The Punishment of Edom

"Thus saith the Lord GOD; Because that Edom hath dealt against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and hath greatly offended, and revenged himself upon them; Therefore thus saith the Lord GOD; I will also stretch out mine hand upon Edom, and will cut off man and beast from it; and I will make it desolate from Teman; and they of Dedan shall fall by the sword."—Ezekiel 25:12, 13

Joseph Megacz

Very little is known about the prophet Obadiah, whose vision of the doom of Edom and the restoration of Israel comprise the shortest book of the Old Testament. Yet his message is not obscure, because his words are quoted and his thoughts are repeated by other Bible authors, such as Jeremiah and John the Revelator. We are going to analyze the book of Obadiah verse by verse and compare certain verses with passages in other books of the Bible, but first, a brief overview of the book. The book of Obadiah is twenty-one verses long. The first sixteen describe God’s punishment upon Edom because of their actions when Israel was under attack by other enemies. The Edomites joined the attackers, taking a spoil in Jerusalem and blocking the way of the fleeing Jews, instead of helping their relatives, the Israelites.

The next five verses are a sharp contrast to verses 1-16, describing blessings from God upon the house of Jacob—deliverance from captivity, a return to their land, a triumph over their enemies, and holiness upon mount Zion.

Bible historians are divided between two possibilities as to when Obadiah wrote this prophecy. One group of historians says that the attack upon Israel mentioned by Obadiah was the attack of Nebuchadnezzar in 606 B.C., so they conclude Obadiah must have written his prophecy around 600 B.C.

The other group notes that the prophet Jeremiah quotes Obadiah, and since Jeremiah’s prophecy is known to be shortly after 600 B.C., Obadiah’s prophecy must have been much earlier, or else Jeremiah would not have known of Obadiah’s vision. This group holds that the attack Obadiah describes was not by Nebuchadnezzar, but by the Philistines and other Arabians recorded in 2 Kings 21:16, 17. Such reasoning would put the time of Obadiah’s writing back around 900 B.C., some 300 years before Nebuchadnezzar’s attack.

From Obadiah’s brief and vague description of the attack upon Israel, it is difficult to say whether it was Nebuchadnezzar’s attack in 606 B.C. or some other. But there are some hints, and perhaps an interpretation of the symbolic aspect of Obadiah’s prophecy will give us a clue.

The land of Edom lay to the south of the two tribe kingdom of Judah, between the Dead Sea and the Red Sea. Modern day Israel includes the western half of ancient Edom. The eastern half of ancient Edom is in modern day Jordan. The capital city of Edom was Bozrah.

Verses 1-9 of the prophecy tell of God’s judgment and punishment of Edom. Edom is being spoken to here, so it should be remembered that the words thee or thy refer to Edom. The next seven verses tell why Edom is to be punished.

The Historical Setting

We will first note the literal historical events of verses 10-16 before applying any symbolic meaning to them.

In verse 10 Obadiah rebukes the Edomites for violence against their brethren the Israelites, referred to as "thy brother Jacob." Edom, of course, was the name given to Esau after he sold his brother Jacob his birthright as firstborn son of Isaac (Gen. 25:30). There was ill will between Jacob and Esau, and it continued through their children and their children’s children for over a thousand years down to the time of Obadiah.

In verse 11, we suggest that the words, "in the day that thou stoodest on the other side" imply that, geographically, Edom was on one side of Jerusalem and the attackers came from the other side. Jerusalem was in between. Since Edom is to the south of Jerusalem, it would imply that the attackers came from the north. This thought is supported by the words of verse 14: "Neither shouldest thou have stood in the crossway, to cut off those of his that did escape; neither shouldest thou have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress."

As the Jews fled southward to escape their attackers from the north, the Edomites, to the south, blocked their escape path and instead of helping the Jews to fight or at least hide they hunted them out of their hiding places, putting them into the hands of their attackers.

I think the attackers were the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar because they would have come from the north, while the Philistines and other Arabs would have come from the south, the same side as Edom. This would contradict the clues in verses 10 and 14 about Edom being on the opposite side of the attackers and hindering the fleeing Israelites. Israelites fleeing an attack of Philistines, who lived in what is today the Gaza strip, would have fled northward, not encountering any Edomites.

The Babylonians, on the other hand, would have followed the banks of the river Euphrates northward to the hills of modern day Turkey, then turned southward along the Mediterranean coast and attacked Israel from the north. The Edomites joined the attack both to curry favor with the attacking Babylonians as well as to carry off a spoil and avenge a thousand-year-old grievance. No doubt the Edomites were opportunists and did not stop to think that ifBabylon was come to take a spoil of Israel, what would stop them from doing the same to Edom?

The Judgment on Edom

The Babylonians first welcomed the alliance with the Edomites against Israel, then they turned and conquered them also (vs.1-7). "The vision of Obadiah: Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom; We have heard a rumor from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the heathen, Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle. . . . All the men of thy confederacy have brought thee even to the border: the men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee, and prevailed against thee; they that eat thy bread have laid a wound under thee: there is none understanding in him" (vs. 1, 7).

The conquest was complete. "If thieves came to thee, if robbers by night, (how art thou cut off!) would they not have stolen till they had enough? if the grapegatherers came to thee, would they not leave some grapes?" (v. 5). Mere thieves would have been easier on Edom. Thieves take as much as they can carry and leave the rest. Similarly harvest workers take most of the grapes but leave some grapes, or gleanings as in the margin. But Babylon left nothing after its conquest of Edom. The once proud Edomites of verses 3 and 4 were cut off completely forever as we read in verses 8 and 9. Edom is no more. Her treachery in assisting the Babylonians against their brethren, the descendants of Jacob, was repaid in kind by Babylonian treachery of turning upon their former allies, the Edomites, and conquering them, too. Notice the last part of verse 15 again: "as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head."

The Symbolic Application

Corresponding to Obadiah 1 and 2 are Revelation 17:4, 16. "And the woman was arrayed in purple and scarlet color, and decked with gold and precious stones and pearls, having a golden cup in her hand full of abominations and filthiness of her fornication: . . . And the ten horns which thou sawest upon the beast, these shall hate the whore, and shall make her desolate and naked, and shall eat her flesh, and burn her with fire."

Here the woman symbolizes Babylon and the beast represents the nations who were allied with the churches from A.D. 539 to A.D. 1799. Verse 16 describes an event still future after a second uniting of the church and state systems when the ten horns of the beast representing the ten divisions of Christendom, the people of the so-called Christian nations, rise up against the nominal church systems with destructive fury as verse 16 declares.

Obadiah 3 through 6 are almost word for word the same as Revelation 18:7, 8. "How much she hath glorified herself, and lived deliciously, so much torment and sorrow give her: for she saith in her heart, I sit a queen, and am no widow, and shall see no sorrow. Therefore shall her plagues come in one day, death, and mourning, and famine; and she shall be utterly burned with fire: for strong is the Lord God who judgeth her." The completeness of the destruction is vividly described in both the Old and New Testament prophecies.

Obadiah 8 and 9, which speaks of the dismay of the leaders of Edom has its parallel in Revelation 18:9-11: "And the kings of the earth, who have committed fornication and lived deliciously with her, shall bewail her, and lament for her, when they shall see the smoke of her burning, Standing afar off for the fear of her torment, saying, Alas, alas, that great city Babylon, that mighty city! for in one hour is thy judgment come. And the merchants of the earth shall weep and mourn over her; for no man buyeth their merchandise any more."

Obadiah 10-14, which we considered in detail earlier speaks of the treachery Edom committed against their blood relations, natural Israel. Parallel to these verses are the many verses in Revelation that speak of the persecution of true spiritual Israel at the hands of the whore, the harlot, Babylon, nominal spiritual Israel. And among these scriptures is Revelation 18:24: "And in her was found the blood of prophets, and of saints, and of all that were slain upon the earth."

Obadiah 15 and 16 are the last two verses in the first part of the prophet’s vision which speak of the doom of Edom. Their parallel is in Revelation 18:3, 6: "For all nations have drunk of the wine of the wrath of her fornication, and the kings of the earth have committed fornication with her, and the merchants of the earth are waxed rich through the abundance of her delicacies. . . . Reward her even as she rewarded you, and double unto her double according to her works: in the cup which she hath filled fill to her double." In Obadiah’s account, both ye, Edom, and the heathen which later rose up against Edom, drank the intoxicating wine of triumph and conquest over God’s literal holy mountain, the city of Jerusalem in 606 B.C. In the Revelation 18 parallel passage, both the nominal churches and the civil governments drink the wine of fornication and celebrate their temporary triumph over the true church, the symbolic holy mountain of God. For a time, they drink together in unholy union of church and state. But at the end, as the sequence of Obadiah 16 indicates, the civil governments drink alone in the nominal church’s place, "as ye have drunk," and then they (the heathen in verse 16 symbolizing the civil governments after the church systems are destroyed) "shall be as though they had not been" when the kingdom is established, and the nations are overthrown. The parallel passage to this is in Revelation 19:15-21. The parallels and similarities between Obadiah’s vision of the doom of Edom and John the Revelator’s vision of the destruction of Babylon are striking.

An Apparent Inconsistency

There is one apparent inconsistency in this application of the literal events in Obadiah. We said the literal country of Edom was attacked and destroyed by the literal country of Babylon under King Nebuchadnezzar shortly after 606 B.C. Now if literal Edom symbolizes Babylon, who does literal Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar symbolize? Can Babylon attack Babylon?

Babylon is a term that has more than one meaning. Sometimes Babylon has a narrow, specific meaning, such as the Catholic church by itself or perhaps the Catholic and Protestant churches together. And sometimes Babylon has a wider or general meaning including not only the Catholic and Protestant churches but also the nations and their civil organizations as well. So in Obadiah as in Revelation, we have a picture of the civil elements of Christendom rising up against the ecclesiastical elements with which it formerly cooperated.


"But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it. And they of the south shall possess the mount of Esau; and they of the plain the Philistines: and they shall possess the fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria: and Benjamin shall possess Gilead. And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south. And saviors shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD‘S." (vs. 17-21).

The return of the house of Jacob to its possessions of land mentioned in verse 17 had the beginning of a literal fulfillment in 536 B.C. when Cyrus the Persian gave his decree that Jews taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar could return to their former country. Verse 18 describes a vengeance of the Israelites upon the literal Edomites when they returned, and this may have had a literal fulfillment. The historian Josephus recounts how Judas Maccabeus led an army against the descendants of the few Edomites who survived Babylon’s attack and slew most of them. The apocryphal books of first and second Maccabees also include a record of Edomites being taken captive into slavery to serve the Jews.

Verse 19 is interesting in that it describes the land Israel shall repossess with a description of the four points of the compass. Esau or Edom is the southern extremity, the Philistines as we said before were to the west in what is now the occupied Gaza strip, Ephraim was to the north of Jerusalem although there were tribes even further north than Ephraim, and Gilead was to the east, on the eastern bank of the Jordan river. Most but not all of this land Obadiah describes is presently part of the country of Israel or under its control, and we expect even more land and returning Jews to be added to that nation.

Verse 20 hints at this with the reference to the captivity of Jerusalem, which is in Sepharad. Bible expositors give various interpretations to the location of Sepharad. Some say Spain and France, far to the west, others say a region of Babylon near the Euphrates far to the east. Perhaps the vagueness of this reference, Sepharad, is meant to convey that wherever the captives are, from east to west, they will return. This and other prophecies of thereturn of the Jews to the land God gave them have yet to see their complete fulfillment. Then will come the full extent of "Jacob’s Trouble" upon regathered Israel, followed by the establishment of the kingdom as verse 21 describes.

Earth’s Kingdom Established

In the symbolic application of these final five verses of Obadiah, Mount Zion symbolizes the heavenly phase of the kingdom of God. When the kingdom on earth is established, deliverance, redemption from sin through Christ and the resurrection power, will issue forth from Mount Zion upon the inhabitants of earth. And there shall be holiness—righteousness— under the terms of the Messianic reign.

But before that kingdom of holiness is fully set up, verse 18 tells us that the last remnants of the old order, this present evil world, must be destroyed and swept away. Perhaps the house of Jacob and the house of Joseph mentioned in verse 18 refer to the restored nation of Israel and the resurrected ancient worthies respectively in their early work of drawing all nations to Jerusalem and putting down any last rebellion to the new kingdom arrangement. And when their work is done, "there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau," meaning that the last vestiges of Christendom will be done away with and the kingdom of peace and righteousness will be established, "for the Lord hath spoken it."

Symbolically, verse 19 seems to say that the kingdom’s borders will extend throughout the world from north to south and east to west, including mountains, plains, fields and Gilead. It was in Gilead that healing balm was produced. Indeed the Kingdom will heal mankind of all their sin. The mention of the Philistines and Esau suggests that the former enemies of God will be brought under subjection to kingdom rule.

Verse 20 speaks of the returned captives of Israel: literally the exiles of the Babylonian captivity and symbolically all of mankind, which has been captive to Satan in the great prison house of death, the gates of which will be opened and all who are in their graves will come forth.

Obadiah saves the best and most beautiful words of his vision for last. The saviors of verse 21 are, in the writer’s opinion, the ancient worthies—the earthly, visible representatives of the heavenly phase of the kingdom. The true saviors are of course our Lord Jesus and his bride, the church class, who will be priests and kings on mount Zion, in heaven. But the ancient worthies will be as judges on earth, what was formerly the mount of Esau, the old order. And the ancient worthies will instruct the people in righteousness and teach them to walk up the highway of holiness. What a beautiful picture of the kingdom!

A final comment about Obadiah has to do with the meaning of the prophet’s name. The ending "IAH" means "of God." In Hebrew God’s name is Yahweh or Yah for short. "Obad-i-jah" means "servant of God." The Arabic counterpart of Obadiah is Abd-u-Allah or Abdullah or Abdul, which is a common name in the Middle East.

Obadiah’s name declared that he was a servant of the most high God. We likewise are servants of God. Obadiah was a prophet, an ambassador of God. We, likewise are ambassadors for Christ. Obadiah saw the persecution of Jerusalem and was given a vision of the destruction of the old order of things as well as the establishment of the new. We are members of spiritual Israel and partakers of the sufferings of Christ, and we have the vision of the divine plan of the Ages as well as a more sure word of prophecy now in process of fulfillment, which will shortly culminate in the final destruction of the old order, the complete restoration of Israel, and the full establishment of the Kingdom of God.

Obadiah said in closing, "the Kingdom shall be the Lord’s." This was Obadiah’s vision; this is our vision as well.