The prophecy of Ovadiah (meaning “Servant of G-d”) is the shortest book in the TaNaKh. It contains no biographical information or explicit identification of time period. However, its content (the condemnation of Edom) tells us what we need to know in no uncertain terms.
Ovadiah is primarily a condemnation of Edom, the territory to the south of Yehudah and founded by the descendants of Yacov’s brother Esav. Little love was lost between the two peoples, as Edom had been a vassal state to Yehudah for much of the kingdom’s history, and Yehudah’s control over of it was far from perfect. Edom, in its own right, was both strategically and economically significant, deriving its prosperity from the trade routes that crossed it, allowing commerce between Egypt and various civilizations across the Middle East.
Unsurprisingly, Edom came under the control of Babylon (undoubtedly because it was an alternative to both Egyptian and Yehudi rule. When Babylon lay seige to and then sacked Jerusalem, Edom was a participant, and in all likelihood an enthusiastic one. Like the other peoples who collaborated in the conquest, the prophets repeatedly and strenuously condemned them. However, the condemnation was more severe and more personal against Edom, both due to the shared history between the two kingdoms and due to the understanding of familial ties existing between them. And, like most of the peoples in the region, the Edomites worshipped a pantheon that included Baal and Asherah, both much hated by the prophets.
Ovadiah’s prophecy against Edom isn’t particularly different from those delivered by Yesheyahu, Yermiyahu, Yehezkel, Amos, and Yoel. All foretell Edom’s destruction in recompense for its complicity. Indeed, the history of Edom did come to a close. As Yehudah returned to prosperity under Persian rule, Edom disappeared, scattered in the empire and absorbed into Yehudah, as prophesied by Ovadiah. By the time of Malachi, Edom no longer exists in any defined cultural, political, or geographical sense. Where Ovadiah (1:18) wrote,
Malachi (1:2-3, emphasis mine
“I have loved you,” says the Lord. But you say, “How have you loved us?” “Is not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert.”
Finally, in the last verses of the prophecy, Ovadiah reveals a dual message in his writing. Yes, he has focused on the coming destruction of Edom, but his message is also for Yehudah. If HaShem wishes to condemn Edom for their active enmity against Jerusalem, then part of the message is a warning of the impending fall of Jerusalem. If the condemnation is that Edom will fall for its crimes, the complimentary message is the Yehudah will prosper at Edom’s expense. Verses 15 through 21 describe the reemergence of Yehudah as a source of influence over its former domain. Such was the impact of the Persian conquest of Chaldea on the kingdom of Yehudah, reborn under Persian patronage as a vassal state.
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