Obadiah: A Glimpse of God's Kingdom

Obadiah is a neglected text in the Old Testament. It is a short text, weighing in at twenty-one verses. A lightweight for sure. However, this is probably not the reason for its neglect. No, neglect likely stems from its subject matter. It is a book about Edom. You heard me right, Edom, the posterity of Esau (Gen. 25:19ff). A quick consult of various commentaries reveals the same basic outline. This outline is from Leslie Allen’s commentary in the New International Commentary on the Old Testament (Allen, 142):

The Destruction of Edom (vv. 2-9)

The Wrongdoing of Edom (vv. 10-14)

Edom on the Day of Yahweh (vv. 15-21)

The point is clear, Obadiah has Edom on the mind.  And if you’re like me, the posterity of Esau doesn’t really excite you. In fact, Allen describes Obadiah as “hardly a presentation of God’s whole counsel, even by OT standards” (Allen, 137). However, despite being about Edom, Obadiah teaches us, albeit briefly, about the kingdom of God.

The Kingdom of God is an Opposed Kingdom

According to Obadiah, Edom is representative of all the nations, which seems to find its parallel in Amos 9:12 where the “remnant of Edom” is synonymous with “all the nations.” When one thinks of Esau, the father of Edom, as the offspring that lives in rebellion against God, the imagery is fitting. This nation is full of pride toward self (v. 3) and animosity toward their brother Jacob (v. 10). The one nation of Edom describes them all.

This rivalry between Esau and Israel is heightened further by Obadiah’s descriptions of the two. The prophet speaks of Mount Zion (vv. 17, 21) and Mount Esau (vv. 8, 9, 21).  This is the only place in the Bible where Edom is described in this way.  Thus, we see twin peaks or powers facing off against one another.  At this juncture, the point of Obadiah is clear, God’s kingdom is opposed by the world.

The Kingdom of God is a Victorious Kingdom

At the beginning of the prophecy, Edom is high and lifted-up while foreigners enter Israel’s gates and carry off her wealth (v. 11). But a reversal is coming! Mount Zion shall gain ascendency and Mount Esau shall be stubble.

The ascendency of Israel is described in terms of possession. They will possess Philistia, Edom, Phoenicia, Ephraim, Samaria, Gilead, and the Negev – in other words, every nation will belong to God’s people! How can we not think of Psalm 87? As the nations stream into Mount Zion, “the Lord records as he registers the peoples, ‘This one was born here.’”

Surely, this is a snapshot of our Savior’s glorious redemptive work, who receives the nations as His inheritance and sent out his disciples into their midst to proclaim His gospel (cf. Dan. 7:13-14; Matt. 28:19ff).

The Kingdom of God is Gracious Kingdom

Obadiah clearly communicates the severity of God’s judgment that is to be meted out to Edom or “all the nations” on the Day of the Lord. It is a day of misfortune, distress, and calamity. The eschatological Day of the Lord will be terrible for the unrepentant sinner. But did you notice something that is equally present in the book?  The hope of salvation is held out to them, even the likes of a person like Esau and a nation like Edom. As in Psalm 87, so here, the once enemies of God are conquered by His grace in the promise of the Messiah.

However, there is one more thing I need to point out under this idea of God’s grace. Likely the vision of Obadiah was written shortly after the Babylonian army destroyed Jerusalem. Mount Zion lay in ruins at the time this prophecy was uttered. Can you imagine?

Obadiah is proclaiming that there are two mountains and only two, when in fact, there appears to be only one, the nations of the world represented by unfaithful Edom.  And yet, says, Obadiah, “Saviors shall go up Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (v. 21). Frankly, I love it when the Bible proclaims light amid darkness. Beloved, God reigns, but it takes eyes of faith to see it (Hebrews 2:8b).

Jeffrey A Stivason (Ph.D. Westminster Theological Seminary) is pastor of Grace Reformed Presbyterian Church in Gibsonia, PA.  He is also Professor of New Testament Studies at the Reformed Presbyterian Theological Seminary in Pittsburgh, PA. Jeff is the Editorial Director of Ref21 (https://www.reformation21.org/) and Place for Truth (placefortruth.org) an online magazine for the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals. 


Jeffrey Stivason