Friday, November 19, 2021

The Prophet Obadiah and the Day of the Lord

By Dr. Athanasios Moustakis

On November 19, the Prophet Obadiah is celebrated in the Orthodox Church. His vision has been recorded in and is the smallest book of the Old Testament. The name Obadiah probably means "servant of God" and apparently was quite common in the Old Testament, since within the pages of its books it appears a total of thirteen people carry it.

In this little book we find a characteristic prophetic expression, the expression "Day of the Lord", which also appears in the books of the prophets Joel (1:15, 2:1, 4:14), Zephaniah (1:14), Malachi (3:19), Isaiah (13:9), Jeremiah (32:33) and Ezekiel (7:10, 13:5). It does not appear in any other books of the Old Testament except in the prophetic ones we have noted, and refers to the day when the will of God will prevail in our world, restoring injustice, eradicating evil, and presenting to all the glorious name of God.

This expression hides awesome features. An example of these characteristics is Joel 4:14-15, which refers to the eclipse of the sun and the moon and the extinguishing of the light of the stars; Zephaniah 1:14, where the "Day of the Lord" is characterized as a day of wrath and sorrow; or Malachi 3:19, where it is likened to a furnace that will burn all the "foreigners", while those who revere God will rise as the sun of justice bringing the cure of diseases and liberation from all enemies.

With all these frightening reports there is expressed the moment when the justice of God will replace the injustice of the people, who have set aside the will of God and are going their own way. It is, in essence, the day of the Second Coming of the Lord, some of the characteristics of which are described in the New Testament. At the time the prophetic books were written, the attributes attributed to it literally terrified their readers or listeners.

The harshness of its descriptions seeks to emphasize the power of the Lord, who will cause this overthrow of the laws of nature either as a defender of Israel or as a punisher of sin. In some cases it refers to the enemies of God's people, as in the book of the Prophet Obadiah, while in other cases the catastrophe will involve all sinners (eg. in the 13th chapter of the Prophet Isaiah, where it refers to the destruction of Babylon, the Lord seems to finally generalize His wrath against every sinner).

The Prophet Obadiah uses the expression "Day of the Lord" to address Edom, for whom he foretells total destruction. In this way he wants to emphasize once again that whoever resists the will of the Lord cannot ultimately win. We realize that such prophecies were very important to the morale of the Israelites, who at the time of the prophecy were facing serious problems from attacks by foreign nations. Although we do not know exactly when this prophecy was uttered, many scholars link it to the Babylonian invasion of Israel in 586 BC and the subsequent destruction of Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezzar. What is prophesied here is the retribution of the sufferings that Israel now suffers, to its enemies and more specifically to the Edomites, who, as descendants of Esau, always want to avenge for the suffering of their ancestor by Jacob, who he cheated and took his firstborn blessing.

References to the Old Testament are more fully understood through the relevant references in the New Testament, where the expression "Day of the Lord" is used twice.

First in 1 Thessalonians 5:2, where the Apostle Paul emphasizes the element of surprise that will characterize the coming of the day of the Lord, which is described as "a thief in the night".

Then in 2 Peter 3:10, where it is again emphasized that He will come suddenly ("But the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night; in the which the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the works that are therein shall be burned up.").

The "Day of the Lord", then, is a beloved biblical expression, which describes the moment of the renewal of the world at the end of history. It is the day on which the will of the Lord will be imposed on sin and all the sufferings it accumulates in creation. It is the day when God will restore the world to its former blessedness and lead it to the "life of the age to come."

Source: Translated by John Sanidopoulos.