Edom in Bible Prophecy
By Thomas Williamson
Edom, a nation consisting of the descendants of Esau, twin brother of Jacob and son of Isaac and Rebekah, was located to the southeast of Judah, in a rugged, mountainous region which is now the southwestern part of the kingdom of Jordan.
Edom is sometimes referred to as Esau (Malachi 1:3), Idumea (Isaiah 34:5) and Mount Seir (Ezekiel 35:3). All of these names are interchangeable, referring to the same nation, Edom.
Genesis 36 describes the rapid growth of Edom. Deuteronomy 2:5 informs us that Edom’s territory was not part of the land promised to Israel and never would be: “Meddle not with them; for I will not give you of their land, no, not so much as a foot breadth; because I have given mount Seir unto Esau for a possession.”
Ezekiel condemned the nation of Edom, saying, “Thou hast had a perpetual hatred, and hast shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword in the time of their calamity . . .” Ezekiel 35:5.
Throughout ancient history, the Edomites manifested their hatred against the Hebrews, as shown by their refusing Moses and his people permission to pass through Edomite territory in Numbers 20:14-22. However, in the time of Elisha, the Edomites joined in a military alliance with Israel and Judah, 2 Kings 3:9. Later, Judah defeated Edom in war, 2 Chronicles 25:5-12.
The major prophecies against Edom are found in Isaiah 34, Jeremiah 49:7-22, Ezekiel 25:12-14 and 35:1-15, and the book of Obadiah.
Isaiah prophesied of God’s judgment against Edom about 700 BC, while Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Obadiah all delivered their prophecies of impending doom upon Edom around the year 600 BC.
It would make sense to look for the fulfillment of these prophecies against Edom in that general time period of history. However, some have proposed that these prophecies against Edom are still unfulfilled, and that their fulfillment will take place in our generation, in the early 21st Century AD.
There are 2 big problems with this theory: 1. The Edomites no longer exist. It is impossible to punish a people who have already disappeared from the face of the earth many centuries ago. 2. The prophet Malachi, writing about 400 BC, speaks of God’s judgment of Edom as having already taken place: “And I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” (Malachi 1:3)
History records that the Edomites were ravaged by the Babylonian armies in the early 6th Century BC, and that near the end of the 6th Century BC, the Nabateans attacked the Edomites, driving them from their mountain fortresses of Mount Seir, into the Negev Desert to the west.
The ancient prophecies against Edom were completely fulfilled, and there is no need to look for those prophecies to be fulfilled yet again today, especially since the Edomites no longer exist as an identifiable nation or ethnic group.
Some will say, “Are not the Arabs Edomites, and does not the ‘Curse of Esau’ rest upon modern Arabs?” Though the identification of Edom with the Arabs is a common traditional belief, there is absolutely no Scriptural or historical basis for this notion.
The Arabians are often mentioned in the Old Testament, as a nation totally distinct from the Edomites. For instance, the Chronicler mentions Edom in 2 Chronicles 8:17 and Arabia in 2 Chronicles 9:14. The Edomites were not Arabs - they were Edomites.
Obadiah prophesied that the house of Esau would be completely wiped out (v. 18). If he was talking about the Arabs, then Obadiah’s prophecy was false, since the Arabs are very much with us today. If Obadiah was talking about Edom, like he said that he was (v.8), then his prophecy has been fulfilled, since Edom has longed since disappeared as a nation.
An examination of the standard reference works yields no hint nor evidence of any connection between Edomites and Arabs.
If the Edomites are not Arabs, then what did happen to them? We find the answer to that in the “Antiquities of the Jews” by the reliable ancient Jewish historian Josephus, writing of Jewish conquests in the 2nd Century BC:
“Hyrcanus took also Dora and Marissa, cities of Idumea, and subdued all the Idumeans; and permitted them to stay in that country, if they would circumcise their genitals, and make use of the laws of the Jews; and they were so desirous of living in the country of their forefathers, that they submitted to the use of circumcision, and the rest of the Jewish ways of living; at which time therefore this befell them, that they were hereafter no other than Jews." Chapter IX, (2).
William Whiston, translator of Josephus, adds this note: “This account of the Idumeans admitting circumcision, and the entire Jewish law, from this time, or from the days of Hyrcanus, is confirmed by their entire history afterwards. This, in the opinion of Josephus, made them proselytes of justice, or entire Jews.” Since that time, the Edomites have been part of the Jewish nation. Some believe that the Edomites are still identifiable today as Sephardic Jews, but this is speculation.
The Wycliffe Bible Commentary on Obadiah confirms that judgment came upon Edom in ancient times, starting with the Nabatean invasion soon after the time of Obadiah:
“Soon after this time, Edom was pushed out of her ancient home by the Nabateans, so that she had to move to the west side of the Dead Sea. Hebron was made the capital of her new home in south Judah. The Maccabees, especially John Hyrcanus (c. 125 BC), subdued and Judaized the Edomites. They were finally destroyed with the Jews in 70 AD by the Roman general Titus.”
(According to the Catholic Encyclopedia, this conquest of the Edomites by John Hyrcanus took place in 109 BC).
Adam Clarke’s commentary, Matthew Henry, and Jamieson, Fausset and Brown all see the prophecies against Edom as being fulfilled partly by an invasion by the Babylonian king Nebuchadnezzar in the early 6th Century BC, and partly by the Maccabees. Jeremiah 25:21 specifically predicts the humbling of Edom by Babylon, the same power that conquered Jerusalem 5 years before the destruction of Edom.
Some commentators believe that some of the early prophecies of judgment against Edom were fulfilled by the invasion of the Assyrian king Sennacherib, about 700 BC. There is no hint anywhere that any of these prophecies against Edom remain to be fulfilled in modern times, or that they can be applied to the current crises in the Middle East.
Some have thought that there will never be peace between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, based on the statement of Ezekiel 35:5: “Because thou hast had a perpetual hatred, and hast shed the blood of the children of Israel by the force of the sword in the time of their calamity. . . .”
However, we have seen that this passage concerning Edom has nothing whatsoever to do with the Arabs, ancient or modern. Scripture and secular history reveal no information about an inevitable hatred between Arabs and Jews over the centuries.
Over the centuries, Jews and Arabs have lived in harmony in the Middle East. On various occasions, Jews have fled to Arab and Muslim lands to escape persecution by the supposedly more enlightened European “Christians.”
The current strife between Jews and Arabs in Palestine did not begin until the early 20th Century, with the rise of the modern Zionist movement.
In my home city of Chicago, large communities of Jews and Arabs live side by side in a state of harmony. In November, 2000, many Jews in Chicago joined with Palestinian Arabs in peaceful demonstrations to protest Israeli government policies in occupied territories of Palestine.
We have no way of knowing whether there will soon be peace between the Jews and Arabs in Palestine, but there is nothing in the Word of God to indicate that such a peace cannot take place.
The prophecies of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Obadiah against Edom should not be wrenched out of their proper historical context, and made to apply to modern peoples who have no connection with Edom.
The purpose of these prophecies was to assure the Hebrews, at the time that they were taken captive to Babylon in 586 BC, that Jehovah would not allow the covetous Edomites to occupy their land. God promised that the land of Judah would remain vacant, and that the nation of Israel would be restored on that land after 70 years (Jeremiah 25:11, 29:10, Daniel 9:2).
The application of those prophecies for today is that we should not be prideful as the Edomites were, believing that they were safe from God’s wrath and could never be overthrown in their mountain fortresses. Also, we should not be covetous as Edom was, nor rejoice when judgment and suffering comes upon others.
The fate of Edom, and its complete disappearance from the family of nations, constitute a powerful reminder of God’s justice, His judgment, and the sure fulfillment of all that He has promised in His inspired Word.
(Reprinted from Illinois and Indiana Missionary Baptist, January 2001 issue)