Question: "Who/what is Edom (Obadiah 1:1, 8)?"
Answer: References to Edom occur more than 120 times in the Old Testament. The prophet Obadiah specifically mentions Edom as a people to be judged for their pride in rejoicing over the destruction of Jerusalem.
Edom was an ancient people group that inhabited the land south of Judah and the Dead Sea. The Edomites, also called Idumeans, descended from Esau, the twin brother of Jacob (Genesis 36:1). They were of great historical importance as descendants of both Isaac and Abraham. The word Edom in Hebrew means “red,” a reference to Esau’s reddish look at birth (Genesis 25:25). Yet, despite their shared ancestry, the Edomites and Israelites lived in almost perpetual conflict. Edom refused to allow the Israelites to pass through their territory en route to the Promised Land (Numbers 11:14-17). They fought with King Solomon (1 Kings 11:14-25), opposed King Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:22), and rebelled against King Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:8).
This kingdom had developed a government led by kings long before the monarchy arose in Israel. Genesis 36:31-39 lists the eight Edomite kings up to that time, delineating a long line of political leaders during the years in which Israel lived in slavery in Egypt.
A prominent city in Edom was Petra. This city, accessible only through a narrow canyon within cavernous mountain walls, was featured in the movie Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade. In the fifth century B.C., a people called the Nabateans defeated the Edomites and removed them from Petra. The Edomites were forced to move to southern Palestine in an area that would become known as Idumea. In the New Testament, Herod the Great, who commanded the murder of all boys two years old and younger in Bethlehem (Matthew 2), was an Idumean.
In Obadiah, Edom is mentioned twice by name (1:1, 8). Yet the focus of the entire book is on Edom’s destruction as God meted out His judgment on a historically rebellious people.
Obadiah prophesies that Edom would be “small among the nations . . . utterly despised” (Obadiah 1:2); that Edom’s best-laid plans would come to naught (verse 8); and that Edom would be completely destroyed: “‘The house of Esau will be stubble, and [the house of Jacob] will set it on fire and consume it. There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.’ The LORD has spoken” (verse 18).
Obadiah’s prediction came true in the fifth century B.C. when Edom was removed from Petra. The Edomites would later disappear from history completely, marking the total destruction of one of Israel’s enemies. In His dealings with Edom, God kept His promise to His people, “Whoever curses you I will curse” (Genesis 12:3).