The Book of Obadiah consists of a single chapter of 21 verses, making it the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible. The prophet’s name means ‘Worshipper of God’, and could be pronounced ʿOvadyahu; in Modern Hebrew he is Ovadyah; ‘Slave of God’.
Christians and Jews both attribute the book to a prophet who named himself in the first verse as ‘Obadiah’. Historical ambiguities in the text makes it difficult to date his ministry, but the prophecy itself implies a time after the Exile, so 586 BC seems a good guess. An ancient Jewish tradition said Obadiah was a convert to Judaism from Edom. He chose to prophesy against Edom because he had himself been an Edomite.
Petra was probably first settled in about 9,000 BC.
The current city in today’s Jordan was hewn from
the bare rocks of the cliffs in about 300 BC.
In the book of Obadiah, the prophet describes an encounter with God concerning the mountain-dwelling nation of Edom. (This nation was located south east of Israel and includes Petra, a city hewn from rocks; its southern boundary was on the Gulf of Aqaba.)
In this encounter, God talks against Edom’s pride and arrogance, then lists its violent actions against the sister nation of Israel: they refused to help Israel in their need, sold them as slaves, and even abused them while they were exiled to Babylon. In the prophecy, God promises to destroy Edom so completely that no remnant would remain. Egypt would take the Edomites’ land and the people would lose their racial identity. Its name will disappear. The children of Israel would eventually return from their exile and possess the land of Edom. In fact, Babylon overtook Edom 100 years later and it never recovered.
We know almost nothing about Obadiah the man. He may be the same Obadiah who was the servant of Ahab (1 Kings 18:3,4), but few modern scholars hold this view.
In some Christian traditions, Obadiah was born in ‘Sychem’, and was one of the soldiers sent out by Ahaziah against Elijah. And according to a very old tradition, he was is buried in the Palestinian village of Sebastia (near the West Bank), at the same site as Elisha and where later the body of John the Baptist was believed to have been buried by his followers.
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