevail” over them, suggesting that their allies would force them out of their land. (Verse 7)
These former friends would make themselves guilty of base treachery. The expression “your bread” could mean “persons of your bread.” This could then apply to those who had been on friendly terms with the Edomites as if partaking with them of their bread or food. Instead of acting like friends, they would seek to ensnare the Edomites, placing a “net” (an “ambush” [LXX]) under them. The concluding phrase could be rendered, “[There is] no understanding in him.” This could mean that Esau or Edom (the Edomites collectively) would have no understanding to deal with the calamity that he would be facing. (Verse 7)
In Hebrew, the word rendered “net” is masculine gender, and this has given rise to renderings indicating that Esau would be unaware of the net that was about to entangle him, not realizing that former allies would become enemies. “Those who eat your bread will set a trap for you, but you will not detect it.” (NIV) “Your trusted friends will set traps for you, and you won’t even know about it.” (NLT) “Your best friends will trick and trap you, even before you know it.” (CEV) (Verse 7)
The opening phrase of the next verse literally reads, “not in that day.” These words could be understood as a question, “Will it not be in that day?” If this question relates to the preceding expressions, it could be understood to be, In that day or at that time, will not Edom’s allies act treacherously? Though not rendering the phrase as a question, the Contemporary English Version links the initial words to the preceding text. “Edom, when this happens, I, the LORD, will destroy all your marvelous wisdom.” (Verse 8)
It is also possible that this verse conveys the “utterance of YHWH” respecting the punitive judgment that he would express “in that day” or at the time when he would be restoring his people but would be acting against Edom and all the other nations that had been hostile to the Israelites. (Verses 16-20) A number of translations render the words to introduce the phrases that follow. “This is the word of the LORD: On that day I shall destroy all the wise men of Edom and leave no wisdom on the mountains of Edom.” (REB) “When that day comes — declares Yahweh — shall I not eliminate sages from Edom and intelligence from Mount Esau?” (NJB) Although the Edomites were known for having remarkable wise men in their midst, not a single one of them would be able to provide dependable guidance for dealing with the circumstances that would result when YHWH’s message through Obadiah began to be fulfilled. (Compare Jeremiah 49:7.) It would then be as if YHWH had literally removed every single wise person from Edom, causing all understanding or insight to cease existing in the “mountain of Esau” or the mountainous region the Edomites inhabited. (Verse 8; regarding the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section.)
With no Edomite in possession of needed wisdom, the military might of “Teman” would be useless. “Teman,” probably a city or a district in Edom, may here represent all of Edom. If this is the case, Edom’s mighty men or warriors are the ones who would lose courage and be reduced to a state of helplessness. The Hebrew verb that relates to what their situation would be is chatháth, which may signify to be “shattered,” “terrified,” “dismayed,” or “disheartened.” In the Septuagint, the corresponding verb is a form of ptoéo, meaning to be “terrified” or to “tremble.” On account of the “slaughter” the invaders would inflict on the Edomites, “[every] man” would be “cut off” (“taken away” [LXX]) from the “mountain of Esau” or from the mountainous region in which the Edomites resided. (Verse 9)
Punitive judgment would befall the Edomites on account of the “violence” (“slaughter and impiety” [LXX]) they had committed against their “brother Jacob.” The Edomites were descendants of Esau, whereas the Israelites were the descendants of Esau’s twin brother Jacob. Therefore, the Edomites should have conducted themselves like brothers toward the Israelites, but they manifested intense hatred. The “violence” of the Edomites included aggressive warring against the Israelites, siding with their enemies, and taking advantage of the Israelites in their time of adversity and treating them ruthlessly. (Compare Amos 1:11.) Therefore, “shame” would cover Edom, indicating that the land would be invaded and devastated and the people would suffer humiliating defeat. There would be no hope of recovery from the calamity, as Edom (the Edomites) would be “cut off” (“taken away” [LXX]) for “limitless time” (forever or “into the age” [LXX]). (Verse 10)
Edom is severely censured for the unbrotherly treatment of “Jacob” or, more specifically in this context, the people of the kingdom of Judah. “In the day” or at the time “strangers” or foreign invaders (the Babylonians) “captured” the “wealth” (cháyil) of “Jacob,” Edom stood by, aloof, at a distance, or (according to the Septuagint) “in opposition.” The Edomites did absolutely nothing that could have aided the Israelites in their time of great distress. (Verse 11; regarding the opening words of the Septuagint, see the Notes section.)
The Hebrew noun cháyil basically means “strength” or “power.” Depending on the context, it can denote “wealth” or property and can designate a military force. In the Septuagint, the corresponding word is dýnamis (“power,” “strength,” or “force”), which term would favor “army” as the meaning. (Verse 11)
When “foreigners” (the Babylonian warriors) entered Jacob’s “gate” (“gates,” according to the Septuagint and another reading of the Hebrew text) and cast the lot (“lots” [LXX]) over Jerusalem, Edom proved to be just like the invaders. The noun “gate” may be understood as a collective singular and may here apply to the gates of all the conquered cities in the kingdom of Judah. Apparently the warriors regarded Jerusalem, the capital city, as a special prize, one over which they cast lots to determine just what they would be able to seize as booty. The Edomites displayed the same disposition, seeking gain from the conquest of the cities of Judah and of the capital Jerusalem. (Verse 11)
Edom is rebuked for having manifested a malicious spirit toward “Jacob,” the defeated people of the kingdom of Judah. As “brothers” to the Israelites through their common descent from Abraham and Isaac, the Edomites should not have “looked” (as would those who gloat) in the “day of [their] brother” Jacob, the people of the kingdom of Judah, “in the day of his calamity” or distress. That day or time was when the Babylonian forces conquered the kingdom of Judah, devastating the land, looting whatever treasures they found, slaughtering many of the people, and taking survivors into exile. Instead of “in the day of his calamity,” the Septuagint reads, “in the day of foreigners,” which would be the day or time when the military force of foreigners would be triumphant. (Verse 12)
The Edomites should not have rejoiced over or been pleased with the ruin of the “sons” or people of Judah. In that “day” or time “of distress,” Edom should not have “made his mouth great.” The making of the mouth great could refer to the boasting of the Edomites, possibly over not having been brought down to a like humiliated state but continuing to enjoy security in their own land. Support for the meaning of “boasting” is found in the Septuagint, where the Hebrew expression is rendered as a form of the verb megalorremonéo (“boast”). It is also possible that making the mouth great could refer to opening the mouth wide as when taunting or laughing scornfully. (Verse 12)
The Edomites should not have entered into the “gate” of YHWH’s people “in the day of their calamity.” In this case, “gate” may be a collective singular referring to the gates of all the conquered cities in the kingdom of Judah. Another possibility is that the “gate” or “gates” of Jerusalem are meant. When entering the “gate,” the Edomites probably followed the conquerors after they had gained access to the besieged city. Their purpose in entering may primarily have been to loot. Also they should not have “looked” (as when gloating) at the misery of God’s people “in the day of [their] calamity” or “ruin” (ólethros [LXX]). The Edomites should not have sought gain from the suffering of the defeated Israelites, stretching out their hands to seize their “wealth” (cháyil) or property “in the day of [their] calamity” or “destruction” (apóleia [LXX]). (Verse 13; for additional comments concerning the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section.)
There is a measure of uncertainty about the significance of the Hebrew word péreq that designates the place where the Edomites should not have stood for the purpose of “cutting off” Israelite fugitives from the defeated kingdom of Judah. This Hebrew noun could refer to the parting of the ways, an escape route, or a mountain pass. The Septuagint rendering is a form of the noun diekbolé, meaning “pass” (mountain pass) or “outlet. Edomites apparently positioned themselves wherever Israelite fugitives needed to pass in order to escape from pursuing enemy forces and then stopped them from continuing their flight, thereby sharing in the “cutting off” or destruction of the fugitives. In this “day of distress” for the Israelites in the kingdom of Judah, the Edomites handed over Israelite survivors to their enemies. For such hateful action, the Edomites are censured. (Verse 14; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)
The hateful treatment to which they subjected the Israelites in their time of distress would ultimately work to the downfall of the Edomites, for the “day of YHWH” was near. Edom and all the other nations that had been hostile to YHWH’s people would not escape the severe punitive judgment of that “day.” The Edomites would then experience retribution. Just as they had dealt hatefully with the suffering Israelites, so they would be treated. Their cruel treatment of the Israelites would come upon their own “head” or upon them themselves. (Verse 15)
YHWH’s day can designate any time when his judgment is executed against those respecting whom his prophets had previously made it known. In view of the description of the exalted state of his people that follows the judgment of “all the nations,” this day of reckoning may be regarded as still having a fulfillment on a scale far greater than occurred after an Israelite remnant returned to their land from Babylonian exile. It would then be a day for judging the people of all the nations that refused to subject themselves to God’s will. This would place the ultimate fulfillment at the time the exalted King of kings and Lord of lords, Jesus the Anointed One, the Messiah or Christ, returns accompanied by hosts of angels, to be united to his own and to act against those who defiantly reject him as God’s appointed ruler. (Compare 2 Thessalonians 1:6-10.) Accordingly, Edom would represent all avowed opposers and haters of God’s true people, the genuine Israel. (Verse 15)
The ones who drank on YHWH’s holy mountain (the “mountain of his holiness”) are not specifically identified. According to the Septuagint rendering, the reference appears to be to Edom. In the previous verse, where Edom is addressed as meriting retribution, the verbs and pronouns (“you” and “your”) are second person singular. This is also the case in verse 16 regarding the drinking on the holy mountain, suggesting that there is no change in subject. A number of translations have made the reference to Edom explicit in their interpretive renderings. “You Edomites polluted my holy mountain of Zion by drinking and celebrating there.” (NIRV) “For as you [Edom] have drunk upon the mountain of My holiness.” (Amplified Bible) The drinking of Edom would then be associated with joyous revelry over the destruction of Jerusalem, the elevated site where YHWH’s temple had been located. Because this was the place where YHWH dwelt representatively with his people, it was his “holy mountain” or the “mountain of his holiness.” (Verse 16)
In the Hebrew text, the verb in the phrase “for as you have drunk on my holy mountain [mountain of my holiness]” is second person plural and so could indicate a change in subject. Moreover, to parallel what “all the nations” would experience, the nature of the drinking on the holy mountain as from a cup would have to be of a bitter nature for the partakers. At the time the territory of the kingdom of Judah was devastated and Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, the Israelites did drink from a cup of great suffering and humiliating defeat. This significance is reflected in the interpretive renderings of various translations. “I forced the people of Judah to drink the wine of my anger on my sacred mountain.” (CEV) “My people have drunk a bitter cup of punishment on my sacred hill.” (GNT, Second Edition) Upon drinking the bitter potion (“wine” [LXX]) and swallowing it, “all the nations” that persisted in their hatred of the people whom YHWH recognizes as his own would come to their end and appear as if they had never existed. (Verse 16)
After mentioning the drinking, the Septuagint indicates that “all the nations” would “descend.” This could mean that they would go down to the lower regions, to the realm of the dead. (Verse 16)
Very different circumstances, however, would come to exist on the “mountain of Zion.” “Escape” or “deliverance” (peleytáh) would come to be there. In the Septuagint, the Hebrew word peleytáh is rendered sotería, meaning “salvation” or “deliverance.” Both words suggest that the survivors of YHWH’s day of judgment had a relationship to him as the God who was specifically linked to Mount Zion, for it was his mountain by reason of its being the location of his temple. The phrase, “and it will be holiness [qódesh],” could refer to the “mountain of Zion” as being “holy.” It is also possible that, in this context, the Hebrew word qódesh denotes a “holy place,” a location of YHWH’s sure protection and which he would not allow any who oppose him to defile. (Verse 17)
After his conquest of Babylon, the Persian monarch Cyrus permitted Israelite exiles to return to their land and to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. These liberated Israelites came to enjoy the escape that had YHWH as the ultimate source and thus could be associated with Mount Zion, his representative place of dwelling. His exalted dwelling place, however, is in heaven, and his people are citizens of a heavenly Jerusalem. (Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 12:22-24) Through his Son who surrendered his life (Jesus the promised Messiah or Christ), he made it possible for them to be delivered from their sins and the condemnation to which sin leads. Therefore, in the ultimate sense, the heavenly Jerusalem or Mount Zion is the place from which “escape” or “deliverance” has come. With God being present in that exalted heavenly location, his true “holy place” is there. (Verse 17)
The “house of Jacob” or the people who descended from him (the Israelites) would come to possess “their possessions,” which may denote that they would once again have possession of their own land, the land from which they had been exiled. When applied to those who come to be citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, they come into possession of all the privileges and blessings associated with their heavenly estate. (Verse 17; compare Hebrews 11:8-10, 16; 13:13, 14.)
According to the Septuagint rendering, the “house of Jacob” would inherit or take possession of those who had taken possession of them. This would point to a reversal of the situation, with the Israelites ceasing to be in a condition of servitude and in exile from their own land. In the case of members of the true Israel, they are joint heirs with Jesus, the Anointed One, Messiah, or Christ, and his Father has granted him everything, including the nations. From that standpoint, these members of the true Israel and citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem possess those to whom they were once subject. (Verse 17; compare Psalm 2:6-8; Romans 8:17; Galatians 4:26; Hebrews 1:2; see the Notes section.)
With reference to Edom, the “house of Jacob” or the people descended from him (the Israelites) would be a fire and the “house of Joseph a flame.” The tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh were the descendants of the two sons of Joseph whom Jacob adopted as his own (Genesis 48:5, 6), and these two tribes had occupied territory in the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel. In this context, they represent the entire realm. Therefore, the mention of the “house of Joseph” indicated that the restored Israel would be a united people and not members of two rival kingdoms. With the “house of Esau” (the people of Edom or the Edomites, the descendants of Jacob’s twin brother) being mere “stubble,” the destructive fire coming from the restored Israel would “burn” the Edomites and “consume them.” Because YHWH had so decreed, there would “not be a survivor to the house of Esau.” (Verse 18; see the Notes section concerning the rendering of the Septuagint.)
The role of the Israelites in bringing about the end of the Edomites as a people came in the most direct manner during the last quarter of the first century BCE. According to Josephus, John Hyrcanus I, Jewish high priest and ruler, “subdued all the Idumeans” and allowed them to stay in the “country of their forefathers,” provided that they submitted to circumcision and lived according to the “laws of the Jews.” (Antiquities, XIII, ix, 1) This resulted in their eventually losing their identity as Edomites and ceasing to exist as a distinct people. (Verse 18)
It appears that the next two verses represent the expansion of the territory of the restored Israel beyond the borders of the former kingdom of Judah. “The Negeb [or, according to the Septuagint, ‘the ones in Nageb’ (the Negeb)] will possess the mountain of Esau.” This may mean that the restored Israelites residing in the Negeb, the region south of the mountains of Judah, would take possession of Edomite territory to the south and east of the Negeb. “And the Shephelah [will possess] the Philistines [‘allophyles,’ those of another tribe (LXX)].” This suggests that the residents in the Shephelah, the region between Israel’s central mountain range and the coastal plains bordering the Mediterranean Sea, would take possession of the territory that the Philistines had formerly occupied. (Verse 19)
“And they will possess the field of Ephraim and the field of Samaria, and Benjamin [will possess] Gilead.” Seemingly, to indicate that the restored Israel would be part of a united realm, with Jerusalem as the capital and center of true worship, the people are represented as taking possession of the former territory of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel, including the region of Ephraim and Samaria to the north of the former kingdom of Judah. The tribe of Benjamin had its territory on the northern border of the tribe of Judah, and those dwelling there are represented as taking possession of Gilead, the former region of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel situated east of the Jordan River and north of the Arnon and south of the region of Bashan. (Verse 19; see the Notes section for additional comments.)
It is difficult to determine the meaning of the phrase that starts with the words, “And the exiles of this fortress [hazzéh].” One view is that the Hebrew word hazzéh in the Masoretic Text is a defective spelling of cheyl, a noun that designates an outer wall, a rampart, or a fortress. Possibly the reference is to the exiles of the ten-tribe kingdom of Israel as represented by the “fortress” or fortified capital city Samaria. After the word hazzéh, the Masoretic Text includes words that do not express a complete thought (“among the sons of Israel who … Canaanites to Zarephath”). If the “who” is deleted, the sentence, with supplied words, could read, “And the exiles of this fortress among the sons of Israel [will possess the land of the] Canaanites [as far as] Zarephath.” A number of translations do not include any corresponding word for hazzéh. “People from Israel who once were forced to leave their homes will take the land of the Canaanites, all the way to Zarephath.” (NCV) “Exiles from Israel will possess Canaan as far as Zarephath.” (REB) In this context, “Canaanites” designates the Phoenicians. Zarephath has been identified with Sarafand, a site situated on the Mediterranean coast about eight miles (c. 13 kilometers) south of Sidon and about fourteen miles (c. 23 kilometers) north of Tyre. (Verse 20; see the Notes section regarding the Septuagint rendering.)
According to another view, hazzéh is a defective spelling of cháyil, which word can apply to an “army.” The Vulgate conveys this sense with the word exercitus, meaning “troop,” “army,” or “assembly.” Numerous translators have adopted this significance and have variously rendered the text. “The captives of the host of the children of Israel shall occupy the Canaanite land as far as Zarephath.” (NAB) “This company of Israelite exiles who are in Canaan will possess the land as far as Zarephath.” (NIV) “The exiles of this army, the sons of Israel, will have the Canaanites’ land as far as Zarephthah.” (NJB) “The army of exiles from northern Israel will return and conquer Phoenicia as far north as Zarephath.” (GNT, Second Edition) (Verse 20)
A footnote in Biblia Hebraica Stuttgartensia refers to the reading hazzéh and associated words as being corrupt and suggests the probable reading to be chalach [Halah] zeh. Halah was one of the places to which the Assyrians took Israelites from the kingdom of Israel into exile. (2 Kings 17:6; 18:11; 1 Chronicles 5:26) A number of translations have rendered the text according to this emendation. “The exiles of the Israelites who are in Halah who are among the Canaanites as far as Zarephath and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the cities of the Negev.” (HCSB) “The exiles of the Israelites who are in Halah shall possess Phoenicia as far as Zarephath; and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall possess the towns of the Negeb.” (NRSV) “The exiles from Halah, sons of Israel, will take in possession the land of the Canaanites as far as Sarepta [Zarephath].” (Die Verbannten von Halach, Söhne Israels, nehmen das Land der Kanaaniter in Besitz bis nach Sarepta. [German, Einheitsübersetzung]) (Verse 20)
There is considerable uncertainty about Sepharad, the place to which the exiles of Jerusalem are linked. The Peshitta, as does the Targum, identifies the place as being Spain. A modern conjecture that has not gained wide acceptance links Sepharad to ancient Euesperides (a site within the boundaries of modern Benghazi in Libya). Two locations that are considered to be more probable are Saparda in the territory of ancient Media and Sardis, the ancient capital of Lydia in the western part of Asia Minor. The exiles in Sepharad, although associated with Jerusalem, probably include Israelites from other parts of the territory of the former kingdom of Judah. These exiles would come to possess cities of the Negeb, which cities likely had earlier been under Edomite control. (Verse 20)
The reference to “saviors” acting as judges and to YHWH’s being in possession of kingship reflects the circumstances that existed before the establishment of the Israelite monarchy in the days of the prophet Samuel. (1 Samuel 8:4-7) During the time they had no king, YHWH raised up men as “saviors” to deliver the Israelites from enemy oppression. These saviors also rendered and executed judgments. (Verse 21; Judges 8:5-21; Nehemiah 9:27)
The “saviors” or “deliverers” who would be judging or exercising dominion over the “mountain of Esau” (the Edomites inhabiting the mountainous territory of Edom) would either be going up to the mountain of Zion to function in this capacity or would be going up to the mountainous territory of the descendants of Esau to judge or to exercise administrative authority over them. Both meanings are reflected in modern translations. “Leaders from Mount Zion will go and rule over the mountains of Esau.” (NIRV) “Those who wield authority on Mount Zion will go up to hold sway over the mountains of Esau.” (REB) “And saviors shall ascend Mount Zion to rule the mount of Esau.” (NAB) “Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau.” (NIV) In either case, the chief administrative center is represented as being Mount Zion or Jerusalem. (Verse 21; regarding the Septuagint rendering, see the Notes section.)
Ultimate rulership is not represented as being entrusted to the deliverers who would function as judges or administrators of affairs. The kingship is identified as belonging to YHWH. In view of the reference to the “mountain of Esau,” or the mountainous territory of Edom and its inhabitants, coming under the jurisdiction of leaders from Mount Zion, the kingship of YHWH embraces far more than the Israelites and the land inheritance promised to their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. As the judge of “all the nations” (verses 15 and 16), he is the Sovereign over all of them. (Verse 21)
In relation to the heavenly Jerusalem, YHWH exercises absolute authority over everything in heaven and on earth and will put an end to all rival authority by means of his Son, the promised Messiah or Christ through whom he will reign as his appointed King of kings and Lord of lords. No enemy power, like the Edomites of old, can defiantly resist his will without having judgment executed against them. (Verse 21; compare Psalm 2:6-12; 110:1, 2; Matthew 28:18; Philippians 2:9-11; 2 Thessalonians 1:5-10; Revelation 19:11-16.)
In Jeremiah 49:14, the same thought about hearing the report is found as in the first verse of Obadiah. The verb for “hear,” however,” is first person singular (“I have heard”). In this case, the messenger’s words directed to the nations are more detailed than those recorded in the book of Obadiah, “Gather yourselves together and come against her and rise up for battle.”
The wording of verse 2 and that of Jeremiah 49:15 are almost identical. In the book of Jeremiah, the verse starts with the conjunction ki, meaning “for.” Instead of referring to Edom as “exceedingly despised,” this verse concludes with the words “despised by man” (’adhám [a collective singular], “earthling”, which designation may be rendered “men”). The Hebrew word translated “exceedingly” is the noun me’ód (“abundance,” “greatness,” or “muchness”) and is commonly used as an adverb.
Much of the language found in verse 3 and in Jeremiah 49:16 is similar. The Jeremiah passage may be literally translated, “The shuddering you effected has deceived you, the insolence of your heart, [you] the one dwelling in the clefts of the crag, holding the height of the hill. Although you make your nest high like an eagle, from there I will bring you down,” is the “utterance of YHWH.” Verse 4 of Obadiah includes the phrase “like an eagle” in relation to Edom’s elevated position.
The words about grape gatherers in verse 5 are virtually identical to those of Jeremiah 49:9. In the Jeremiah passage, however, the mention of grape gatherers precedes the phrase about thieves, and the thieves are referred to as coming “by night” and causing only as much ruin as they deemed sufficient (“their sufficiency”).
In verses 5 through 7, future developments are expressed as if they had already taken place, suggesting that everything that had been divinely revealed was so certain of fulfillment that it could be spoken of as having happened.
According to the Septuagint rendering of verse 6, the verbs are third person singular and apply to Esau (representing the people who descended from him). “How Esau has been searched out and his concealed things seized!” In Jeremiah 49:10, YHWH is the one represented as stripping Esau (the people of Edom or the Edomites) bare and uncovering his concealed places, with there being no place for him to hide.
In verse 8, the Septuagint rendering is specific in pointing to the day or the time when YHWH would destroy wisdom from Idumea or Edom. “In that day, says the Lord, I will destroy the wise ones from Idumea and insight from the mountain of Esau.”
The Septuagint begins verse 11 with the words, “Since the day you stood in opposition.”
In verse 13, the Septuagint rendering does not represent God as calling the people “my people.” It says, “Also do not enter the gates of the peoples in the day of their afflictions.” The Septuagint indicates that the Edomites should not have looked “upon their gathering in the day of their ruin.” This could refer to the assembling of captive survivors that were to be taken into exile. As in verse 11, the Septuagint rendering of the Hebrew word cháyil (which noun can designate wealth or a military force but basically means “strength” or “power”) is dýnamis (“power,” “strength,” or “force”). The Septuagint concludes with the thought that the Edomites should not have participated in assaulting the military force of the Israelites in the kingdom of Judah “in the day of their destruction.”
The Septuagint represents the “cutting off” of fugitives or escapees (verse 14) as meaning “destroying” them. It adds that the Edomites should not have “closed up” or hemmed in the ones fleeing. This suggests that they blocked the movement of the people who were trying to make their escape.
For verse 17, the Septuagint reading has the support of a Hebrew manuscript (MurXII) from the first century CE. The words of the concluding phrase in this manuscript may be translated, “and the house of Jacob will possess those who possess them.”
In verse 18, the Septuagint does not contain a word that corresponds to the Hebrew term (saríd) that may be rendered “survivor.” The Sepuagint says that there “will not be a fire bearer [pyrophóros] to the house of Esau.” Perhaps this could be understood to mean that there would be no survivor, as there would be no Edomite to carry the torch for starting the sacrificial fire.
Verse 19 in the Septuagint does not refer to Benjamin as coming to possess Gilead but concludes with the words, “and they will possess the mountain [mountainous region] of Ephraim and the field of Samaria and Benjamin and Gilead [Galaaditis].”
Inheriting the land originally promised to Abraham is inseparably linked to his descendants through Isaac and Jacob. Seemingly, for this reason, the full restoration of a repentant Israelite remnant from exile is expressed in terms of their once again gaining possession of this land. (Verses 19 and 20) At the same time, the prophetic message regarding the expansion of the land inheritance could serve as an indication that the true Israel, the citizens of the heavenly Jerusalem, would come to enjoy privileges and blessings far greater than what the Israelites experienced as residents in the land that had been promised to Abraham.
According to Rahlfs’ printed text of the Septuagint, the exiles are not referred to as being in a distant location. Verse 20 reads, “And of the deportation, this [is] the dominion: to the sons of Israel that of the Canaanites as far as Sarepta [Zarephath], and the deportation of Jerusalem as far as Ephratha; they will also possess the cities of the Nageb [Negeb].” This reading indicates that the Israelite exiles from the former ten-tribe kingdom of Israel would come to possess the land as far as Zarephath, whereas the exiles from Jerusalem (probably including others who lived in the territory of the kingdom of Judah) would come to possess the region to the south, including the cities of the Negeb.
In verse 21, the Septuagint appears to refer to those “from the mountain of Zion” as men who would be delivered, saved, or rescued. This may mean that they were Israelites from Jerusalem or other parts of the former territory of the kingdom of Judah who would be delivered from exile. These delivered men “will go up to exact vengeance on the mountain of Esau,” the Edomites in the mountainous territory of Edom, “and the kingdom will belong to the Lord.”