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The Oxford Bible Commentary Line-by-line commentary for the New Revised Standard Version Bible.

The Book.

1. Genre.

The title ‘The vision of Obadiah’ places the book firmly within the category of ‘prophecy’ in the Old Testament canon (e.g. Isa 1:1; Nah 1:1 ). The phrase ‘concerning Edom’ allies it with the Oracles Against the Nations (OAN), a type of prophetic oracle which occurs in most of the prophetic books of the OT. The fact that at v. 15 the book switches to promises of salvation for Jacob in no way conflicts with this designation since oracles of judgement upon Israel's foes and salvation for them frequently occur together and, indeed, the OAN is (usually) a form of ‘salvation oracle’ for the people of God (Barton 1980: 3–7). If they were sometimes used in a cultic setting they may not only have been intended to announce such promises but actually to help bring them about (see Bič 1953 and, more temperately, Coggins 1985 ).

2. Literary Connections.

One of the remarkable features of Obadiah is the number of connections with other biblical books. The closest is between vv. 1b–5 and Jer 49:9, 14–16 with more general connections between v. 9 and Jer 49:22 and v. 16 and Jer 49:12 . For a synoptic arrangement of these passages see Mason (1991: 89–90). Scholars have often debated which one of these is the original. However, it is now recognized that it is much more likely that there was a stock of prophetic oracles (perhaps current in temple worship) and that prophets drew from such a common source and adapted it for their own use. This is the view of Ben Zvi who has most fully and recently explored the issue (Ben Zvi 1996: 99–114). Another close parallel is between v. 17 and Joel 2:32 (HB 3:5 ). Other echoes of more general prophetic concepts are examined in the commentary.

3. Allusive and Ambiguous Characteristics.

Apart from actual textual problems (dealt with as they occur in the commentary) there is a strange ‘allusive’, sometimes even ambiguous quality to Obadiah. It was said above that it is difficult to pinpoint historical events from the text. This is partly because it is often unclear whether a past or future event is being described. The tenses of the Hebrew verbs are not much help here since a perfect tense, usually denoting an event completed by the time of speaking, can be used in the sense of a ‘prophetic perfect’, a future event which is seen by the prophet as so certain that it can be described as if it has already happened. Again it is not always easy to know if a future tense is alluding to what is yet to happen, or is a colourful way of describing a past event. We shall see this is a particular problem in vv. 12–14 where the Eng. versions differ considerably in their rendering. Nor is it always clear who is addressing whom. Further, attacks on apparently particular peoples such as Edom/Esau turn out to be attacks on very general human attitudes such as self-confidence, boasting of one's own wisdom, betraying promises, while a specific nation appears to be taken as some kind of symbol for pagan nations in general. Ben Zvi makes a good deal of this aspect of the book arguing that it means we cannot use it for making historical inferences ( 1996: esp. 260–7).

4. Contents and Structure.

There is some disagreement on the subdivisions to be found within this short text, but the plan I follow is set out in the commentary. This, broadly, agrees with Snyman's divisions ( 1989 ). Slightly different analyses may be found in Dick (1984), Clark (1991), and Ben Zvi (1996 ). These are based on their recognition of literary and rhetorical markers. It is open to question whether or not, where earlier prophetic material is being used later, some of these markers may have achieved a purely conventional force, and so it seems better to divide by the development of the argument as far as this can be traced. Whatever the date and origin of the individual sections, they have been crafted together skilfully by means of link-words and other literary devices, probably well on in the post-exilic period.

5. Theology.

The book of Obadiah has often been dismissed as purely a piece of vindictive hate against Edom, a hatred incited by memories of Edom's failure to help when Judah was in trouble. We may presume this certainly lies behind some of the original prophetic material which has been incorporated into the book, but we shall see how the issues have been broadened out, so that ‘Edom’ has become a symbol, not only of all pagan nations, but of certain sinful human characteristics (Coggins 1985; Cresson 1972; Mason 1991; Ben Zvi 1996 ). Ultimately, what is hoped for is the rule, not so much of Israel as a nation, but of God, in whose kingdom such things will have no place.

6. Place in Canon.

In the HB the book is placed immediately after Amos and this is often thought to be because it was seen as a commentary on Amos 9:11–12 .

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