Saturday, September 27, 2014

Obadiah: a Book Report

The following is from a work-in-progress called "The Bible: a Book Report" in which I read each book of the Bible, summarize it in my own words, and occasionally give some commentary.  I will also include biblical artwork by famous artists.

The book of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament.  It is only one chapter long, 21 verses.  It was written during/after the Babylonian siege of the Kingdom of Judah in 587 B.C.E.  The prophet Obadiah speaks harsh words of judgment against Judah's neighbor Edom, because they conspired with Babylon, and looted Judah.  Obadiah sees this as a family betrayal, because the nation of Edom was thought to be descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob (or Israel).  Thus, Esau/Edom has betrayed his brother Jacob/Israel.  The prophet uses poetic repetition to list the offenses of Edom against Israel, which include helping the enemy, looting, and even tracking down Judeah fugitives/refugees:

But you should have not gloated over your brother
on the day of his misfortune,
you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah
on the day of their ruin;
you should not have boasted 
on the day of distress
You should not have entered the gate of my people
on the day of their calamity;
you should not have joined in the gloating over Judah's disaster
on the day of his calamity;
you should not have looted his goods
on the day of his calamity.
You should not have stood at the crossings
to cut off his fugitives;
you should not have handed over his survivors
on the day of distress."

Obadiah's vision of the relationship between neighboring nations is that of a family.  Mistreating a neighboring nation is like mistreating a brother.  This is, I think, a pretty timeless message, especially considering the ongoing unrest between nations in the middle east.  Obadiah ends his prophecy with a hopeful vision of a restored Jerusalem/Zion; however this restoration comes at the expense of Edom:

"But on Mount Zion there shall be those that escape,
and it shall be holy;
and the house of Jacob shall take possession of
those who dispossessed them.
The house of Jacob shall be a fire,
the house of Joseph a flame,
and the house of Esau stubble;
they shall burn them and consume them,
and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau;
for the Lord has spoken."

One would hope that Obadiah's vision would be one of forgiveness of Edom; however, it is one of vengeance.  This is disturbing but understandable, given the fact that Edom had wronged their neighbor Israel.  This was one in a long series of conflicts between Israel and her neighbors, a conflict that continues today, sadly.  Reading a book like Obadiah, I'm left with a couple lingering questions regarding the relationship between the Bible and conflict between Israel and her neighbors today: to what extent does the Bible legitimize and exacerbate today's conflicts?  On a more hopeful note: Does the Bible see a way beyond these seemingly endless conflicts?

"The Prophets Zephaniah, Joel, Obadiah, and Hosea" by John Singer Sargent

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