Review: Obadiah (ZECOT)

Obadiah is the shortest book in the OT (and apparently the least popular). Though a book with only 291 words, Jerome said “It is as difficult as it is brief” (35). It is “1.3 percent [the length] of Jeremiah, the longest book (21,819 words), on which it shows remarkable dependebnce” (21).

Block thinks that “the best clues for reconstructing the circumstances for each series of utterances [by the minor prophets] are found within the books themselves and in the superscriptions that open the books” (22).

Introduction

For a biblical book that is only 291 words long, Block’s Introduction is a good 25 pages, which is longer than some introductions of much larger commentaries (Luke, PNTC, 2 Corinthians, PNTC?)! 

  • Historical Background to Obadiah’s Prophecies
  • Obadiah’s Rhetorical Aims and Strategy
    • The Rhetor [Speaker]
    • The Audience
    • The Message
    • The Rhetorical Strategy
  • The Structure of Obadiah

Obadiah’s Rhetoric

  • Apparently misplaced clauses
    • In the midst of calling judgment upon Edom, v15a tells how “the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations,” but in v15b Obadiah refocuses his attention back on to Edom. What does the Day of the Lord have to do with anything? Block says that “stylistic surprises like this are often the keys to the text and its rhetorical intent. Taking vv. 15b-c and 16 together, we discover that the implications of the prophet’s invective against Esau extend [far] beyond the nations, and [Edom’s] fate is paradigmatic of the fate that awaits them” (84).
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    • Why is “the declaration of YHWH” placed right in the middle of a sentence in v8? These prophetic words do not come from a “self-inspired… man with a personal vendetta,” but, rather, these prophecies are the “very words of YHWH” (67).
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  • Heightened form of rhetoric
    • Obadiah presents an “impassioned speech that attempts to transform the minds and hearts of the audience, replacing cynicism and doubt with confidence and hope” (37).
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  • Obadiah makes appeals to higher authorities:
    • He appeals to the words of YHWH (v1), to divine council intermediaries (v1), and to the authority of a host of OT texts.
      • Block gives the reader a list of 33 phrases and ideas in Obadiah that “[contain] an expression or motif that is encountered in other [Old Testament] texts, most of which are earlier” (40). Almost every verse in Obadiah contains an expression/motif used in an earlier OT book. But rather than rehashing “outdated” OT texts, Obadiah creates a new message for a particular group of people who need to grasp hold of the true God.

Commentary Structure

Block’s volume begins with a translation of Obadiah 1-21. Block outlines Obadiah into 5 major sections (or “chapters”).

  • Introduction: Setting the Stage for “the Days” (v. 1)
  • The Judgment: Esau’s Humiliation on His “Day” of Doom (vv. 2-10)
  • The Indictment: Esau’s Crimes on the “Day of Jacob” (vv. 11-14)
  • The Bad Good News: The Demise of Esau on the “Day of YHWH” (vv. 15-18)
  • The Good Good News: The Restoration of Jacob on the “Day of YHWH” (vv. 19-21)

Each chapter follows the same structural path:

  • Main Idea of the Passage: The main points are condensed into 1-2 sentences.
  • Literary Context: Gives a brief explanation to how this chapter fits into the broader text of Obadiah.
  • Translation and Outline: Block provides his translation and outline of the section which is crafted to show the text’s flow of thought.
  • Structure and Literary Form: Summarizes how the author uses literary devices (e.g., key words, motifs, parallels, contrasts) to craft his message.
  • Explanation of the Text: A thorough explanation on the use of words, phrases, and syntax in the biblical author’s message. Attention is given to how the material is arranged, what the biblical author is trying to say, and how he says it (see Rhetoric above).
  • Canonical and Practical Significance: Unlike the volume on Jonah (see my review here), this section is placed only at the very end of this volume (due to the small size of Obadiah). It tries to answer the question on what role does this book plays in the Bible’s canon, how Obadiah uses motifs from the OT, and how Obadiah can help us to see Christ as King. 

When comparing the ZECOT and ZECNT series, the strength of the ZECOT series is its focus on rhetoric, which includes grammar and how the Hebrew is structured and used. I find the Structure section to be very helpful as it brings the main ideas of the book together before you even start the main exegetical commentary, and I wish that the ZECNT series also had this (rather than having only an Outline).

Recommended?

Many commentaries suffer because they do not provide the main idea book being studied (i.e., what is the main idea of the enormous Jeremiah? Or the obscure Obadiah?). Even when the main idea is given, rarely are the smaller pieces of the puzzle put together to show how they add up to the whole text. The ZECOT (and ZECNT) series show the importance of the little puzzle pieces. No text is unimportant (Block spends 8 pages just on verse 1), and each text builds and reinforces the message of the other texts.

The size of the commentary is impressive given that Obadiah is so small. But again, not only is Obadiah small, it is the least read book in the Bible. Given that most pastors won’t give a 5-sermon series on Obadiah, I think that potential buyers would find more incentive to purchase this volume if it were combined with another Minor Prophet book (e.g., Nahum).

When compared with the ZECNT series, the ZECOT series is also the more technical of the two. Given that Obadiah is the shortest OT book, Block is able to get into the minute details to really draw out Obadiah’s rhetorical skill. Because of this, those who have a good handle on the Hebrew language (be it pastors, teachers, or students) will benefit greatly from this volume. But even for myself, though I know no Hebrew, perhaps my Bible can attest that I have learned a lot from Obadiah.

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But for now I look forward to the Day of YHWH when “the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (Obad 20).

Lagniappe

    • Series: Zondervan Exegetical Commentary on the Old Testament
    • Hardcover: 128 pages
    • Publisher: Zondervan (December 1, 2015)

Buy it on Amazon

(Special thanks to Zondervan for allowing me to review this book! I was not obligated to provide a positive review in exchange for this book).

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2 Comments

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2 responses to “Review: Obadiah (ZECOT)

  1. I was going back and forth whether or not to get this commentary so I found this review helpful; but I need to make time to read it =)

    Like

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