NOTE: This article uses the Bible Works Hebrew Font, BHWEBB, downloadable here:

K:JNWTS 31/2 (December 2016): 16-19

The Aperture and Closure of Obadiah:
Patterned Symmetry of Visionary Imagery[1]

Obadiah 1, 21

James T. Dennison, Jr.

The prophecy of Obadiah is a “vision” (Hebrew, !Azŕx], hazôn). As such, it contains visual images (pictures, if you will) of the Lord’s sovereign acts against Edom (Mt. Esau, vv. 8, 9, 19, 21) and for Judah (Mt. Zion, vv. 17, 21). The tapestry unfolds in 21 verses and 291 words, yet verses and words flourishing with rhetorical imagery and literary artistry—artistry imprinted with frequent vivid symmetry, whether symmetry of alliteration, assonance, paronomasia, anaphora or even chiasm.[2] There is in Obadiah’s visual portrait vibrant imagery of judgment for Edom/Esau conjoined with efficacious visions of gracious deliverance for Israel/Jacob. In fact, this patterned symmetry is present at the opening and closing of the inspired prophet’s little book. Obadiah has crafted a paradigm of reciprocal symmetry into the beginning and ending of his visionary revelation which is stunning if not brilliant in its rhetorical, literary and theological magnificence. Not only the march of God’s wrath against vicious Edom in an eschatological finality culminating in the end of Esau’s mountain kingdom-civilization, but the parade of God’s “saviors” (“deliverers”, Hebrew, ‘~y[iviAm), môshiîm) in an eschatological finality culminating in the kingdom of the Lord on his mountain glory-Zion.

Obadiah 1 and 21 are interrelated not only by position—aperture and closure of the prophet’s small book (the ‘least’ of all the prophets); Obadiah 1 and 21 are interrelated with the visionary substance of the book as a whole in nuce. And this is accomplished by the prophet’s rhetorical, literary, theological and eschatological skill, so as to envelop his entire vision from beginning to end[3] in a symmetry of reciprocity via recursive parallel portraiture. All this he accomplishes through: geographical setting, prophetic subject, prophetic agent, directional vectors, duplicate grammatical markers and echoing assonantial endings.

Geography and Subject

Let us unfold his remarkable theological tapestry at its aperture and closure. We are first arrested by the subject of the prophecy at the very inception—the prophet is writing what he sees “about”, “to”, “concerning”, “belonging to” (l,, le, Hebrew preposition) Edom (~AdŞa/). At the conclusion of his prophecy, he duplicates the same subject with a symmetrical geographic locater—“mountain of Esau” (wf'_[e rh:, har esaw). He thus features the name of Edom’s progenitor (historical beginnings parallel to historical endings), i.e., an absolute historical birth of Esau/Edom reciprocally joined or related to an absolute historical death of Esau/Edom (cf. v. 18).[4] The symmetry of nation (geographically and nominally) emphatically underscores the beginning and end of that nation, even as the prophetic reflection on that nation begins and ends this tiny corpus of the OT canon. The reader will also observe that the Hebrew preposition returns in v. 21 as focused on what belongs in symmetry “to” (l, li) Edom/Esau, i.e., to be “judged” (jPoß, lispot).


Next, we observe the symmetry of the agent directing this vision—indeed weaving the arras/tapestry with his own omnipotent sovereignty from outside history into history. The Lord is identified initially as Adonai YHWH (v. 1) (hwI÷hy> yn"“doa], “Lord God”) as well as YHWH (also v. 1) (‘hw"hy>, “Lord”) and that repeated in v. 21 (hw"ßhy, YHWH) with a duplicate preposition la (l;) “to”, “about”, “belonging to” “the Lord”. We observe the le/la preposition with respect to the prophetic agent in v. 1 (Adonai YHWH administers the “battle” “belonging to” Edom), while we also observe the la/le preposition with respect to the prophetic agent in v. 21. What belongs “to” Edom in v. 1 is coming judgment. What belongs “to” the Lord in v. 21 is coming deliverance (salvation). Though the duplication of the divine agent reinforces his active agency in the judgment of Edom and salvation of Zion, what belongs “to” Edom and the Lord here is the antithesis of doom and redemption coming “to” the one at the very outset of the vision and transcendently projected to the kingdom “belonging to” the Lord at the close of the vision. NB: the double use of the lamedh (l) preposition in both verses 1 and 21 further demonstrates the intentional bracketing of the aperture and closure.


There are directional vectors in v. 1 and v. 21. These vectors are indicated by the l[; form in Hebrew. In v. 1, it is the preposition “up against her” (h'yl,Ţ[', aleyha). The Lord is bringing forces up against Edom. Once again for Edom, the direction is the horizontal historical vector which will bring her up against her terminal end. In v. 21, it is the verb form WlÜ[' (alű) which means “to ascend up” or “to go up”. Here the direction is vertical bringing the ‘ascendants’ into a non-terminal end or destiny, i.e., the transcendent arena of the transcendent agent who sovereignly interweaves these events on his redemptive-historical tableau. Mt. Zion here is an eschatological dimension more blessed than the mere vertical horizon of ascent to the Zion below (or Jerusalem below = Greek lit. “the now Jerusalem”, thus Gal. 4:25). This is clear because the prophet visualizes the Zion Mount “to” be the Lord’s kingdom—certainly an eternal eschatological vector!


There are finally two symmetrical assonantial elements in these enveloping verses. The first is duplicate -îm (~yI) endings; and the second is duplicate -ah (hT) endings. This repetition of sound in v. 1 and v. 21 underscores (once more) the intentional symmetry woven into the aperture and closure of this remarkable prophetic visionary work. The “nations” (~yIĺAG, gôyîm) are summoned in v. 1 by the envoy of the Lord God (who is the prophet himself replicating the mouth/word of God) to arise against Edom. These nations are the instruments of God’s impending judgment, a motif explicitly duplicated in v. 21 (NASB). The -îm terminal sound in v. 1 allows the reader/hearer to hear/see the coming clash of destruction delivered by the “nations”. But v. 21 also contains the very same -îm terminal sound. Here, wonderfully, it is found in the word for “deliverers” or “saviors” or “liberators” (~y[iviAm), môshiîm). This word is related to the Hebrew word for “Messiah” and the verb “to save”. How pregnant is this word at the conclusion of this remarkable vision. We observe on the tapestry of redemptive history the saviors-deliverers of the people of God; those of times past (i.e., Moses, Joshua, David) and the ONE of time future—Messiah Jesus, once-and-for-all Savior-Deliverer of the people of God. This panoply of “saviors” fills the vision field of Obadiah’s last word—his final word to his audience. It is a portrait of the Lord’s Messiah ascending to his everlasting kingdom on Zion’s eternal mount—the Jerusalem above where the Messianic king whom we know to be the very Son of God sits at the right hand of the majesty on high ruling over the hearts of his sons and daughters with saving grace full and free to weary and heavy laden souls.

That eschatological kingdom is the summum bonum of this last verse of Obadiah (he has saved the best til last) and the final assonantial element in our tapestry of beginnings and endings. In v. 1, the “battle” which erupts against Edom is, in Hebrew, hm'(x'l.Mi (milhamah); notice the terminal -ah ending. Now in v. 21, the “kingdom” which appears on (heavenly) Mt. Zion is, in Hebrew, hk'(WlM. (melűkah); again, notice the terminal -ah ending. The symmetry of these -ah ending words in v. 1 and v. 21 is further accentuated by the fact that the word for “battle” and the word for “kingdom” are the very last words in each verse. As if in staccato form—a final tapestry/arras image—the poetic prophet Obadiah leaves us at the end of v. 1 with a vision of cataclysmic judgment-battle; but at the end of v. 21 (the end of his “vision” prophecy), he leaves us with a portrait of the “kingdom” of the Lord—the “kingdom” of the Lord and of his Christ (Messiah)—the “kingdom” of heaven, as everlasting as the Lord and his Christ and the Zion above.

Inclusio Artistry

The prophet Obadiah has brilliantly woven together the aperture and closure of his remarkable prophetic vision with literary, rhetorical and theological symmetries. Devices in the text dramatically portray the judgment of the nation of Edom and the salvation of the nation of the kingdom of Zion. These parallel duplications are not accidental—they have been carefully crafted by an inspired artist so as to allow us to see his prophetic message in images of dramatic poignancy. For even Obadiah embeds the redemptive-historical reversal in the protological beginning and the eschatological ending of his magnificent prophetic tapestry. An inclusio of the reversal of condemnation by salvation which is the ever-gracious message of the Law, the Gospel and the Prophets.

Praise the Lord God that we who are in Christ Jesus see all this in the tapestry of our Savior Messiah’s life, death, resurrection and ascension to the “heavenly Jerusalem” (Heb. 12:22).

[1] Cf. the author’s audio series of lectures (with handouts) on the entire book of Obadiah here:

[2] For a stimulating discussion of the “poetic devices,” see R. B. Robinson, “Levels of Naturalization in Obadiah.” Journal for the Study of the Old Testament (JSOT) 40 (1988): 83-97, esp. 88-95. Note also Ernst Wendland, “The rhetoric of Obadiah’s ‘day’: Its structure and significance,” in Prophetic Rhetoric: Case Studies in Text Analysis and Translation (2009) 39-66.

[3] Many scholar commentators have noted the inclusio feature of vv. 1 and 21, most recently Elie Assis, “Structure, Redaction and Significance in the Prophecy of Obadiah.” JSOT 39 (2014): 211. Sadly, Assis periodizes the prophecy into three eras (and thus, three authors/redactors) destroying the obvious wholistic unity (single authorial integrity) signaled by the inclusive envelope.

[4] Commentators have long noted the destruction of the Edomite nation by the Babylonians under their last king, Nabonidus (556-539 B.C.) in a campaign formerly associated with his attacks on Arabian desert tribes—a campaign which took him to the famous King’s Highway and thence to troublesome (apparently) Edom in 554/53 B.C. (cf. the reference to “E]dom” in the fragmentary record from his third year in Cogan, The Raging Torrent: Historical Inscriptions from Assyria and Babylonia Relating to Ancient Israel (2008) 211, 214-15). In 1994, a relief which appears to depict Nabonidus was discovered at as-Sila on a high rock plateau in former Edomite territory 3 km northwest of Buseirah (Bozrah). The weathered inscription suggests that the Edomite campaign is better dated to Nabonidus’s fifth year (551 B.C.). Cf. Stephanie Dalley and Anne Goguel, “The Sela Sculpture.” Annual of the Department of Antiquities of Jordan 41 (1997): 169-77; Fawzi Zayadine, “Le relief neo-babylonien a Sela’ pres de Tafileh: interpretation historique.” Syria 76 (1999): 83-90; Bradley L. Crowell, “Nabonidus, as-Sila, and the Beginning of the End of Edom.” Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (BASOR) 348 (2007): 75-88.