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MattPage

Why is Obadiah in the Bible

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So the Bible course I'm running (Through the Bible in Five and a Half Years) has come to Obadiah, and having read this one chapter rant against a now extinct nation, much of which is reproduced elsewhere I'm wondering why is the book of OBadiah in the Bible.

So having turned up no answer to this query in the various commentaries and Bible guides I have on this book, I googled these two questions:

"Why is Obadiah in the Bible?"

"Why is the book of Obadiah in the Bible?"

And didn't get a single hit for either of them.

Am I seriously the only person that's ever wondered this? Even though the commentators ignore this question, they all hint at it by saying as little as possible about the book.

So I'm interested to hear some good answers to the question - Why is Obadiah in the Bible? - cos currently all I have is "It was probably a mistake".

Matt

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I find your criteria for inclusion into the canon curious, Matt. Granted that Edom is no longer a nation, and that much of Obadiah is similar to passages elsewhere in Scripture. In what way do either the longevity of the nation addressed or the uniqueness of the theology of a book dictate whether or not it is worthwhile?

A couple of suggestions about why Obadiah might be worthwhile:

1. In addressing Edom, Obadiah fills in some of the blanks about Israel's brother-nation. In the Pentateuch, Edom denies Israel passage through their lands, and God forbids the Israelites from taking vengeance for it. Will justice ever come to Edom?

2. It's not outside the realm of possibility that the Obadiah who wrote this book is the Obadiah from 1 Kings 17. Jesus said:

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Er ... which of the nations addressed by OT prophets ARE still in existence?

I hesitate to identify the present-day state of Israel with the one discussed in the OT ... that would hardly be historically accurate. How about Egypt?

Any others?

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CrimsonLine said

I find your criteria for inclusion into the canon curious, Matt. Granted that Edom is no longer a nation, and that much of Obadiah is similar to passages elsewhere in Scripture. In what way do either the longevity of the nation addressed or the uniqueness of the theology of a book dictate whether or not it is worthwhile?
Firstly, thanks for your two suggestions. That's just the kind of thing I'm after. Much appreciated.

By way of clarification the above isn't necessarily my criteria for inclusion in the canon. That's more to do with what was held as or being used as scripture etc. I guess more my question is, from the human angle - what was it about this book - amongst the stacks of religious texts that were in circulation in the period leading up to the Hebrew canon being determined - that meant that people gave it this special status. And from God's angle, what was it about this book that he thought was so crucial that his followers for all time needed to read it. I guess part of it is tied up with the Jewish involvement in selecting the canon, and in the Jewish Bible the minor prophets is just one book not 12. Still...

mrmando said:

Er ... which of the nations addressed by OT prophets ARE still in existence?

I hesitate to identify the present-day state of Israel with the one discussed in the OT ... that would hardly be historically accurate. How about Egypt?

I'm not quite sure whether your point is

a - Almost none of these nations are in existence therefore questioning the validity of Obadiah is a bit pointless

or

b - Almost none of these nations are in existence, therefore there are many more bits of the Bible we should be asking this about as well.

That said I guess that whilst political Israel may not be in continuity with OT Israel there's some continuity between OT Israel as the people of God and the people of God today. So much of the rest has that going for it, and often the rants against other nations form a comparison. Here though, there's no comparison, just Obadiah.

Which I guess is why I see it as a legitimate question.

Matt

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From a purely practical POV, it is the most challenging book to find cold, from starting with a closed Bible, not using Table of Contents. Thus, it is a supreme test of Biblical navigation for my Sunday School class (and one of the goals I set when becoming SS superintendent).

Edited by Rich Kennedy

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I'm not quite sure whether your point is

a - Almost none of these nations are in existence therefore questioning the validity of Obadiah is a bit pointless

or

b - Almost none of these nations are in existence, therefore there are many more bits of the Bible we should be asking this about as well.

Well, I've never considered the present existence of a nation as having any bearing on whether a book should be canonized, so ... a.

Has it got anything to do with numerics? Twelve tribes, twelve minor prophets?

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It seems that responses to this are drying up, and, I must admit, somewhat earlier than I'd hoped. Thanks to those who've offered suggestions (any more would be most welcome. Where are Christian and SDG?).

This far, though, we've not really come up with a particularly compelling case IMHO. The no.1 reason why this is in the Bible seems to be simply 'because it is'.

To ask a different, but not unrelated question, given that it is in the Bible is there any point in reading it (other than for completeness). Is there anything we get from it we can't get from elsewhere? Cos at the moment it feels like I'm going to have to talk for 2 hours about a book that doesn't really matter.

Thanks again CL, RK & MM. Appreciated.

Matt

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I'll dig out my teaching notes from when I did a Bible Study on Obadiah and get back to you on it. As I recall, however, it's a very concise example of what prophecy in the Old Testament was all about--- judgment for the enemies of God and blessings for those who love Him.

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It seems that responses to this are drying up, and, I must admit, somewhat earlier than I'd hoped. Thanks to those who've offered suggestions (any more would be most welcome. Where are Christian and SDG?).

This far, though, we've not really come up with a particularly compelling case IMHO. The no.1 reason why this is in the Bible seems to be simply 'because it is'.

To ask a different, but not unrelated question, given that it is in the Bible is there any point in reading it (other than for completeness). Is there anything we get from it we can't get from elsewhere? Cos at the moment it feels like I'm going to have to talk for 2 hours about a book that doesn't really matter.

Thanks again CL, RK & MM. Appreciated.

Matt

You're welcome, Matt - but I guess I don't understand how to parse "doesn't really matter." Is Obadiah TRUE? Does it teach us anything about God? About humanity? About sin and its repercussions? About God's mercy? If so, then it "matters," whether Edom exists now or not, and whether the stuff in it appears elsewhere or not. Is your whole talk about "Why Obadiah is in the Bible"? Or are you talking FROM Obadiah about topics that truly matter? Because if it's the latter, there's plenty in Obadiah to nourish your listeners.

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Given the need that you have expressed early on, which I unintentionally slighted initially, my first post seems a bit casual compared to wht you want. I looked up Obidiah and Edom. The Anchor Bible Dictionary has too much on Edom really to digest in the short term, however, I must digest info on the Book in scripture. The notes intorducing in The Jerusalem Bible alone look pretty good. I'll be back.

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Hi Matt,

I wonder if the fact that Edom is now extinct, in addition to the terse nature of the book, both add to the impact of the message that we find in Obadiah. We find in the book a description of a nation that, in her pride, has set themselves up in opposition to God's people. This choice, on their part, inevitably led to judgment and destruction. It seems to me to be a book that perfectly illustrates that famous Proverb: "Pride goes before destruction,/ And a haughty spirit before stumbling." (16:18). This point seems only heightened by the fact that the nation is now extinct.

That Obadiah focuses all his few words on this small and historically weak nation also expands the Bible's conception of where we find pride in our world. Rather than devoting a full prophecy to powerful Nineveh (like Nahum) or Babylon (like Habakkuk), God speaks to us through Obadiah of a little and weak, but also prideful nation. As a companion to those other two books, Obadiah's position as canonical seems striking. Apparently, pride does not depend on power of an Assyria or the expansiveness of a Babylon. Edom was able, in its limited position, to cause significant harm to God's people. Thus we see in Obadiah a stark warning against pride, even for the smallest or least powerful among us.

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Hi Matt,

I wonder if the fact that Edom is now extinct, in addition to the terse nature of the book, both add to the impact of the message that we find in Obadiah. We find in the book a description of a nation that, in her pride, has set themselves up in opposition to God's people. This choice, on their part, inevitably led to judgment and destruction. It seems to me to be a book that perfectly illustrates that famous Proverb: "Pride goes before destruction,/ And a haughty spirit before stumbling." (16:18). This point seems only heightened by the fact that the nation is now extinct.

That Obadiah focuses all his few words on this small and historically weak nation also expands the Bible's conception of where we find pride in our world. Rather than devoting a full prophecy to powerful Nineveh (like Nahum) or Babylon (like Habakkuk), God speaks to us through Obadiah of a little and weak, but also prideful nation. As a companion to those other two books, Obadiah's position as canonical seems striking. Apparently, pride does not depend on power of an Assyria or the expansiveness of a Babylon. Edom was able, in its limited position, to cause significant harm to God's people. Thus we see in Obadiah a stark warning against pride, even for the smallest or least powerful among us.

I agree. As a friend of mine expressed it colorfully to me this weekend, "Incredible how we can be such small shits in a large world, only to figure out later we are all floating in a toilet bowl." There is nothing more pathetic or common than small shits who think they are God's gift to humanity. I assume that Edom learned that lesson the hard way. And it's a lesson I forget very easily, and need to be reminded of pretty much on a daily basis. I like to think of Obadiah as a cautionary tale personally addressed to Andy Whitman. It's not. But there's that pride thing, isn't there?

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Thanks again for the recent flurry of responses - look forward to hearing the fruits of your research Rich, and your revision metalfoot. John that's given me a whole angle to work.

Crimson

:Is your whole talk about "Why Obadiah is in the Bible"? Or are you talking FROM Obadiah about topics that truly matter?

My talk - well session really I guess. I won't be talking for a lot of it - is about Obadiah. What it said then, how that influenced the later parts of the Bible and what it means for us today, but I guess I've tended to focus primarily on the former.

But having read it, been totally uninspired by it, and found the multi-commentators seemingly skipping over it as quickly as possible. I was beginning to ask "Why is Obadiah even in the Bible"?

So I've found this thread helpful in terms of things to say - your own series of questions give me lots to draw upon - and the knock on effect of that is to mean I feel the "Why" question less keenly.

(That said it seems to me that there are several non-Canonical books about which I could rhetorically ask "Does it teach us anything about God? About humanity? About sin and its repercussions? About God's mercy? and get the answer "yes". So why is Obadiah more worthy than them? Don't worry, that last one doesn't really need answering)

I guess, having spent the last two and a half years spending my spare time crafting a two hour presentation each month on a different book of the Bible, having to do the research, plan the exercises, prep the talks and so on has been pretty draining. So it's perhaps not a surprise that my first thoughts on reading Obadiah was "What am I going to do with that?" and "why is it even in the Bible"? Oh well, only another 3 years to go. Can't WAIT for the New Testament.

Please keep it coming

Matt

Edited by MattPage

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Found my teaching notes; they're not terribly elaborate (which I thought I remembered) but there was a couple little notes which I think might be a little useful to you.

Here goes:

1. Edom as the epitome of "what could have been" for Israel (remember the lineage of Edom is that they are the tribe of Esau; whatever happens to Edom could have happened to Israel and vice versa, if it hadn't been for Rebekah and Jacob's trickery). Maybe an extended history of Edom is worth investigating to set up this book.

2. Verses 11-14 are an interesting hook into our modern Western culture and how we enjoy kicking those who are down (cf. media frenzy over Michael Jackson's death).

3. There is the note of universal judgment to which the particular judgment refers, which also carries along with it the hope of eventual restoration. (I'll leave the eschatology up to you to work out in your own particular bent)

Not sure there's 2 1/2 hrs in that, but it was enough for a 1 hr Bible Study teaching session for me a couple years back.

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Two hours, eh? What do you intend to do with II John? Which suggests an idea. Assuming that you have started in Genesis and are plugging through Malachi to the Gospels on to Revelation, you have already dealt with major prophets and some minor prophets. Since Obadiah is possibly either a pastiche of anti-Edom oracles, or a synthesis of Edom oracles in history, how about binding them together yourself? Any good study Bible lists the cross references in the margins and most commentaries will deal with them at length. Use Obadiah for what the latter patriarchs might have employed the book for. It could work as a useful pause summarizing the prophets and their various historical contexts....

As to your initial question as to "Why?" No one has a good firm answer. The following I found in the IVP OT Bible Background Commentary. 12 is better than 11. In compiling the book of Prophets, eleven obvious choices were found among the prophets. Obadiah could have been compiled to round out the number (as there is no fixed personage to the name), or this small collection of oracles could have been on hand and thus employed for the purpose. But it is there. And many here have come up with plausible if common uses and value. I guess I still stand by my own purpose above as well.

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Hi Rich,

That's a great idea. I had kind of planned to get them to do something cross referencing Jer 49 with Obadiah, but youir idea sopunds better. Care to elaborate on your idea?

Oh and 2 John doesn't concern me as much as 3 John. I'm a big fan of 2 Johnv6, and, it's probably a good juncture to get into the Johanine authorship questions. Jude I can talk about similarities with 2 Peter and look forward to the Through the Bible in Five and a Half Years end of course party, but I'm getting a little carried away.

Matt

PS Thanks metalfoot

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I realize this is totally off-base, but I keep doing a double take every time I see this topic, thinking that it asks "Why Is Obama in the Bible?"

Answer: Somebody had to be the fulfillment of Israel's messianic hopes and prayers.

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Answer: Somebody had to be the fulfillment of Israel's messianic hopes and prayers.

Interesting fraudulent messiah

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Hi Rich,

That's a great idea. I had kind of planned to get them to do something cross referencing Jer 49 with Obadiah, but youir idea sopunds better. Care to elaborate on your idea?

Well, there's a lot of allusion to and quotation of other prophets. Just three examples: v3 is cross referenced to Is.14:13f; 4 to Hab.2:9; 7 to Jer.38:22. The margin of my Mom's old Jerusalem Bible has one every other verse or so in addition to the specific Jer.49 citings. There might be gold in those other passages as well as Jeremiah 49. Even if not all yield something, there could be detail that is sprinkled throughout the prophetic tradition of Judah and Israel. It would be a way of packaging a quick history of this aspect of OT text.

I admit that this seems like a large undertaking. However, two plus hours of material takes quite a bit of preparation and there is a paucity of info to go on here. I would suspect that preparation for the Psalms, for Kings and Chronicles would be a challenge of collating and editting of the analysis. This would employ the same effort, only it would require the surveying of other parts of scripture, as opposed to the scholarly treatments. There are hints in analysis of Obadiah that this knitting thing might have been the purpose of its inclusion. Scholars at the time would have instantly grasped the quotes.

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Matt, how about tossing in the more meta/canonical idea about Obadiah being present in the Hebrew Scripture because it had always been accepted as a legitimate religious expression of prophetic Jewish faith? Religious canons by definition contain written texts that for whatever reason became accepted over time as orthodox expressions of a specific faith or creed. Somewhere in the mists of time, the book of Obadiah met these criteria. It may be a redundant interpolation. It may actually be a bit trivial even in light of the grander prophetic epics around it. But it became part of the canon because at some point its absence from the canon was unthinkable.

In most canons, there are books that just barely make it in. The NT has several. But from what little I know about the canonization of Hebrew scriptures, there was an even great degree of intentionality to all the books that came to be thought of as Jewish Scripture.

There are a lot of interesting traditions about Obadiah as well, the Rabbinic one being that he is actually a descendent of Edom converted to Judiasm (here is the Talmud passage, towards the bottom: "The Holy One, blessed be He, said: Obadiah, who lived among two wicked (Achab and his wife) and did not learn from them, shall prophesy to Esau who lived among two upright (Isaac and Rebecca) and did not learn from them"). Then there are a few traditions in Josephus claiming that he gave so much of his money to the support of other prophets that he had to borrow money from Ahab's son to stay afloat, which leads to this interesting commentary that is packed with interesting, and fairly fundamental, bits of Jewish theology:

"The Lord blessed the Egyptian's house for the sake of Joseph." I, however, keep thee and my house is not blessed. Perhaps thou art not fearing God? To this a heavenly voice was heard, saying: Obadiah fears the Lord greatly, but the house of Achab is not fit for blessings. Said R. Abah: It is more conspicuous What is said of Obadiah than of Abraham, as about Abraham it reads, "he feared God," and about Obadiah it adds "greatly."

So at least one Jewish commenter mused that Obadiah was somehow more faithful than Abraham? Wow.

There seems to be a network of traditions around Obadiah that pose him as an important historical figure during the judgement of Edom. And if the book is to be dated to the period of Jeremiah, then it has to do with the destruction of Jerusalem. Any prophecy that had something to do with the destruction of Jerusalem would surely have been prized by the Jews. As Obadiah is about the "Day of the Lord," it speaks to the heart of most Jewish prophecy in a far more abbreviated way.

But as the dating is pretty obscure, we could even just say that the commentary made by Obadiah on the relationship between Edom and Israel is central to the history of Israel in a narrative sense - boiled down to the struggle between Jacob and Esau. I can't think of another OT passage this short that contains such a long laundry list of concepts central to OT theology: covenant and blessing, genealogy, faithfulness and compromise, the Day of the Lord. Obadiah is kind of like an Old Testament for Dummies.

Edited by MLeary

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"Why Is Obama in the Bible?"

It is because he is the Antichrist.

Luke 10:18 "I saw Satan as lightning falling from the heavens"

Baraq = cast forth a flash of light or lightning

O = a conjunction joining concepts together.

Bam-maw = high sacred place.

Sorry, Matt, couldn't resist.

PS I know a song that I learned as a little kid in which I actually know in order all of the books of the Bible. It might help you to get rid of that whole Michael Jordan Minor Prophet thing.

Edited by Persona

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Stef - the clip is hilarious.

The Michael Jordan thing I just kinda made up on the spot.

Matt

PS When you see Rob Bell next tell him next time we're both speaking at the same festival could we share out the attendees please. He had about 10,000, I had about 100. In fact, should I ever get to speak at Greenbelt again, I just prefer it if he stayed on your side of the Atlantic.

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OK. Let me re-sidetrack to my original post on why Obadaih is in the Bible. Yesterday was our first day back in Sunday School(apparantly, Episcopalians shut down most ministries for the Summer) and we had newbies. Mature newies on the cusp of adolescence as well as folding some primary kids into the group for one day.

I like to start with a review of what was done since Easter in the form of questions with references for answers. We all find the answers together to confirm the just presented guesswork. I threw in a ringer (thanks Matt, for this thread). With just a few clues, everyone found Obadiah. Some even before the first clue.

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