The little book of Obadiah is much like Macaulay Culkin in Home Alone: destined to be forgotten, being the most minor of the minors (prophets, that is)! In fact, Obadiah is the least read book of the Bible. This is why I was so glad to read and review a commentary on it! Maybe I’m a sucker for the underdog, but if you hold to a high view of Scripture then surely the least popular book of the Bible will also be one of the most underestimated and one that rewards close study.
So if you want to study this neglected OT book then now is a great time to do so, since Zondervan has a new series called Hearing the Message of Scripture and the volumes for Obadiah and Jonah are out. Even better, the Obadiah volume is by veteran commentator Daniel I. Block, known for producing top-notch commentaries for difficult books such as Ezekiel and Deuteronomy.
Obadiah (Hearing the Message of Scripture)
Before looking at Obadiah itself, what does Zondervan’s Hearing the Message of Scripture series offer in the midst of a multitude of other commentary series? Quite a lot, it turns out. The goal of the commentary series is to enable serious students and teachers “hear the messages of Scripture as biblical authors intended them to be heard” (p10). There is a strong emphasis on rhetorical and literary analysis; paying attention to the structure and flow on the book, chapter, and sentence level. Why did the author(s) use this word, or structure their book this way? Other commentaries incorporate these features, but few make it their primary focus. To achieve this end, all Hearing the Message of Scripture commentaries include the following sections for each “literary unit”:
- Main Idea of the Passage. One or two sentence summary of key ideas.
- Literary Context. How it fits the larger context and book as a whole.
- Translation and Outline. Graphically arranged to highlight the flow and argument of the text.
- Structure and Literary Form. Highlighting and summarizing the literary and rhetorical styles.
- Explanation of the Text. More traditional commentary on the unit, with particular focus on how words, phrases and syntax are used.
- Canonical and Practical Significance. How the material is used elsewhere in the OT and NT, and how it can be applied today.
In Block’s Obadiah commentary these features are certainly well-utilized. This is not one of those commentaries that promises to be different but is virtually a clone. Block consistently focuses on Obadiah’s literary strategy throughout. I particularly enjoyed the fact that where the text of Obadiah is awkward (e.g. Obad 1:5, 8) Block recognizes a rhetorical purpose, rather than textual corruption or later editing! Obadiah knows what he is doing.
To emphasize the literary features, Block constantly keeps the big picture of the book in the reader’s view. Numerous tables and charts (averaging one every few pages) are incredibly helpful for visualizing the flow.
The charts are also very helpful in displaying that Obadiah is a “magnificent study in intertextuality, inasmuch as at least one half of the total involves adaptations of prior prophecies” (p38), such as Jer 49:9-10, 14-16. It was surprising to learn that Obadiah has drawn heavily from the other prophets, and this commentary certainly makes this easy to grasp.
Each section begins with the commentator’s own translation with comments on the side. Again, it cannot be redundant to re-emphasize that these tables greatly assist the series’ intention of literary sensitivity.
Not being particularly familiar with the interpretation of Obadiah, I have little to say regarding Block’s exegetical decisions; however, it is obvious throughout – particularly in his footnotes – that he is a thorough and fair scholar. There are numerous cross-references in the footnotes, and Block’s commentary work elsewhere makes constant appearances. Whether one agrees with his conclusions or not, it is clear that Block is thorough.
A few comments. The introduction (25 pgs) is particularly excellent, covering Obadiah’s placement in the Twelve, historical background, rhetorical aims and strategy (speaker, audience, message) and structure. I liked that Block’s outline was structured around the usage of “day/days”, which not only allowed the text to determine its own outline, but also highlighted a distinct literary feature in the book. I found the majority of his exegetical decisions to be reasonable, and most were convincing. However, I was surprised that relatively little was said about Obad 1:21, the most intriguing verse to me for potential messianic flavours. Even in the canonical section, Block’s focus was more on YHWH’s Lordship through Christ than looking for any Christological implications of Obad 1:21.
Obadiah certainly is a gem in the Scriptures. There is a lot of wealth in such a tiny book – each verse is surprisingly dense – and Block’s Obadiah commentary will help bring this to the surface. I thoroughly enjoyed working through Obadiah in my morning reading and can recommend it for personal study as well as for students and teachers. The Hearing the Message of Scripture series attempts – and succeeds – something unique by relentlessly prioritizing the text’s flow, and I’ll certainly be eagerly awaiting the next releases (check the Zondervan catalog for the lineup). It’s time to give Obadiah the attention it deserves!
[Many thanks to Zondervan for providing a copy of Obadiah in exchange for a balanced review.]