The Book of Obadiah, with its one chapter, is the shortest book in the Old Testament. I have never heard a sermon from this book. Nevertheless it is a chapter with many important lessons for us today.
No-one knows anything about the prophet Obadiah apart from the fact that he was given this prophecy by God. This in itself is a reminder that many of God’s servants, perhaps the vast majority, remain unknown, at least to subsequent generations. How many preachers from my hometown in the past, for example, could I list, never mind say anything else about them?
The theme of Obadiah’s prophecy is twofold: first, the enemies of God’s people, represented by Edom, will eventually perish no matter how secure they may seem at the moment; second, God’s people will eventually prosper no matter how irrelevant and weak they may seem at the moment.
The people of Edom were the descendants of Esau, who was the nephew of Abraham and the brother of Jacob. One would expect them therefore to have some affinity with a people group with which they had connections and with whom they shared a common border. Yet throughout their history they had shown no concern for or interest in Israel. Edom assumed, wrongly, that their geographical location would provide permanent security (v. 3), that their wise men, for which they were famous, would provide enduring leadership (v. 8), and that their soldiers would always protect them (v. 9). It is not difficult to find similar outlooks today.
Obadiah refers to an occasion when Jerusalem had been ransacked and Edom had rejoiced over the tragic events that followed, pillaging property and murdering those who tried to escape (vv. 10-14). Yet Edom, along with other nations, would yet be conquered; indeed there would be no survivors to live in their ‘secure’ land. This prophecy was fulfilled when Edom was conquered by Babylon and disappeared from history. Of course, far greater nations than Edom have also disappeared and I suspect that the Great Day will reveal than one major reason for their disappearance was their opposition to God’s kingdom.
In contrast with Edom, a small remnant would remain in Judah (v. 17). Eventually the geographical territory of Israel would be recovered, and their restoration would also include taking over territory once ruled by their enemies, including Edom (vv. 19-21). This is a picture of how God’s kingdom makes progress, eventually becoming strong in places where once it was opposed very strongly. We see this happening as the gospel grows throughout the world.