The Words and World of Obadiah 1-2
We saw in a previous essay that the word ed, “calamity,” appears 24 times in the Bible, but 3x in Obadiah 13. Last time we used the word to explore some other texts in the Bible, with Prov. 1:26 as our anchor, but now let’s just look at a few words in Obadiah. Sometimes the text is opaque, but that is par for the course when you are studying the Book of the Twelve, but other times there is a hint of clarity.
Obadiah characterizes his word as a “vision” (חֲזוֹן, chazon). The noun chazon is derived from חָזָה (chazah), “to see.” Strong’s even gives us חָזוֹת, (chazoth) “visions,” though it seems like this shouldn’t be a separate word. חֹזֶה (chozeh), appropriately enough, is a “seer.” We have already seen the word raah for “see,” so we won’t include that word in our total for today. We could get a lot of “cheap words” today, by listing עֹֽבַדְיָ֑ה, the name of the Prophet Obadiah, or אֲדֹנָ֨י (adonai “lord”), and I guess I will take them, just because.
Also in verse 1 is a “rumor/report” (שְׁמוּעָה, shemuah) which “we have heard.” The verb for “hear” is the simple and frequently-appearing שָׁמַע (shama). One of the things most often “heard” in the Hebrew Bible is a “voice” or a “sound” (ק֨וֹל, qol). Whenever we see the word qol, we are taken immediately in mind back to the Garden of Eden, where the first couple hears the sound of God. The word for garden is the straightforward גַּן (gan). When hearing the Lord’s voice, Adam was “afraid,” and the verb for that is יָרֵא (yare’), a wonderfully useful word.
Ok, back to Obadiah and his hearing of the report from Yahweh. By the way, we should get credit for learning יְהוִֹה, Yahweh/Jehovah. The report or “hearing” that went out from the Lord is then supplemented by a “messenger sent in/among the nations.” This provides us with three useful words: messenger, nations, sent. It will all be more complex than this, but let’s begin with a straightforward verse. First, a messenger/delegate/ambassador is צִיר (tsir). The word appears 12x and initially confuses us, because its first appearance, in I Sam. 4:19 is rendered “birth pangs/pains,” which is pretty far from a “messenger,” though I suppose it is a sort of messenger for the woman. . . But then, in Prov. 13:17, it means “envoy/messenger,” where a “faithful” (אֵמוּן, amun) messenger is mentioned, though amun can mean “faithfulness” as well as “faithful.”
Isaiah 13:8 and Birth Pangs
As we have seen, tsir is both “messenger” and “birth pangs/pains,” The latter is neatly indicated in Isaiah 13:8. In this verse we have tsir combined with “anguish,” which is the useful and multi-faceted word חֶבֶל (chebel). That is, chebel can be a “region” or an “allotment” or a “cord/rope/line” or a “band/company/group” of prophets or “pains of travail.” For example, when Saul had been anointed King over Israel, he met with a “band” (chebel) of prophets, in I Sam 10:5. These two words, tsir and chebel are two examples of why the vocabulary of Biblical Hebrew is difficult. Sometimes words not only have more than one meaning, but those meanings seem utterly unrelated at times.
Back to Is. 13:8. So we have “they will be afraid” with בָּהל (bahal) for “disturb/terrify/make afraid.” And they will be afraid because of the pangs and anguish (tsir/chebel) coming upon them, even though the sad story of the language is that both tsir and chebel can seemingly be used for lots of other things other than “pangs/pain” and “anguish.” These feelings “seize” (אָחַז, achaz) them. Thankfully, “seizing” is about the only translation appropriate for achaz. Seventeen new words so far.
Returning to Obadiah 1
Let’s get back to Obadiah 1. Still on the first verse. “The vision of Obadiah.” “Thus says the Lord God to Edom (אֱדֹם).” By the way, the “thus” is the simple כֹּה (koh) and “says” is the common verb אָמַר (amar). “We have heard the report from the Lord,” and a messenger (tsir) “has been sent.” We thus have a passive form of the verb but the active form of the verb for sending is שָׁלַח (shalach). This messenger is being sent to/among the nations: גּוֹי (goy), which means “nations/gentiles.” Then we have a bit of what the messenger will say. It will be “rise up,” using the common but very useful verb (qum, which we already met when we talked about the “standing grain”), “get up/rise/stand.” Edom is the name of a place, but it also means “red stuff” in Gen. 25:30. Nations are urged is to rise up “against her” (the simple preposition “upon/against” is עַל (al). The purpose of this rising is “for war” (מִלְחָמָה, milchamah), with the simple verb “to battle/fight” being לָחַם (lacham). When you get ready for battle, you can either “make war” with the verb for “make” being עָשָׂה (asah) or you can have the troops “array themselves/draw themselves up” (עָרַךְ, arak) for battle.
Obadiah 2 says: “I will surely make you least among the nations; you shall be utterly despised.”
It is interesting that when we get to the brief Obadiah 2, that we have already seen a few of its seven words. That is, we have goy (“nation”) and and bazah (“despised” in the passive) again. I only will mention three words: “behold,” and “small” and “greatly/very” or הִנֵּה (hinneh) and קָטֹן (qaton) and מְאֹד (meod). I remember learning a Hebrew song before I even began my study of Hebrew, as I was taught the Hebrew chorus, taken from Ps. 133:1, “Hinneh ma tob uma na’iym” —“Behold, how good and pleasant it is. . .” Well, the hinneh is “behold!”, which is a frequent Biblical expression. Before even getting to the hinneh, however, we can look at the title or superscription of Psalm 133, and we see it as a שִׁיר (shiyr) or “song/poem/hymn” מַעֲלָה (maalah) or “going up/ascent.” That is the category in which the Psalm “fits.” So, way leads to wonderful way as we just were trying to understand hinneh! By the way, we have seen the word tob in the song; the word ma is מָה, which means “how.” So, “Behold how good. . .” Finally, the word “pleasant” is נָעִים (na’iym), which can mean “pleasant, sweet, lovely.”
Back to Obadiah, though other verses beckon. We now turn to qaton, “small.” I think it has to be talking about Edom, which is small. Note that qaton has a most useful and attractive appearance in the Bible. The word appears 101 times, and is found in every place you would expect something small to appear. One can have diverse weights, a “great” (גָּדוֹל, gadol) as well as a small one. We could go on forever, it seems, just describing the weights, but our focus must be on Obadiah and—one more! We can have legal matters being judged, with the small ones taken up by Moses’ assistants in Ex. 18:26. The “matter” is a “thing” or דָבָר (dabar), which is a “case/thing/matter/word” and if this thing is “judged” we use the verb שָׁפַט (shaphat).
Finally, in Obadiah 2 we have meod, which means “very.” Though not appearing as frequently as hinneh, it still appears over 300x and is appropriate whenever the author wants to raise the level of concern or discourse to a higher level. Men (plural of ish, which is nashim) can be greatly afraid (Gen. 20:8); the waters (mayim) of the Great Flood prevailed meod meod or “more and more” (Gen. 7:19); a woman can be very beautiful to behold, a virgin (Gen. 24:16). I will close with a few of the words from that phrase: a “girl/young women” is נַעֲרָה (naarah); the “virgin” is a בְּתוּלָה (bethulah); the notion of beholding is captured by מַרְאֶה (mareh, derived from raah, “to see”). Our progress is glacial, but cross off another 39 words in this essay. . .