Obadiah prophesied of God’s wrath against the Edomites. The Edomites were the descendants of Esau, having settled apart from Jacob and the Promised Land (Gen 36:8). Edom denied Israel passage through their land when Israel was traveling from Kadesh to the plains of Moab in preparation for the conquest of Canaan. Moses said to the descendants of Esau, “Please let us travel through your land. We won’t travel through any field or vineyard or drink any well water. We will travel the King’s Highway; we won’t turn to the right or the left until we have traveled through your territory” (Num 20:17). But the Edomites hardened themselves against their brothers, denying Israel passage even after Israel made a second request to travel through Edomite territory (Num 20:20-21). Edom’s affront of Israel was so severe that Isaiah (Isa 34:5-17) and Ezekiel prophesied against Edom (Ezek 35:1-4).
Edom’s geographical location in the mountainous area on the south and east of the Dead Sea was a natural defense against enemies—and a location from which they could raid the land of Judah and return quickly to their fortress if necessary (Obad 13-14). What would God do about this arrogant, fickle nation? The Lord promised to humble the Edomites, saying, “Though you seem to soar like an eagle and make your nest among the stars, even from there I will bring you down” (Obad 4). The Edomites geographical location and political alliances would crumble, Obadiah announced: “Everyone who has a treaty with you will drive you to the border; everyone at peace with you will deceive and conquer you” (Obad 7).
Obadiah declared that the Lord had not forgotten how Edom treated Israel as they attempted to cross their territory and when the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem. The prophet spoke against Edom, “because of violence done to your brother Jacob” (Obad 10). Images of the Babylonian invasion of Jerusalem, when Edom celebrated and mocked and grabbed their sides in laughter, filled Obadiah’s mind. The prophet declared that the Lord would settle accounts against Edom on behalf of His people (Obad 15-21).
Obadiah’s prophecy provides a window for understanding God’s wrath upon His enemies. In the storyline of Scripture, the New Testament authors described the doctrine of God’s wrath to:
(1) Comfort believers that were suffering for their faith. Paul encouraged the Thessalonians that God would repay those who persecuted them. “It is righteous for God to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to reward with rest you who are afflicted, along with us,” Paul said (2 Thess 1:6-7). Paul told the Thessalonians that when Christ returned, God would reward the church and exact vengeance on all who disobeyed the gospel (2 Thess 1:8-10). Peter wrote that those who persecuted the church would give an account “to the One who stands ready to judge the living and the dead” (1 Pet 4:5). He also wrote that false teachers, those causing spiritual harm to believers, would receive God’s wrath (2 Pet 2:4-10; 3:1-7). At the opening of the fifth seal in Revelation, John heard the martyrs say, “O Lord, holy and true, how long until You judge and avenge our blood from those who live on the earth?” (Rev 6:10). The subsequent visions John received describe God’s wrath upon those who oppose His people.
(2) Dissuade believers from avenging themselves. Paul wrote to the Romans, “Friends, do not avenge yourselves; instead, leave room for His wrath. For it is written: Vengeance belongs to Me; I will repay, says the Lord” (Rom 12:19). The prophecy of Obadiah is a pointed reminder that there is no injustice with God. Paul wrote that believers should avoid any wrathful tendencies, writing, “If your enemy is hungry, feed him. If he is thirsty, give him something to drink. For in so doing you will be heaping fiery coals on his head” (Rom 12:20). Peter likewise wrote that if a dispute should arise in the public sphere or the household, Christians should demonstrate God’s faithfulness by entrusting themselves to God and avoiding the temptation to fight back (1 Pet 2:11-3:6).