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Obadiah: Commentary by the Early Christians

Verse-by-verse analysis from Christians of the first millennium

Chapter 1

1 The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom; We have heard a message from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the nations, Arise you, and let us rise up against her in battle.

[Ephrem The Syrian] “We have heard a report from the Lord,” that is, the Lord of the world powers will do nothing if he has not first revealed his mystery to his servants, the prophets. “And a messenger has been sent among the nations.” A mystical meaning is probable here, and these words may be referred to Emmanuel, the angel of the testament, sent from heaven, who announced peace to the nations, and therefore was said to be the “expectation of the nations.”

Obadiah of Sichem was born in the tribe of Ephraim and prophesied against the Edomites. He seems to be a contemporary of Hosea, Joel, Amos and Isaiah.

2 Behold, I have made you small among the nations: you are greatly despised.

[Ephrem The Syrian] Obadiah shows here that the Edomites must be subjected to captivity because of their pride and the enmity they held against their brothers. In a different sense he says that the devil is made least, as the words that follow are extremely suitable to him as well.

3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you that dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that says in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?

[Jerome] “The pride of your heart has deceived you.” This is directed against the heretics. “You who dwell in the rock”—the rock frequently refers to the Lord or standing on something solid, as the prophet says, “He has placed my feet upon a rock.” To Peter he said, “You are Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church.” Nevertheless it is also frequently used in another way. Ezekiel says, “I will take the heart of stone out of your flesh.” In Matthew we read that God is able to raise up children of Abraham from these stones. Ultimately, since here it does not say the inhabitants are on top of the rocks but rather in the fissure of the rocks, those referred to here are like heresies that split the rock of Christ and the church.

4 Though you exalt yourself as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there will I bring you down, says the LORD.

[Jerome] The Savior came not to send peace upon the earth but a sword. Lucifer fell, Lucifer who used to rise at dawn; and he who was bred up in a paradise of delight had the wellearned sentence passed upon him, “ ‘Though you exalt yourself as your eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, thence will I bring you down,’ says the Lord.” For Lucifer had said in his heart, “I will exalt my throne above the stars of God,” and “I will be like the most high.” Therefore God says every day to the angels, as they descend the ladder that Jacob saw in his dream, “I say, ‘You are gods, sons of the most high, all of you; nevertheless you shall die like men and fall like any prince.’ ” The devil fell first. “God has taken his place in the divine council; in the midst of the gods he holds judgment.”

5 If thieves came to you, if robbers by night, (how are you cut off!) would they not have stolen till they had enough? if the grape gatherers came to you, would they not leave some grapes?

[Ephrem The Syrian] If thieves came to you, oh, how you would be silenced! Everything would be open for plunder because of the overwhelming fear, until [the plunderers] have stolen enough [riches] for themselves, for they are people of insatiable and consuming greed. If grape gatherers came to you—that is, if plunderers invaded you with open violence—what would you do? Would you not at least strive to have the gleanings of the vineyard remain to you? But you strive in vain against the Chaldeans, the invaders of your dominions. Therefore he refers to them [the Edomites] by adding how Esau has been pillaged, his treasures searched out. He prophesies that the people of Esau had to be pillaged by the Chaldeans with incredible zeal and then even deported to captivity. Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon fulfilled this prediction after he thouroughly destroyed Edom and moved its inhabitants elsewhere.

[Jeremiah 49:9] If grape gatherers came to you, would they not leave some gleaning grapes? if thieves by night, they will destroy till they have enough.

6 How are the things of Esau searched out! how are his treasures sought out!

7 All the men in your confederacy have forced you even to the border: the men that were at peace with you have deceived you, and prevailed against you; they that eat your bread have laid a trap under you: there is no understanding of it.

8 Shall I not in that day, says the LORD, even destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of the mountains of Esau?

9 And your mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that every one of the mountains of Esau may be cut off by slaughter.

10 For your violence against your brother Jacob shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.

[Ephrem The Syrian] Shame shall cover you over the Jews, whose ruin you enjoyed, after they are brought back to their original power. And you shall be cut off forever. After the Jews return from Chaldea, they will subjugate you Edomites and will vex you for a long time. This will continue until the coming of a foreign people, who will defeat the Jews. Then the name and race of the Edomites will be totally obliterated. The Romans accomplished this prediction of the prophet against the Edomites by first subjugating Judea and then by scattering the Jews all over the world.

11 In the day that you stood on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even you were as one of them.

12 But you should not have looked down on the day of your brother in the day that he became a stranger; neither should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither should you have spoken proudly in the day of distress.

[Ambrose of Milan] Preserve, O Lord, your work, guard the gift which you have given even to him who shrank from it. For I knew that I was not worthy to be called a bishop, because I had devoted myself to this world, but by your grace I am what I am. And I am indeed the least of all bishops, and the lowest in merit. Yet since I too have undertaken some labor for your holy church, watch over this fruit. Do not let the one who was lost before you called him to the priesthood be lost when he becomes a priest. And first grant that I may know how with inmost affection to mourn with those who sin; for this is a very great virtue, since it is written, “And you shall not rejoice over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction, and speak not proudly in the day of their trouble.” Grant that so often as the sin of anyone who has fallen is made known to me I may suffer with him and not chide him proudly but mourn and weep, so that weeping over another I may mourn for myself, saying, “Tamar has been more righteous than I.”

13 You should not have entered into the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; yea, you should not have looked down on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor have laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity;

14 Neither should you have stood at the crossroads, to cut off those of his that did escape; neither should you have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress.

15 For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations: as you have done, it shall be done unto you: your reward shall return upon your own head.

[Cyril of Alexandria] Again the time of war is predicted [as in Joel] when the neighboring nations will join together against Edom to inflict bitter punishment. That day is truly called the Day of the Lord. For God the Lord was the one who handed them over to the Israelites in their wickedness and injustice. So that he might affirm that their divine punishment is just he says, “As you have done, so it will be done to you.” For nature is so arranged that everybody receives just treatment, and entirely equal wages are repaid to those who have undertaken similar actions.

16 For as you have drunk upon my holy mountain, so shall all the nations drink continually, yea, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had never been.

[Cyril of Alexandria] These words “as you have drunk” indicate, I think, that the victors insolently gloried in victory. They had a festive celebration where they got drunk with their friends, boasting in praise of their part in the victory while they got drunk. And while they were drinking and singing songs and causing all manner of damage at this party, they got drunk and began to insult the other nations. “And they will descend against you,” that is, the neighboring regions will attack these parties. And so, you will want to be in a place where they are not; otherwise you too will be wiped out of existence. Mount Zion, however, by divine inspiration is called the church. For it is truly the highest and most visible, the foremost holy place. It is the house and city of the most holy God.

[Ephrem The Syrian] You have drunk on my holy mountain from the cup of wrath, which David and Ahab mixed for you. All the nations around you shall drink constantly because of the Assyrians and the Chaldeans, in the days of Hezekiah and his sons.

17 But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.

18 And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD has spoken it.

[Cyril of Alexandria] The foolish Edomites thought that they alone were about to possess the house of Jacob. Instead the land was divided with them and with the Chaldeans. That very unforseen thing was turned against them, it says. They would be possessed by the house of Jacob and likewise be consumed like chaff or stubble by a flame. And the house of Jacob will be a fire, but the house of Joseph will be only a flame, and thus not as strong. And they will be devoured internally so that among all the tribes Jacob and Joseph will be unable to come together as one. But the other side of this fiery trope should also be seen, for the house of Jacob is called a fire and the house of Joseph a flame. It is not unreasonable to understand in the literal sense the house of Jacob as those from Judah and Benjamin. It is just as true that the house of Joseph represents Samaria, specifically, the ten tribes who were sometimes kings of the Ephraimites, since Manasseh and Ephraim were born from Joseph. Israel will possess the land of Edom and possess all of its confines to the south. They will capture no less than Mount Ephraim, Samaria, Benjamin and Gilead—which were the names of those areas when their leader, Joshua, the successor of Moses, apportioned the land to the tribes of Israel. But after Israel was devastated at the hand of Assyria and again after the attack of Nebuchadnezzar, ruled by Phua and Shalmanezer, he predicts they will once again inhabit the land after they are released from their former captivity.

[Ephrem The Syrian] The Hebrews, like a fire, will consume the Edomites like stubble. If anything remains, they will scatter it. What David and Amaziah had begun was accomplished by the Jews after their return, when many Israelites who came back from Persia joined them, and the Edomites were deprived of any form of domination and were forced to change their religion and to embrace the Jewish rituals.

[Jerome] The spiritual interpretation is as follows: Through destruction of the works of the flesh and the desolation of earthly kingdoms, there will be salvation in the church for those who do not go out from their mother church. And the saints who die inside her—concerning whom it is said in Isaiah, “Holy, holy, holy, Lord God of Sabbaoth,” because it refers to those whom he sanctifies as well as those who are sanctified—all are from one and the same church. And the house of Jacob the supplanter will occupy that which they possess by heredity from those who persecuted the Christians. And Edom itself will be received by faith into the church…. The house of Esau will not survive, for when the wise men [who came from Edom] come to see Jesus, they will be turned into nothing, that is, they will be absorbed into his salvation near the same place where, in blessing, Isaac said to Esau, “I have given him your master, all your sons I have given to him as servants.” And there will be no remnant of the house of Esau left when all the heavens and earth bow to Christ and hell and the universe is subjected to him so that God may be all in all.

Edom is subjugated and will be devoured by the hostile nations with whom it formerly was in league against Jacob. The remnant, however, will be on Mount Zion, where there will be salvation and holiness. The interpretation here is, either it is that the Lord himself will return to the temple which he left because of sin, or there will be absolute holiness, that is, the Holy of Holies will once again be established. And the house of Jacob will occupy it under the rule of Zerubbabel and Ezra and Nehemiah, who occupied it as Jacob’s descendants. And the house of Jacob (that is, Judah) will be a fire, the house of Joseph (that is, the ten tribes of Samaria) a flame. But the house of Esau, that is, the Edomites, who nevertheless raged and cruelly stood against their brother, will be turned into stubble. And as fire and flames devour stubble, so the two kingdoms in union with one another will destroy Edom and devour it. And there will be nothing left of the people of Edom that might be able to announce the destruction of the adversary to the neighboring nations. For this is why the Septuagint translates pyrophoros, which we interpret as “stubble,” as nearest to the ancient way of speaking.

19 And they of the south shall possess the mountains of Esau; and they of the lowlands the Philistines: and they shall possess the fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria: and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.

[Cyril of Alexandria] “Those in the south” signifies the area where the Babylonians invaded Jerusalem led by Nebuchadnezzar. The entire province of Judea was laid waste, sinking back into misery so that it was reduced to absolute silence and appeared entirely deserted. However, when God will enter into the misery of the captives, he will return them to the land of their ancestors after his wrath has subsided. In their return from Babylon the entire multitude of Israel will possess the region of the nations that is equal to Edom. This is a sign of blessing from God.

20 And the captives of this host of the children of Israel shall possess the land of the Canaanites, even unto Zarephath; and the captives of Jerusalem, who are in Sepharad, shall possess the cities of the south.

[Augustine of Hippo] Obadiah, so far as his writings are concerned the briefest of all the prophets, speaks against Edom, that is, the nation of Esau, that reprobate elder of the twin sons of Isaac and of the grandsons of Abraham. Now by that form of speech in which a part is understood for the whole, we understand Edom as referring to the nations. We may understand what Christ says in the same way: “But upon Mount Zion shall be safety, and there shall be a holy one.” And a little further, at the end of the same prophecy, he says concerning Paul, “And the redeemed shall come up out of Mount Zion, that they may defend Mount Esau, and it shall be a kingdom to the Lord.” It is quite evident that this was fulfilled when the redeemed out of Mount Zion (that is, the believers in Christ from Judea, of whom the apostles are chiefly to be acknowledged) went up to defend Mount Esau. How could they defend it except by making safe through the preaching of the gospel those who believed that they might be “delivered from the power of darkness and translated into the kingdom of God.” Consequently he expressed this by adding, “And it shall be to the Lord a kingdom.” For Mount Zion signifies Judea, where it is predicted there shall be safety and a holy one, that is, Jesus Christ. But Mount Esau is Edom. It signifies the church of the Gentiles, which is defended by the redeemed from Mount Zion, so that it should become a kingdom to the Lord. This was obscure before it took place, but what believer does not understand it now that it has happened?

[Cyril of Alexandria] At this place in the text, the migration of Israel back to the land is mentioned, more specifically, from those Jews taken away into Babylon…. Perhaps here he is saying that everything that is to the south and to the north and to the east and to the west will be fully occupied by Israel as they will easily possess the whole region around them. And people will ascend, gathered on top of Zion, which sums up the goal of the prophecy. For the inhabitants of Zion, he says, are saved by God, who will burst through their chains of servitude. At that time he will ascend and take vengeance against Mount Esau. For they will fight, as I have said, against Edom after the time of captivity, and God will rule over all, although God rejected Esau long ago and withdrew from Judah because of apostasy. For they served Baal and the golden calf. But now in mercy and reconciliation he will reign again over them.

[Ephrem The Syrian] Here he indicates the prisoners of both the kingdoms of Samaria and Jerusalem, and also those who had gone to very far regions. Therefore he recalls the transmigration to Spain, because this is the name of a province, which is extremely distant from Judea, in order to show that this is the great gathering, which God had promised to bring together again from the four corners of the world. Those who have been saved shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, in order to defeat and destroy the nation of the Edomites. And the kingdom shall be the Lord’s. All the nations will be subjugated and subjected to the people of God, that is, to the people that God shall make.

[Jerome] The Jewish interpreters explained this similarly that the Lord sent a Savior who would save the people from captivity and they would ascend and go to Mount Zion in order to judge and decide regarding the Mountain of Esau. And when everything is subjugated, there will be a kingdom to the Lord.

21 And saviors shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD'S.


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