Q&A: Teaching Obadiah

Teaching Obadiah

Question

I have to teach a class on Obadiah. What background can you give me on this book? Can you recommend a teaching outline? What modern applications can we make from this book?

Answer

Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. It consists of an oracle against the Edomites (Obad. 1). They have been proud and violent toward God's people (Obad. 10). Here God pronounces judgment on them.

First, who were the Edomites? The Edomites lived on the mountain and plateau area just south of the Dead Sea. Their struggle with Israel traces all the way back to the fathers of these two nations. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, and they had been struggling with God's people since Rebekah's womb (Gen. 25). Notice how Obadiah alludes to this ancient struggle by referring to the Edomites as "Esau" (Obad. 6) and by calling Israel "your brother Jacob" (Obad. 10,12).

Next, what had the Edomites done? According to verses 11-14 they had not helped their brothers. Instead, they had assisted in the downfall of Israel. Edom even cut off those who escaped and delivered them up to the attackers. Although we cannot be certain when this attack occurred, it could be when the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem in 586 B.C. According to Psalm 137 and Ezekiel 35:1-15, the Edomites had some sort of involvement in this attack.

Beyond this background, it is important to note the message of Obadiah. He not only announces judgment on Edom, but in verse 15 he shifts his focus. For the rest of the book he announces the Day of the Lord and divine judgment against all nations, not just Edom. Israel will be vindicated and experience ultimate triumph. Obadiah prophesies of a time when Israel and its boundaries will be restored. No longer will its land and people be ruled by foreigners, but the captives will possess the land and "the kingdom shall be the Lord's" (Obad. 21). Thus I would suggest a teaching outline as follows:
  1. God Declares War against Edom (Obad. 1-14)
  2. God Promises a New Order (Obad. 15-21)
Much could be said regarding application but I will mention five possibilities:

First, Edom is a negative example for God's people. We are to love our brothers and seek their welfare. Edom was seeking to get ahead of Israel and was gloating over her downfall. This is not a godly attitude. 1 Corinthians 13 calls Christians to a different mindset.

Second, Obadiah's message teaches the sovereignty of God. God does not just govern and control his people, but he is Lord over all nations - including Edom. He is the invisible hand guiding all of the events of history. This gives us hope today as we watch the events of history unfold. God has a plan. He is in control. He is the Sovereign Yahweh.

Third, God is faithful to his covenant. In Genesis 12:3 God tells Abraham and his descendants, "I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse." Is this not what God is doing in Obadiah? He is cursing Edom for their failure to help his covenant people. Just as God kept his word in Obadiah's day, so too he is true to his word today. He is faithful to all of his covenant promises to us.

Fourth, the kingdom of God has come! The New Testament teaches that the Day of the Lord began with Jesus. He inaugurated the kingdom of God. It has not come in its fullness yet, but we do see the steady advance of God's people possessing the promises that Obadiah puts forth. We do not have them in their fullness yet, but we strive toward them, looking forward to the day when "the kingdom shall be the Lord's." As Revelation 11:15 tells us, "The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ."

Fifth, we see God engaging in holy war in Obadiah. Although this may sound contrary to the New Testament teaching of loving our enemies, it is not. There is still holy war in the New Testament as God's kingdom advances. We no longer fight nations and people groups; we fight against spiritual forces with spiritual weapons.

Answer by Mr. Todd Johnson