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Historical Context of Obadiah

This is the third lesson in a series of lessons on the book of Obadiah. In this lesson I talk about the historical context of Obadiah.

Watch the video or scroll down to read a transcript.

Transcript:

Thanks for visiting Bible Mountain. This is the third lesson in a series of lessons on the book of Obadiah. In this lesson, I’m going to talk about the historical context. 

In the first lesson, I talked about why Obadiah is in the Bible. Obadiah was originally written to pronounce judgment upon the Edomites. It is in the Bible because what happened to Edom is an example for us to learn from. In the second lesson, I talked about the biblical context. I showed where Obadiah fits in the Bible. In this lesson, I’m going to talk about the historical context. I’m going to show where Obadiah fits on a timeline of world history. 

This is a timeline of world history. In the upper left is 4000 BC, which is when creation happened. In the upper right is 2000 AD, which is roughly when you and I are living. The Old Testament tells us about people and events from 4000 BC up to about 400 BC. The New Testament tells us about people and events from the first century AD. 

The Old Testament can be divided roughly into five groups. The first group is what we sometimes call the Pentateuch, the Books of Moses, or the Books of Law. They tell us about people and events from creation, around 4000 BC, up to about 1400 BC. The second group is what we call the Books of History. Those books tell us about people and events from 1400 BC up to about 400 BC. The third group is the Books of Poetry. These are collections of poems that were written anywhere from 2000 BC up to about 500 BC. The fourth group is the Major Prophets. Those are prophecies that were given and written down somewhere between 800 BC and 500 BC. The fifth group is the Minor Prophets. Those are prophecies that were delivered or written down somewhere between 900 BC and 400 BC. 

Now let’s talk about some of the well known people from the Old Testament time period. When you start to read the book of Genesis, you read about Adam. He lived at the beginning of time, roughly 4000 BC. Next in the book of Genesis we read about Noah. Noah lived roughly 2500 BC. During his lifetime, God brought a flood and destroyed the whole earth. He destroyed all people except for Noah and his family who were saved in the ark. 

After Noah we read about Abraham. Abraham lived roughly 2000 BC. God gave some promises to Abraham that Abraham would have descendants too numerous to count and that in Abraham’s seed, all the nations of the earth would be blessed. Abraham had a son named Isaac. The promises that were given to Abraham were passed along to Isaac. Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. The promises that had been given to Abraham and were passed down to Isaac, were passed down to Jacob. Esau did not receive the promises that were given to Abraham, Isaac, and then Jacob. 

Eventually, the descendants of Jacob became the Israelites. The descendants of Esau became the Edomites. The book of Obadiah is about the Edomites. It’s important to understand the history of Jacob and Esau in order to understand what happened between the Israelites and the Edomites that we read about in the book of Obadiah. 

At the end of Jacob’s life, he and his descendants moved down into Egypt. They were there for 400 years. They became slaves. Then Moses came along and delivered them from slavery. Moses lived roughly 1500 BC. He led them back to the promised land. 

The Israelites lived in the Promised Land for several hundred years without a king. Every man did what was right in his own eyes. Eventually, the Israelites decided they wanted a king. First, it was King Saul. Eventually, David became king. David lived roughly 1000 BC. David ruled over all of Israel. David had a son named Solomon who ruled over all Israel. After Solomon died, the Kingdom split between the North and the South. David’s descendants ruled over the southern kingdom. The northern kingdom had a series of other rulers.

That continued for several hundred years. Eventually, the Assyrians came in and conquered the northern kingdom. Later the Babylonians came in and conquered the southern kingdom. Thus, the Israelites were exiled. 

Near the end of the Old Testament time period, roughly 500 BC, some of the Jews were able to come back to the promised land and rebuild the temple. That is how the Old Testament ended. 

Now let’s talk about where Obadiah fits on this timeline. The first thing to do is look in Obadiah itself for some clues about when it was written or when the events happened.

Obadiah 1:10 Because of violence to your brother Jacob, shame smothers you and you will be cut off forever. 11 In the day you stood far off, and in the day strangers captured his wealth and foreigners came to his gate and cast lots over Jerusalem, you also were as one of them.

Remember, this was being written about the Edomites. We see a reference to Jacob. That was another term for the Israelites. This book was written about violence that the Edomites did to the Israelites. 

We also see a reference to Jerusalem. Jerusalem became an Israelite city during the kingdom of David. David conquered Jerusalem and made it his capital. That tells us that what we read about in Obadiah had to happen after King David. That means Obadiah took place somewhere between 1000 BC, which was David, and 400 BC, which was the end of the Old Testament. 

Now let’s go back to verse 11 and look for some other clues. 

Obadiah 1:11 In the day you stood far off, and in the day strangers captured his wealth and foreigners came to his gate and cast lots over Jerusalem, you also were as one of them.

We see a reference here to somebody conquering the Israelites and the Edomites stood back and did not help. They actually helped to plunder the city of Jerusalem. One way to figure out when Obadiah was written is to see if there’s anything in the Old Testament that tells us when that happened. There are two potential candidates for this. 

2Chr. 21:16   Then the LORD stirred up against Jehoram the spirit of the Philistines and the Arabs who bordered the Ethiopians; 17 and they came against Judah and invaded it, and carried away all the possessions found in the king’s house together with his sons and his wives, so that no son was left to him except Jehoahaz, the youngest of his sons.

There’s another candidate for this.

2Kings 25:1   Now in the ninth year of his reign, on the tenth day of the tenth month, Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon came, he and all his army, against Jerusalem, camped against it and built a siege wall all around it.

We see in those verses two references to when foreign countries came and fought against Jerusalem and plundered it. We don’t know for sure which of those two Obadiah is referring to. It’s also possible Obadiah is referring to something else that’s not recorded in the Old Testament. Both of those references to Jerusalem being attacked took place somewhere between 900 BC and 500 BC. That tells us Obadiah probably took place between 900 BC and 500 BC. 

Another way to place the book on a timeline is to think about who wrote it and whether we know when that person lived. 

Obadiah 1:1  A vision of Obadiah: Thus said Yahweh my Lord to Edom. We heard a report from Yahweh, and an envoy was sent among the nations, “Arise and let us stand against her for war. 

We see here that Obadiah was written by a man named Obadiah. There are multiple individuals throughout the Old Testament who were named Obadiah; therefore, this doesn’t help us either, because we don’t know for sure which Obadiah wrote the book of Obadiah. 

Having said all that, the best we can know is that Obadiah was written, and the events in Obadiah took place, somewhere between 900 BC and 500 BC. 

That is the historical context of Obadiah. Let me review again why Obadiah is in the Bible and why it’s important for you and I to read and study the book of Obadiah. We see this in First Corinthians.

1Cor. 10:11 Now these things happened to them as an example, and they were written for our instruction, upon whom the ends of the ages have come. 

This tells us the things written in the Old Testament were written as examples for us. That applies to the book of Obadiah. Obadiah tells us about things that Edom did, and punishment that was inflicted upon them because of what they did. That’s an example for you and I to learn from, not only for our personal lives, but perhaps also for countries in the modern day, based on how they treat the nation of Israel. It’s important to read and study the book of Obadiah, just like it’s important to read all of the Bible, because all of it is written for our instruction. 

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Scripture quotations from Obadiah taken from a translation by Bible Mountain.

“All other Scripture quotations taken from the New American Standard Bible®,
Copyright © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973,
1975, 1977, 1995 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission.” (www.Lockman.org