I recently took a look at the 10 most popular books of the Bible—another super hat tip to Jonathan at BibleGateway.com for that data. That gave me something else to think about: what’s the least popular book of the Bible?
(For the purposes of this post, “least popular” = “least-read book of the Bible on BibleGateway.com”.)
Let’s just get this out of the way: the least popular book of the Bible is not Leviticus. That’s a popular guess, and I understand why (more on that later).
My own guess would have been Second Chronicles (on account of how boring it is). Nope. I was totally wrong on that, too.
Turns out the least-read book of the Bible is about three quarters of the way through your Bible. I imagine most of you have already skimmed to find what it is, but for those of you who are still playing the guessing game, here are a few hints:
- It’s in the Old Testament.
- You’d probably have a hard time spelling it on the first try.
- It’s one of the minor prophets.
- It’s written for the nation of Edom.
- It’s only one chapter long.
- There’s a really, really good chance you’ve never read it.
Obadiah is the least popular book of the Bible
When I learned this, I was both surprised and not-so-surprised. I was surprised because (as I stated before) I figured it would be one of those books more well-known for being boring or stuffy.
At the same time, I wasn’t surprised. Plenty of Christians have never even heard of Obadiah. Even Jesus, who loved quoting Old Testament books, doesn’t ever give a nod to Obadiah.
He’s pretty obscure. So obscure, I grabbed* the nearest pair of nonprescription specs just to make this meme.
And for those of you wondering why it’s not Leviticus, consider a few things:
- There are people who love Leviticus, and read it lots.
- It’s one of the few books of the Bible that directly references male–male sex (Lev 18:22, 20:13)—a topic plenty of Christians have plenty to say about.
- Jon Acuff brings it up from time to time, and that guy’s pretty popular.
So Leviticus is getting plenty of attention, but not Obadiah. In fact, Obadiah doesn’t even get a lot of attention in some of my favorite Bible reference books.
Let’s explore why Obadiah gets no love.
*And by “grabbed,” I mean, “pulled out my craft kit and forged.”
Why is Obadiah the least popular book of the Bible?
I think there are a lot of understandable reasons Obadiah doesn’t get much attention, and I’d like to explore them with you. Before we get into this, you should know that I happen to really like the book. It was a fun one to overview, and although it’s not a super popular piece of Scripture, it’s Scripture nonetheless.
#1: Obadiah is short
It’s the fourth-shortest book of the Bible (go ahead, check out all the shortest books), and it might not even take up a whole page in your print Bible. It’s only one chapter long, which means there just isn’t as much to draw from.
With other books in the same prophetic genre, you have plenty of material, and a higher chance of content that really resonates with people. By “resonates,” I mean, “seems like the kind of stuff you should use as a life verse.”
For example, Jeremiah covers almost all the content Obadiah does. But he also covers a lot more, including verses about potters and clay, or that one about God having plans for Israel’s future (Je 29:11).
Plus, Obadiah is so brief that if you’ll probably miss it if you’re not looking for it (like all those clever Easter eggs in the Pixar movies).
#2 Obadiah’s context is a little messy
God is pretty much telling off the little Middle-Eastern nation of Edom. When the kingdom of Judah was attacked, the Edomites didn’t bother to help them out. In fact, they helped Judah’s enemies instead (Ob 8:10).
Hold up. Who’s Edom?
Remember Jacob and Esau, way back in Genesis? Long story short, Jacob schemed Esau out of their father’s blessing. Esau and Jacob eventually kissed (Gn 33:4) and made up, and then went on to have great big families of their own.
Jacob’s family became Israel (which includes Judah). Esau’s family became Edom, a nation just south of Israel (Gn 36:8).
And why is Edom in such big trouble?
As far as God is concerned, Edom should have shown more support of their kin. After all, God had commanded that Israel treat Edom as family (Dt 23:7–8).
Is there more to this story?
Yup. It’s not like these countries had been pals and Edom just said, “You know what, Judah? We’re gonna sit this one out for now.” They had a colorful, not-too-friendly history.
Edom was a jerk to Israel when they were wandering in the wilderness(Num 20:20–21). Later, Israel pretty much took over Edom and made them a vassal territory. You can read the whole story here. Suffice it to say these nations have had their squabbles.
And then God comes in and takes Judah’s side, which leads to the next reason people might not like reading Obadiah.
#3 God gets riled
Judah is part of God’s special people: a people called by His name. Edom’s behavior is not OK with God, and He gets mad.
And the things God says when He’s angry just don’t give us the warm fuzzies that some of the Psalms or lines from Jesus do. For example:
“Behold, I will make you small among the nations […]. I will bring you down,” declares the LORD.” (Ob 4, 6)
Or how about this?
“Will I not on that day,” declares the LORD, “destroy wise men from Edom and understanding from the mountain of Esau? Then your mighty men will be dismayed, O Teman, so that everyone may be cut off from the mountain of Esau by slaughter. Because of violence to your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame, and you will be cut off forever.” (Ob 8–10)
“But the house of Esau will be as stubble.
And they will set them on fire and consume them,
So that there will be no survivor of the house of Esau.” (Ob 18)
I believe God is just in His judgment and consistent in His character, but I understand why pastors might not bring up Obadiah in their sermons very often. It would take a good bit of time to explain why a loving God would say these things.
#4 It’s already in the part of the Bible most people don’t read
It’s one of the Minor Prophets tucked at the back of the Old Testament, and the only really well-known story from that collection is Jonah.
Seriously: the Minor Prophets are the least-read of the Bible’s major sections. Of the 10 least-read books of the Bible, six are Minor Prophets. That’s probably because there isn’t very much narrative in these 12 books.
That, or your pastor just doesn’t bring them up because they’re tough to pronounce.
#5 Application isn’t easy
The books of Matthew, Romans, and Psalms have plenty of material that can be readily applied to our daily lives. Beloved lines like:
- “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.” (Mt 5:9)
- “And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” (Ro 8:28)
- “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.” (Ps 23)
But Obadiah chiefly dwells on a message of coming judgment for a specific country (Edom) because of their specific actions (siding against Judah) at a specific time (probably Nebuchadnezzar’s siege of Jerusalem). It’s not as easy to pull personal takeaways from Obadiah in devotionals and sermons.
But there are plenty of good reasons to read Obadiah anyway
Sure, there are a lot of factors at play that make Obadiah a lot less popular than other books of the Bible. Still: it’s the inspired word of God, and I can think of a few reasons I enjoy reading and studying it.
#1 God looks out for His own
God disciplines His people, but He still comes to their defense. Consider this: the book of Obadiah is written about the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem. That’s an event that God brought about for Judah’s punishment!
Even when He’s punishing them, God has Judah’s back. This is the God we serve: a God who is steadfast and faithful to His promises and His people.
#2 God is bringing about His kingdom on earth
The language of Obadiah isn’t just God going off on a tirade against Edom. This isn’t the Lord saying “GOD SMASH” like a green Marvel Avenger**. This is kingdom language.
The day of the Lord draws near on all the nations (Ob 15). The book of Obadiah ends with a statement: “the kingdom will be the Lord’s” (Ob 21). God is bringing about a new kingdom—a righteous, holy kingdom.
**The Lord may be our banner (Ex 17:15), but He’s not our Bruce Banner.
#3 It’s short
If you’ve made it this far in this blog post, you’ve covered more than double the length of Obadiah. It’s a three-minute read, tops.
Why not give it a look?
#4–9 Prof. David Murray has even more reasons to enjoy Obadiah
You can check out David Murray’s reasons to study the least popular book of the Bible here.
Seriously: Obadiah’s a pretty cool book.
You should check it out.
And if you really like it, maybe we can all get together and be Old Testament hipster Christians together. We could meet in an underground coffee shop, listen to bands that totally don’t sound the same, talk about tattoos, and read passages from Obadiah.
Plus, if liking Obadiah ever becomes mainstream, we’ll all be able to say we liked it before it was cool. Then we can totally wear these T-shirts.
Source: isn’t it obvious? BibleGateway.com!
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In regards to the New Testament, 2 and 3 John are probably the equivalent – addressed to a single person (not a church), also short one-chaptered books, and pretty empty as to unique doctrine.
Honorary mention to Philemon, which some may not favor as highly because it’s the “slavery promotion” book of the BIble.
I just looked in the both the complete daily lectionary readings for Catholic mass and every single Biblical reading in the Liturgy of the Hours, including the mini-canticles. Every book of the Bible has at least one mention in the Catholic liturgy except for one…yep, Obadiah. In fairness, Obadiah’s prophecy was 100% fulfilled, and the price of 100% success in prophecy is that you tend to get forgotten. Personally, I have read Obadiah numerous times because I’m fascinated by the obscurity of the Bible’s shortest books.
Thanks, Tim! I really like Obadiah, too, Tim. That’s interesting that only Obadiah isn’t mentioned in those lectionaries.
“The price of 100% success in prophecy is that you tend to get forgotten.” I smiled when I read that (well, still smiling now). I think the lack of overt Messianic references probably makes it less frequented, too. (Though I think one could argue that v21 has yet to be completely fulfilled: there’s plenty of room for the kingdom to be the Lord’s.)
Yep, you’re right about verse 21. It’s a profound verse, so brief yet so full of hope and expectation.
I preached this book before it was cool:
Thanks for this really interesting post. I totally would have guessed Leviticus, but on reflection it makes much more sense that one of the minor prophets would be the least-read book. Time to go back and re-read Obadiah! I’ll be linking this post on my next week’s “Really Recommended Posts.”
Any time—glad you enjoyed it. And thanks for the link!
What an awesome article and website! Great work. Such a blessing to the church.
Thanks, Cameron—glad you enjoy it!
May I humbly invite readers to investigate the study notes to Obadiah in the Gospel Transformation Study Bible? As the contributor of those notes and as a teacher committed to a Christ-centered interpretation of scripture, the results are not too bad.
I loved this blog! Thanks for sharing!
For the love of God,
Thanks, Tim—glad you enjoy it!
Good one! In Logos Bible Software’s stats, Nahum just slightly edges Obadiah out for least studied book, probably for the same reasons. I wrote a Bible Study Magazine article (biblestudymagazine.com) on that a couple of issues back. Paul tells us in Romans 11:22 to “consider the kindness and sternness of God” and the Minor Prophets are a great place to do that.
Thanks, Eli! I remember Nahum coming up in one of Logos’ blog posts last year as the least popular. Nahum is the second least-read book by BibleGateway’s standards. These guys should start a club. =)