THE PROPHECY OF OBADIAH.
We need not enter into details regarding the question as to the time when the prophet wrote. By a thorough argumentation, Caspari has proved, that he occupies his right position in the Canon, and hence belongs to the earliest age of written prophecy, i.e., to the time of Jeroboam II. and Uzziah. As bearing conclusively against those who would assign to him a far later date, viz., the time of the exile, there is not only the indirect testimony borne by the place which this prophecy occupies in the collection of the prophets which is chronologically arranged, but there are also the following facts;—that those who are to inflict the predicted calamity upon Judah are not at all more definitely characterized than in the first part of Hosea, in Joel, and Amos;—that, in like manner, the heathen power from which the overthrow of Edom is to proceed, is neither mentioned, nor more definitely pointed out in any other way;—that Jeremiah already made use of Obadiah's prophecy; and if such be denied, the older foundation would then be withdrawn from the prophecy of Jeremiah—which would be contrary [Pg 400] to the analogy of Jeremiah's prophecies against foreign nations;—and, finally, that, in vers.12-14, the prophet exhorts the Edomites neither to rejoice nor to co-operate in the destruction of Jerusalem, because, otherwise, they would certainly receive the well-merited reward of such wickedness committed against the Covenant-people, to whom they were so nearly related. Such an exhortation would have been out of place, after the wickedness had been committed.—The view of Hofmann (which was revived by Delitzsch in his treatise, "When did Obadiah prophesy?" [Guerike's Zeitschrift 51, Hft. 1])—according to which the capture of Jerusalem by the Philistines and Arabians under Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:16 ff.) was the occasion of the prophecy before us, and according to which Obadiah is thus made the oldest among all the prophets in the Canon, and separated by nearly a century from the three prophets who preceded him—overlooks the fact that only cogent reasons could induce us to assume so isolated a position, since it is certainly not a matter of accident that the written prophecy began its course under the reign of Jeroboam and Uzziah. The guilt and punishment of Edom are, in like manner, spoken of in the Preterite; and it is inadmissible to understand the Preterites as historical, in so far as they refer to the guilt, and as prophetical, in so far as they refer to the punishment. The words, "Day of their destruction," in ver.12, are decisive against every other catastrophe upon Judah, but that of the Chaldean. Ver.20, when rightly interpreted, supposes the carrying away of Israel and Judah, and hence allows us to think only of the Assyro-Chaldean catastrophe. In ver.21, Mount Zion is forsaken, and "the saviours" return to it from the land of captivity.
In strict accordance with the position of the book in the Canon, is the fact, that Obadiah connects himself most closely with Joel, and, excepting him, among all the prophets, with Amos only; compare Caspari, S.20 ff., 35; Haevernick, Einleitung II. S.318. Of greater importance than the coincidences in particulars, is the fact that the prophecy of Obadiah, upon the whole, connects itself most closely and immediately with the fourth (third) chapter of Joel—that in the prophecy of Obadiah, we have indeed a variation on that chapter. The judgment upon Judah, which Joel announces in the first part, [Pg 401] is here supposed to have already taken place; and this might be done so much the rather, because, even in Joel, the prophetic Plerophory, with which rationalistic interpreters are so much puzzled, has changed the Future into the Present and Past—as, even there, the destruction of Jerusalem, and the overflowing of the whole country by the heathen, are represented as already existing. It is only the judgment upon the heathen, and the restoration of Israel, which Obadiah represents in his prophetic picture.
Like Hosea (in the first three chapters), Joel, and Amos, so Obadiah also, received the mission to point out the catastrophe threatened by the world's power, even before the latter existed on the scene of history. It was to the Covenant-people a source of rich consolation that it was so clearly and distinctly foretold to them, even before it had an existence, and the points of view from which it must be regarded were opened up to them. He, however, distinctly points to one idea only, just because there were already predecessors to whose prophecies he could refer. He did not receive the mission to call to repentance, or to represent the judgment as a well-deserved punishment—although, indirectly, in him as well as in Joel, these thoughts also occur, as certainly as the supposed destruction of Judah and Israel could only be the punishment of their sin; he has to point out only the salvation subsequent to the overflowing by the heathen world, the conquering power of the kingdom of God which, in the end, will manifest itself, and deeply to impress upon the Covenant-people the words: [Greek: tharseite, ego nenikeka ton kosmon.] The glaring contrast betwixt the idea—according to which the kingdom of God was to be all prevailing—and the reality, in which it is pressed into a corner, shall in future increase still more. Even from this corner, the people of God shall be driven. But death is the transition to life; the uttermost degree of sufferings, the forerunner of deliverance and salvation. Not a restoration only is in store for the people of God—they even obtain the dominion of the world; but to the heathen world, which is at enmity with God, their exaltation is a forerunner of destruction.
All which Obadiah had to say in reference to the heathen, God-hating world, and to the form which, in future, Israel's [Pg 402] relation to it would assume, has been exemplified by him in the case of Edom. For the fact, that it is only the heathen power individualized which we have before us, is shown by the transition to the heathen in general in ver.15, according to which, Edom comes into consideration only as a part of the whole: "For near is the day of the Lord upon all the heathen." So also is it in ver.16: "For as ye have drunk upon My holy mountain, so shall all the heathen drink continually; and they drink, and sup up, and they are as though they were not." When speaking of the guilt, he mentions Edom only; when speaking of punishment, he introduces all the heathen at once. According to ver.17, Israel shall occupy the possessions of all the heathen. And even the last words of the whole prophecy, "And the kingdom shall be the Lord's," show that it bears a universal character,—that in the case of Edom, we have only a principle exemplified which applies to all the enemies of the kingdom of God. The leading thought is: The kingdom of God shall obtain universal dominion, which follows the deepest abasement of the people of God, and of which the fullest and most perfect realization must be sought in Christ.
The animating thought could be so much the better individualized in the case of Edom, as its natural relation to Israel was one of special nearness, and its hatred specially deep; and as, moreover, it at all times considered itself the rival of Israel, of whose advantages it was envious. That which Amos, the cotemporary of Obadiah, says of Edom in chap. i.11—"He pursues his brother with the sword, and corrupts his compassions, and his anger tears perpetually, and he keeps his wrath for ever"—shows how exceedingly well he was fitted to be a representative of the enemies of the kingdom of God. It was so much the more obvious thus to represent Edom as a particular and individualizing exemplification of this principle, as the prophets of that period had not as yet received any more definite disclosures as to the threatening kingdoms of the future, while Edom, in his [Pg 403] hatred against the people of God, stood before their eyes. The germ of this is to be found in Joel 4. (iii.) 19, where Edom already appears as a representative and type of the God-hating heathen world, which is to be judged by the Lord, after the judgment upon Judah.
In Obadiah, we find a fulness of remarkable glances into the future compressed within a narrow space. The chief events are the following:—1. The capture of Jerusalem, the total carrying away of the entire people, both of Judah and Israel, to a far distance, vers.20, 21.2. The return of Israel, the cessation of the separation of the two kingdoms, ver.18 (compare Hosea 2:2 [i.11]; Amos 9:11, 12), and his elevation to the dominion of the world by the "Saviours," ver.21.3. The judgment upon Edom by heathen nations, vers.1-9. Jeremiah, in xxvii.2 ff., compared with xxv., more distinctly points out the Chaldeans as the heathen instruments of the judgment upon Edom and all the people round about; and Matthew 1:3, 4, shows the weight of the sufferings which were inflicted by them upon Edom.4. The occupation of the land of Edom by Judah. One realization of this prophecy took place in the time of the Maccabees; but we must not confine ourselves to this. As, in the main, Edom is only a type of the God-hating heathen world, the true and real fulfilment can be sought in Christ alone. Compare the remarks, p.98, with reference to Moab in Balaam's prophecy.
The prophecy of Obadiah is divided into three parts:—the destruction of Edom by heathen nations summoned by Jehovah, vers.1-9; the cause of it, his wickedness against Judah, vers.10-16; Judah, on the contrary, rises with Joseph from this humiliation, and becomes a conqueror of the world, vers.17-21. This last part claims our closer consideration.
Ver.17. "And upon Mount Zion shall be they that have escaped, and it is holy (compare Joel 3:5, iv.17 [ii.32, iii.17]), and the house of Jacob occupies their possessions."
The suffix in [Hebrew: mvrwihM] refers to all the heathen in ver.16. The kingdom shall be the Lord's, according to ver.16, and the dominion of His people extends as far as His own. We have here the general prophecy; and in what immediately follows, the application to Edom. The first two clauses serve as a foundation for the third. The holiness has, so to speak, not only a [Pg 404] defensive, but also an offensive character. Its consequence is the dominion of the world.
Ver.18. "And the house of Jacob becomes a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble, and they kindle them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining to the house of Esau; for the Lord has spoken."
Besides the whole of the people, that part of them (the house of Joseph, the people of the ten tribes) is specially mentioned which one might have expected to be excluded. That there is none remaining to the house of Esau (and to all who are like him) agrees with the declaration uttered by Joel in iii.5 (ii.32): "Amongst those who are spared, is whomsoever the Lord calleth." They, however, whom the Lord calls, are, according to the same verse, they who call on the name of the Lord. But the characteristic of Edom is his hatred against the kingdom of God,—and that excludes both the calling on the Lord, and the being called by the Lord. The single individual, however, may come out of the community of his people, and enter into the territory of saving grace, as is shown by the example of Rahab. In the further description of the conquering power, which the people of God shall, in future, exercise, we are, in ver.19, first met by Judah and Benjamin.
Ver.19. "And they of the south possess the Mount of Esau, and they from the low region, the Philistines; and they (i.e., they of Judah, the whole, of whom they of the South and of the low region are parts only) possess the fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria, and Benjamin—Gilead."
It is obvious that we have here before us only an individualized representation of the thought already expressed in Genesis 28:14: "And thy seed shall be as the dust of the earth, and thou shalt break forth to the East and to the West, to the North and to the South; and in thee, and in thy seed, all the families of the earth are blessed;" compare also Isaiah 54:3: "Thou shalt break forth on the right hand and on the left, and thy seed shall inherit the Gentiles."—[Hebrew: ngd] is the south part of Judea, at the borders of Edom; [Hebrew: wplh] the low region on the West, at the borders of the Philistines. As, according to the vision of the prophet, the exaltation of Judah is preceded by his total overthrow and captivity (compare vers.11-14, 20, 21), the tribe of Judah, which, before the catastrophe, was settled in [Pg 405] the South and low region, is here meant. That [Hebrew: at] can be taken only as the sign of the Accus., and "Mount of Esau," accordingly, as the object only, appears from ver.20, according to which the South is vacant. Judah thus extends in the South, over Edom, in the West, over Philistia, in the North, over the former territory of the ten tribes, and hence also over the territory of Benjamin, which formerly lay betwixt Judah and Joseph. Benjamin is indemnified by Gilead. The whole of Canaan comes thus to Judah and Benjamin. Joseph, to whose damage, according to ver.18, this enlargement of Judah's territory must lead, must be transferred altogether to heathenish territory. We expect to find, in ver.20, how he is indemnified.
Ver.20. "And the exiles of this host of the children of Israel (shall possess) what are Canaanites unto Zarephath, and the exiles of Jerusalem that are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the South."
The circumstance that the Athnach stands below [Hebrew: sprd] indicates that [Hebrew: irwv] implies the common property of the exiles of this host, and of the exiles of Jerusalem. The "Sons of Israel," in this context, can only be the ten tribes; for they are here indemnified for their former territory, which, according to ver.19, has become the possession of Judah. "The exiles of this host" is equivalent to: "This whole host of exiles,"—the whole mass of the ten tribes, carried away according to prophetic foresight (compare Amos 5:27: "And I carry you away beyond Damascus, saith the Lord, the God of hosts"), as opposed to a piecemeal carrying away, such as had once already taken place before the time of the prophet in respect to Judah, but not in respect to the children of Israel; compare Joel 4. (iii.) 6. That the "Canaanites unto Zarephath"—i.e., the Ph[oe]nicians, whose territory formed part of the promised land, but had never, in former times, come into the real possession of Israel—are the objects of conquest, and that, hence, we cannot explain as Caspari does, "Who are among the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath," is evident from the circumstance, that all the neighbouring nations appear as objects of the conquering activity;—that the great mass of the Israelitish exiles were not among the Canaanites;—that the [Hebrew: b] could, in that case, not have been omitted;—and that the South country is too small [Pg 406] a space for the children of Israel, and of Jerusalem together. Sepharad, the very name of which is scarcely known, is mentioned as a particularizing designation of the utmost distance. The description becomes complete by its returning to the South country, from which it had proceeded. The South country penetrates to Edom; the inhabitants of Jerusalem extend beyond the South country.
Ver.21. "And saviours go up on Mount Zion to judge the Mount of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord's."
[Hebrew: elv] is to be accounted for from the consideration, that the deliverance and salvation imply the entire overthrow—the total carrying away of the people. The Saviour [Greek: kat' exochen] is hidden beneath the "saviours;" compare Judges 3:9, 15; Nehemiah 9:27. But even here, everything is connected with human individuals; and the more glorious the salvation which the prophet beholds in the future, viz., the absolute dominion of the Lord, and His people, over the world, the less can it be conceived that the prophet should have expected the realization of it by a collective body of mortal men without a leader. But the plural intimates that the antitype is not without types,—that the head cannot be conceived of without members. In Jeremiah 23:4, we read: "And I raise up shepherds over them which shall feed them;" and immediately afterwards the one good shepherd—Christ—forms the subject of discourse.—"And the kingdom shall be the Lord's."—His dominion, till then concealed, shall now be publicly manifested, and the people of the earth shall acknowledge it, either spontaneously, or by constraint. The coming of this kingdom has begun with Christ, and, in Him, waits for its consummation. The opinion of Caspari, that the contents of vers.19 and 20, as well as the close of this prophecy, belong altogether to the future, rests on a false, literal explanation, the inadmissibility of which is sufficiently evident from the circumstance that the Edomites, Philistines, and Canaanites have long since disappeared from the scene of history; so that there exists no longer the possibility of a literal fulfilment.
Footnote 1: The fact that, everywhere, the discourse is addressed to the Edomites, proves that here also Edom is addressed. The [Hebrew: ki] and the [Hebrew: kawr] in this verse, compared with those in the preceding verse, likewise suggest this. Compare, moreover, Joel 4. (iii.) 3, to which passage there is already an allusion in ver.11.
Footnote 2: Namely, the cup of punishment, of divine wrath.