Cambridge Bible for Schools and Colleges
The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom; We have heard a rumour from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the heathen, Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle.1–16. The Destruction of Edom. 1–9. The Punishment of Edom foretold
1. The vision of Obadiah.] This is the short Title of this short Book. It tells us the name of the Author, which is all that we know of him, and the nature of his work.
The vision] This word, like its cognate verb, when it is used with reference to prophetic revelation (e.g. Habakkuk 1:1; Isaiah 1:1; Isaiah 2:1; Nahum 1:1, comp. “seer,” 1 Chronicles 21:9 and the explanation given in 1 Samuel 9:9, where however the Heb. word for “seer” is not the same) properly signifies that which appears as it were before the eyes of the prophet, the picture which is represented to his mind in prophetic ecstasy. In that strict sense, part at least of what here follows was the vision of Obadiah. He sees the Edomites in the rocky fastnesses of Petra, like the eagles on their crags (Obadiah 1:3-4). He beholds them taking part against the Israelites in the day of their calamity, and as a spectator of their actions cries out to them repeatedly, “Do it not” (Obadiah 1:11-14). But the word comes to be used in a wider sense, and is often, as here, the title of a whole Book, in which, together with visions proper, historical and other matter is contained (comp. Isaiah 1:1 with 2 Chronicles 32:32).
Obadiah] i.e. servant, or worshipper of Jehovah.
Thus saith the Lord God concerning Edom] This is not a second title of the Book. It does not stand as an independent sentence, but is closely connected with what follows. The word “her” at the end of the verse and the direct addresses without mention of name, Obadiah 1:2-5, refer to and require the word “Edom” in this clause. It is rather the opening announcement of the prophet, that all that he is about to utter is not his own word, but Jehovah’s. The remainder of the verse follows logically, rather than formally, upon this announcement. In Obadiah 1:2, Jehovah is introduced as the speaker.
We have heard] This has been taken to mean, “I, and other prophets of my own or earlier times,” or “I, and my countrymen,” implying, in this latter case, “that the tidings were of the greatest interest to Israel, and would afford it consolation.” (Delitzsch.) But the absence of the personal pronoun in the Hebrew, and the use of the singular number, “I have heard,” by Jeremiah in the parallel passage (Jeremiah 49:14) seem rather to shew that “We” has here no special emphasis. To the prophet as a Jew the world was divided into two parts, his own countrymen and the heathen. “A rumour,” he says, “has reached us: a herald is sent to them.”
rumour] lit. hearing. The same Hebrew word is rendered “report” Isaiah 53:1, and elsewhere. (Comp. ἀκοαί πολέμων, Matthew 24:6.) It means here tidings (R.V.), or message. There is no idea of uncertainty as in the English word rumour.
ambassador] or a messenger (comp. Proverbs 13:17; Proverbs 25:13). The meaning of the word seems to be, to go on circuit; or as we should say to go round, from nation to nation. Jeremiah describes Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon, as fighting against Jerusalem and against all the cities thereof with “all his army and all the kingdoms of the earth of his dominion, and all the people” (Jeremiah 34:1). His army would doubtless be of the same composite character when he subsequently turned his hand against Edom.
Arise ye, and let us rise up] This may either be taken as being throughout the address of the messenger or herald to the nations whom he visits, inciting them to arise, and associating himself with them in the invitation which he gives; or it may be the call of the herald and the response of the nations, heard as it were and recorded by the prophet—“Arise,” says he; “Let us arise,” say they. Or yet again, the words may be throughout those of the heathen exhorting one another to obey the summons of the herald, whose address to them is not recorded but left to be gathered by the reader from the effect which it produces. This last is most forcible and most in accordance with the graphic style of Obadiah. He hears the call to arms passing to and fro, brief and eager, “Arise ye,” “Let us arise,” as Jehovah’s herald pursues his onward course. The parallel passage in Jeremiah, however, if it is to be regarded as a version of them in prose, favours the first of these interpretations of the words.
Behold, I have made thee small among the heathen: thou art greatly despised.2. I have made thee … thou art] Jehovah is now the speaker. “I have made thee small” in my purpose, which though its accomplishment is still future is as certain as though it were already executed. “Thou art,” already in inevitable destiny, “greatly despised.” There is nothing to commend the view of Calvin and others that Obadiah 1:2 is introduced to aggravate the pride of Edom: “Whereas I made thee small and despised, by the narrow territory which I assigned to thee, and the low place I gave thee among the nations of the earth, the pride of thine heart hath deceived thee,” &c. As a fact the Edomites had at this time acquired very considerable territory, and were a strong and formidable nation. If that had not been so, what need would there have been to summon “the nations” to chastise them?
The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?3. the clefts of the rock] The word rock may here be a proper name, Selah or Petra; the reference would then be to the rock-hewn dwellings of that remarkable city. Perhaps, however, the reference is more general to the “clefts of the rock” which abounded and were used as habitations throughout Edom proper. The expression which occurs here and in Jeremiah 49:16, is only found beside in Song of Solomon 2:14, where it is used of the hiding-place of a dove.
Ewald renders this verse: “Thy heart’s haughtiness deceived thee, who inhabiteth in rock-clefts, his proud dwelling, who saith in his heart, who shall cast me down to the earth?”
“The great strength of a position such as Selah’s was shewn during the war of the Independence of Greece, in the case of the monastery of Megaspelion, which was situated, like Selah, on the face of a precipice. Ibrahim Pasha was unable to bring its defenders down by assault from below, or above, and though ungarrisoned it baffled his utmost efforts.” Speaker’s Commentary.
For a description of Petra and the approach to it, see note A, below.
The following graphic description of Petra from the pen of the late Dean Stanley, is taken by permission of the publishers from his well-known work, Sinai and Palestine:—
“You descend from those wide downs and those white cliffs which I have before described as forming the background of the Red City when seen from the west, and before you opens a deep cleft between rocks of red sandstone rising perpendicularly to the height of one, two, or three hundred feet. This is the Sîk, or ‘cleft;’ through this flows—if one may use the expression—the dry torrent, which, rising in the mountains half-an-hour hence, gives the name by which alone Petra is now known amongst the Arabs—Wâdy Mûsa. ‘For,’—so Sheykh Mohammed tells us—‘as surely as Jebel Hârûn (the Mountain of Aaron) is so called from the burial-place of Aaron, is Wâdy Mûsa (the Valley of Moses) so called from the cleft being made by the rod of Moses when he brought the stream through into the valley beyond.’ It is, indeed, a place worthy of the scene, and one could long to believe it. Follow me, then, down this magnificent gorge—the most magnificent, beyond all doubt, which I have ever beheld. The rocks are almost precipitous, or rather, they would be, if they did not, like their brethren in all this region, overlap, and crumble, and crack, as if they would crash over you. The gorge is about a mile and a half long, and the opening of the cliffs at the top is throughout almost as narrow as the narrowest part of the defile of Pfeffers, which, in dimensions and form, it more resembles than any other of my acquaintance. At its very first entrance you pass under the arch which, though greatly broken, still spans the chasm—meant apparently to indicate the approach to the city. You pass under this along the bed of the torrent, now rough with stones, but once a regular paved road like the Appian Way, the pavement still remaining at intervals in the bed of the stream—the stream, meanwhile, which now has its own wild way, being then diverted from its course along troughs hewn in the rock above, or conducted through earthenware pipes, still traceable. These, and a few niches for statues now gone, are the only traces of human hand. What a sight it must have been, when all these were perfect! A road, level and smooth, running through these tremendous rocks, and the blue sky just visible above, the green caper-plant and wild ivy hanging in festoons over the heads of the travellers as they wind along, the flowering oleander fringing then, as now, this marvellous highway like the border of a garden walk. You move on; and the ravine, and with it the road,—and with the road in old times the caravans of India,—winds as if it were the most flexible of rivers, instead of being in truth a rent through a mountain wall. In this respect, in its sinuosity, it differs from any other like gorge I ever saw. The peculiarity is, perhaps, occasioned by the singularly friable character of the cliffs, the same character that has caused the thousand excavations beyond; and the effect is, that instead of the uniform character of most ravines, you are constantly turning round corners, and catching new lights and new aspects, in which to view the cliffs themselves. They are, for the most part, deeply red, and when you see their tops emerging from the shade and glowing in the sunshine I could almost forgive the exaggeration that calls them scarlet. But in fact they are of the darker hues which in the shadow amount almost to black, and such is their colour at the point to which I have brought you, after a mile or more through the defile—the cliffs overarching in their narrowest contraction—when, suddenly through the narrow opening left between the two dark walls of another turn of the gorge, you see a pale pink front of pillars and sculptured figures closing your view from top to bottom. You rush towards it, you find yourself at the end of the defile, and in the presence of an excavated temple, which remains almost entirely perfect between the two flanks of dark rock out of which it is hewn; its preservation and its peculiarly light and rosy tint being alike due to its singular position facing the ravine or rather wall of rock, through which the ravine issues, and thus sheltered beyond any other building (if one may so call it) from the wear-and-tear of weather, which has effaced, though not defaced, the features, and tanned the complexion of all the other temples.
This I only saw by degrees, coming upon it from the west; but to the travellers of old times, and to those who, like Burckhardt in modern times, came down the defile, not knowing what they were to see, and meeting with this as the first image of the Red City, I cannot conceive anything more striking. There is nothing of peculiar grace or grandeur in the temple itself—(the Khazné, or Treasury, it is called)—it is of the most debased style of Roman architecture; but under the circumstances, I almost think one is more startled by finding in these wild and impracticable mountains a production of the last effort of a decaying and over-refined civilisation. than if it were something which, by its better and simpler taste, mounted more nearly to the source where Art and Nature were one.
Probably anyone who entered Petra this way, would be so electrified by this apparition (which I cannot doubt to have been evoked there purposely, as you would place a fountain or an obelisk at the end of an avenue), as to have no eyes to behold or sense to appreciate anything else. Still, I must take you to the end. The Sîk, though it opens here, yet contracts once more, and it is in this last stage that those red and purple variegations, which I have before described, appear in their most gorgeous hues; and here also begins, what must have been properly the Street of Tombs, the Appian Way of Petra. Here they are most numerous, the rock is honeycombed with cavities of all shapes and sizes, and through these you advance till the defile once more opens, and you see—strange and unexpected sight!—with tombs above, below, and in front, a Greek Theatre hewn out of the rock, its tiers of seats literally red and purple alternately, in the native rock. Once more the defile closes with its excavations, and once more opens in the area of Petra itself; the torrent-bed passing now through absolute desolation and silence, though strewn with the fragments which shew that you once entered on a splendid and busy city gathered along in the rocky banks, as along the quays of some great northern river.”
Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the LORD.4. thou exalt thyself] There is no need to supply the word “thyself,” as is done by A.V. and others (“though thou wentest as high as the eagle.” Ewald). “Thy nest” is the subject of both clauses. The words as they stand give a perfectly clear sense in English, as in Hebrew: though thou exaltest as the eagle, and though among the stars thou settest thy nest. Comp. Numbers 24:21, Habakkuk 2:9.
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?5, 6. The completeness of the destruction and desolation of Edom is depicted by a double contrast. Two cases are supposed in which something would be left behind. The thief or the robber would take his fill and depart: the grape-gatherer would not strip every cluster from the vine. But the enemies of Edom would do worse than either of these. They would spare nothing, nor stay their hand till they had left her utterly desolate and bare.
how art thou cut off] These words are an exclamation of the prophet, forced from him by the utter devastation which in prophetic vision he sees before his eyes. This is no work of the common robber, of the ordinary spoiler!
How are the things of Esau searched out! how are his hidden things sought up!6. the things of Esau] lit. how are they searched out, Esau; i. e. everything, people and property alike, that belongs to Esau.
his hidden things] rather places; his treasure-houses and receptacles hewn in the secret places of the rocks, and inaccessible as he thought them. Comp. Jeremiah 49:10. Hidden treasures, R.V.
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.7. The general drift of this verse is plain. It introduces another particular in which the pride of Edom had deceived her. Her trust in the wisdom of her policy, in the sagacious alliances which she had formed, should fail her no less signally than her confidence in the natural security of her position. But the details of the verse, as regards both the alliances referred to and the meaning of some of the expressions used, are not without difficulty.
the men of thy confederacy] As regards the first of these points, the majority of commentators understand by “the men of thy confederacy,” “the men that were at peace with thee,” neighbouring nations, “probably Moab and Ammon, Tyre and Zidon” (Pusey); or, “Arabian tribes” (Speaker’s Comm.). But there is reason to believe that the Edomites shared a common fate with the Moabites and Ammonites at the hands of the Chaldean invader, when after the destruction of Jerusalem he was pushing his way towards Egypt. (See Introd. § 3, comp. Ezekiel 25.) It is of course possible that the Edomites were the first to suffer, and that when Nebuchadnezzar came upon them they were deserted and betrayed by their neighbours and allies in the manner described in this verse. But it is at least worthy of consideration (it is a view which Calvin appears to assume as a matter of course) whether the Chaldeans themselves are not intended by “the men of thy confederacy,” “the men that were at peace with thee,” of whom the prophet speaks. Well might Edom plume himself upon the “understanding” which led him, on the approach of Nebuchadnezzar towards Judea, to make alliance with him, and thus to seize an opportunity of at once venting his ancient spite upon Israel, and securing himself against the attack of the invader. But the wisdom of this astute policy should prove in the issue to be foolishness. It should justify and call forth on the part of the beholder the exclamation, “There is no understanding in him!” The Chaldean should use Edom for his purpose, and then take and destroy him in his own craftiness.
have brought thee even to the border] This has been taken to mean that the neighbouring nations, thy allies, to whom thou sentest for help in thy time of need, have conducted back to the border or frontier thy ambassadors with all the usual marks of respect, but have courteously declined to render thee assistance. The words, however, may mean, have “driven thee out,” R.V. margin (as in Genesis 3:23, 1 Kings 9:7, Isaiah 50:1, where the same verb is used), and may refer to the Chaldeans. This meaning is given to them by some commentators who understand the reference to be to neighbouring tribes, who are thus described, they think, as not merely refusing aid to Edom, but taking active part with the Chaldeans against him.
prevailed against thee] This may mean prevailed against thee in counsel, outwitted thee, but it is simpler to take it of actual violence and physical compulsion.
they that eat thy bread have laid a wound under thee] The words, “they that eat” are not in the Hebrew. Many commentators connect them with the preceding clause, an arrangement which the order of the words in the original facilitates: they have prevailed against thee, the men of thy peace, of thy bread, i.e. the men who were, at peace with thee and who ate thy bread. But it is better to take the clause, “thy bread they make a wound (or a net) under thee,” separately, and to understand it to mean that thy allies and confederates make thy bread which they eat (and the sacred obligation according to Eastern ideas of eating bread together must not here be lost sight of), or thy table at which they sit, an occasion to deal thee a secret and deadly wound, or to catch thee as it were in the snare of their insidious plots against thee. If the rendering “snare” be adopted, and it seems on the whole preferable, the passage receives elucidation from the words of the Psalmist (Psalm 69:22):
“Let their table before them become a snare,
And when they are in peace (let it be) a trap;”
of which “perhaps the meaning may be: let them be like persons who while sitting at their meals ‘in peace,’ in security, unarmed, and unsuspecting, are suddenly surprised by their enemies. Their ‘table becomes a snare,’ as exposing them to certain destruction.” Dean Perowne, on the Psalms. The whole verse may then be paraphrased: “Thy confederates, the Chaldeans with whom thou didst enter into treaty, have driven thee to the border of thy country on every side, and expelled thee totally from it. Those that were at peace with thee have treated thee with mingled treachery and violence. The Chaldeans whom thou regardedst as friends have deceived thee, and prevailed against thee. Thy bread which they ate, they have used as a snare to entrap thee, taking advantage of the friendly relations which existed to work thy unlooked-for ruin. There is no understanding in him! To think that the vaunted penetration of Edom should have betrayed him into so humiliating and complete an overthrow!”
Shall I not in that day, saith the LORD, even destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of the mount of Esau?8. destroy the wise men] i.e. so deprive them of their wisdom that they shall cease to be wise men. Comp. Jeremiah 49:7, “Concerning Edom, thus saith the Lord of hosts; Is wisdom no more in Teman? is counsel perished from the prudent? is their wisdom vanished?” There is perhaps a reference to wisdom as a special characteristic of the Edomites. “Eliphaz, the chief of Job’s friends, the representative of human wisdom, was a Temanite.” (Pusey, see Job 2:11.) In the Book of Baruch the Edomites are referred to as types of wisdom. “It hath not been heard of in Chanaan, neither hath it been seen in Theman. The Agarenes that seek wisdom upon earth, the merchants of Meran and of Theman, the authors of fables, and searchers out of understanding; none of these have known the way of wisdom, or remember her paths.” Bar 3:22-23.
8, 9. Though thus shamefully betrayed and utterly spoiled, the Edomites might yet possibly have recovered themselves, if those inherent qualities in which the strength of nations as of individuals consists, had still been left to them. But the judgment of God would deprive them of these, and so render their case hopeless. Wisdom and courage, the two great resources of a nation in adversity, would alike fail them. Comp. Jeremiah 49:7; Jeremiah 49:22.
And thy mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that every one of the mount of Esau may be cut off by slaughter.9. by slaughter] i.e. by slaughter inflicted on them by their enemies. This is the simplest and most natural meaning. It might be rendered, as the same preposition is at the beginning of the next verse, “for,” i.e. on account of and in retribution of the slaughter which the Edomites had inflicted on the Jews. This clause would then be an introduction to the following verses, in which the cause of their calamity is treated of at length. Ewald’s rendering, “without battle,” though grammatically possible, is contradicted by Ezekiel 35:8.
For thy violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off for ever.10. Thy brother Jacob] This was the great aggravation of the violence. “Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite, for he is thy brother,” was the command of God to the Jews (Deuteronomy 23:7). Treachery from friends and allies was the meet punishment of such a sin.
thou shalt be cut off for ever] As the sin of Edom is concisely expressed in this verse by the one word violence, the details of that violence being afterwards given, so the punishment of Edom is here proclaimed in its ultimate completeness, the steps of his total extinction being in like manner afterwards described.
10–14. The Cause of Edom’s Destruction
The scene changes. Another picture of violence and cruelty now rises before the prophet’s eyes. He sees Jerusalem encompassed by enemies and overcome. Strangers carry away captive her forces, foreigners enter into her gates. And there, not only standing aside in unbrotherly neutrality, but exulting with malicious joy, speaking words of proud scorn, doing acts of robbery and wrong, are seen the Edomites. The two pictures, one of the past, the other of the future, he is commissioned to portray before the eyes of men, and to reveal the hidden link that binds them together in the relationship of cause and effect. Obadiah 1:10 contains a general statement of the sin and its punishment. In Obadiah 1:11-14 the prophet writes in the impassioned strain of a spectator and describes at length the sin. The punishment is further described in Obadiah 1:15-16.
In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them.11. In the day that thou stoodest] lit. in the day of thy standing. Nothing can certainly be decided from the language of this and the following verses, as to whether the conduct here ascribed to the Edomites was a thing of the past when Obadiah wrote, or was still future. The phrase “in the day of thy standing” obviously determines nothing as to time; nor does the phrase at the end of this verse, “thou, as one of them,” in itself considered. In Obadiah 1:12 the only grammatical rendering is, “do not look,” instead of “thou shouldest not have looked,” and the same is true of all the similar expressions in Obadiah 1:12-14. In this 11th verse two past tenses do indeed occur: “foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem.” And the use of these might be held to favour what is the most natural and obvious impression conveyed by the whole passage, viz. that the prophet is describing a past event. But inasmuch as his description may relate to a prophetic vision which had been vouchsafed to him, and not to an actual scene which he had witnessed, the time indicated remains uncertain, and the question of date must be decided on other grounds. (See Introd. § II.)
on the other side] comp. Psalm 38:11 [Hebrews 12]. “My lovers and my friends stand aloof from my sore,” where the Hebrew expression is the same. It may however be a charge of direct opposition rather than of culpable neutrality. The same expression occurs in this sense in 2 Samuel 18:13, “Thou thyself wouldest have set thyself against me.” Comp. Daniel 10:13, “withstood me,” lit. “stood over against me,” where the Hebrew phrase is similar.
strangers, foreigners] This therefore cannot refer to the defeat of Amaziah by Jehoash. (See Introd. § II.)
his forces] If this rendering be adopted it will mean, not so much the army which fled with the king and was overtaken and scattered (2 Kings 25:4-5), as the bulk of the people, who formed the strength of the nation and who were carried captive, leaving only the “poor of the land” behind. (2 Kings 25:11-12; Jeremiah 39:9-10.) In this sense the same Hebrew word is rendered “host” in Obadiah 1:20 below. The rendering of the margin, and of R.V., “carried away his substance,” is supported by Obadiah 1:13, where the word evidently means substance or wealth.
cast lots upon Jerusalem] i. e. divided its spoil and captives by lot. Comp. Joel 3:3 [Hebrews 4:3]; Nahum 3:10.
thou, as one of them] “thou,” the brother, and that too in dark contrast to Samaria the alien. “In the remains of the population of the Samaritan kingdom it is affecting to see that all sense of ancient rivalry was lost in the grief of the common calamity. Pilgrims from the ancient capitals of Ephraim, Samaria, Shechem, and Shiloh came flocking with shorn beards, gashed faces, torn clothes, and loud wailings, to offer incense on the ruined Temple, which was not their own.” Stanley. (Jeremiah 41:5).
But thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother in the day that he became a stranger; neither shouldest thou have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress.12. Thou shouldest not have looked … have rejoiced … have spoken] rather, look not, rejoice not, speak not. In this verse it is the neutrality of Edom, spoken of as “standing on the other side” in the former part of Obadiah 1:11, that is condemned. In Obadiah 1:13-14 his active cooperation with the enemy, his being “as one of them,” is denounced. But in both cases there is a climax. In this verse the complacent looking on deepens into malicious joy, and malicious joy finds expression in derisive mockery. In the following verses, he who before had stood afar, draws near, “enters into the gate” with the victorious foe, “looks on the affliction,” as a close spectator of all its horrors, “lays hands on the spoil,” does not scruple to take part in the pillage of his brother, nor even to waylay the fugitives and deliver them up into the hand of the enemy. “He dehorts them from malicious rejoicing at their brother’s fall, first in look, then in word, then in act, in covetous participation of the spoil, and lastly in murder.” Pusey.
looked on the day] Comp. “the day of Jerusalem.” Psalm 137:7. “Malicious gazing on human calamity, forgetful of man’s common origin, and common liability to ill, is the worst form of human hate. It was one of the contumelies of the Cross, They gaze, they look with joy upon Me. Psalm 22:17.” Pusey.
became a stranger] i.e. was treated as a stranger, cruelly and unjustly: or was made a stranger by being carried into captivity. The clause however may mean “in the day of his calamity,” or “disaster,” R.V.
rejoiced] “He that is glad at calamities shall not be unpunished.” Proverbs 17:5.
spoken proudly] lit. “make thy mouth great” in derision and mockery. This may refer either to proud boastful words, or to mocking grimaces and contortions of the mouth.
Thou shouldest not have entered into the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; yea, thou shouldest not have looked on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor have laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity;13. Thou shouldest not have entered … looked … laid hands] rather, enter not, look not, lay not hands.
The gate of my people] i. e. the city of Jerusalem, comp. “he is come unto the gate of my people, even to Jerusalem.” Micah 1:9. The emphatic “thou also,” thou the brother as well as they the aliens, follows the word “look” in the Hebrew, though it is unnoticed in A.V., “look not thou also on his affliction.” “If other neighbours do it, yet do thou abstain, seeing thou art of one blood. If thou canst not render assistance, at least shew some sign of sorrow and sympathy.” Calvin.
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.14. Neither shouldest thou have stood … delivered up] rather, stand not, deliver not up.
For the day of the LORD is near upon all the heathen: as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee: thy reward shall return upon thine own head.15. The day of the Lord] The order of the words, “for near is the day of the Lord,” accords with the fact that the day of the Lord is here spoken of as something already known and familiar. It was first revealed to the prophet Joel (Joel 1:15; Joel 2:1; Joel 2:31 [Heb, 3:4]). There as here it had reference first to some nearer typical visitation and judgment, but included the great final day into which the prophet’s view here expands.
as thou hast done] comp. Ezekiel 35:15 and Psalm 137:8.
thy reward] rather, thy work; dealing, R.V. Comp. Joel 3:7 [Heb., 4:7].
As ye have drunk] This is commonly interpreted to mean, “As ye Edomites have drunk in triumphant revelry and carousal on my holy mountain, rejoicing with unhallowed joy over its destruction, so shall (ye and) all the nations drink continually the wine of God’s wrath and indignation.” But it is better to understand the first clause as referring to the Jews: “As ye have drunk (who are) upon my holy mountain; as even you, who are my chosen people and inhabit the mountain consecrated by my presence, have not escaped the cup of my wrath, so all the nations shall drink of that same cup, not with a passing salutary draught as you have done, but with a continuous swallowing down, till they have wrung out the dregs thereof and been brought to nothing by their consuming power.” The “drinking” is thus the same in both clauses and not as in the other interpretation, literal in the first clause, and figurative in the second. Thus too the word “continually” has its proper force, by virtue of the contrast which it suggests between the Jews, for whom the bitter draught was only temporary, for amendment and not for destruction, and the heathen who were to drink on till they perished. And this view of the words is strikingly confirmed by the parallel passages in Jeremiah. To that prophet the commission is given by God, “Take the wine cup of this fury at mine hand, and cause all the nations to whom I send thee to drink it.” Beginning with “Jerusalem and the cities of Judah” the prophet passes the cup in turn to Edom. And if the nations refuse to take the cup, he is to answer them by Obadiah’s argument that even God’s holy mountain has not escaped: “ye shall certainly drink. For do I begin to bring evil on the city which is called by my name and should ye be utterly unpunished?” (Jeremiah 25:15-29). Again in the chapter in which, as we have seen, Jeremiah has much in common with Obadiah, he uses the figure of the cup of judgment with reference both to Jews and Edomites as though he had so understood it here. “Behold,” he says, “they whose judgment was not to drink of the cup have assuredly drunken, and art thou he that shall altogether go unpunished?” Jeremiah 49:12. And once more in the book of Lamentations he prophesies, “the cup also (of which we have drunk) shall pass through unto thee,” and then draws, in the following verse, the same contrast in plain language between the punishment of Israel and of Edom, which is here drawn by Obadiah by the figure of the single and the continuous draught. “The punishment of thine iniquity is accomplished, O daughter of Zion; he will no more carry thee away into captivity. He will visit thine iniquity, O daughter of Edom; he will discover thy sins” (Jeremiah 4:21-22).
15, 16. After the description in Obadiah 1:11-14, of the fault for which Edom was to be punished, the prophet returns in these two verses to the subject of Obadiah 1:2-9, and completes the description of the punishment that should be inflicted on him. He connects them by the word “for,” at once with the prediction of Obadiah 1:10, “thou shalt be cut off for ever,” and with the earnest dissuasions of the verses that have followed.
For as ye have drunk upon my holy mountain, so shall all the heathen drink continually, yea, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been.
But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.17. But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance] Unlike Edom (Obadiah 1:9) and the other heathen nations (Obadiah 1:16) whose destruction will be complete, Israel even in her worst calamities shall have “a deliverance,” i. e. remnant of the people, who shall escape destruction and be delivered out of trouble, to be as it were a fresh nucleus and starting-point of the nation. The word here rendered “deliverance” occurs in Exodus 10:5, “that which is escaped,” to denote the remnant of the fruits of the earth left by the plague of hail. It is used in the same sense as here in Isaiah 37:31-32, “that is escaped,” “they that escape;” and in Joel 2:32 [Hebrews 3:5].
there shall be holiness] rather (margin, and R.V.), it (Mount Zion) shall be holy, lit. “holiness,” comp. Joel 3:17 [Heb., 4:17]; Revelation 21:27.
their possessions] Not the possessions of Edom and of the heathen—that is spoken of in the following verses, but their own possessions. “When the children of Israel shall have returned from exile God will at the same time restore to them their ancient country, so as for them to possess whatever had been promised to their father Abraham.” Calvin.
17–21. The Restoration of Israel
By an easy transition the prophet passes to the second and brighter part of his picture. The destruction of her enemies is accompanied by the restoration and salvation of Israel. There is however no sudden break between the two portions of the prophecy. The key-note of deliverance had already been struck in the earlier portion by the implied promise (Obadiah 1:16) that the punishment of Israel was not to be, like that of her enemies, continual. The tones of vengeance are heard still in the later portion, and are only lost at length in the final strain of victory, “The kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” Israel is to regain her former possessions (Obadiah 1:17), to overcome her ancient foes (Obadiah 1:18), to spread abroad in all directions (Obadiah 1:19-20), till as the ultimate issue which in the fulness of time shall be reached, God’s kingdom is set up in the world (Obadiah 1:21).
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.18. The house of Jacob … the house of Joseph] Both are mentioned to shew that the remnant of the whole nation, not only of the two tribes, but of the ten, is included. The same names are used to describe the entire nation in Psalm 77:15 [Heb. 16]; Psalm 80:1 [Hebrews 2]; Psalm 81:4-5 [Hebrews 5, 6].
any remaining] “a survivor.” The punishment here denounced against Edom is quite distinct from that earlier punishment, of which the nations are summoned to be the instruments (Obadiah 1:1-2). It is that final destruction, which they suffered at the hands of Jews only, first of Judas Maccabæus, and then, in their total extermination, of John Hyrcanus. See Introduction, § III.
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.19. they of the south] lit. the south. This is the first of the three divisions of the tribe of Judah, in the original apportionment of the land by Joshua: “the tribe of the children of Judah, toward the coast of Edom southward” (i.e. in the direction of the “Negeb,” or hot, dry country, which formed the southern frontier. Sinai and Palestine, pp. 159, 160). Joshua 15:21. The restored exiles of Judah shall not only possess again this their ancient domain; but whereas it was before “too much for them,” so that “the children of Simeon had their inheritance within the inheritance of them” (Joshua 19:9), now they shall not only occupy it, but spreading still further southward shall “possess the mount of Esau.”
they of the plain] Shepçlah: the low-land, R.V. This is the second of the original divisions of Judah. (Joshua 15:33, where the same Hebrew word is translated “valley.”) It is the great maritime plain along the western coast of Palestine. See Sinai and Palestine, chap. VI. pp. 255, seq. This again was not only to be repossessed, but its ancient boundaries were to be overpassed, and the entire country of the Philistines, to the shores of the Mediterranean, was to be won for Judah.
and they shall possess] The subject of this clause may of course be the two divisions of Judah, “they of the south,” and “they of the plain,” already mentioned. But it is much better to suppose that the prophet here refers to the remainder of the tribe, who are spoken of as “in the mountains” (Joshua 15:48). “And they (the tribe of Judah, i. e. the remaining portion of them) shall possess” the remaining portion of Palestine proper, the country of the ten tribes, “the field of Ephraim and the field of Samaria.”
and Benjamin shall possess Gilead] Judah having thus acquired the whole country on that side Jordan, Benjamin, the only other tribe now under consideration, takes possession of the territory which once belonged to the two tribes and a half on the other side.
19, 20. Restored to their own land, the Jews shall extend their territory in all directions, and shall realise the promise made to their father Jacob, “Thou shalt spread abroad to the west, and to the east, and to the north, and to the south.” Genesis 28:14. The two tribes, Judah and Benjamin, as the sole remaining representatives of the people of God in the prophet’s time, are alone directly mentioned by him in the distribution of the land. But the ten tribes are not thereby excluded from a share in the returning prosperity of the nation. See note on Obadiah 1:18. In Obadiah 1:19 the exiles who returned from Babylon are provided for. The whole country on the west of the Jordan is assigned to Judah, and Benjamin takes possession of Gilead on the east side. In Obadiah 1:20, other Jewish exiles in Phœnicia and elsewhere are remembered, and a place found for them in the conquered territory of Esau.
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.20. Two ways of rendering this verse are given in our English Bibles, one in the text, the other in the margin. The latter of these fully expressed would be: “And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel shall possess that (i.e. the land) of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captivity of Jerusalem shall possess that which is in Sepharad; they shall possess the cities of the south.” But a third rendering of the verse is possible and appears to be more satisfactory than either of these:—“And the captivity of this host of the children of Israel which the Canaanites (have carried captive) even unto Zarephath and the captivity of Jerusalem which is in Sepharad (these) shall possess the cities of the south.” The prophet having assigned their dwelling-place to the main body of the people, the tribes of Judah and Benjamin who returned from Babylon, now bethinks him of their brethren, who in the general disruption of the Chaldean invasion had been carried captive in other directions. He mentions two such bodies of captives, whether as including or as representing all Jews who were in such a case, and for them he finds a home in the regions of the south. Another rendering is adopted in R.V.
this host of the children of Israel] It is suggested in the Speaker’s Commentary, that the word “this” here “indicates the body (of exiles) to which Obadiah himself belonged, and of which he formed one. We know nothing,” it is said, “of Obadiah’s history; he may well have been one of the many inhabitants of Judah who had to flee before the Babylonish inroad, and were afterwards spread as homeless exiles through the cities of Palestine and Phœnicia. If this be so, a touching personal interest attaches itself to the prophet’s words. He comforts his brother-exiles in Canaan by telling them that they, as well as the exiles in Sepharad, should return, and take possession of the cities of the south.” The suggestion is interesting, but it is more natural to understand the expression, “this host of the children of Israel,” of the entire body of the Jews, uprooted and doomed to exile as Obadiah saw them when he wrote. Of this whole captive host, he says, that portion which has been carried into Phœnicia shall be thus provided for. In this sense the word “host” (“forces”) is perhaps used in Obadiah 1:11. See note there.
even unto Zarephath] The Sarepta of the New Testament (Luke 4:26) famous in the history of Elijah, 1 Kings 17:9-24. It was a considerable town, as its ruins now shew, on the coast road between Tyre and Sidon. Its modern representative, Sarafend, is a small village on the hill above.
in Sepharad] Great difference of opinion exists as to the meaning and reference of this word. The conjecture of Jerome that it is not a proper name, but the Assyrian word for “boundary,” which the prophet has adopted, is accepted by some. It would then mean, “who are scattered abroad in all the boundaries and regions of the earth.” Comp. James 1:1. It is more probable, however, that like Zarephath in the other clause of the verse, Sepharad is the name of a place, though it is not easy to determine what place is intended by it. The modern Jews understand it of Spain, and accordingly, “at the present day the Spanish Jews, who form the chief of the two great sections into which the Jewish nation is divided, are called by the Jews themselves the Sephardim, German Jews being known as the Ashkenazim.” Dict. of the Bible, Art. Sepharad. By others it is identified with Sardis, the capital of the Lydian kingdom, the name having been discovered as it is thought to designate Sardis in the cuneiform Persian inscriptions. Adopting this view (for which some have found support in Joel 3:6). Dr Pusey thus explains the whole verse: “Zarephath (probably ‘smelting-house,’ and so a place of slave-labour, pronounced Sarepta in St Luke) belonged to Sidon, lying on the sea about half way between it and Tyre. These were then, probably, captives, placed by the Tyrians for the time in safe keeping in the narrow plain between Lebanon and the sea, intercepted by Tyre itself from their home, and awaiting to be transported to a more distant slavery. These, with those already sold to the Grecians and in slavery at Sardis, form one whole. They stand as representatives of all who, whatever their lot, had been rent off from the Lord’s land, and had been outwardly severed from His heritage.” Other conjectures are given in the article in the Dictionary of the Bible. Whatever uncertainty attaches to the word Sepharad, the drift of the prophecy is perfectly clear, viz. that not only the exiles from Babylon, but Jewish captives from other and distant regions shall be brought back to live prosperously within the enlarged borders of their own land.
And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD'S.21. saviours] i.e. deliverers. The word, enshrined already in the name of Joshua, the great deliverer, is frequently applied to the Judges: “The Lord raised up judges, which delivered (saved) them out of the hand of those that spoiled them.” Jdg 2:16. “Thou gavest them saviours, who saved them out of the hand of their enemies.” Nehemiah 9:27. See also Jdg 2:18; Jdg 3:31; Jdg 6:14-15; Jdg 6:36. It is applied once in the later history to king Joash, as the deliverer of Israel from the oppression of the Syrians: “the Lord gave Israel a saviour.” 2 Kings 13:5 with 25. Here the immediate reference is to the Maccabees and such like human saviours. But as the long lines of Jewish prophets, and priests, and kings were respectively the manifold types of the one true Prophet, Priest, and King, so their saviours foreshadowed Him, of whom in the fulness of time it was said, “Unto you is born in the city of David a Saviour,” and whom, as “a Saviour,” His Church still looks for. (Philipp. 3:20; Hebrews 9:28.)
to judge the mount of Esau] The vengeance on Esau, which is the predominant idea of this short prophecy, is still before the prophet’s mind. And yet perhaps we may say that that wider sense of “judging,” which the remembrance of the “judges who judged (i.e. governed) Israel” would suggest, is here prevailing. Esau subdued shall also be incorporated, and share the privileges of that righteous and beneficent rule with which Zion shall be blessed.
the kingdom shall be the Lord’s] The grand climax is here certainly, however indistinctly, before the prophet’s mind. It is this that stamps the writings of the Hebrew prophets with a character which is all their own, and proves them to be inspired with an inspiration of God, other and higher far than that of the most gifted seers and poets of other lands and ages. With them the national and the human reach forth ever to the divine and the universal. The kingdom of Israel gives place to and is lost in the kingdom of God. Never in any adequate realisation even of Jewish idea and conception, could it be said of any period of the history of Israel after the return from Babylon, “The kingdom is the Lord’s.” Never of any country or any church, much less of the world at large, has so great a word been true, since in the person and the religion of Christ the kingdom of God has come among us. Still the Church prays as for a thing still future, “Thy kingdom come.” Still Obadiah’s last note of prophecy, “the kingdom shall be the Lord’s,” vibrates on, till at last it shall be taken up into the great chorus of accomplished hope and satisfied expectation, “Hallelujah! for the Lord God Omnipotent reigneth.”