Obadaiah. Ohhhh badiah. Have you ever met anyone who gives any craps about Obadiah as a Bible book? Were you even aware it existed? I, certainly, had forgotten. But being that it’s the shortest book in the entire bible, I was absolutely thrilled to get here.
Of course, as it has been with these super short books thus far, Obadiah proved to be a far tougher nut to crack than I expected. The reason being in Obadiah’s case – All throughout its 21 verses, it references some dude named Esau. Esau?? Esau who? That name sounds familiar but … ohhhh right. If I rewind my brain back 30 books and nearly 4 long years ago, all the way back to Genesis when I very first started this project, it starts to come back to me. Esau was Jacob’s brother. We know Jacob well: son of Isaac, grandson of Abraham, the father of the 12 sons who make up the 12 tribes of Israel. God gave Jacob the name “Israel”; he IS The Chosen One – the very father of Israel itself. But his bro Esau? We left him in the dust 30 chapters ago. He was apparently easy to forget for me.
The funny thing is that I’m now recalling that Esau was the founder of a nation that’s been a pretty major player in the Bible thus far – Edom. Sound familiar? One of Israel’s neighbors; a country that, just like every one of its other neighbors – Damascus, Moab, Ammon, etc. – has played the bad guy in these stories on the reg. And it makes sense, because Esau was cast as the “bad brother” in the fam back in Genesis, and was unfavored by God. Jacob was God’s fave. Esau was merely Jacob’s loser brother. So of course his country of Edom is one of the Bible’s key recurring villains – the Loki to Jacob/Israel’s Thor.
This is all well and good but, how does it relate to Obadiah? Let’s give a summary of the plot of the book. It starts off with an introduction of Obadiah. But where most other books normally give the setting at this point, Obadiah gives zero setting at all (you’ll recall I was also quite annoyed with Joel for this same offense). All we know at the beginning is, he’s a prophet, and he lives in either Israel or Judah. Here’s what happens from there:
Obadiah’s all like: “Hey Edom, we’re gonna KICK YOUR FOOKIN’ ARSES!!! You conceited bastards think you’re hot shit but we’re about to teach you a thing or two when we destroy you!! Just because you live up in those mountains like big tough guys, you think no one can defeat you, but guess what? God gave us permission and he’s behind us all the way, so get ready cause we’re coming for ya, bitches.”
O.k. fine, there’s a little more to it than that. Starting in verse 10, we finally start to get more context:
1:10 Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you (Edom) will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. 1:11 On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. 1:12 You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.
1:15 “The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. 1:16 Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been. 1:17 But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance. 1:18 Jacob will be a fire and Joseph a flame; Esau will be stubble, and they will set him on fire and destroy him. There will be no survivors from Esau.” The Lord has spoken.
O.k., now we’re getting somewhere. Obadiah must live in Judah, because the thing he’s so pissed about is an attack on Jerusalem. How about the timeframe, though? Some googling brings up all kinds of suggested timeframes, ranging from 853BC to 590BC. The various dates suggested are of course all based on historical attacks on Judah involving the Edomites. Of these historical attacks, it very well could be “The Big One” from 2nd Kings – the one that so many of the last 20 books have focused on, where the Babylonians defeated Judah/Jerusalem. Well o.k., I think “The Big One” was actually a couple different attacks, which eventually ended in total destruction and takeover of Jerusalem/Judah by the Babylonians. You can see it at the bottom right of my trusty 2nd Kings succession of kings table that we always refer back to – the description right under “Jehoiachin” is the first attack. Wikipedia, I’m pretty sure, is asserting that this is the same attack Obadiah refers to, and their reasoning seems pretty logical to me:
In 597 BCE, Nebuchadnezzar II sacked Jerusalem, carted away the King of Judea and installed a puppet ruler. The Edomites helped the Babylonians loot the city. Obadiah, writing this prophesy around 590 BCE, suggests the Edomites should have remembered that blood was thicker than water. ‘”On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth …” (etc., those verses are quoted above, 1:11-13).
In the end though, it doesn’t really matter precisely which attack it was. What matters is Obadaiah’s and God’s actions and reactions in relation to it. And they are pissed, as you can tell from the verses quoted above. They declare their intention to attack and fully destroy Edom and its people. Jacob will, once and for all, destroy all remnants of his brother. “1:19 People from the Negev will occupy the mountains of Esau, and people from the foothills will possess the land of the Philistines. They will occupy the fields of Ephraim and Samaria, and Benjamin will possess Gilead. 1:20 This company of Israelite exiles who are in Canaan will possess the land as far as Zarephath; the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the towns of the Negev. 1:21 Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the Lord’s.”
You know what’s so crazy about all this though, and what I had completely forgotten about until I went back and reviewed the story of Jacob and Esau in Genesis? I had completely forgotten about what a little prick Jacob was. I had forgotten about how Esau was the first born of the two (they were twins), and thus Esau was the one with the birthright. Even while they were still in the womb, they “jostled” with each other. Their mother, Isaac’s wife, Rebekah, asked God what was going on in her belly, and God told her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
Jacob’s appearance as a baby is not described in the book, but Esau is very clearly described as red, and hairy. He is a ginger for the ages. As a matter of fact, the word “Esau” means “hairy”, which is why they give him the name. Guess what Jacob means? “1:26 After [Esau emerged from Rebekah’s womb], his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob.” And here’s the footnote on that from biblehub.com: “Jacob means he grasps the heel, a Hebrew idiom for he deceives.” He deceives!! It’s fitting, because deception is precisely ALL Jacob does from this point forward, when it comes to his rivalry with his brother.
When the boys grow up, Esau becomes a skillful hunter, a “man of the open country”. Mmm, mm mm. Yeah. Hot. Jacob, on the other hand, is “content to stay at home among the tents.” Lame. Isaac favors his tough guy son Esau, but Rebekah favors Jacob. And let me tell you, Rebekah is a master at schemin’. Before we move on, let’s picture Hot Ginger Esau for a quick sec first.
What do you think? Hmm. Pretty good, but it feels like we can do better.
Oh hell yes. Nooooowww you’re talkin’. This Hot Ginger is a warrior, damnit. A wildling, even. Jacob’s delicate ass could never survive north of The Wall. Esau, on the other hand, mmmm yeah babe. The Bible mentions that Edom means “red”, which is why Esau is also called Edom.
Ah daaaayyyyyuuuummmmnnn that’s right, I’ll take some of that ginger spice.
O.k. fine. I guess we should get back to the story. Sigh. O.k. so, one day Esau comes in from the hot sexy open country, and finds Jacob cooking some stew. So he’s like “OMG awesome gimme some of that stew man, I’m starving!” And Jacob is like, nope, gimme your birthright first. And Esau is like dooood come on I’m about to die here! Fine then, o.k. take my birthright I don’t even care at this point! So Jacob makes Esau swear to it, and only once he swears an oath does Jacob finally give him the stew. Kind of a dick move, bro.
A couple chapters and some years later, papa Isaac is old and on his deathbed. Oh, and this is key: His eyes are no longer working well at this point; he is basically blind. He aks Esau to go out and kill some wild game and make a meal of it, and bring it back to him so he can bless Esau before he dies. “Yessir daddio!” Esau goes and does his manly thing in the country. But meanwhile, lil’ old schemin’ Rebekah gets word of this. She runs to Jacob – “OMG Jacob I just got the best idea!! O.k. go dress up like Esau and bring me a couple of our goats, so I can prepare a tasty meal for your dad just how he likes it. Then bring it to him and pretend you’re Esau! We can trick dad into giving you the magical blessing instead of your loser ginger brother!!” “But mom Esau is all hairy and I’m not, what if dad touches my arm or something, he’ll know!!” “Don’t worry honey, we’re gonna dress you in Esau’s clothes AND cover your hands and neck in goatskin to mimic your hairy brother! Dang I am such a genius.”
So Jacob carries out mommy’s plan. He goes to daddy Isaac and Isaac says, “WOW Esau how did you go hunting and prepare this meal so quickly!?” “The Lord your God gave me success, dad!” “Hmm weird … Esau your voice sounds like Jacob right now, that’s odd. Let me touch you to make sure. O.k. yep, you’re hairy enough, clearly you are Esau.” When Isaac finishes eating, he calls “Esau” up to give him a kiss, and smells the “smell of the field,” on Jacob, because he’s wearing Esau’s clothes. This reassures him that he has the right son present for his blessing. So Isaac bestows upon Jacob – who he thinks is Esau – his official blessing for life, power, riches, etc. Mission accomplished.
But wait! Esau comes back right as this little shenanigan ends, just seconds after Jacob leaves his dad’s room, proudly carrying his lovely meal prepared for daddio. “Hey dad here’s your grub!” Isaac: “What WHAT!? Who are you??” “It’s me Esau, your firstborn!” Isaac immediately starts shaking with panic – “Who was it, then, that hunted game and brought it to me? I ate it just before you came and I blessed him—and indeed he will be blessed!” NOOOOOOOOO!
(Genesis) 27:34 When Esau heard his father’s words, he burst out with a loud and bitter cry and said to his father, “Bless me—me too, my father!” 27:35 But he said, “Your brother came deceitfully and took your blessing.” 27:36 Esau said, “Isn’t he rightly named Jacob (‘he deceives’)? This is the second time he has taken advantage of me: He took my birthright, and now he’s taken my blessing!” Then he asked, “Haven’t you reserved any blessing for me?”
“Uggh. Fffffffuuuuuuuuuuu- … that little prick! Son, I hate to tell you this, but Jacob screwed you. You’re hosed. You’re S.O.L. Jacob stole my blessing right out from under you. Sigh … I hate to do this but, now the only blessing I can bestow upon you is that you shall be super not rich, super not awesome, and you’re gonna serve that little a-hole brother of yours. Uggh. I’m sooo sorry dude.”
After all this goes down, Esau vows to get his revenge by killing Jacob after Isaac dies. So Rebekah sends Jacob away to live with her brother in Harran so Esau won’t find him. Eventually though, a good number of years later, the brothers meet up again and make up with each other, and no murdering occurs. Well, there’s a bit more to it than that, and it’s something you probably couldn’t dream up on the best acid trip of your life. To tell this story properly would take me a whole extra blog entry, so I’m just going to keep it short and say that just before Jacob crosses paths with Esau for the first time in forever (who he’s trying to suck up to by purchasing a bunch of gifts), he spends the night in the desert alone, and, this happens. Click on the pic to get the full story. Trust me. It’s a quick easy read, and it’s so worth it.
And that, my friends, is how Jacob becomes ‘Israel’. God’s one and only Chosen One. He lies, cheats and steals his brother’s birthright, and then many years later, he has a wrestling match with God in which he essentially forces God to anoint him The Chosen One by quite literally twisting his arm and pinning him down on the ground until he relents. God’s blessing is really nothing more than him crying uncle to get Jacob off his back (again, literally).
Yes, yes, I’m sure we’re supposed to take this wrestling match as a figurative tale, rather than literal, but that doesn’t make it any less ridiculous. And it doesn’t make Jacob’s actual actions against Esau any less terrible. What are we supposed to take from the fact that Jacob became “Israel, The Chosen One” in the most deceitful and underhanded way possible? I don’t think anyone has a clue.
A few chapters later in Genesis, Esau eventually moves his family to Mount Seir, and his descendents become known as the Edomites. This is how Edom is born. And now that you know the backstory, it sheds quite an interesting light and brings a whole new dimension to the Book of Obadiah, which casts Esau/Edom as the evil villain.
As you can see, I didn’t bother with the Good Stuff/Bad Stuff sections here, because it didn’t feel necessary for this one. There was nothing I could call “good,” but plenty I could call disturbing, and it was interesting to see the Jacob/Esau backstory really bubble back up again and force me to go back and re-examine it in a new light. I couldn’t get into details of this in my Genesis review because that book was 50 chapters long. Luckily Obadiah was so short that I could do it here instead.
This one-chapter book really has no redeeming qualities. It consists entirely of Obadiah declaring his intent to destroy a neighboring nation, in the name of God. Lame. The 0.1 is solely for the excuse it gave me to look up hot Kristofer Hivju pics. Next up, we’ve got Jonah. Oh snaps! Will there be a whale involved??