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Thursday, September 4, 2014

"Obadiah" (Daniel I. Block)

TITLE: Obadiah: The Kingship Belongs to YHWH (Hearing the Message of Scripture: A Commentary on the Old Testament)
AUTHOR: Daniel I. Block
PUBLISHER: Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2014, (128 pages).

This is a commentary on a biblical book short in terms of length but long in terms of hope. Work on the project begun in 2009 during a Hebrew exegesis course in one of the author's work at Wheaton. Deemed the shortest book of the Bible, Obadiah consists of only 291 words, but its placement within the canon is not as significant as its cultural, historical, and literary contexts. This is Block's response to the dispute between how the Hebrew Bible (Masoretic Text) and the Septuagint (LXX) had treated the positioning of Obadiah. The former places Obadiah between Amos and Jonah, while the latter inserts Obadiah between Joel and Jonah. Historically, there are at least six different dating theories as to when the book was written. The author prefers to treat the book as written during the exilic period (586BC-533BC) based on both textual evidence and archaeological data. Rhetorically, even though prophets do not wield political or worldly power, they can at least proclaim the truth of God to the world, and let them choose. Block shows readers the way to look at the overall rhetorical structure of the prophets.
  1. The Rhetor (Speaker): that God is the One who speaks and the prophet the servant to communicate the words. The name "Obadiah" means "servant of YHWH.
  2. The Audience: Although the book is written "about Edom," the audience can include Judeans in exile and foreign nations looking in.
  3. The Message: Divine justice and divine fidelity.
  4. The Strategy: "rhetorically emphatic," "transparently passionate," and appeals to higher authority.

The exposition makes the book of Obadiah come alive! I appreciate the way Block has anchored the book on the context of the "covenantal triangle" with Israel and "Land of Canaan" on the bottom, and YHWH at the top. It reminds us that interpretation needs to take into considerations the covenant relationships between people, land, and God. When Israel floundered or when the wars and sin occurred in the land, the covenant was broken and in need of divine intervention. Here is where Obadiah's message proclaims hope in God, that despite the failures of Israel and the destruction of Jerusalem, God's promise is eternal. Obadiah's main message is basically two-fold. First, it is how "divine justice will prevail. Second, how God will be forever faithful. The rest of the book essentially expresses these two truths rhetorically.

Block also compares Obadiah with Jeremiah 49 and praises the intertextuality between them, showing once again that there is direct connections between the prophecies of Obadiah and Jeremiah, which again points to a consistency in God's narrative through the Old Testament. Though the book is mentioned as a prophecy about Edom, readers will be very aware that God has Judah in mind as He pronounces judgment against Edom which had encroached upon Judean territory. The Edomites had mocked Judah. They seemed to have the upperhand on the exiled Judeans, but verse 16 offered the turning point of hope in God's redemption. The main body of the book aims at exegesis and verse by verse exposition of the texts. After such heavy lifting, Block shifts his focus to the "Canonical and practical significance" to close off the book. He looks at the role of Edom in the story of Israel, also asking why the Bible should include a nation that is not as significant as the bigger powers such as Assyrian or Babylon. Why must there be a book focused just on Edom? Block then goes all the way to Genesis 36:1-43, linking Edom as descendents of Esau. Moreover, Edom functions as a representative umbrella for all nations that rebel against God. While Edom is a representative of humanity that is utterly against God, Obadiah also pronounces the futility of rebelling against God. The final verse of Obadiah is an emphatic declaration that the battle is the LORD's and the victory is certain. The overall theme of the book is "The Kingship Belongs to YHWH." Obadiah's prophecy converges on the same end as described by Hannah's prayer (1 Sam 2:1-10) and Mary's Magnificat (Luke 1:46-55). There is also an allusion to the Christ figure with the emphasis on the eventual kingship and dominion of the kingdom. The New Testament eventually fills in the blanks of who this king is.

Has the commentary accomplished what it set out to do? I would say a resounding Yes! Historically, block gives readers a whole spectrum of theories to situate the date of the book before revealing his own assumptions. There are rich contexts of the ANE culture and the inter-textual compare and contrasts of the prophetic books. Literary wise, Block clearly marks out the Obadiah structure and compares it with passages in Jeremiah 49 on Edom, and the kingship of Jesus in Mary's Magnificat and Hannah's prayer. Readers will soon realize that Obadiah is not declaring something new altogether. Obadiah is a team player in the entire Bible story. The rhetorical structure is the strongest part of this book. Block's four-part framework provides pastors and preachers a ready made preaching outline that can be used to clearly communicate the message of Obadiah.

I highly recommend this commentary.

Rating: 5 stars of 5.


This book is provided to me courtesy of Zondervan and NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. All opinions offered above are mine unless otherwise stated or implied.

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