The book of Obediah has only one chapter, and to understand it you have to be familiar with the story of Jacob and Esau; if you aren’t, then go back to Genesis 25 and read about them first.
So… the people of Edom are descended from Esau, and they make their homes in the mountainous areas (referred to in v 3-4) south-east of Judah. The people of Israel and Judah are, of course, descended from Jacob.
Moving right along, god reveals to Obediah that he will wipe the Edomites out. (v 1-9) Why? Because, as explained in v 10-14, when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon sacked Jerusalem in the 590’s BCE, Edom stood by and did nothing, and then participated in the looting of the city. Edomites are the Israelites’ distant cousins; they should have known that blood is thicker than water, and supported Judah against the Babylonians.
Eventually, says Yahweh in the last few verses, Edom will get its comeuppance – Israel will be restored and its citizens will return to claim their inheritance. Edom will be nothing but a field of dry stubble with no survivors, and Israel will take over the land. And Yahweh will be king of the castle, of course (v 21)!
This is a pretty good story – if you like fairy tales. It’s about as believable as anything Hans Christian Anderson wrote, and it has that same feel to it. Don’t you just love how casting lots was seriously seen as a way to decide fault? (v 7) Try it next time your kids break something and you’re not sure who to blame.
The credibility of surviving for three days inside a sea creature was questioned as far back as St Augustine in 409 CE. So how the heck are there still people who take this literally? And what was the sea creature who swallowed Jonah? The Hebrew text apparently means ‘big fish’; ‘whale’ arose from variations in translation. In illustrations of the story, you’ll see that sometimes the creature appears to be a whale, and sometimes a fish, and sometimes it’s even hard to tell.
Curiously, although I’ve heard this story before, I never realized that Jonah being swallowed by the whale was intentional – god’s means of saving him from drowning.
Jonah prays and apologizes – it sounds just like a psalm – and so god orders the fish/whale to spit him out onto the beach. Aha! now I see why this is taught to kids as a morality tale – because Jonah disobeys god’s orders, and then after Jonah prays and apologizes, god forgives him. Now will he live happily ever after? Not yet…
Jonah heads to Nineveh, and delivers Yahweh’s message of doom, and the people there actually heed his warning and repent. And so Yahweh changes his mind and does not carry out the threatened destruction. You need to remember this part about the story of Jonah, because it’ll be cited in the gospels. (Matthew 12:38-42 and 16:1-4 and Luke 11:29-32). How come the people of Nineveh listen to Jonah’s message of doom, when nobody ever listened to any of the other prophets who yapped about doom? Jonah must have been a heck of a good preacher!
Yahweh changes his plans, and that makes Jonah look like an idiot. Now Jonah’s pissed. So Yahweh has another little morality lesson for Jonah, involving a gourd (or vine), and a worm. It seems that this little lesson is supposed to teach Jonah about being merciful, and how god cares for his people, but it’s a bit obscure, and makes for kind of an abrupt ending to the story. You’d think the editors could have done better, no?
Jonah is heavily marketed to children, and it’s easy to understand why – it’s one of only a few stories in the bible that would be suitable for General Audiences. So Sunday Schools and bible camps lap it up.
If you’re curious, and if you can stand it, you can watch the whole Veggie Tales story of Jonah on YouTube.