The prophet Abdias (aka. Obadiah)

Today in the Church calendar is the feast day of the Old Testament prophet, Saint Abdias – or Obadiah, as he is in many of our Bibles – and this occasions a short essay on his prophecy. Abdias is a minor prophet, one of the twelve whose books are listed at the very end of the Old Testament, just before the historical books of the Maccabees. They are ‘minor’ to contrast them with the big names of Isaias, Jeremias and Ezechiel. Here is Abdias’ entry in the martyrology:

“Commemoration of Saint Abdias the prophet, who after the exile of the people of Israel announced the anger of God against their Gentile enemies.”

Roman martyrology, 19th of November

Suitably short, then, this is a single-page affair. Already, the prophet Malachias (Malachy) had condemned Edom and the Edomites, the descendants of Esau son of Jacob the patriarch, in a most final manner. 

“…as not Esau brother to Jacob? Yet to Jacob I proved Myself a friend, the Lord says, no friend to Esau; I have made a waste of yonder mountain-side, of all his lands a dragon-haunted desert. ‘Ay, but,’ says Edom, ‘what if we have fallen on evil days? Give us time to repair the ruins!’ Trust me, says the Lord of hosts, as fast as they build, I will pull down; land of rebellion men shall call it, brood the Lord hates, and for ever.

Malachias, 1: 2-4

Abdias continues with this denunciation of Edom, who are here presented as a proud nation and one that had attacked Israel whenever they had the chance to do so, and had probably rejoiced in the destruction of the Israelite kingdoms (and of Jerusalem herself) by the Chaldeans. They had not attempted to help Juda when the attack from Babylonia arrived, and may even have collaborated in a general looting of what was left of Jerusalem after the Chaldeans had been and left.

“What wonder if hopes of thine come to nothing, name of thine perish eternally, that didst assail thy own brother, with murderous wrong? Hast thou forgotten the day when thou stoodest aloof, while the enemy disarmed his ranks, while aliens thronged through yonder gates, and parcelled out Jerusalem by lot, thyself making common cause with them? What, look on idly, when fortune turns against that brother of thine; nay, triumph over Juda’s fall, boast of his calamity? He overthrown, and thou wouldst find thy way in at the gates of My own city; he overthrown, and thou wouldst rejoice at his discomfiture; he overthrown, and thou wouldst offer him battle?”

Abdias, 10-13

The rest of this short prophecy foretells a restoration of the tribes of Juda and Benjamin, with Jews returning home from far away, and an utter destruction of nations like Edom and Philistia, who had rejoiced in the destruction of Juda. 

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