We continue with our attempted translation of the prophecy of Obadiah, even though meaning may elude us partially or fully. Let’s try these two verses (16-17):
“For, as you drank upon my holy mountain, all the nations continually shall drink. And they shall drink and they shall swallow and they shall be as they were not. But in Mount Zion there will be an escape/deliverance and there will be holiness, and the House of Jacob shall possess their possessions.”
We should begin by observing that these two verses come in the section of the prophecy begun in verse 15. The Day of the Lord is coming! There will be reprisal/retaliation on that day (verse 15). Verse 17 tells us, in contrast, that things will go well for the House of Jacob on that day. But everything else for us is in various levels of darkness. Verse 16 tells us that all will drink on the mountain. The scene seems to be that God will draw all people to His sacred mountain (think of the parking problems. . .) and they will “drink” there. The content of the drinking isn’t described, but the bad guys will probably drink to their own destruction. The verb translated “swallow” (לוּעַ, luwa’) is a guess at best, since its only other appearance in the Bible is rendered as “rash” (Job 6:3). Possessing one’s possessions seems to be a fancy way of suggesting that the people of Israel will simply return to their land, after exile, but one can never be sure. Obadiah seems to be taking a stab at eloquence, though the jury is out on whether he is being eloquent or just obscure.
To the Words
After concluding, then, that the passage probably just says that the bad guys will get it and Israel will be rewarded, let’s turn to words.
We have seen shathah, “to drink,” already, but it appears thrice in verse 16, and so invites us deeper. A particularly memorable appearance of shathah appears in Ex. 7:21, during the plagues in Egypt. The “fish” (דָּגָה, dagah) in the Nile (yeor) מוּת (muth, “die”). The result was that the yeor “stank” (בָּאַשׁ, baash). Though baash certainly means “to have a bad smell,” it also can be used more figuratively to suggest that someone is “odious” to someone else (Ex. 5:21). The result was that there was “blood” (דָּם, dam) throughout Egypt. In another appearance of the verb—when Moses went up on Mount Sinai to receive the law, he didn’t eat or drink for 40 days while communing with God, but what he did do was כָּתַב (kathab, “write”) on “tablets” (לוּח, luach) the commands of God. The stone (eben) tablets were written with the “law’ (תּוֹרָה, torah) of God on them. Though we have seen yayin for wine, we haven’t run into שֵׁכָר (shekar, “intoxicating drink”). The latter word comes from the verb שָׁכַר (shakar, “to become drunk”). Nine new words.
Let’s conclude our consideration of shathah by a brief mention of Noah’s nakedness in Gen. 9:21. He has become drunk (shakar) with wine and he “lay uncovered” (גֶּלֶה, galah) “inside” (תָּוֶךְ, tavek, though this frequently appears as בְּת֣וֹךְ, betok) his tent (ohel). Well, one more. The regulations laid on the Nazirite in Numbers 6 might also profitably be mentioned here. Such a one is to “consecrate/separate” (נָזַר, nazar) the self from yayin and shekar, but he also should avoid “vinegar” (חֹמֶץ, chomets; we have seen the verb form chamets, meaning “to leaven”). Nor must the Nazirite drink any “juice” (מִשְׁרָה, mishrah, hapax) from “grapes” (עֵנָב, enab) that are “fresh” (לַח, lach). Let’s return to the text now, as we are starting to push the limits of endurance . .
We saw, in verse 17, that on Mount Zion there will be “deliverance” (פְלֵיטָה, peletah). We almost feel guilty claiming this word, since we already have peliyt and palah, but the dictionary gives it to us, and who are we to refuse a gift? Then, the House of Jacob will “possess” (יָרַשׁ, yarash) its own מוֹרָשׁ (morash, “possession”). The verb yarash is of immense importance in the history of Israel because it implicates the entire concept of inheritance and possession of land which underlies their civilization and settlement. More than 70 of the 231 appearances of yarash (a full 30%) are in one book: Deuteronomy. Suppose there is a message that it is trying to stress? Nearly another 60 are in Joshua and Judges.
Let’s conclude with the most obscure but vocabulary-rich verse including the verb yarash in the Bible. It certainly must be Is. 34:11, where it speaks of (what else?) the judgment of God. Yet, the judgment is sweet inasmuch as it bequeathes words to us. We have the earth so devastated that only a few animals will be around to possess it, but four of them are: קָאַת (qaath, “pelican?”); קִפוֹד (qippod, “hedgehog/porcupine?); יַנְשׁוּף (yanshuph, “owl”?); עֹרֵב (oreb, “raven”). They shall dwell (shakan) there and possess it. I suppose there is something theological going on with clean and unclean animals, but it would take a real nature lover, as well as someone profoundly aware of all the obscure birds/animals of the Bible to make a judgment on that one. For us, we learn words, and there is a value in learning the sounds of words even if we don’t fully know what they mean. We may some day, but it imposes on us a sense of discipline and appreciation of the care that others took to compose a text like this. We want to know if it is the pelican and “bittern” or “hedgehog” or “porcupine,” even though we are pretty sure that the oreb is the raven. But we are getting to rarer words, and we can’ give up now.
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