The Assyrians conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel and humiliated the southern Kingdom of Judah. The Edomites attempted to take advantage of Judah when they were down and out. YHWH had noticed. He spoke condemnation upon them through His prophets Obadiah and Nahum.
Obadiah is the thirty-first book and Nahum the thirty-fourth book in most English Bibles; in the Hebrew Bible they are part of the Nevi’im, the Prophets; in the Greek Septuagint Obadiah is the fifth and Nahum the seventh of the Duodecim (Latinized; Dodeka in Greek), “the Twelve.” Nahum is most likely earlier than Obadiah; he prophesies between the fall of Thebes in Egypt (ca.664 BCE; Nahum 3:8-10) and Nineveh in Assyria (612 BCE; Nahum 2:3-4), and within that range most likely between 660-630 BCE. Obadiah’s message does not have any specific chronological information and has been dated from 850 BCE to 400 BCE. Nevertheless Obadiah is most likely prophesying after the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem (586 BCE; Obadiah 1:11 yet is anticipating Babylon’s campaign against Edom (553 BCE; Obadiah 1:15-16). The two prophets live at distinct times and prophesy to different nations but among the Twelve they devote their messages primarily to foreign nations and not to Israel and Judah (Jonah prophesies to the Assyrians but the story as told is directed to Israelites). Obadiah condemns Edom for their rapaciousness against Judah and warns about the judgment coming upon them. Nahum warns Nineveh of the wrath of YHWH’s vengeance which will come against it swiftly.
Obadiah sets forth the vision he received (Obadiah 1:1-21): YHWH will make Edom small among the nations; its pride will be humbled (Obadiah 1:1-4). Esau will be thoroughly pillaged with nothing left, having been deceived by former allies, and the wisdom of the wise is for naught (Obadiah 1:5-9). This judgment comes upon Edom because of how they treated their brother Judah: they stood aloof when Judah was ravaged, and they should not gloat over the downfall of Judah and encroach so as to pillage (Obadiah 1:10-14). The Day of YHWH is upon the nations, and their deeds will return upon their heads (Obadiah 1:15): Israel will again rise and possess its land and will then consume Edom; all Edom will be ruled by Israel (Obadiah 1:16-21).
Nahum of Elkosh also sets forth the vision he received (Nahum 1:1-3:19): YHWH is jealous and avenging; the land shakes before Him; He pours out His wrath against the adversaries but provides refuge for His people (Nahum 1:1-11). YHWH promises that those who have power will be cut down; the yoke will be removed; the idols will fall; good news will be brought; Judah must keep feasts and vows, for the enemy will be cut off (Nahum 1:12-15). YHWH is restoring the majesty of Israel by destroying Nineveh; Nahum evocatively describes the siege and war that leads to Nineveh’s devastation and destruction (Nahum 2:1-13). Nahum declares woe upon Nineveh as the “bloody city,” full of plunder, now full of slain in the streets, suffering because of its idolatry (Nahum 3:1-4). YHWH is against Nineveh and will cause the nations to see its shame; none will mourn for Nineveh (Nahum 3:5-7). Nahum asks whether Nineveh is better than Thebes in Egypt which suffered destruction and devastation; the presumed answer is no, and thus Nineveh will suffer the same fate (Nahum 3:8-10; Thebes was attacked in 664 BCE). Nineveh will go into captivity: its fortresses are ripe for destruction, and its soldiers weak (Nahum 3:11-13). Nahum (likely sarcastically) advises them to prepare for siege, but it will end in destruction; their merchants and princes are as locusts and grasshoppers, here today, gone tomorrow (Nahum 3:14-17). Assyria will be grievously wounded but all will be pleased, for Assyria’s unceasing evil has afflicted all the nations (Nahum 3:18-19).
The visions of Obadiah and Nahum may be short but remain quite compelling. The fulfillment of their words is nothing short of astonishing: even though Edom was allied with the Babylonians, Nabonidus would turn against Edom in 553 BCE to more effectively control trade routes in Arabia (cf. Nabonidus Chronicle). In 125 BCE John Hyrcanus of Judea conquered Edom and forced them to convert to Judaism, vividly fulfilling Obadiah 1:21 (Josephus, Antiquities of the Jews 13.9.1, 14.4.4). While Nahum prophesied Assyria was the strongest empire in the land at the height of their power; the entire ancient Near Eastern world was astonished at the speed of the fall of the Assyrian Empire at the end of the seventh century. Nineveh was the largest city of the world for fifty years; after an internal civil war a coalition of Babylonians, Medes, Persians, Scythians, and Cimmerians attacked and destroyed it in 612 BCE, fulfilling Nahum’s oracle (cf. Babylonian Chronicles). Three years later Nebuchadnezzar defeated the remnant of the Assyrians and it was all over!
Obadiah and Nahum remind us that YHWH is loyal to His covenant. His people may rebel against Him and He may punish them for a time; nevertheless, the time will come when YHWH will gain vengeance over those who humiliate His people. Perhaps few believed it at the time, but YHWH proved faithful to His oracles through these prophets, whether quickly or over time. YHWH remains God; He is jealous and avenging; He is slow to anger, great in power, but will not clear the unrepentant guilty. May we ever serve Him and take refuge in Him!
Ethan R. Longhenry