Obadiah, though it is a short book, it chock full of biblical theology that goes unnoticed. Most Christians I know barely give the book more than a passing glance or read it to say that they read an entire book of the Bible that day. This post will analyze Obadiah’s commentary on the role of Edom in redemption-history with nods toward Isaiah and Jeremiah.
Isaiah 34 has been grossly ignored in biblical theology for a long time as far as I’ve seen. Notice especially verses 5-7:
For my sword has drunk its fill in the heavens; behold, it descends for judgment upon Edom, upon the people I have devoted to destruction. 6 The Lord has a sword; it is sated with blood; it is gorged with fat, with the blood of lambs and goats, with the fat of the kidneys of rams. For the Lord has a sacrifice in Bozrah, a great slaughter in the land of Edom. 7 Wild oxen shall fall with them, and young steers with the mighty bulls. Their land shall drink its fill of blood, and their soil shall be gorged with fat.
Notice the careful imagery here: for Isaiah, total destruction (the ban from Joshua) is a sacrifice. Note the wealth of liturgical phrases and symbols here: the sword, blood, fat, lambs and goats, fat and kidneys of rams, sacrifice, oxen, steers, bulls, etc. The Lord’s complete and utter destruction of Edom is a liturgical act. The only way to ascend to God is by being cut up and turned into smoke (hence the ascension offering of Leviticus: the believer is united to the sacrifice which turns to smoke and rises to God for the believer), so God is cutting up Edom himself as an offering. Then we learn that “Night and day it shall not be quenched; its smoke shall go up forever.” This is an everlasting sacrifice, a threat God gave out when he threatened Israel with exile (Deuteronomy 28:66).
Edom probably stands for all of the Gentile nations, attested to by the LXX version of Amos 9 when it translates Edom as “the remnant of humanity” (thanks to Seraphim for this) and when James quotes a verse about Edom but refers to the remnant of humanity in Acts 15. The best way to read these passages is to see the punishment of Edom as a microcosm of the judgment of the Gentiles as a whole. Jeremiah and Obadiah both base their prophecies on Isaiah’s warning against Edom, with phrases shared between both (compare Obadiah 1-9 and Jeremiah 49). These books are joined with anti-Edomite literature in Malachi, pointing toward a growing resentment of Edom because it did not seem to be punished for its unjust ways (Malachi 1:1-5). Jeremiah does not target Edom at length, but lists judgment against it in a long list of prophecies against foreign nations. Jeremiah prophecies that the people who live in Edom will be wiped out completely, their land a testament of God’s wrath and a monument designed to cause terror. It does not seem to be the case that the prophet foresaw the wholesale destruction of every Edomite, though. Instead, God will send fishers and hunters into the nations and find people who hide in the clefts of rocks, the remnant of Edom, (cf. Obadiah 3) and bring them back as part of the restoration of Israel (Jeremiah 16:16).
While Jeremiah explains the effect of the sacrifice of Edom, Obadiah goes more in depth on the explanation for why it happened in the first place. For Obadiah, Edom’s destruction is earned by turning their backs on their brother Jacob when he was destroyed. Using similar language to Jeremiah 49, Obadiah notes that the Edomites are growing far too proud, so they will be brought down. Their pride caused their lack of care for their brother, and what they sowed will be repaid (Obadiah 15). They have no understanding because they have denied their role as servants of the true God (cf. Psalm 82:5; Jeremiah 4:22; Isaiah 56:11), despite the influences of repentant Esau and wise king Job. Like Israel, their allies have turned away (cf. Jeremiah 38:22), laying traps for them, comparing the destruction of Edom with the sacking of Jerusalem. Just like the new Adam, Nebuchadnezzar, sacrificed Israel as an ascension offering to God based on the command of Daniel, God himself will sacrifice Edom who is without ally or understanding.
Side note: There could be a reason that wisdom has died in Teman, or Edom: their greatest adviser to Edomite King Job lacked wisdom. Eliphaz, the most prolific Temanite we know, is rebuked by God himself as lacking wisdom. Edom had wisdom at some point, though, because Job was an Edomite king praised by Solomon for his wisdom. When Job died, he was replaced by Husham of the Temanites. This lineage carried forward to Obadiah’s day apparently, leaving Edom without wisdom. (It is interesting, then, that even though there was no wisdom in Edom, Edomite King Herod built a temple, an activity usually linked with wisdom.)
Even though it is God who is performing the sacrifice, he is not doing it alone: the house of Jacob will become a fire and the house of Joseph a flame. Usually, we hear of fires in regards to sacrifices committed by priests and God himself brings flames out of his nostrils. Here, we see non-priestly tribes bringing fire and flame. As history moved toward the Apostolic Age, humans began to do the work that God and the angels had done before as the whole nation became a nation of priest-kings. It is a lex talionis destruction: because Edom sat back and watched her sister be sacrificed, Israel would sacrifice Edom to atone for her sin.
Saviors will rise on Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau because Yahweh comes out of Edom, out of Bozrah, to save Israel when nobody else was acting righteously (Isaiah 63:1-2). Here, as Edom has drunk from Israel, they are repaid when Yahweh treads the winepresses of his wrath (63:3-6) and destroys them for their wickedness. After her destruction at the hands of the Divine Warrior, foreigners will control the lands of Edom and Gilead, but those people will be ruled by the returned exiles (Obadiah 19-21). Based on their promise of being ruled by Israel (which is a good thing that can bring salvation), we can say that Edom will be completed slaughtered, either by repentance or by the sword. We have seen this before: Esau is slain by repentance, reborn as a good brother to Jacob, and the Amelekites, descendants of Esau, were killed by the sword in the wilderness. This is the same across the Bible: everybody will be killed by God, the question is whether or not you’ll be raised to eternal life or eternal contempt. Edom’s sacrificial destruction will result in its salvation as part of the kingdom of Israel, their remnant stitched together with Israel’s in the pit of death.