Mordechai Silverstein

Prophecy Can’t Always Be Pretty (The Book of Obadiah)

The animosity between the nations of Israel and Edom is foreshadowed by Rebecca’s pregnancy, where the twins which she carried in her womb, Jacob (Israel) and Esau (Edom), were seemingly perpetually at odds with each other. This image followed the two nations throughout their history until the demise of the nation of Edom and its ultimate assimilation into the Jewish people. (Herod the Great was the most famous Edomite turned Jew.) The book of Obadiah takes aim at what most modern scholars believe to be the period of the destruction of the First Temple, where the Edomites allied themselves with the Babylonians in destroying Jerusalem. It is no wonder that the prophecy is so fraught with anger.

Obadiah’s indictment of the acts which prompted this animus are contained in these words: “On that day when you stood aloof, when strangers carried away his belongings, and foreigners entered his gates, and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were as one of them.  How could you gaze with glee on your brother that day, on the day of his calamity! How could you gloat over the people of Judah on that day of ruin! How could you loudly jeer on a day of anguish! How could you enter the gate of My people on its day of disaster! Gaze with glee with the others on its misfortune on its day of disaster and lay hands on its wealth on its day of disaster! How could you stand in the crossway, to cut off those of who escaped; How could you betray those who fled on that day of distress! (Obadiah 1:11-14)

Rabbi Abraham Ibn Ezra (11th century Spain), the master of “pshat” or the plain meaning of the text, viewed these words as a reflection of real events during the Babylonian conquest which the prophet had actually experienced, while Rabbi David Kimche (12th century Provence) saw Obadiah’s prophecy as a vision of the destruction of the Second Temple at the hands of the Romans, whom the Jews symbolically saw as Edom after the original Edomite nation no longer existed.

Moderns somehow do not expect prophecy to express the anger and antipathy which embody Obadiah’s prophecy. Obadiah prophesied in the real world – one which was not always kind and virtuous. Sometimes nations like “Edom” and Babylonia popped up to destroy the idyllic picture. The book of Obadiah comes to reminds us that one who ignores this awareness will live in peril. Sadly, this is wise prophetic advice.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years. He specializes in helping people build personalized Torah study programs.
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