Intro to Chiasms; Obadiah
Pretty much everything that I know about chiasms is from my brother’s sermons on 1 & 2 Samuel. I did a paper on the book of Obadiah for my seminary class, and a commentary that I used pointed out that the literary structure of Obadiah’s 21 verses can be broken down into five sections. The author of the commentary also pointed out that a syllable count of each the five sections show that the number of syllables in the first section closely matches that in the fifth section, and the number of syllables in the second closely matches the number in the fourth.
Since this kind of correspondence- between first and fifth and second and fourth- is one defining characteristic of chiasms, I started looking at other things in the book of Obadiah to see if it is indeed a chiasm. As I am not much of a Biblical scholar, I doubt that if there is any truth to this then I am the first to see it. Anyways, with the syllable count breaking down as it does, I looked to see if there were thematic connections between the sections that corresponded in number of syllables. Also, since chiasms function to highlight the middle of the chiasm with the beginning pointing forward to the middle and the end pointing backward to the middle, I looked at the middle section to see if it held the main point of the book. These things didn’t really strike me before I looked for them, so I could very well have read them into it. But I could also be right. Who knows?
First the five sections. As the aforementioned commentary broke it down, Obadiah can be divided into four sections based on four different speeches of the Lord, through the mouthpiece of the prophet Obadiah- and one of these four sections can be subdivided so that we end up with five sections. The first section is bracketed by “Thus says the Lord God” and “declares the Lord” in verses 1 and 4. The third section is bracketed by “declares the Lord” and “the Lord has spoken” in verses 8 and 18. The second section is in between the first and the third sections, which are bracketed, and is made up of verses 5-7. According to the commentary, in the Hebrew (and I don’t know Hebrew so I have to take others’ word here), verses 8-15 employ a second person singular “you,” referring to Edom, whereas verses 16-18 use a second person plural “you,” referring to the Israelites- which gives us section four. And verses 19-21 give us section five.
The way that I see it breaking down is that the first and fifth sections correspond to lay the foundation that God is sovereign over the earth, its nations, and their armies. In the first section the armies of the nations are coming against Edom because the Lord has sent a messenger to them and called them into battle. In the last section, the Lord is divvying up the land. The second and fourth sections correspond by way of contradiction. The judgment of the Lord against Edom for their wickedness in verses 5-7 contrasts sharply with the mercy shown to the house of Jacob in verses 16-18.
The sovereignty of God in calling the armies of the nations into battle in verses 1-4 builds to God using His armies to bring about the judgment that He promises in verses 5-7. This judgment builds toward the day of the Lord in verses 8-15. The word “day” is used 11 times in verses 8-15. The first time, in verse 8, speaks of the destruction of Edom and connects this third section with the Edom’s harsh judgment in the second section. The day of Edom’s destruction mentioned in verse 8 is when the judgment promised in verses 5-7 will occur. The next nine times that the word “day” is used tell us of Edom’s wickedness and warn the reader not to be wicked towards Israel. On the day that violence was done to Edom’s brother Jacob, strangers carried off its wealth, and foreigners entered his gates, Edom “stood aloof” and was “like one of them.” In verses 12-14 Obadiah warns us not to gloat over, rejoice over, boast over, enter the gate of, loot, stand at the crossroads to cut off the fugitives of, or hand over the survivors of Israel on the day of their misfortune, ruin, distress, and calamity.
These first ten mentions of the word “day” culminate in its eleventh occurrence, which I think is the central verse of the book- verse 15.
With that introduction of sorts behind us, let us take a look at the book of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament.
1The vision of Obadiah.
and a messenger has been sent among the nations:
“Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!” 2Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
you shall be utterly despised.
3 The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”
4Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,
if plunderers came by night—
how you have been destroyed!—
would they not steal only enough for themselves?
If grape gatherers came to you,
would they not leave gleanings?
6 How Esau has been pillaged,
his treasures sought out!
7All your allies have driven you to your border;
those at peace with you have deceived you;
they have prevailed against you;
those who eat your bread have set a trap beneath you—
you have no understanding.
8 Will I not on that day, declares the LORD,
destroy the wise men out of Edom,
and understanding out of Mount Esau?
9And your mighty men shall be dismayed, O Teman,
so that every man from Mount Esau will be cut off by slaughter.
10 Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,
shame shall cover you,
and you shall be cut off forever.
11 On the day that you stood aloof,
on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you were like one of them.
12 But do not gloat over the day of your brother
in the day of his misfortune;
do not rejoice over the people of Judah
in the day of their ruin;
do not boast
in the day of distress.
13 Do not enter the gate of my people
in the day of their calamity;
do not gloat over his disaster
in the day of his calamity;
do not loot his wealth
in the day of his calamity.
14 Do not stand at the crossroads
to cut off his fugitives;
do not hand over his survivors
in the day of distress.
15For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you;
your deeds shall return on your own head.
so all the nations shall drink continually;
they shall drink and swallow,
and shall be as though they had never been.
17 But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape,
and it shall be holy,
and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions. 18 The house of Jacob shall be a fire,
and the house of Joseph a flame,
and the house of Esau stubble;
they shall burn them and consume them,
and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau,
and those of the Shephelah shall possess the land of the Philistines;
they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria,
and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.
20The exiles of this host of the people of Israel
shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath,
and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad
shall possess the cities of the Negeb.
21 Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion
to rule Mount Esau,
and the kingdom shall be the LORD’s.
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