There is a quote that has come down to us from the 8th Century by Anan ibn David. He said that “any answer we may be looking for in life can be found in the Tanach.” At first, it might seem to be an overstatement but Anan could see that the ancient scriptures possessed a message of universality that spanned time and that history would most certainly repeat itself. It was a unique insight that clearly indicated that Anan was a man far ahead of his time knowing that the prophecies were never intended to become outdated simply because the situations in which they were required or deemed appropriate would occur over and over again throughout the course of mankind. So, that being the case, which book of prophesies would most appropriately apply to our present reality? I'm not referring to the End of Days prophesies heralding the arrival of the Messiah because generally these are often quite vague keeping you guessing as to whether the world is corrupt enough, or evil enough to merit salvation. And as such, probably every generation since the fall of Jerusalem thought itself the object of those prophecies. No, I'm talking a prophecy that describes a specific geopolitical situation that one can point to and say, yes, that's happening now. And if you were to ask Anan, if he was alive today, which book he would point to, he'd probably say 'Obadiah'. "Who?" some of you are probably saying. Exactly!
Today's Geopolitical Situation
As we examine our world today and our present day political strife, it becomes obvious just how much we have become embroiled in middle eastern affairs. Iraq, Iran, Afghanistan, they are all words that are now synonymous with terror, death and prolonged military intervention. And of course central to the issues of their hostility is the single cause the world uses as its buzzword, a word that is uttered by some with such hatred and vehemence that it overcomes any sense of civility that one would expect from modern societies. That word is Israel. The reaction is entirely out of proportion to the size of the country. A strip of land approximately 220 km long and 80 km wide hardly ranks as more than a blip on the surface of the world. Seven million people against two hundred times that number calling for their death. The degree of over-reaction would seem impossible if it wasn’t for the fact that from scripture that it was unavoidable. Too often we overlook the obscure books of the Bible thinking them insignificant in comparison to some of the major works of the Old Testament. It has always been well known amongst the Kahana, as well as the earlier Nazoreans (Christians), that there was a general rule of thumb insisting that which comes last will come first and that which is first will come last. This being the case, then there is no other book in the Tanach that compares in its minuteness to Obadiah. A single chapter, twenty-one sentences long, it hardly registers as one of the major prophetic books and the fact is emphasized further by its prophetical message being meant for a people other than Israel as if the book didn’t belong in the Tanach at all. We know nothing of Obadiah, and we have even less of an idea when the book was written.
Timing the Prophecy
In the first few sentences of the Book of Obadiah we are introduced to Edom. Historically, Edom was the land settled by Esau, the brother of Jacob who was also known as Israel. Edom became a land comprised of the descendants of Esau and also those that descended from Ishmael, the son of Abraham by Hagar; they being the forerunners of the Arab confederacy of nations today. It is extremely difficult to place the Edom described in Obadiah in any historical perspective from the past. If the events he was describing occurred at the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in the 6th century BC, then the role of the Edomites was non-existent in that case and therefore hardly applicable. And certainly there was no occupation on the Temple Mount following that conquest as indicated in Obadiah. Nor was Jerusalem and Judea retaken by force as described but was simply returned by Cyrus the Persian. No, this was not the time period that Obadiah was describing.
The next time we could examine would be the fall of Jerusalem in 70 AD but during that period, the Edomites had been converted to Judaism and these Idumeans as they were then known were fighting alongside their Judean and Galilean brothers. At first examination this timeframe wouldn't seem appropriate either but there are indicators that there may be a connection. The suggestion of the early sentences in Obadiah is that the Edomites took advantage of the fall of Judea, abandoning their oaths, forgetting their bonds of brotherhood, and despoiling the remnants of the conquered country. Now this does sound similar to what happened following the loss to Rome, where the desert tribes filled the vacuum left behind by the exiled and enslaved Jews.
With time, Obadiah identifies these descendants of Esau becoming a threat to all other nations and he warns us in the first sentence that all nations must be prepared to strike against this threat, not just Israel. An interesting statement considering it is inferred through this presence of the Lord's ambassador, that somehow, in someway, a restored Israel has taken place. Sentence three describes these modern day Edomites as full of pride and lording over their neighbors with a self-assurance that is beyond measure. A statement which reflects todays situation. By Sentence five Obadiah questions the overwhelming greed of these Edomites. Even thieves have a limit to how much they would steal before they felt they had enough wealth. A vinter would leave grapes behind rather than strip the vines bare so that the birds and the poor could eat the remainder. But there is no limit to these modern day Edomites as they build ski slopes in the desert and construct islands that are modelled after a map of the world. All this while the world starves.
It is quite interesting that in Sentence seven, Obadiah does not blame the Edomites completely. There are other nations involved that were responsible for the current situation. Other nations that offer to be their allies providing them with their sense of invincibility; providing political and military support. Other nations that it states in Sentence ten that are only concerned with doing harm to Israel but using the Arab nations as their unwitting tools. And just as Jerusalem fell in the past to precipitate the current turn of events, history will repeat itself and these nations will take Jerusalem by force once again.
But Obadiah warns that God will not hold these foreign nations responsible for this next fall of Israel. The Lord will only hold the modern day Edomites responsible because they ignored the fact once again that they were brothers with Israel and took pleasure not only in its destruction but when the Israelites try to flee for their lives it will be the Edomites that cut off their escape and persecute the helpless.
From Sentence fifteen onwards Obadiah prophesizes what will happen to not only the modern Edomites but their allies as well. They will be drunk upon Zion, indicating that they think by the taking of Israel and especially Jerusalem according to Sentence sixteen that the Jews are finally at an end once and for all. In their premature celebrations they will overlook the remnant of the Jews that escape and these will return aided by their remaining allies from all around the world. They will fall upon the Edomites with a fury that will see the complete annihilation of the modern day Edomites once and for all.
Salvation from Sepharad
It is most prophetic that Sentence twenty refers to Sepharad, that land known to be the farthest destination that King Solomon’s ships sailed to, and it is from there that this remnant and its allies shall come. We think of Sepharad as the place where the Sephardic Jews (ie. Spain and Morocco) inhabited, but the reference goes far beyond this furthest limit of the Mediterranean Sea. The pillars of Hercules as the Greeks called them; the rock of Gibraltar according to the British. Beyond these lay the New World, an unknown continent when Obadiah wrote his book, but the country to which we must hope will rise to the salvation and fulfillment of Obadiah's prophecy.