August 2008

This is the first part of a series of short posts looking at the historical, political, religious and social setting surrounding the prophecy of Amos. This first part is an introduction to the historical setting for the book and takes a look at what we know about the man himself. As mentioned in my previous posts I’m using the TNIV (Today’s new International Version) bible as my reference source.

Introduction to the book of Amos

Almost 10 miles south of Jerusalem and on the edge of the Judean wilder­ness lay Tekoa, home of the first prophet whose words were to be fully recorded: the shepherd Amos. He was, as he himself declared, ‘… neither a prophet nor the disciple of a prophet …’ (Amos Ch.7:14a) but a shepherd impelled by a divine com­pulsion to proclaim the word of God however unpopular.

Amos lived during the reigns of Uzziah, king of Judah, and Jeroboam II, king of Israel (Amos Ch.1:1). It was a time of growing influence and pros­perity for both kingdoms. For many years previously the northern kingdom of Israel had come increasingly under the domination of neighbour­ing Syria. The Syrians occupied the whole of the Trans-Jordan, and on the western coast their influence extended as far as south as Gath. Other nations also took advantage of Israel’s weakness. The Ammonites wiped out the population of the land to the east of the Jordan in order to gain further territorial advantage. At such a low ebb in Israel’s fortunes, Jeroboam’s accession to the throne seemed like a divine intervention on the people’s behalf, ‘… the Lord had seen how bitterly everyone in Israel, whether slave or free, was suffering; there was no one to help them …and since the Lord had not said he would blot out the name of Israel from under heaven, he saved them by the hand of Jeroboam son of Jehoash …’ (2 Kings Ch.14:27). In his battles against Syria Jeroboam succeeded in recovering territory from the north­ern pass of Hamath as far south­wards as the Dead Sea. With this new political strength came a correspond­ing prosperity; but it was superficial, and whilst it brought luxury and comfort, it brought it only to a favoured minority, as Amos him­self discovered.

Amos is described in Scripture as a shepherd, although the word used can also mean a breeder of sheep such as is used of Mesha, king of Moab (2 Kings Ch.3:4). But even if this were his position, there are indications that Amos was far from enjoying personal pros­perity since, for instance, his father’s name is not given; which indicates that he came from an obscure family. The countryside around Tekoa was bleak and inhos­pitable; its only source of water came from infrequent springs near which shepherds might hope to find enough grass to feed flocks. The poverty of such a living is further emphasized by the fact that Amos supplemented it by tending sycamore or fig trees (Ch.7:14). It doesn’t appear from the text that all of Amos’ days were spent in looking after his flock or caring for trees since it seems likely that from time to time he visited cities in the northern kingdom of Israel possibly to sell the wool from his sheep. It appears likely that it was on these journeys he became increasingly aware as to the true cost of Israel’s new-found pros­perity.

More to follow … as time allows …!

amos-ray-beeleyAmongst the books I sorted through a few weeks ago I found a copy of Ray Beeley’s commentary on Amos entitled The Roaring Of The Lion (ISBN 0851517153 Banner of Truth Trust). Subsequently, when searching on Amazon for something entirely different, I was pleasantly surprised to discover that whilst my copy of Ray Beeley’s book dates back many years, the book is still available today due to a reprint in 1997.

So, following on my study and reading of the prophecy of Obadiah I thought it appropriate to continue along similar lines and read again the prophecy of Amos, along with Beeley’s commentary and make it the focus for my next series of blog posts.

Unlike Obadiah, which is very short, Amos with 9 chapters is relatively long for a minor prophet so don’t expect my progress to be that fast …!

Here’s my final post on the content of the book of Obadiah …

Read :

The Oracle (continued)

The final paragraph of the oracle first enlarges on the actions of the Edomites when Jerusalem fell (vs.12-14), then contrasts the respective fates of Edom and Judah (vs.15-18). The conduct of the Edomites, Obadiah says, deteriorated from mockery and exultation (vs.12) to looting (vs.13) and then to murder (vs.14). The Edomites, it appears, completely lost sight of even the moral demands of a common humanity and neglected the fact that the LORD will judge all nations (vs.15), and will recompense them according to their actions.

The LORD may have allowed the Babylonians to punish His own people, but the punishment was not to extinction. There would be a rem­nant restored to Zion (vs.16), as indeed had happened in Obadiah’s own day.

For Edom, by sharp contrast, the LORD’s answer to their arrogant question in vs.10 revealed that there would be no escaping the judgment of God. The climax to the whole oracle lies in the final words ‘… there shall be no survivors from the house of Esau …’ (vs.18).

The Appendix

Vs.19-21 add geographical detail about the restoration of the Jewish community, which in Obadiah’s time was small and insignificant. There appear to be some textual and other problems in these verses, but basically they promise expansion in all directions, southwards into Edom, westwards into Philistia, northwards into Samaria, and eastwards into Gilead. As the community assumed some­thing closer to its political shape in the golden days of King David, so it would also come closer to the spiritual atmosphere of those days: the king­dom would again be the LORD’s (verse 21).

The Conclusion

Though the nation of Edom dis­appeared from the political map, its people remained a recognisable social entity for some centuries. Some of them appear in the New Testament, though they often pass unrecognized. Herod the Great, for example, who was of Edomite descent through his father Antipater, attempted to kill the infant Jesus (Matthew Ch.2:16-18). Herod the Great’s son, Herod Antipas, murdered John the Baptist (Mark Ch.6:14-29). The same man could have intervened positively in the trial of Jesus, but merely exploited the occasion to strengthen his political position (Luke Ch.23:6-12). Herod Agrippa, a grandson of Herod the Great, took a lead in persecuting the early church (Acts Ch.12:1-2), and his son Agrippa (confusingly !) rejected the good news of the gospel when he was told it by Paul (Acts Ch.26, especially vs.24). The descendants of Jacob, the people of God, were constantly opposed by the descendants of Esau, the people of Edom. And although the lines of battle may no longer be drawn along genetic lines, the principle is still operative. Jesus said, ‘… whoever is not with me is against me …’ (Luke Ch.11:23). This remains both an essential element in the presentation of the gospel, and a persistent challenge to any who profess Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. We need to examine our loyalty to the Lord, since as the prophet says, the LORD’s day is ‘… near for all nations …’ (Obadiah 15)

If, over the past few years, you’ve enjoyed hearing some lively sermons at the church you attend exploring Old Testament books such as Joshua, Judges, Samuel or Kings, you are probably benefiting indirectly from the work of Dale Ralph Davis. His easily accessible and eminently readable commentaries (published by Christian Focus) on such Old Testament books unlock even the seemingly most unappetising and unapproachable texts and bring them to life.

How does Dale Ralph Davis do it …? In this short book, sub-titled ‘how to preach from Old Testament narrative texts’, he modestly reveals his route. Davis includes chapters on quirky texts, nasty texts, packaging that significantly surrounds texts, theology and application, with every chapter stuffed full of worked examples, to the extent that you certainly need to have your Bible to hand if you wish to follow his train of thought carefully.

Dale Ralph Davis is the man who chose 1 Chronicles Ch.9:1-4 as the passage to preach from on the Sunday before Christmas. Look it up: it’s a genealogy ! Davis says he has never found such genealogies un-preachable. He writes: ‘… we were, I am sure, the only church in the whole world that carried 1 Chronicles Ch.9:1-4 on its bulletin cover … but even Uthai deserves his day in the sun …’

Davis maintains that the avoidance of difficult Old Testament texts, ‘… gets us nowhere and impoverishes the church …’. His love affair with Scripture is the most inspiring and striking aspect of this book. The net result is that you end up gasping with admiration, not at the author himself, but at the Bible and the person who the Bible reveals, God Himself.

Why not get hold of a copy yourself and read it … I’ve not finished it yet but it’s proving to be an illuminating read …!

Below is the second part of my notes on reading the prophecy of Obadiah and the first part dealing with the oracle contained from vs.2 through to vs.18 …

Read :

The Oracle

The second half of vs.1 finds the prophet Obadiah reporting on some sort of anti­-Edomite alliance that is in the process of being formed. We know no details of the historical circumstances, but should that be the case, Obadiah views this development as being, ‘… from the LORD …’ and he uses it as the launch pad for his oracle of denunciation against the people of Edom.

The underlying sin of Edom is that archetypal human sin of pride (vs.2-4). The defensive strength of the imposing fortress city of Sela (Sela is the word translated as rock in vs.3), a city with natural protection on all sides that could only be approached from one direction along a narrow escarpment, contributed to the people’s belief they were impregnable.

In reply to the people’s arrogant rhetorical question `… who can bring me down to the ground …’ (vs.3) the LORD gives a straightforward and swift reply with a chillingly concise ‘… I will …’, in vs.4. The people of Edom who prided themselves on their perceived invincibility would become, ‘… utterly despised …’ (vs.2) by other nations. Indeed, history records that by about 500 BC the Edomites were already being dis­possessed from their traditional homeland territories by invading Arab tribes.

The prophet goes on to say that the punishment in store for Edom would be thorough and all-encompassing (vs.5-7). In normal times, those harvesting the grapes leave some fruit to be gleaned by the poor, and even thieves are selective in their choice of victims, but Edom is going to face total loss. And the shock of it will be all the worse because the perpetrators will be those the Edomites had counted as allies. Indeed it will be so astonishing as to seem incompre­hensible to them (vs.7), a deception that they were unable to uncover prior warning of.

This failure to grasp the facts leads Obadiah to mock the loss of the wisdom for which Edom was traditionally famed (vs.8-11). No more would they produce people renowned for wisdom like Eliphaz from Teman (Job Ch.2:11). And the reason why all this would be happening is as a response to the way Edom had treated their ‘… brother Jacob …’ (vs.10), the ‘… people of Judah …’ (vs.12).

The Edomites were of course the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob (Gen. Ch.25:19-­34). Despite the common expectation of good relationships between twin brothers, Jacob and Esau had never been at ease with each other (Gen. Ch.32-33), and the distance between them continued on into their descendants. The opposition of the Amalekites (Esau’s descendants according to Gen. Ch.36:9-13) to the people of Israel (Ex. Ch.17:8-16), and the refusal of the king of Edom to give Israel passage through his land (Num. Ch.20:14-21) were long remembered and resented. The hostility between the two groups reached boiling point at the ransacking of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC. When the enemy poured into the city, they were apparently followed by Edomites, just as hyenas follow lions, pitiless and eager for the spoils left behind. All thought of brotherhood and common origin was forgotten at that time; as Obadiah puts the climax of his accusation, ‘… you were like one of them …’ (compare Psalm 137:7). It is for this crime above all others that Edom brings upon itself the punishment of God.

Thoughts on the final paragraph of the oracle plus the appendix to follow shortly …

This is my first post looking at the content of the book of Obadiah. I’ve no idea as to the length of time it will take me to get my thoughts down on paper about this subject so if you wish to follow my progress through the book please be patient …!

If you’re planning on following this through with me why not read the text a couple of times before reading on much further. You may find that the quotations I write don’t equate to the version of the Bible you’re using. I’m reading and quoting from the TNIV.


The major subject of the book of Obadiah is the nation of Edom (vs.1), Judah’s south­-eastern neighbour and rival (compare Isaiah Ch.34:5-15; Ch.63:1-6; Jeremiah Ch.49:7-22; Ezekiel Ch.25:12-14; Ch.35:1-15; Amos Ch.1:11-12; and Malachi Ch.1:2-4). The author, Obadiah (his name means servant of the LORD), is otherwise unknown, and there is no evidence to identify him with any of the other eleven people in the Old Testament who bear the same name. We need not suppose that Obadiah went to Edom to deliver his prophecy; indeed if he had, considering the subject, it seems unlikely that he would have survived to record it …! Although the book certainly does convey a serious warning to the people of Edom, it seems more likely that its underlying intention is primarily that of being an encouragement to the people of Judah.


The majority of Bible scholars place the book of Obadiah in the late sixth century, and that period of history, the difficult years after the return of the exiles from Babylon when the people of God were in great need of encourage­ment, would certainly form an appropriate back­ground for the text.


For such a short work, it appears from even the most cursory of glances from a variety of sources, that the book of Obadiah has been analysed in a surprisingly large number of differing ways. The most straightforward way to divide the book (straightforward at least to me that is) is to consider the content from vs.2 through to vs.18 as one single oracle, addressed in its entirety to the nation of Edom, but spoken in the hearing of the people of Judah. This oracle is introduced by the words ‘…this is what the Sovereign LORD says …’ in vs.1, and closes with the words ‘… the LORD has spoken …‘ in vs.18. That leaves the remainder of vs.1 to form an introduction, and vs.19-21 as an appendix. For the actual oracle the paragraph divisions seem to work best as vs. 2-4, 5-7, 8-11 and 12-18.

More to follow soon …

Recently, whilst sorting through a selection of books tucked away at the back of a cupboard I came across, to my surprise, a couple of books I’d completely forgotten about. Such was my pleasure at finding them that I placed them, with a few others, in a pile that, figuratively at least, is labelled, ‘to be read soon’.

In contemplating my discovery I came to the stark conclusion that of the 66 books contained in the Bible there are several that ought, for me at least, to have a similar label applied since, in reality, I’ve given them little, if any, thought for quite some time. One such book that suffers from my unjust neglect is the book of Obadiah and so, by virtue of it being the shortest book in the Old Testament, I assumed it to be a good place to start out.

As it transpires my thinking was a little flawed, because despite its brevity, the book of Obadiah deals with a large theme, one that will take a moment or two to unpack and unravel, but hopefully I’ll get there in the end.

Over the next few days I’ll post a few thoughts on the book and see what develops out of my reading and thinking. To further fuel my enthusiasm for all things Old Testament I’ve chosen to assist my exploration by reading Dale Ralph Davis’ book The Word Became Fresh, a book that I’d recently moved to the top of the pile of titles ‘to be read soon’ …!