How to Read Obadiah

The Book of Obadiah


Planting a garden requires the right tools. And so does interpreting the Bible. But instead of shovels, rakes, and weeders, we use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application.  
 

Obadiah is a series of divine judgment poems against ancient Edom. These poems image how God’s justice will one day oppose pride and violence among all nations. This video from The Bible Project provides an overview of the book. The goal of this post is not to replace your personal study of the Bible. Rather, it is to help you navigate the book of Obadiah, discover what it teaches, dive into how it fits into the rest of the Bible, and look at how it applies to your life. Use the questions below as a guide as you watch this video. 




Now that you have an overview of Obadiah in mind, you can apply what you know to interpret specific passages in Obadiah. Read about God’s judgment upon Edom for their pride and violence in Obadiah 1–21. Utilize observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application to dissect the meaning of this passage. Use the ideas from the videos to inform your answers to the following questions about Obadiah 1–21.


Obadiah 1:1-21 (ESV)

1The vision of Obadiah.

Edom Will Be Humbled

Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom:

We have heard a report from the Lord,

and a messenger has been sent among the nations:

“Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!”

2Behold, I will make you small among the nations;

you shall be utterly despised.

3 The pride of your heart has deceived you,

you who live in the clefts of the rock,

in your lofty dwelling,

who say in your heart,

“Who will bring me down to the ground?”

4Though you soar aloft like the eagle,

though your nest is set among the stars,

from there I will bring you down,

declares the Lord.

5If thieves came to you,

if plunderers came by night—

how you have been destroyed!—

would they not steal only enough for themselves?

If grape gatherers came to you,

would they not leave gleanings?

6 How Esau has been pillaged,

his treasures sought out!

7All your allies have driven you to your border;

those at peace with you have deceived you;

they have prevailed against you;

those who eat your bread have set a trap beneath you—

you have no understanding.

8 Will I not on that day, declares the Lord,

destroy the wise men out of Edom,

and understanding out of Mount Esau?

9And your mighty men shall be dismayed, O Teman,

so that every man from Mount Esau will be cut off by slaughter.

Edom’s Violence Against Jacob

10 Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,

shame shall cover you,

and you shall be cut off forever.

11 On the day that you stood aloof,

on the day that strangers carried off his wealth

and foreigners entered his gates

and cast lots for Jerusalem,

you were like one of them.

12 But do not gloat over the day of your brother

in the day of his misfortune;

do not rejoice over the people of Judah

in the day of their ruin;

do not boast

in the day of distress.

13 Do not enter the gate of my people

in the day of their calamity;

do not gloat over his disaster

in the day of his calamity;

do not loot his wealth

in the day of his calamity.

14 Do not stand at the crossroads

to cut off his fugitives;

do not hand over his survivors

in the day of distress.

The Day of the Lord Is Near

15For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.

As you have done, it shall be done to you;

your deeds shall return on your own head.

16 For as you have drunk on my holy mountain,

so all the nations shall drink continually;

they shall drink and swallow,

and shall be as though they had never been.

17 But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape,

and it shall be holy,

and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions.

18 The house of Jacob shall be a fire,

and the house of Joseph a flame,

and the house of Esau stubble;

they shall burn them and consume them,

and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau,

for the Lord has spoken.

The Kingdom of the Lord

19Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau,

and those of the Shephelah shall possess the land of the Philistines;

they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria,

and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.

20The exiles of this host of the people of Israel

shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath,

and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad

shall possess the cities of the Negeb.

21 Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion

to rule Mount Esau,

and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.

Scripture quotations marked (ESV) are from The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®, copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.



Observation asks the basic question: who, what, where, and when. It examines the passage at a surface level—the characters, events, themes, culture, and genre. Observations may seem obvious at first, but they open the door to the meaning of any part of the Bible. Be careful to not jump ahead to interpreting the observations, or assigning them meaning. Just list them. 

Example: Edom’s pride has deceived their hearts, and God will bring them down.


Observe: As you read the passage, what observations did you make about Obadiah 1–21? (Consider the major characters, plot points, locations, cities, landmarks, time period, background information, cultural aspects, genre, themes, and actions of the characters. Also, take note of any information offered in the video.)
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Where an observation determines what the passage says, interpretation takes the next step to find out what the passage means. We’ve asked what the passage says about God and humanity, and now we ask what that means. Look at the themes and ask what they mean as well.

Example: (Observation) Edom’s pride has deceived their hearts, and God will bring them down. (Interpretation) God’s judgment is coming upon this nation for their violent, prideful actions.


Interpret: What is significant about each of the observations you made above? What is the main message of Obadiah? (Think about what this book teaches about God and humanity and what that teaching means, as well as the meaning of the themes. Consider insights from the video as well.)
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Contextualization looks at how the passage fits into the rest of the book and into the story of the Bible. It connects the themes that pop up throughout the story of Scripture and sees how the book fits into the biblical narrative. 


Example: Ever since mankind’s fall into sin in the Garden of Eden, pride has characterized the human heart. Pride has been the source of rebellion and turning from God. Jacob and Esau have a tense, distinct relationship. Jacob and Esau’s descendants continue in strife throughout many generations. Edom acts in prideful violence against Israel, abusing and attacking their cities. God judges Edom. Edom’s judgment is a picture of what is to come for all prideful nations. God will create a new Kingdom, a new people with a remnant from every tribe, tongue, and nation.


Contextualize: What themes does Obadiah 1–21 seem to establish? How do those themes connect with the rest of the book of Obadiah? What themes would you say have potential to carry forward into other books of the Bible? What themes connect back to the earlier books of the Bible?
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Application asks, “So what?” It considers how the meaning of this passage applies to our day-to-day lives. The point of reading Scripture isn’t to become puffed up with knowledge, but to be transformed. Ask God to show you how you can specifically put the truths from this book into practice. Brainstorm ways you can live out what you learned throughout your day.


Example: Because I am sinful, pride continues to exist within my heart and influence the way I operate. The prophecy of God’s judgment on Edom, which will come for all prideful nations, should sober me and remind me of the way that has been made into the new Kingdom through Jesus. Since I belong to Him, I have been grafted into His new people, and do not have to face God’s judgment. I can confess my pride and ask for a humble and contrite heart that hopes in the coming reality of His Kingdom. 


Apply: How does the truth from Obadiah affect you and your relationship with God and others? What are some specific actions you could take to live out the truths found in this book this week? If you're having trouble coming up with an application of this particular passage, how could you apply the main message of Obadiah to your life this week?
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The last step in reading the Bible helps us wrap everything up. We take the time to summarize the main message and implications of the book. As you summarize what you learned, it solidifies what God taught you through this video.  

Share: Now that you’ve spent time learning about Obadiah, how would you explain the main points of this book to a friend? If you were going to explain what you learned to a friend, what would you say? What would you be sure to include? Why?
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Reading the Bible doesn’t have to be like weeding a garden. You can find great joy in learning about God through His Word. Read through Obadiah this week. As you study, use observation, interpretation, contextualization, and application as a guide. Take the next step and put what you learn into practice. 


To learn more about The Bible Project, click here.