Translation commentary on Obadiah 1:5

The structure of verse 5 in Hebrew is quite complex, as Revised Standard Version shows by following closely the order of the Hebrew clauses. Basically there are two comparisons here, one with thieves and one with grape gatherers. They are parallel to each other and reinforce each other, together making the point that destruction is not usually complete. As a unit they stand in contrast with the way the people of Edom will be treated. The point is made more simply in the second comparison: When people gather grapes, they always leave a few behind. This straightforward statement helps in the understanding of the previous one, which is complicated by two things. First, the subject is stated by naming two almost synonymous types of people (“thieves” and “plunderers” in Revised Standard Version) where really only one is intended. This is a figure of speech called hendiadys. Second, the first clause is separated from the second by an exclamation (“how you have been destroyed!” Revised Standard Version) that in sense really stands outside the sentence altogether and is related more closely with verse 6.

Clearly, this whole verse will need to be considerably restructured in order to present its information in a natural way in other languages. Unless such restructuring is done, the verse will lose much of its impact. Good News Translation here offers a good example of how such restructuring can be done in English, but of course translators in other languages will need to think out what is most effective in their own languages and not just translate Good News Translation literally.

Good News Translation has taken three steps. First, it has removed the exclamation from the middle of the first sentence and placed it at the end of the verse (your enemies have wiped you out completely). Second, Good News Translation has expressed the two conditional statements in the first comparison by a single clause with a single subject (When thieves come at night). Third, Good News Translation has put the comparisons in the form of statements rather than rhetorical questions.

All this not only simplifies the structure of the verse but makes its meaning and progression of thought much easier to understand. The two comparisons follow each other without any interruption, and the contrast between them and the situation of Edom is brought out by the word But. The meaning of the verse is: when a country undergoes some kind of defeat, the destruction is only partial in most cases; but in the case of Edom, it will be much more severe—your enemies have wiped you out completely. Just as Edom’s pride was pictured as greater than normal in verses 3 and 4, so here her destruction is pictured as more severe. Note also that in the last line, Good News Translation has turned a passive construction into an active one and made the subject explicit—your enemies.

Some translators may feel that the transition from verse 4 to verse 5 is too abrupt, and it may help to move the exclamation “how you have been destroyed!” (Revised Standard Version) to the beginning of verse 5 instead of to the end. It may then be translated as something like “Your enemies will completely destroy you!” Then, after stating in the rest of verse 5 that thieves and people who gather grapes do not usually take everything, translators can begin verse 6 with a word like “But,” to bring out the fact that Edom’s case is quite different.

Night in the first line of the verse is mentioned only because it is the usual time for thieves. It can be left out if it causes problems in a language.

They take only what they want implies that the thieves leave some things behind. It may be necessary in some languages to make this explicit, just as it is already explicit in the picture of gathering grapes that some are left behind.

When people gathering grapes always leave a few, this may happen because they do not see all of the grapes. For the people of Israel, however, it may also be that they intentionally left some grapes for the poor (Lev 19.10). Bible translators will have to find some way of talking about grapes, even if grapes are not known in their cultures, simply because they are so important in the Bible. Here, however, it would be possible to talk more generally about “gathering fruit.”

The expression wiped … out is an English idiom with the same meaning as Revised Standard Version‘s “destroyed.” The Hebrew verb here translated have wiped … out may be another prophetic perfect, as the verbs in verse 6 and the first three verbs in verse 7 may be. The change from future to past tense in verses 5-7 in the English of Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation is not particularly noticeable, but such a change in other languages may sound very odd and disturb the smooth flow of the whole section. Therefore translators may find that it is better in their languages to use future verbs in verses 5-7 in order to match those in verses 2-4 and 8-9.

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on the Book of Obadiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Obadiah 1:16

There are a number of problems in this verse. The first is to decide to whom it is addressed. The Hebrew simply has “you” (Revised Standard Version), but here the “you” is plural. In the preceding verses Edom has been consistently addressed in the singular, and it would be odd to change suddenly to the plural if Edom were still in mind. The majority of modern scholars therefore agree that the “you” refers to the people of Judah. This is the understanding of Jerusalem Bible, as shown in its footnote. It is also the understanding of Good News Translation, which makes it explicit by including My people in the text.

If a translator decides that the Lord is addressing the people of Judah in this verse, he may want to make this clear in the translation, and perhaps let the Lord address the people of Judah for the rest of the book. The Lord has been speaking to the people of Edom early in the book (Good News Translation begins this speech in verse 2), and the Lord remains the speaker for the rest of the book, even if we assume that he now begins to speaks directly to the people of Israel. Translators need to consider how this change will best be handled in their own languages. It may be possible to treat verses 2-21 as one long speech in which the Lord first talks to the people of Edom, then turns to the people of Israel and begins to talk to them. If a long speech like this is natural in a language, there may be various ways of showing when the speaker stops talking to one audience and starts talking to another. Many languages will need to begin verse 16 with words like “My people, I have made you drink a bitter cup.”

On the other hand, it may sound strange in other languages to address different groups of people within the same speech. In that case it may be necessary to begin a new speech at verse 16, using words something like “The Lord says to you people of Judah, ‘Just as you have drunk….’ ”

A bitter cup of punishment: this is a picture of the Lord being angry with this people and punishing them, especially when he allowed Jerusalem and its Temple (my sacred hill) to be captured by the Babylonians.

The use of a cup of wine as a picture of the anger of the Lord is one that is quite frequent in the Bible. It is developed most extensively in Jer 25.15-29 and occurs also, for example, in Psa 75.8; Jer 49.12; and Hab 2.16. In the New Testament the figure is used both of Christ’s suffering (Mark 14.36; John 18.11) and of God’s anger (Rev 14.10; 16.19). It is, then, a common picture in the Scriptures and is related to one of the central features of Palestinian culture, namely, wine. It is therefore desirable to retain the picture in translation if at all possible, even in situations where wine is not known and where a cup has not previously been used with this figurative meaning. Translators must decide to what extent new figures of speech will be acceptable and meaningful in any language.

In many languages it is possible to speak only about drinking what a cup contains, and not about drinking the cup itself. Therefore, even if the figurative language is to the kept, it will have to be expressed as something like “drinking wine from a cup.” Many translators may also want to make the point of the comparison clearer and say “I will punish them so severely that they will not be able to stand up, just as men who are drunk cannot stand up.” In some cultures, of course, this will not be regarded as a terrible thing, and in these cultures it might not be possible to use this picture effectively. Good News Translation has tried to show that the drink is not pleasant by using the word bitter in the expression a bitter cup, and other translators may be able to do something similar. However, the main point of the Hebrew picture is the effect of the drink, not the taste. Drunken men sometimes stagger like men who have been hit very hard, while people who are completely drunk may lie down as though they were dead. The picture seems to be based on these facts.

Scholars who believe that this part of the verse refers to Edom, in spite of the change from singular to plural, have to interpret the cup of wine literally. They see it as referring to the drunken celebrations in which the Edomites took part at the time of the fall of Jerusalem. Such drinking was not only an insult to the Lord’s people but also to the Lord himself, since it took place on my sacred hill, that is, on the site of the Temple. This seems to be the view underlying New English Bible.

As the Good News Translation footnote shows, my sacred hill is a reference to Mount Zion, which is mentioned by name in the next verse. Mount Zion technically refers to the part of Jerusalem that included the Temple area. It is often used to refer to the whole city of Jerusalem, especially when its importance as a religious center is in focus, and that is the case here. Sacred or “holy” (Revised Standard Version) in this verse means “connected with God in a special way.” Many languages will have a good word for “holy” that can be used here. If there is none, then my sacred hill can be translated as “the hill (or, mountain) where my own house is” or “Jerusalem, the hill where my Temple is.”

But all the surrounding nations will drink a still more bitter cup of punishment: as discussed above, the first part of this verse probably referred to something that had happened to the people of Judah. This second part then says that the same sort of thing will happen to all the surrounding nations. There are a number of ways in which languages can show the relationship between the two parts. One way would be to start the first line with “Just as” and the second line with “so,” showing that two similar ideas are being compared. This is the meaning intended by the Revised Standard Version “as.”

Good News Translation, however, has made the first part of the verse into a full sentence and then begins a second sentence with But. This suggests a strong contrast: a bad thing had happened to God’s people, But all the surrounding nations will suffer even worse. This is conveyed by the words will drink a still more bitter cup. This statement further explains the words addressed to the Edomites in the last part of verse 15.

The Hebrew word translated surrounding (Revised Standard Version “round about”) is found in only a minority of the Hebrew manuscripts. Most have a different word that is translated “continually” (King James Version, New English Bible) or “unsparingly” (Jerusalem Bible). Both ideas (surrounding and “continually”) can be roughly paralleled elsewhere in the Old Testament. Zech 12.2 speaks of “all the peoples round about” (Revised Standard Version) in a context that includes a reference to drunkenness. Isa 51.22-23, in a passage with an extended picture of the cup of God’s anger, speaks of the cup passing from his people, never to return. It is “put … into the hand of your tormentors” (Revised Standard Version), with the implication that it will remain there. If the translation “continually” is preferred, then in some languages it may appear to clash with the vanish away at the end of the verse. This can be overcome by saying “the nations shall drink continually … until they vanish away.”

They will drink it all and vanish away: there is some uncertainty about the Hebrew word translated drink it all in Good News Translation and “stagger” in Revised Standard Version. Staggering is of course a natural result of drinking too much wine, and is associated with it, for example, in Psa 60.3; Isa 51.22; Jer 25.16; and Zech 12.2. But here “stagger” is based on a change in the Hebrew text, which actually has the word for “swallow,” as noted in the Revised Standard Version footnote. Moffatt also accepts the change to “stagger,” but other modern English versions do not, since “swallow” makes perfectly good sense in the context. Thus Good News Translation has drink it all, Jerusalem Bible “drink deep,” and New English Bible “gulp down,” all of which help to convey something of the emotional intensity of the passage.

The final clause “they … shall be as though they had not been” (Revised Standard Version) is generally taken to mean that the nations that undergo the extremes of divine punishment will disappear entirely, and Good News Translation translates this plainly by they will … vanish away. The literal meaning of this picture is “when I have finished punishing them, not one of them will be left” or “the whole nation will be destroyed.”

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on the Book of Obadiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Obadiah 1:6

Here Esau stands for the nations descended from him, and Good News Translation makes this explicit by saying Descendants of Esau. We are told three times in Genesis that Esau is the same as Edom (Gen 36.1, 8, 19). However, many Bible readers cannot be expected to know this, and even if the translator feels that saying Descendants of Esau will be enough, it may be good to include a cross reference to the Genesis passages. Other translators may want to be more explicit and say something like “People of Edom, descendants of Esau.”

In Hebrew, this verse is an exclamation about Edom in the third person, but because Edom is addressed in the second person in the rest of verses 2-7, Good News Translation puts this verse also into the second person. This avoids changes of person that are unnatural in English, and many translators will need to make a similar adjustment. Good News Translation has also changed the Hebrew exclamation into a statement in English, but it will be possible in many languages to keep this verse as an exclamation, even if Edom is addressed in the second person. The Hebrew here uses two clauses to make what is really a single statement, and Good News Translation runs them together into a single one, your treasures have been looted. Revised Standard Version says that the enemies have “sought out” Edom’s treasures. This implies that many of the treasures were hidden away, probably in the numerous caves in the rocky Edomite fortress. This point is brought out in many translations by saying something like “your hidden treasures will be searched for and found” (see Jerusalem Bible, New English Bible, and the New International Version [New International Version]). The treasures probably included goods for trade as well as luxury items with the profits of the trading.

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on the Book of Obadiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Obadiah 1:17

The opening words to this verse are quoted in Joel 2.32, and the theme of the sacredness of Zion is expanded in Joel 3.17 to include the promise that “foreigners will never conquer it again.”

But at the beginning of the verse contrasts sharply the fate of the nations at the end of verse 16 with the survival of the Lord’s people. The theme of the remnant of Israel surviving to begin afresh is a common one in the prophets (for example, Isa 4.2-4; Amos 3.12; Micah 2.12; Zeph 2.7-9).

The reason why Israel’s position would change for the better was that the Lord’s punishment of her, though severe, was not final. There were some who survived the fall of Jerusalem and became the nucleus of a new nation. It is suggested in the introduction, “Translating the Book of Obadiah,” that the prophecy of Obadiah was written about 500 B.C. If that is true, then those who had returned from the exile were already in possession of Jerusalem, where they had first returned in 538 B.C. Already the Temple had been rebuilt (516 B.C.) and was in use for the worship of the Lord. Thus the words on Mount Zion (which included the Temple area) some will escape, and it will be a sacred place had already been partially fulfilled in the prophet’s own day. This would encourage the people to believe in the more extensive restoration of territory promised in the second half of the verse. Some will escape is an echo of those trying to escape in verse 14.

Many languages may find that the usual word for escape will not sound right in this context, since the people of Jerusalem will not go anywhere else but will remain in Jerusalem. The meaning is that they will not be harmed in the troubles that accompany the punishment of the nations (verses 15-16), but will be able to go on living in their city.

Mount Zion will be “holy” (Revised Standard Version) at this time, or a sacred place. As explained in the discussion of verse 16, this means a place that is connected with God in a special way. It may be necessary for some translators to say “truly holy” in this verse. The idea may well be that only the true people of God will be able to live there, and no others will be able to come in.

In the second half of the verse, the words “house of Jacob” (Revised Standard Version) mean the people of Jacob and refer to the inhabitants of Judah, the remnant who had returned from exile. There are two possibilities for the interpretation of the Hebrew word translated as “their possessions” in Revised Standard Version. It may indeed mean “their possessions” and, if so, refers to the land that is theirs by right, as Good News Translation puts it. However, the same Hebrew consonants were given different vowels by ancient translators and understood as “those who dispossessed them.” This second understanding is preferred by some modern translators and is neatly expressed in New English Bible as “Jacob shall dispossess those that dispossessed them.” This relates in a more detailed way with the description in verses 19-20. However, the difference between the two interpretations is more one of emphasis than of basic meaning, and both fit easily into the context. Either interpretation is fully acceptable.

“Possessions,” if we take the meaning of Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation, refers to the land that traditionally belongs to a person’s family, or in this case, to the people of Israel. Many languages may have a word or expression that has this meaning. Most of this land had been taken by various other peoples and did not belong to the people of Israel when the book of Obadiah was written. However, they still considered that in God’s eyes it really belonged to them, so if possible the translation should say something more than “the land that they used to own.” Possibilities for good translations might be “the land that is truly theirs,” or the land that is theirs by right. Since the area being referred to was all part of Israel before, it may be good in many languages to say that “they shall take back the land that is truly theirs,” or “reoccupy it,” or “once again live on it.”

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on the Book of Obadiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Obadiah 1:7

In the Hebrew, the first two clauses share the same subject, Your allies, but the subject is not stated until the second clause. It is rather awkward to retain this order in English (though Jerusalem Bible manages to do so). Therefore Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation have reversed the clauses so as to put first the clause with the subject stated, namely, Your allies have deceived you. This will probably be necessary in many other languages. In terms of the flow of sense also, it is quite helpful to have this general statement at the beginning, before the more specific details. Allies refers to other countries or peoples who had promised to help Edom in time of war. But this promise was only a lie. These peoples had deceived the Edomites, and the downfall of Edom was to be accomplished at least partly through the treachery of people whom the Edomites considered to be their allies. To this extent, their punishment matches their own treacherous conduct at the fall of Jerusalem.

“They have driven you to the border” (Revised Standard Version) is best understood as referring to the Edomites being expelled from their own land. Good News Translation has made this interpretation explicit with its they have driven you from your country. This is what was happening from about 500 B.C. onward, as the Edomites were pushed westward into the Negev. Driven you from your country means “forced you to leave your country” or “chased you out of your country.”

The second and third sentences of the verse in Good News Translation add more detail about the way Edom was betrayed. It was People who were at peace with them who had now conquered them. The third sentence in Good News Translation contains two difficulties in Hebrew. The first is that the only subject stated in the Hebrew means “your bread,” which makes no sense on its own. Most scholars suppose that the phrase in Hebrew, “men of” from the previous part of the verse, is to be understood again here. “Men of your bread” is taken to mean friends who ate with you (Good News Translation) or “trusted friends” (Revised Standard Version). (Compare the language of Psa 41.9, also used in a context where treachery is involved.)

All three sentences in this verse refer to the same people or peoples: Your allies, People who were at peace with you, and Those friends who ate with you. Therefore in languages where it is difficult to find expressions for each of these different terms, it will be quite all right to refer to them in just one or two of these ways. Even in languages where all of the terms are possible, one should translate so as to show that the same people are being referred to. Thus one may translate the second sentence as “They were at peace with you, but now they have conquered you” or, using the future tense, “They are at peace with you now, but soon they will conquer you.”

The second problem in the third sentence is the Hebrew word mazor. This normally means “wound,” as in the King James Version (King James Version), but here it makes no real sense. Many scholars accept a small change in the Hebrew text to matsod, “net,” which perhaps has some support from ancient translations. Other believe that mazor has another meaning, namely trap, as found in Revised Standard Version and Good News Translation. This not only fits the context very well but also could have been the understanding on which the ancient translations were based. We do not know if Obadiah was referring to some particular historical situation with his image of Edom’s friends laying a trap for them. It is probably best to understand this as having the same meaning as the first line of the verse. These people made the Edomites think that they were their friends, but this was only a trap, a way of deceiving them. They actually meant to fight against the Edomites. Literally, trap refers to something used for catching animals, but it is not known exactly what kind of trap is meant here. A translator should not use this image unless it will have the right meaning in his language.

Where is all that cleverness he had?: the last clause of the verse is clear in itself but is hard to relate to the preceding words. Revised Standard Version translates literally, “there is no understanding of it”; this seems to mean either that the deceit of Edom’s supposed friends is so bad that one can hardly believe it, or else that the trap they have set is so clever that no one can guess it is there. Another possibility is to translate the words “of it” as “in him” and to regard this clause as words spoken about Edom. Jerusalem Bible follows this interpretation with “ ‘He has no intelligence now.’ ” Good News Translation does the same but incorporates two further features. First, it makes explicit the understanding that the speakers are the deceitful friends by saying they say of you. Second, it tries to convey something of the supposed mockery of the speakers by using the form of a rhetorical question, ‘Where is all that cleverness he had?’ This rhetorical question in English means the same as “He used to think he was very clever, but he certainly isn’t clever now.”

Often rhetorical questions in the Hebrew are clearer in meaning in English and other languages when restructured as statements. But the frequent removal of such questions can lead to a loss of emotional impact. It therefore helps to restore some of this impact by using rhetorical questions and other such devices at places where they are meaningful in these languages, even though they are not found in the Hebrew at just these places.

In this sentence, many translators will find it helpful to make the speakers explicit, though fewer will want to use a rhetorical question. The decision will depend on the natural usage of the receptor language.

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on the Book of Obadiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Obadiah 1:18

This verse continues the theme of the Lord’s people regaining the land that had been taken from them after the fall of Jerusalem, especially the land taken by the Edomites. Verse 17 states the basic fact that the people of Israel will regain their lost territory, and verses 18-20 give the details of how this will happen. Appropriately, the details begin with the Edomites, the people this book has been mostly concerned with.

In Hebrew the verse opens with two lines that are parallel in form and overlapping in meaning, as shown by the literal translation of Revised Standard Version. Good News Translation has combined these two lines into one, as it often does elsewhere, and stated the full meaning in a single clause, The people of Jacob and of Joseph will be like fire. Here Jacob stands for the people of Judah, and Joseph for the people of Israel. The two names together mean the survivors of both kingdoms, that is, the entire Jewish nation.

Since Joseph was historically Jacob’s son, it may sound strange in some languages to refer to his descendants as though they are a different group of people from his father’s descendants. Even in languages that do not have this problem, it is unlikely that many readers will know what these names are meant to refer to. Therefore some translators may prefer to translate as “the people of Judah and Israel” or even as “the people of the northern and southern parts of Israel.”

Fire is used as a picture of the Lord’s anger, and the Lord’s people are seen as the agents through whom the divine punishment is carried out. This picture is ancient and widespread (compare Exo 15.7; Isa 10.17; 29.5, 6; Nahum 1.6, 10; Mal 4.1; Matt 3.12; Luke 3.17) and should not be difficult to retain in translation, since the destructive power of fire is known to all societies.

The fuel for this fire will be the people of Esau, that is, the Edomites (see comments on verse 6), who will be destroyed as fire burns stubble. Stubble is the dry and useless stalks left in the fields after the wheat has been harvested. It burns very readily and thus offers an easily understood picture of quick and complete destruction. If stubble itself is not known in any area, the translator can compare Edom to dry grass, or anything of this sort which readers will recognize as something that burns easily.

No descendant of Esau will survive: the completeness of the destruction is emphasized by the word survive, which echoes “survivors” (Revised Standard Version) in verse 14. The Edomites had handed over the survivors of Judah to the Babylonians. When the time came for the descendants of those survivors to carry out the Lord’s punishment on Edom, “there shall be no survivor” (Revised Standard Version). Esau will be left with No descendant.

The verse is rounded off with a reminder that this is not just a man’s nationalistic dream, but the purpose of the Lord. In the Hebrew here as in verse 15, the reference to the Lord is in the third person, and again Good News Translation translates this in the first person, I, the LORD, have spoken, since the whole of verses 2-21 are understood as the direct words of the Lord.

It may be unnatural in some languages to put a statement like this in the middle of a person’s speech. Thus, since the Lord is still speaking in the following verses, it may not sound right for him to say I … have spoken in verse 18. The meaning is that these things will happen because they are the will of the Lord, and it can therefore be translated as something like “I declare that this must happen,” or “All of this will happen according to my will.”

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on the Book of Obadiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Obadiah 1:8

The mention of cleverness at the end of verse 7 leads smoothly on to the loss of wisdom in this verse. The verse has the form of a rhetorical question in Hebrew, and this is retained in Revised Standard Version. However, this is one of the places where Good News Translation has judged that a statement conveys the meaning more clearly in English, and Good News Translation has accordingly dropped the question form.

The phrase “on that day” (Revised Standard Version) often means the day of final judgment, but here it refers to the day of Edom’s punishment. Good News Translation makes this explicit by saying On the day I punish Edom. One aspect of this punishment is the loss of Edom’s clever men, whom the Lord will destroy. Edom was famed for its wisdom, learned no doubt from the East through trading contacts.

In the Hebrew, the single verb “destroy” (Revised Standard Version) is followed by two objects that are parallel to each other in structure, “wise men out of Edom” and “understanding out of Mount Esau.” Good News Translation has retained the parallelism but has modified it to make it sound more natural in English. First, “Mount Esau” is a synonym for Edom, and in Good News Translation both are expressed by Edom in the opening line of the verse. The expression “Mount Esau” is found only in the book of Obadiah, and it may not be an actual name. Edom is sometimes called by the name of Esau, the ancestor of the people, and the term here may simply mean “the mountains of Edom.” The term is also used in verses 9, 19, and 21.

Second, Good News Translation has used two verb phrases to make the lines more neatly parallel, and thus says destroy their clever men and wipe out all their wisdom. As in verse 5, wipe out is an idiomatic expression in English. The meaning here can be expressed as “I will cause them to lose (or, forget) all their wisdom.”

If wisdom or knowledge is difficult to translate in some languages, it is all right to take this line as parallel to the previous one, meaning “people who know a lot” or “people who are wise.” In this case, of course, a translator may feel that it will be better to state this in only one line instead of in two lines that say the same thing.

In this verse the Hebrew phrase “says the LORD” (Revised Standard Version) is not represented in Good News Translation. In the interests of more natural English structure, Good News Translation includes it at the beginning of the section, in verse 2, rather than in verses 4 and 8 as in the Hebrew (see the comments on verse 2). Many translators will also find it more natural to do this. Some will also find that it fits the patterns of their language to repeat “says the Lord” at the end of the section after verse 9, and if so, this is acceptable translation procedure.

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on the Book of Obadiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .

Translation commentary on Obadiah 1:19

Verses 19-20 together give details of how the Lord’s people will reoccupy the full extent of the land that was promised to them. There are a number of difficulties in the Hebrew text. In places it is so disjointed that many scholars believe that some words in it were original notes and were only by accident taken into the text itself. However, Good News Translation makes good sense of the passages with only very little change in the Hebrew text as it stands.

After the people of Judah been taken into exile in 587 or 586 B.C., the Edomites had begun to move westward and occupy southern Judah, called in Hebrew “the Negeb” (Revised Standard Version; spelled “Negev” on Good News Translation maps and on maps in this Handbook). Obadiah here foresees the opposite thing happening—People from southern Judah will occupy Edom, which had been part of the wider kingdom under David and Solomon (2 Sam 8.13, 14). The people referred to here are obviously considered to be people of Judah, and were probably returned exiles. To occupy, in the context of verse 18, would doubtless involve some fighting, and the meaning is therefore the same as capture, used in the next line.

Those from the western foothills will capture Philistia: another nation that had given much trouble in earlier times was that of the Philistines, who lived mainly in the western coastal plain. They too had been conquered by David (2 Sam 5.17-25) but had remained troublesome to Israel from time to time, and after the fall of Jerusalem they were able to occupy “the Shephelah” (Revised Standard Version) unopposed. The Shephelah is the area of foothills in western Judah, next to the coastal plain. Here again the situation will be reversed, and the people from the western foothills will capture Philistia.

If a language does not have a word for foothills, this simply means the region where the hill country begins. It should be possible to find a way to express this idea, but it can also called the “western border region.”

In the second half of the verse, the prophet turns to the northern part of the country, the territory of Ephraim and Samaria. The text as we have it today does not say clearly who will regain this territory, as it simply has “they” (Revised Standard Version) as the subject of the verb. Clearly, some group of the Lord’s people is meant, and Good News Translation supplies the general term Israelites.

Ephraim had often been used in the past to stand for the northern kingdom, since it was the dominant tribe there, and Samaria had been the capital city of that kingdom. The wording of the Hebrew (see Revised Standard Version) would suggest that two separate areas are referred to, but the two names really refer to the same territory. It may be possible in some languages to follow Good News Translation and suggest that there is one territory called both Ephraim and Samaria. In other languages it may be clearer to say “the town of Samaria, and the rest of the territory of Ephraim.”

Finally, the people of Benjamin will take Gilead. The traditional territory of Benjamin was the area just north of Jerusalem. Gilead is a general term for the areas to the east of the River Jordan occupied in the past by the tribes of Reuben and Gad, and part of the tribe of Manasseh. It is not clear why Benjamin should be named to recapture this area.

It is not clear whether the prophet thought that the Israelites would have to fight to take Ephraim and Gilead, or whether they would be able to take over these areas peacefully, so the translator should use the word that seems most appropriate to him. In all cases, the translator should make it clear that it is the Israelites who are taking over the areas mentioned.

Verse 19 as a whole states that the Lord’s people will expand their territory southward (into Edom), westward (into Philistia), northward (into Ephraim and Samaria), and eastward (into Gilead). That is to say, from the small area around Jerusalem that they held in the prophet’s day, they will expand in all directions in the effort to regain their traditional land. Some translators may feel that it will be helpful to bring this out more clearly in the translation, by making sure that all of these directions are clear in the text. One may say, for example, that “the people of Benjamin will cross to the eastern side of the Jordan and take the region of Gilead.” Directions are sometimes a problem for translators, especially if their languages do not use terms that match with Hebrew and English terms like north, south, east, and west. In some languages, for example, directions are given in terms of the way the main rivers flow. Translators should of course use the forms that are natural in their languages. But if they have problems knowing just how to use these forms to refer to the geography of Palestine, they should ask their translation consultant about their special problems.

It may be useful to mention that Jerusalem is in hilly country. These hills run from north to south and include the areas of Ephraim and the Negeb, so there is no significant change of altitude between any of these places. Philistia to the west was in the plain near the Mediterranean Sea and was lower than Jerusalem. Anyone traveling to Gilead in the east or Edom in the south would have to cross the low valley of the Jordan and the Dead Sea. But both Gilead and Edom are mostly in high county, so the person going to them would have to climb up again to altitudes about the same as Jerusalem.

Quoted with permission from Clark, David J. et al. A Handbook on the Book of Obadiah. (UBS Helps for Translators). New York: UBS, 1978, 1982, 1993. For this and other handbooks for translators see here .