Drinking on God’s Holy Mountain in Obadiah 16 – A Misunderstood Metaphor

Most interpreters of Obadiah 16 understand the image of drinking to refer to drinking the cup of the Lord’s wrath. This seems natural given many prophetic texts use this image. Yet most interpreters also note difficulties with this interpretation. While Edom has been addressed to this point in the book, it seems unlikely that Obadiah would say that Edom drank the cup of the Lord’s wrath on God’s holy mountain, so some argue that there is a switch in addressee to Judah, who drank the cup of the Lord when they were attacked by the Babylonians (supported by Edom). Consequently, all nations (including Edom) will drink the cup of God’s wrath on the day of the Lord. While statements to this effect are made elsewhere in the prophets, this is an unnatural reading of Obadiah 16. It does not explain the phrase “for just” that links the ideas in v. 16 to v. 15. Nor does it explain why the location (“on God’s holy mountain”) is significant. Other interpreters argue that Edom continues to be addressed, but the first drinking is not a reference to drinking the cup of the Lord’s wrath, but to Edom’s drinking in celebration of their victory. While poetic, this also breaks the symmetry between crime and punishment (the point of the previous verse). Both interpretations pose difficulties.

This paper contends that this metaphor has been misunderstood. The cup of the Lord’s wrath is not mentioned in this verse nor elsewhere in Obadiah. The metaphor of drinking is better understood as referring to warfare, which has defiled God’s holy mountain and deserves death. Evidence for this interpretation is drawn from other passages in the Old Testament. Having established this interpretation, the paper will argue that Edom continues to be addressed in this verse. The drinking on God’s holy mountain refers to Edom’s involvement in the sacking of Jerusalem, and just as they engaged in warfare against God’s people, so they will be punished by warfare (cf. Obadiah 1, 6–9). The punishment matches the crime, making it an important element of Obadiah’s argument.

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