The five words of Obadiah 6 are highly compact, and at least four of them are quite clear, but let’s look at the verse as a whole before investigating the individual words. We have:
“How greatly searched out is Esau! How are its treasures boiling up/inquired after!”
Though the second verb slows us down a bit, we can begin with clarity with the exclamatory אֵיךְ (ek! “How!”). And, we don’t have to talk much about “Esau,” which leaves us with חָפַשׂ, chaphas, “to search out.” “How Esau is searched out!” is the sense of this first clause. Chaphas changes meaning in the Hithpael, or reflexive usage, and suggests a disguise. So we have: “I will disguise myself and go into battle” (II Chron. 18:29) where chaphas in the Hithpael appears. Well, in the context of Obadiah 6 we have Edom/Esau being “searched out,” though it isn’t immediately clear what it means. Perhaps this expresses the idea of something that is completely exposed or destroyed as a result of being searched out, and several English translations have the idea of “ransacked.”
Psalm 77:6 presents the notion of a diligent search through chaphas: “I call to mind/remember (זָכַר, zakar) my song (נְגִינָה, neginah) in the night (layelah) within (im) my heart (leb), and I meditate/muse (שִׂיחַ, siach) and my spirit (רוּחַ, ruach) makes a diligent search (chaphas).”
Back to Obadiah 6. We have the word for “hidden things/treasures” as the last word in the verse (מִצְפֻן, matspon). It is derived from צָפַן (tsaphan), which means either to conceal/hide or treasure up. The verse that immediately comes to mind where tsaphan appears is Prov. 2:1. “If you receive (לָקַח, laqach is the common word for “taking” or “receiving”) my words (אֵמֶר, emer is easily seen to be derived from amar), and treasure up (using tsaphan ) my commandments (מִצְוָה, mitsvah is a common word) with (eth) you. But in the case of Obadiah 6 we have the “treasures” of Esau mentioned. Ten new words so far.
The verb connected with these treasures is בָּעָה, baah. Most translations go with the treasures “pillaged” or “sought out” or “searched out” or “looted.” The English translations aren’t clear on whether the marauders will just be seeking after his treasures or actually finding them. But if we look at the verb itself, which appears four other times in the Bible, we have it as “boil” in Is. 64:2; “bulge or swell out” in Is. 30:13; “inquire” in Is. 21:12 (twice). For anyone interested in words, this provides quite a conundrum, with the closest possible connection being “inquire.” But it isn’t likely that the treasures or hidden things would be inquired about: “Hm…Hi Esau…how are those treasures doing?” But what about “bulge” or “swell out”? Who knows. We have a consistent picture if Esau is being pillaged and robbed, but the author could have been explicit on the point. The problem may be that we don’t know enough. We don’t know the range of meaning of the verb baah in the early 6th century BCE in various places. We don’t know the evolution of the term; we don’t know if the author was using it in a way that others would understand; we don’t know if he is using an obscure meaning of the word. In a word, we are almost in the dark as to the meaning of the phrase. Welcome to the Book of the Twelve.
Let me try my hand at a translation of this verse.
“All the men of your covenantal party” (and we will take the word בְּרִית (berith) as “covenant” or “alliance” or “confederacy”) have sent you (we have seen shalach) to the border” (גְּבוּל, gebul). The men of your peace (שָׁלוֹם, shalom needs no explanation) shall deceive (we have already seen nasha) you; they have prevailed/were able (יָכֹל, yakol) against you.”
Stop there for a moment. Is there any meaning that springs forth? Not really. Are we talking about some kind of betrayal? Who are the men of peace? The same as the covenantal guys? Who prevails and what does that mean? Certainly there was some meaning for someone at some time (we imagine), but it has long disappeared from us, leaving us with a heap of words that only occasionally are translatable. But let’s go on:
“Your bread (לֶחֶם, lechem), they shall place (שׂוּם, sum) a trap (מָזוֹר, mazor) under you.”
Frankly I don’t know how they get to “eat” your bread since there is no verb for “eat” to be seen. Many of the English translations put in an “eat,” though the KJV has enough class to put it in italics, which means that it isn’t there. So, we don’t have “eat.” Maybe they use the bread as a trap. Completely obscure. “There is none (אֵ֥ין, eyn) with understanding” (תָּבוּן, tebun).
The mention of “bread” invites a deeper consideration of passages where other foods are mentioned. We have a “morsel/piece” of bread (פַת, path) in Gen. 18:5. When Melchizedek came out to meet Abram, returning from the victory over the kings, he brought out bread “and wine” (יַיִן, yayin). Melchizedek is described as a “priest” (כֹּהֵן, kohen) of God Most High ( עֶלְיוֹן, alyon).
God then speaks to the hearers, “Shall I not, on that day (yom),” an utterance (neum) of the Lord, “destroy (אָבַד, abad) the wise men (חָכָם, chakam) from Edom and understanding (tebun again) from the mountains (we have seen har) of Esau (עֵשָׂו)?”
Though each of these words could be explored in greater depth, let’s just take it as our task to focus on the words in the text of Obadiah today. This represents about another 27 words, and many of the words could have been expanded if we talked about the different forms in which they appeared, but I think this is enough for one day.