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Hebrew 14
Obadiah 11-12



In this essay we enter back to the discipline of the often-opaque Obadiah as we try to learn Biblical Hebrew vocabulary. Last essay introduced about 25 new words; this one will have considerably fewer. I figure that using Obadiah is a good discipline to begin to master the language, since the words themselves are often as hard to pin down as is the meaning of the text.  And, beyond that, this overall project has its challenges and problems.  If you believed Strong’s numbering system, there are about 8600 unique Hebrew words in the OT, but 2600 of them are proper names, meaning that spending all one’s time mastering all of them is hardly a great use of time; another 1400 or so are hapaxes, even though many of them are from roots that are useful for other Biblical words.  That is, the entire discipline of learning Biblical Hebrew vocabulary is fraught or laced with the same ambiguity and difficulty as the texts or individual words themselves.  Yet, we do it and realize that plunging into this maelstrom of language makes us strangely more able to tolerate, embrace and make our way in the maelstrom of life.


Obadiah 11


Now that my little homily is out of the way, we can translate this verse as follows:  “In the day you stood opposite (neged—see below); in the day strangers carried captive his forces/wealth/substance; and foreigners came (into) his gates and they cast lots over Jerusalem. Also you were as one of them.”  


This text continues the criticism of the Edomites who, though they were related to Israel, acted in an unjust manner during Jerusalem’s destruction. This text seems to suggest that they don’t bear actual responsibility for attacks on Jerusalem, but there were other strangers hanging around who plundered and destroyed. But the last phrase is problematic—you were “as if one of them”—does that mean that Edom attacked or didn’t? We understand the sense behind the verse because the occasion of a city’s getting ravished and plundered is really an invitation for all kinds of people in the vicinity to come by and see if they can get something for themselves.  All of this depends on how we translate the simple word “opposite” (נֶגֶד, neged).  This little word is translated as “aloof” in some translations or “opposite” or “in front of” or “against.”  Was Edom then standing apart from Jerusalem?  But how can this be if they actually raided the place?  But what does neged then mean?  Total confusion. 


All we have are words.  Archaeology and other texts are silent. So, let’s continue to explore the words. We know that the Edomites stood (amad) opposite (neged).  But then we have appositional phrases, that aren’t fully clear in Hebrew.  It was a day where zerim (from zur, זוּר, a stranger/layman/foreigner) were “taking captive" (shabah—from a previous lesson) his “substance” (חַיִל, chayil) though the word chayil can mean “force” or “strength” or “substance” or “wealth” or other things. But the point seems to be that we have strangers involved in the overthrow/downfall of Jerusalem.  Edomites are standing opposite, though just the previous verse there was “violence” done to Jacob.  It appears that the Edomites were involved in some way in the violence, but how is that possible if they were standing aloof?  But it would be difficult to imagine the kind of judgment that God has in store for the Edomites if they were just taking a gander from a distance at what the foreigners and strangers were doing?  Yet, come to think of it, God may just decide that He wants to obliterate a nation. One can see how close attention to language sometimes drives one nearly to insanity.


Well, we have strangers (zur) carrying off (shabah) substance (chayil). Fair enough, though really not fair, if you are an Israelite. But now you have others enter:  nokri (נָכְרִי, foreigner) come in the gates (שַׁעַר, shaar).  They will not only enter but they will wreak havoc; especially they will cast (יָדַד, yadad) lots (גּוֹרָל, goral) for Jerusalem (יְרוּשָׁלַם).  We will kindly take the little word gam (גַּם) or “also.”


Obadiah 12


We are zeroing in on meaning at this point. It appears from the previous verse that Edom didn’t actually participate in the violence against Jerusalem; it just stood aside to watch others do it. But no matter.  The arm of God is large enough to bring destruction on them, too.  Let’s hear it:


“And you should not look in the day of your brother, in the day of his (being an?) alien/foreigner. And do not rejoice over the sons of Judah in the day of their destruction, and do not let your mouth gloat in the day of distress.”

That’s the best I can do at this point.  Most translations translate the negative command as “you ought not to have. . ..” and I can go with that, since it seems to reflect on something that had happened in the past.  But is the first clause trying to suggest that they shouldn’t have looked on while Jerusalem was being ransacked?  So, if they had participated in it, they would have been condemned.  Now, if they witness it, even from a distance, they are condemned. And, if they had joined in to help defend Jerusalem, they would have been destroyed. Sometimes it is just hard to be an Edomite.


So, the assumption seems to be that they needed to help out.  But it is in the day of his nokri—a word we have seen in the previous verse.  The word appears more than 40x in the Bible and every time it means “foreigner” or “stranger.”  So, what is the recommended translation here?  “captivity” or “misfortune.”  Huh?  “In the day of your brother’s captivity/misfortune” is the way that people translate a word that everywhere else is “stranger.” 

So, not only do we seem to have a problem in that there was absolutely nothing Edom could have done to have escaped either proximate or eternal destruction but that he ought not to have looked on the “foreigner” of his brother.  And, most translations of the word “look” (the simple verb raah) render it as “gloat.”  Huh?  It isn’t gloat.  The text says, “And do not look in the day of your brother, in the day of his foreigner.” That is the Word of God. I will say it forever.


Well, now we get a few new Hebrew words.  The hearer (Edom) should not have “rejoiced” (שָׂמַח, samach. The noun שָׂמֵחַ, sameach, has the same three consonants). They should not have rejoiced over the sons of Judah (יְהוּדָה) in the day of their destruction (abad), nor should their mouth (פֶה, peh) have “become great/spoken in glowing terms” (גָּדַל, gadal) in the day of distress/trouble (צָרָה, tsarah). 




From reading Obadiah 11-12 closely it seems that the Edomites didn’t actually participate in the destruction of Jerusalem, but they stood on the sidelines. Well, what did the Israelites expect?  That Edom would come running and be destroyed by the Babylonian steamroller?  So, the choices of Edom were three:  


1)  Attack Israel—result, God will clobber them.

2)  Stand and watch Israel get sacked—result, God will clobber them.

3)  Defend Israel—result, Babylon will clobber them.

Ever wonder why some might not be great fans of prophetic literature?

Hebrew 15

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