The book of Obadiah belongs to the period that followed Jerusalem’s final collapse and ultimate destruction by the Babylonians in 587 BC. Nothing is known of Obadiah’s ministry apart from what is contained in the short book that bears his name, though he must have been one of the few genuine prophets left in Judah at the time of its overthrow and captivity. His book is concerned with God’s judgment on the nation Edom.
Edom and the fall of Jerusalem
When the armies of Babylon finally broke through the walls of Jerusalem and destroyed the city, the Edomites joined in, taking wicked delight in helping to wipe out the last traces of the ancient Israelite nation (Ps 137:7; Ezek 35:1-5,12,15). The prophet Obadiah, writing some time later, announced God’s judgment on Edom for acting with such hostility against its brother nation, whom it should rather have helped.
(The nation Israel was descended from Jacob, the nation Edom from Jacob’s brother Esau; see Gen 25:23-26; 32:28; 36:1,8-9. For examples of the hatred that existed, first between the two brothers and later between the two nations descended from them, see Gen 27:36,39-45; Num 20:14-21; 2 Sam 8:13-14;
1 Kings 11:15-16; 2 Kings 8:20-22; 14:7; 16:6; 2 Chron 25:11-12; 28:17.)
Edom was situated south of Judah, between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqabah, the north-eastern arm of the Red Sea. (See maps located in the commentaries on Numbers and Hosea.) It was a land of rugged mountains that provided it with strong defences against enemy attacks. Chief among its mountains was Mt Seir, after which the nation was sometimes called (Gen 32:3; 36:8-9; Deut 2:1-5; Ezek 35:2,15).
The chief towns of Edom were Sela (Petra), Bozrah and Teman in the inland regions, and Ezion- geber on the Gulf of Aqabah. The Edomites, particularly those from the district of Teman, were famous for their wisdom and cunning (Job 2:11; Jer 49:7), but no amount of cleverness would deliver them from the impending judgment from God. As Obadiah predicted, the nation Edom was subsequently destroyed and its land devastated by enemy invasions (Mal 1:2-4).