Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament, a mere twenty-one verses long. The name Obadiah means “servant of the Lord.” Not surprisingly, nothing is known about Obadiah. Due to a lack of internal and external evidence, the date of the book is also disputed. Verses 11-14 allude to some foreign invasion, perhaps a Philistines or Arab attack of Jerusalem in the mid-ninth century BC, or the Babylonian attack that led to Judah’s exile in 586 BC. Since there are parallels between verses 1-9 and Jeremiah 49:7-22, the later date is preferred.
Obadiah’s strong prophetic words are aimed at Edom, who was gloating over Israel’s troubles against other nations. A similar angry outburst is found in Psalm 137. Edom is frequently mentioned in the Old Testament as an archenemy of Israel. The nation’s name is said to derive from Esau, the older brother of Judah, the father of Israel (see Genesis 27). The tense relationship between these brothers reflects Israel’s woes with the nation of Edom later in her history. Biblical scholars commonly understand the Esau story in Genesis to be not the historical cause of Israel’s tensions with Edom, but an “etiological narrative,” a story written after the fact to assign an ancient cause to a contemporary issue.
The “Day of the Lord” will come upon not only Edom but all nations (verse 15), and all will get as they deserve. But Edom especially is singled out: Judah will set fire to Edom and it will be consumed as stubble and none will survive.