Hardly anyone reads Obadiah. Market research shows that it is the second least read book in the Bible. There are treasures, which are hidden away in the Old Testament. The Book contains a message, which is not only relevant to everyday life but one, which a man cannot afford to live without in the present day. God addresses Edom but the message is really for His own people. It is common in the Bible to refer to kingdoms by a dominant mountain within them. Mount Esau refers to Edom and Mount Zion refers to Israel.
So many Old Testament prophets are fairly obscure. Absolutely nothing is known about Obadiah. It was not the man who was important but the message, which he bore from the Lord. There was nothing in the man to detract from the message. The name Obadiah means “servant of the Lord”, which is very fitting.
The message is simple enough. It speaks about the Edomite or Idumean people who were the perpetual enemies of Israel. It tells of their character, what they did and their downfall and it is significant for all peoples and for individuals. The Edomites are depicted as a proud, bitter, resentful people, ever seeking an opportunity to harm Jacob’s descendants. Pride often leads to boasting. They enjoyed a golden age as a people during the time the Children of Israel were in bondage in Egypt. Thereafter Israel and Edom were continually at war. The prophecy was that the Edomites would be humiliated by neighbouring nations with whom they had entered into agreements and eventually wiped out. Their pride and false sense of security had misled them into complacency. Their pride came before a fall and their judgement was total. Nothing would be left. Edom would never rise again as a nation and they never did.
The prophecy speaks of five specific crimes committed by the Edomites.
1. They committed violence against Israel. The Hebrew word for violence is Hamas. It often arises out of hatred and extreme wickedness.
2. They refused to help their neighbours when they needed help. They looked with indifference and pleasure at the suffering of the Jewish people.
3. They rejoiced at Israel’s misfortune and jeered at them. They gloated and rejoiced and then mocked and boasted
4. They took a share in the looting. The passage of enemies through the gate of the city signifies a city’s loss of self-rule.
5. Worst of all they hunted the fugitives from Israel and handed them over to their enemy. The Edomites intended that there should be no survivors amongst the Jewish people.
There is evidence of a consistent and determined policy of harassment towards Israel. The Edomites had set their face against the people who were chosen by God. There is a clear progression from an internal attitude to external conduct. Sin proceeds by degrees.
How did this begin? People in the Middle East are known for their long memories. History to them is a part of daily life. The people of Edom were the descendants of Esau. Gen ch 25 v 23. While Rebecca had the twins Esau and Jacob in her womb the Lord spoke to her and said: “Two nations are within you. You will give birth to two rival peoples. One will be the stronger. The older will serve the younger.” The first out was the hairy one called Esau. Then Jacob was born, holding on to the heel of Esau. As the first born Esau had the claim to all the rights and privileges yet he sold his birthright to Jacob for some porridge one day when he was hungry. Esau was a man who liked hunting, shooting and fishing but was not much interested in the more important aspects of life, particularly spiritual matters. He was a rampant materialist. Later he married three local girls from Canaan, one of whom was a cousin, a daughter of Ishmael, who were not related to his father’s family and he failed to secure his father’s blessing just prior to his father’s death. Esau was careless, motivated by animal appetites and was revengeful after the blessings, which had been stolen by Jacob. There are certain things in life, which are important, e.g. the family, honouring parents, traditions and accepting responsibilities as parents and children, leadership etc. Esau was not much interested in these things. He was an action man. However, he lived to regret the blessings, which Jacob received in his stead.
Many today throw away their opportunity of eternal life because they love their car, their career or their hobby, going out for a meal or their holiday. God always comes last. Esau’s descendants were like that. Esau went away from the family’s land in Canaan to live in Edom, which is the mountainous region to the south east of the Dead Sea. Petra was the capital city. Esau is a representative of the carnal, pagan man, who has little interest in spiritual matters and has chosen to abandon the revealed ways of God and the hope of glory in favour of things, which are immediate rather than of eternal value. He is proud of strength and seeks to live without depending on the grace of God. He is seen in Islam, which has rejected the Word of God and the Son of God and is proud of its strength. He stands in contrast to Jacob, who struggled to get a hold of God and despite his sinful ways is the representative of the spiritual man, who inherited the promises of God.
Genesis ch 36 lists all the tribes of the Edomites. One of the clans was the Amalekites. Haman, the Prime Minister of Persia in the story of Esther, was an Amalekite. In Edom Esau nourished a hatred for Jacob, because of the stolen birthright. Although Jacob had stolen it, Esau had been careless in the first place. Otherwise it need not have happened. So Esau transferred his guilt to Jacob and blamed Jacob for his own shortcomings. The technical name for this in psychiatry is “transference of guilt.” A man is always prone to blame others for his own failings. Many even blame God for the problems, which they have brought upon themselves. When Esau asked his father for a blessing, Isaac had told him that he would live in a barren land and that he would serve his brother Jacob, living by the sword. So it was that Esau lived in the barren land of Edom. Gen ch 27 v 39f. Edom was famous for its wise men. It was located on major trade routes and had access to sophisticated ways of thinking.
Esau’s descendants are called the Edomites and they appear in Num ch 20 v 14-21. During the 400 years the Children of Israel had been in Egypt things had gone very well for the Edomites. Four times in their history they were called upon to help their cousins the Israelites and each time they not only refused but they went out of their way to make it difficult for them.
The first time was when the Children of Israel were being led by the Lord to the Promised Land from Egypt and they had to pass through the land of the Edomites. Num ch 20 v 21. Moses sent messengers to the then King of Edom. They reminded the King of the past relationship, of the hardship in Egypt and the fact that it was God who helped them in their hour of need. They asked for permission to go through the land up what was known as the King’s Highway. The King refused point blank! In fact the King threatened to march against them if they tried. He made them go the long way round. For centuries Esau’s descendants had been harbouring a grudge and were waiting for a chance to get their own back on Jacob’s people. It would not have hurt them to let the Israelites through. It would have cost them nothing. They delighted in making it difficult for them. They are the second recorded instance of anti-semitism, after Egypt. Later God asked the Israelites to forgive them. Deut ch 23 v 7. They were still blood relatives. The book of Obadiah is about the particular wickedness of those who have been privileged by their closeness to the people of God and who should have known better than to persecute those people. The arrogant, self-reliant pride of the Edomites constituted a challenge to God. God will bring down those who set themselves up in pride. Hurting God’s people is a very dangerous thing to do.
But there was no lasting peace between the two peoples. Saul had occasion to fight against them. 1 Sam ch 14 v 47. Later as David established the Kingdom of Israel he conquered the Edomites and set up military camps throughout Edom. The people became his subjects. As the Empire of Israel reached its zenith Solomon established a naval base at Elion Geber on the shore of the Gulf of Aqaba in the south of Edom. There was an important trade route from there to Israel. Solomon also built an iron ore smelter there so he brought industry and trade to the region. Later on the land of Edom was ruled by a deputy appointed by the King of Judah, like a province, but the Edomites were always complaining about home rule and that all the important decisions were made in Jerusalem. They wanted an Assembly in their capital Petra. Petra is the rock fortress situated in South Jordan today.
From time to time the Edomites revolted against rule by Israel and appointed their own King. Then Israel would send in the troops to take control of the occupied territories again and quash the rebellion. 2 Kings ch 8 v 20-22. But the Edomites were always aware of the past, nurturing revenge and looking for an opportunity to hit back. 2 Chr ch 28 v 17. Their secret ambition was to see Jerusalem razed to the ground. Psalm 137 v 7. Several times God’s prophets denounced Edom. Isaiah said in ch 34 v 5-14: “I have doomed the people of Edom.” God warned those who were against Israel. Isaiah ch 63 v 1-6. Edom came within this category. God knew their hearts. Even when forced to co-operate they still sought revenge. Lam ch 4 v 21-22.
The prophets spoke out of a time of judgement coming on Edom.
Jeremiah prophesied against Edom. Jer ch 49 v 7f. “Edom shall become a horror – everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of its disasters. No man shall live there.”
Joel said: “Edom shall become a desolate wilderness for the violence done to the people of Judah but Judah shall be inherited for ever.” Joel ch 3 v 19f.
Ezekiel ch 25 v 12-14. “Because Edom acted revengefully against the House of Judah and has grievously offended in taking vengeance upon them, therefore I shall stretch out my hand against Edom and I shall make it desolate. And I shall lay my vengeance upon Edom by the hand of my People Israel.”
Malachi said of Edom: “If Edom says: ‘We are shattered but we will rebuild the ruins’ the Lord of Hosts says ‘They may build but I shall tear down, till they are called the wicked country, the people with whom the Lord is angry for ever.’ ”
Amos ch 1 v 11 makes it abundantly clear that the Lord’s wrath against Edom was because of her persistent harassment of Israel. Edom had no mercy towards Israel. Whatever Israel’s failings were, they were the people chosen by God and the Edomites knew that. Several times they made life difficult for Israel when life was difficult enough already. Instead of rejoicing that God had rescued them from Egypt and helping them on their way, they had added to the difficulty of the journey.
Four times in a period of 300 years beginning in the ninth century the people of Edom plundered or participated in plundering Jerusalem, i.e. they kicked the Israelites when they were down. Looting is a particularly nasty crime. It is worse than stealing. It is waiting to steal when the party is defenceless – just at a time when the person needs help. Edom’s insensitivity was made worse by the fact that they were the kinsmen of Israel and as such Israel could have expected them to come to their aid. They were the next-door neighbours to whom Israel ought to have been able to look for support. Psalm 41 v 9. The Lord says: “He who touches Israel touches the apple of my eye.” Zech ch 2 v 8. They gloated when Israel fell from grace.
The various prophecies said that the people of Edom would disappear as a distinct people. They did, around the first century A. D. Although the Edomites had been Judaised they never forgot their hatred of the Jews. These people trusted in themselves and not in God. Their allies let them down in the end. It was Arab people – the Nabateans – who finally attacked them and forced them out into the Negev in 105 A. D. There the Maccabees fought with them and gradually the land of Edom disappeared off the map.
Herod the Great, who killed his own three sons and tried to kill the baby Jesus, was an Edomite. Herod and his sons joined the outsiders in condemning and humiliating Jesus. Jesus suffered violence from the very people who should have recognised Him as God’s Son. The Jewish leaders stood by and watched with pleasure as Jesus was humiliated. They mocked, gloated and boasted over God’s Son as the soldiers stripped Him and robed Him in emperor’s clothes. The crowds, the authorities, the priests and those crucified with Jesus all took part in the humiliating mockery of that day.
The Edomites made several mistakes:
1. They never accepted that God chose Jacob and not Esau. Although God blessed Esau also it was never good enough. He had been careless but wanted the full blessing without the full commitment to God. Jealousy was at the root of the problem.
2. They trusted in themselves and not in God.
3. They ignored the Word of God consistently. They knew of God’s judgement yet chose to reject the warning. The same principle applies to all nations and people. The people laughed at Noah.
4. Love your brother. Cain said: “Am I my brother’s keeper?” Yes! Man judges himself by his treatment of others for he knows how he likes to be treated by others. He longs to be forgiven, if he has offended or made a mistake. He hates lies or gossip about him but he gossips about others and destroy their characters. So he heaps judgement on himself. Edom gloated over the fall of Jerusalem. Does a man weep when others are in trouble or does he gloat? “It serves them right.” Does he resent the happiness of others? Is he indifferent to the pain of others? Is he contributing the pain of his neighbour?
5. Revenge is not a man’s business. It belongs to God. He will deal with those who reject Him and His people.
What foul sort of animal is a human being who does not want the well-being of his neighbour but is indifferent to, pleased by or even adds to the distress of his neighbour? Twelve destroyers have their home in the hearts of men:
7 deadly sins – pride, coveteousness, lust, envy, gluttony, rage and sloth.
3 false reactions – fear, guilt and anger.
2 basic evils – boredom and malice.
From these proceed all forms and degrees of lovelessness, all failure to live the way of the Lord Jesus Christ as described in 1 Cor ch 13 v 4-7. Suddenly the words of Titus ch 3 v 3 no longer seem overstated: ‘For we ourselves were once foolish, disobedient, led astray, slaves to various passions and pleasures, passing our days in malice and envy, hated by others and hating one another.’ This is life as an Edomite, life as a sinner. It is mean and squalid and hateful.
And now the beauty of a life of real love is all the more attractive.
What if there was someone who lived the opposite of Obadiah v 10-14?
What if there was someone who was not indifferent to the distress of others but who really cared? What if He gave himself to deal with that distress?
What if there were someone who did not just stand there watching but came to the place of sin and suffering and wept, who went to the place of wickedness and condemnation and died?
That would be amazing.
What if there was someone who took upon Himself the crushing, cursing punishment each man’s filth deserves?
One who knew none of this sin but was made this sin for him, who bore the wrath man calls down on himself by living this way? Who embodied and enacted 1 Cor ch 13 v 4-7, who was patient and kind, who did not envy or boast, who was not arrogant or rude and who did not insist on His own way? Someone who was not irritable or resentful, did not rejoice at wrongdoing but rejoiced with the truth, who bore all things, believed all things, hoped all things and endured all things?
That would be no Edomite false brother, that would be a Saviour true brother.
And what if His resurrection life were strong enough by the power of the Spirit to change man, to rid him of the unloving selfishness by which he has lived and to plant his own love inside the man to work itself out in lives of self-forgetful service to others and to continue to grow every day of his life?
If there were such a one, men would love Him. They would throw themselves on Him for mercy and give themselves to Him for the rest of their lives. They would spend their lives under His authority and for all eternity praise Him. There is such a one. His name is Jesus. Consideration of the sins of the Edomites in Obadiah v10-14 has brought me to the feet of Jesus.
How does the message of Obadiah apply today? A man will be judged by the degree of concern for his neighbour. The only way to be rid of an enemy is to make that person a friend. While man was yet a sinner Christ died for him. So all men will be judged by their response to the love of God, which they experience. The message hammered out on the anvil of the history of says that, if a man sets his face against God and His People, destruction will be his lot. The result of un-repented sin is to be totally cast out of the presence of God.
Judgement is not a popular message today. People ask accusingly: “How could a loving God allow a child to die?” God knows about suffering since He allowed His own dear Son to die the worst death imaginable for sins that were not His. Man knows a lot about judgement as he spends his life passing judgement on others. God will judge each man for everything he has done in his body. Like a good teacher God hammers home this message and no more forcibly than in the Book of Obadiah. God is patient and long suffering but there is a limit to His patience. The Edomites simply ran out of time and opportunities. They knew that what they did was wrong but for centuries they would not acknowledge their sin, and in the end they were wiped out as a people. So it is for each individual and each nation before God. The first time Jesus came to save. The next time He will come to judge. Jesus speaks more about Hell than any other person in the Bible.
Jesus knew of the day to come and the urgency of the situation. It is not a day He is looking forward to with much satisfaction but it has to be done. Millions of people whom He has created have mocked and ignored Him and He will have no alternative but to consign them to Hell. His Word says so and He is bound to act accordingly. Many play a game of blind man’s buff. They pretend that they cannot see God and that He cannot see them. But when the buff is removed all will be revealed.
Why is Obadiah so lacking in popularity? It is not that it is a long book. In fact it is one of the shortest. It is not that its message is too complicated. There are no visions or difficult doctrines. It is because the message is not one man likes to hear. Judgement. Believers and non-believers put forward all sorts of excuses to explain away their poor response to the Word of God. God looks to His People to serve Him and accomplish His purposes. Those who have been saved are the only ones to fully appreciate the danger which others are in. If the Church stops working – the show is over. But the believers suffer too. They are caught up in a Godless society and the consequences. Judgement is for believers too. The command to “love your neighbour”, which Jesus gave was hardly new. It is simply a repeat of Leviticus ch 19 v 18. But then the Old Testament was Jesus’ Bible. So when He said in the Sermon on the Mount: “So whatever you wish that a man would do for you, do so to him” He was only repeating what His Father had already said centuries ago. There is no need to apologise for repeating the warning – all men will be judged for what they do in their bodies. Most people in the World are living as if there is no tomorrow – let alone a day of judgement.
Obadiah saw the judgement of the Lord on Edom. Believers see the judgement of the Lord on the unsaved. Most people have no fear of what God has said He will do. No one will have an excuse on Judgement Day. Paul put it so simply in Rom ch 1 v 28: “Although they knew God they did not honour Him as God or give Him thanks but became futile in their thinking and their senseless minds were darkened. They exchanged the truth about God for a lie.” How does the message of Obadiah apply personally? Scripture is not to be studied as an academic exercise but as a life changing experience. There are four important lessons to be learned from Obadiah.
1. It is helpful to see the consequences of those who resist the grace of God. There really will be a separation of the sheep and the goats. Judgement will come. Wait for it. Do not be discouraged by the success of the neighbours who live ungodly lives. It reinforces the principle that rejection of God’s ways brings punishment and that there is a limit to God’s patience.
2. It is the reverse side of the coin. On the one side is the Gospel as Jesus taught – “do unto others as you would that they do to you.” On the other side – “As it is done by you to others so it will be done to you by others.” v 15. Some may suggest that it does not matter how a man behaves towards others. Remember the message of the Edomites. It does not pay in the end. If a man is mean to others, the time will come when others are mean to him, because that is how they have perceived him acting in similar situations and they will give him a dose of his own medicine, with a “it serves him right” attitude. Natural man does not do good to his enemies and thinks that the idea is nonsense. He pays back like for like – plus extra.
3. This Book highlights one of the ways of the World. All men tend to assume that others think as they do. This is not so. It is hard to imagine that someone is plotting to harm a man, if that man chooses to forgive his enemy. Most people operate on the basis that they will do to others as they would expect them to do to them. They expect no favours or forgiveness so they show none to others. The result is that relationships break down and reputations fall apart. Trust goes out of the window.
4. The second century Church and the modern Church have replaced its Jewish birthright for a bowl of Greek philosophical pottage and in doing so lost its true understanding of the Scriptures and of the Jewish Messiah. Without drawing on the Jewish roots of Christianity, the Church is open to false teaching and eventually to anti-semitism. A Church severed from its roots will eventually die.
As Obadiah contemplated the events of history concerning these people the Spirit of the Lord fell upon him and he saw what he had not seen before. v 15. As it was done by the Edomites, so it would be done to them. They showed no mercy and would receive none for themselves. They would receive just what they deserved. Just as God can make “some-things” out of nothings, He can make nothings out of “some-things.” The grace and patience of God has its limitations and the Edomites would one day be wiped out in the fullness of time. The principle is established: All the nations will be judged by God in light of the revelation of Himself through Israel and her Messiah. All those who aligned themselves with Edom in its sin will be aligned with Edom in its punishment. So Obadiah in just 21 verses, written 2,600 years ago, has such a lot to teach a man today, if he has a mind to learn the lessons.