Reading Obadiah 5
Obadiah 5 is difficult in any language. Here is one attempt to render it, “If thieves were to come to you; if destroyers/robbers by night, certainly you are cut off/destroyed! Wouldn’t they have stolen a sufficient amount? If grape-gatherers had come to you, would they not have left some gleanings?”
The words get more difficult and obscure and perhaps it is deliberately written this way—as if to capture the upset and disaster that Edom felt. We have to take time with the words, for they always aren’t clear. For example, in verse 5 we have a lot of people coming by to afflict the Edomites—thieves and robbers. But the third clause has אִם-בֹּצְרִים (im botsrim) What are we to do with this? the first two had some reference to robbers, so we would like to see robbers here, too, but the stubborn fact is that בָּצַר (batsar) means “to cut off, make inaccessible, fortify.” A fortified city is the passive participle batsur (Deut 1:28; Num 13:28). Thus, the word must mean something like strengthen or fortify. Until, you look at its appearances: Gen. 11:6 might be consistent with this—nothing “impossible” for them; but Lev 25:5, 11 have it refer to “gathering.” So, the two meanings of “gather” and “make inaccessible/fortify” seem to alternate, but it is “gather” here. So that is why I translated it here as “grape gatherers.” Really, really tough, and that is the truth of some aspects of Biblical Hebrew.
But let’s at least go to one or two words whose meaning is pretty clear. The second im clause appears with שׁ֣וֹדְדֵי (shadudi), meaning “robbers” and derived from the verb שָׁדַד (shadad), whose range of meanings is somewhat narrow: “devastate, ruin, deal violently with, despoil, rob.” An excursion on this word and where it appears might be salutary. Prov. 24:15 gives us a nice verbal harvest in including shadad:
“Do not lie in wait, wicked man, at the house of the righteous; don’t destroy his resting place.”
Not much spiritual guidance, but we have words. the word for “not” is אַל (al); it is a strong prohibitory word. אָרַב (arab), means to “ambush/lie in wait.” In a different context, some people laid an ambush for the city (עִיר, iyr) of Ai (Josh 8:2) by going “behind it” (אַחַר, achar being the “after part” or simply “after). The “wicked man” is רָשְׁע (rasha), with רֶשַׁע (resha) being “wickedness.” Usually when the word “wicked/wickedness” appears we are not far away from “righteous,” which can be צֶדֶק (tsedeq) for "righteousness" or “justice” and צַדִּ֑יק (tsadiq) for “the righteous person.”
Normally the “house “of someone is their בּיִת (bayith), but in this case we have the more elegant and rare נָוֶה (naveh, 35x, which may be a “habitation/pasture/fold/dwelling”). We finish Prov. 24:15 with our word for destroy (shadad) and then with “resting place” being רֵבֶץ (rebets). Though rebets only appears 4x, the corresponding verb רָבַץ (rabats), “lie down,” is vividly memorable if you have read the story of Cain and Abel. “Sin is “resting/crouching/lying” (rabats) at the door (Gen. 4:7). Perhaps more memorable is the famous verse in Ps. 23:2, where God “makes me lie down” (verb is rabats) in green pastures. The “pastures” of Psalm 23:2 are נָאָה (naah), which usually are “pastures” but can be a “habitation” or 'other kind of pleasant place. The first thought is that it is related to naveh, with just the middle letter being different. Probably so. Sixteen words so far.
Time to return to Obadiah 5. These robbers appear “by night” (לַיִל, layelah), a useful word to know. In Genesis 1:5, where we have the first reference to layelah, we also have a series of related terms. The “light” is אוֹר (or) and is here called yom (“day") while the “darkness” (חשֶׁךְ, choshek) is called layelah. Note the common verb for “call” is קָרָא (qara). Then, the summary statement for the that day is there was “evening and morning,” whose two words are עֶרֶב (ereb) and בֹּקֶר (boqer). The word for “one” in the phrase “one day” is אֶחָד (echad).
We are still slogging through Obadiah 5, with about 23 new words for today, and that is enough. The sacred text’s sacredness to me is in the thoughts, of course, but increasingly just in the nature of the words used, and the verbal patterns thus revealed. It is hard to see how minatory words to a kingdom that disappeared thousands of years ago holds guidance for today, especially if the words describing it can be used to describe any kingdom that has ever existed (“pride,” for example). But, for now, the language resonates. . .