The fact that much of Obadiah is opaque, at least to me, isn’t all bad news. It realistically captures the reality of much of life—opacity. Even in the passage from earlier today (Obad. 18), we couldn’t be completely clear, with the house of Jacob a fire, if that means it consumes other things or it is itself being consumed. I think it is the former, but we are a bit confused as to how it can be a consuming/judging fire if its people are being taken into exile, which is the situation most scholars assume lies behind the prophecy. Even looking at the words might not yield much fruit, especially in these last three verses, because there are so many proper nouns and so much repetition, but let’s see where it takes us. . .
Verse 19 may be rendered: “And the South shall possess the mountain of Esau, and the Lowlands (shall possess) the Philistines. And they shall possess the field of Ephraim and the field of Samaria; and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.” We don’t know who the “they” is in the middle of the verse. We think that it is the “inhabitants” of the South or Lowlands that is meant, but again we aren’t sure. We don’t know what the land or ownership assumptions were when this prophecy was uttered. Well, let’s try to make some headway with a few words. The נֶגֶב (negev, “south”) is known even in our English Bibles as the “Negeb/Negev,” and so this word might not be new. But let’s build words around it. Gen. 12:9 has Abram (אַבְרָם) traveling (נָסַע, nasa) toward the Negeb. Just the preceding chapter (11:2) had some people traveling/journeying (nasa) from the East (קֶדֶם, qedem) and they “find” (מָצָא, matsa) a “plain/valley” (בִּקְעָה, biqah) and “settle/dwell” (yashab) there (sham).
A verse listing lots of places in the land is Josh. 10:40, which summarizes the conquests of Joshua. He conquered (nakah) all (kol) the land (erets) of the mountain (har) and the South (negeb) and the Lowland (שְׁפֵלָה, shephelah) and the mountain slopes (אֲשֵׁדָה, ashedah). Pause for a moment on ashedah. It is the feminine form of אֶשֶׁד, eshed, a hapax, whose translation is uncertain, but it appears in the phrase, the eshed of the נַחַל (nachal, “brook/valley”), and so it can be slope or valley or something like that. The feminine form, ashedah, always appears in the same construction—the ashedah of Pisgah (פִסְגָּה). Thus, welcome to Biblical studies and its language! We really can’t avoid it, and courses that attempt to bring you just the “easy stuff” without these conundrums aren’t really true to the language you are trying to learn. But, chalk up two words: ashedah/eshed even if the meaning isn’t precisely clear. 11 new words so far.
We return to Josh. 10:40, detailing Joshua’s conquests. He also takes all the kings (melek) so that none (lo) remains (שָׁאַר, shaar. Note, this is distinguished from the shaar that means “gate”—that word has a medial ayin; “remain” has a medial aleph). This can get to be fun, but you have to have patience with yourself and the words.
While we are on the word “remain” (shaar), we might want to see that at work. In Gen. 14 we had a fight between Abram and some of the local kings. Verse 10 is rich in words. The “valley” (עֵמֶק, emeq) of Siddim was “full of pits” (and we just have the word “pits” repeated: beer—which we have already seen). But these were pits “of bitumen/tar/slime/asphalt” (חֵמָר, chemar). The melek of Sodom (סְדֹם, sedom) and Gomorrah fled (נוּס, nus) there. . .” Well, in Gen. and Ex. when you talk about “remaining” things it generally means fleeing kings or people surviving after a slaughter, but by the time you get to Leviticus, that which “remains” might include blood after a sacrifice, etc. Thus, we are in a different world of experience, despite using the same verb: shaar. Lev 5:9 has the priest “sprinkling” (נָזָה, nazah) some “blood” (dam) of the “sin offering” (chata, which word we have seen) upon the “side/wall” (קִיר, qir) of the “altar” (מִזְבֵּחַ, mizbeach). The verb underlying mizbeach is zabach (זָבַח, “to slaughter for sacrifice/offer for sacrifice”). Well, back to the priest. After sprinkling some of the blood he “drained out” (מָצָה, matsah) the “remaining” (shaar) at the “base” (יְסוֹד, yesod) of the mizbeach. This is a “sin offering” (חַטָּאָה, chatta’ah). There is more than one spelling of the word for “sin offering.” 23 words so far.
The rest of Obadiah 19 has few striking words. We could comment either on shephelah or sadeh (field). Let’s try the former. Often when there is a reference to the “hill country,” it is in a listing of the various parts of the land. It may include “the Jordan” (יַרְדֵּן) or the “mountains” (har), in all the shephelah (lowlands) or the chopf (חוֹף, “coast/haven/shore”). Often various geographic features are said to be “in front of/facing” (מוּל, mul) some other place, such as לְבָנוֹן (Lebanon). Geographical features can be alluring—one can go from the “wilderness” (midbar) to the river (נָהָר, nahar) Euphrates (פְרָת, Perath). When Deuteronomy takes time to lay out boundaries, it isn’t often simply a “sea to mountain”-type of description, but it is very personal and vivid: the “place” (maqom) “which” (אֲשֶׁר, asher) the “sole” (kaph, which we have already seen, but it was translated “hand” or “palm of hand” earlier) of your “foot” (רֶגֶל, regel) treads (דָּרַךְ, darak).
Well, let’s stop here for now, at 32 words. We may have the impression that we are both starting and stopping in medias res, but that is one way to build a language. The shape of the building is emerging . . .
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