[Note: This message was written, with only very minor edits, long before the unpleasant events of the past week, which made the following commentary about Arab perfidity and the continual violence against Israel and the people of God a bit more topical than had originally been intended.]
There are at least two people in the Bible named Obadiah. In my last message, we met a godly Obadiah who was a steward for the wicked King Ahab. Today we will talk about a different Obadiah, a prophet who lived in the period after the destruction of Jerusalem, and who prophesied destruction on the people of Edom, who were descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob. The book of Obadiah is both one of the shortest books of the Bible and also one of the most obscure. Today, however, I would like to examine this often neglected book of the Bible and show the way in which it shows two sides of God’s personality, both His kindness and His justice, as we reflect on the difference of what God’s judgment means to the godly and the ungodly.
The Context Of Obadiah
Obadiah was written in the aftermath of the destruction of Jerusalem in 587BC, where the nation of Edom had joined with the Babylonian Empire in refusing safety to refugees who were trying to escape from the Babylonian army. In response to the hostility of Edom to the people of Judah, the prophet Obadiah (about whom we know nothing) was given this oracle from God to pronounce judgment upon the nation of Edom. This short book is one of the most obscure and neglected parts of scripture, and yet it has an important fact to tell us about the reality of God’s judgment, especially as it relates to the return of Jesus Christ. The people of God look forward to the return of Jesus Christ as a sign of restoration and grace, but those who are enemies of God and God’s people have the fearful expectation of divine judgment.
We normally think of the Bible as being written to Jews and Israelites, but the people of Edom were a Gentile people. Why did God write to them? The people of Edom were descended from Esau, the older twin brother of Jacob, the father of the Israelites. God chose Jacob, changed his name to Israel, and rejected Esau. Let us read about this choice in Malachi 1:2-5. Malachi 1:2-5 shows the fulfillment of the prophecy of Obadiah, and also comments on why it was written for our sakes. It reads: “”I have loved you,” says the Lord. Yet you say, ‘In what way have You loved us?’ Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” Says the Lord, “Yet Jacob I have loved; but Esau I have hated, and laid waste his mountains and his heritage for the jackals of the wilderness.” Even thou Edom has said, “We have been impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places,” Thus says the Lord God of hosts: “They may build, but I will throw down; they shall be called the Territory of Wickedness, and the people against whom the Lord will have indignation forever. Your eyes shall see, and you shall say, ‘The Lord is magnified beyond the border of Israel.’” As we see, one of the main reasons that Obadiah was written is that God will be praised and worshiped and feared beyond the borders of Israel. God is the Lord and Creator of all the universe, and He is not only concerned with the people of Israel. And God chooses those whom He calls for His own purposes—just as He had chosen Jacob and rejected Esau. The prophecy given to Obadiah came true—God was faithful to His word.
Coming Judgment On Edom
Next, let us look at the judgment that God promised in Obadiah on Edom. We read this unpleasant judgment in Obadiah :1-9. Obadiah :1-9 read as follows: “The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom (We have heard a report from the Lord, and a messenger has been sent among the nations, saying, “Arise, and let us rise up against her for battle”): “Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be greatly despised. The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; you who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ Though you ascend as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest above the stars, From there I will bring you down,” says the Lord. If thieves had come to you, if robbers by night—oh, how you will be cut off!—would they not have stolen till they had enough? If grape-gatherers had come to you, would they not have left some gleanings? Oh, how Esau shall be searched out! How his hidden treasures shall be sought after! All the men in your confederacy shall force you to the border; the men at peace with you shall deceive you and prevail against you. Those who eat your bread shall lay a trap for you. No one is aware of it. “Will I not in that day,” says the Lord, “Even destroy the wise men from Edom, and understanding from the mountains of Esau? Then your mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that everyone from the mountains of Esau may be cut off by slaughter.”
This is a grim picture. God promises Edom that their little mountain kingdom in what is now Jordan would be completely destroyed and looted without anything being left behind, a barren land where everyone would be cut off and slaughtered, and the survivors driven into exile and thrown out of their homeland. And this is exactly what happened. By the time around 450BC, the Arabs, with their capital in Petra, and former allies of the Edomites, had taken over Edom’s territory by treachery, destroyed their main cities of Bozrah and Teman, which remain uninhabited ruins to this day, and had driven the Edomites to the desert lands south of Judah, were they became known as Iduemans. And even though Edomites like Herod the Great and his family would try to revive the fortunes of the Edomites, their kingdom would not endure and the Romans eventually destroyed their rule once and for all. Obadiah’s prophecy to the people of Edom was fulfilled exactly as he wrote it. And Edom’s reputation for wisdom that it had gained from the time of Job would fail it in its hour of greatest need, because its people were not obedient to God. Sadly, they did not repent and avoid their promised fate.
For Three Transgressions And For Four
What was Edom’s offense that led to judgment from God? God does not punish without there being something wrong, either for individuals or for nations, and God is merciful with us, patient and longsuffering, hoping that we will repent, and only judging when that repentance has not been forthcoming for a long time. Let us examine three of the sins of the nation of Edom against the people of Israel to see that their judgment from God was just, and that other nations who behave the same way that they did will be judged similarly by God for their sins.
Let us first look at the offense for which God charged them in Obadiah :10-16. Obadiah :10-16 reads: “For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. In the day that you stood on the other side—in the day that strangers carried captive his forces, when foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem—even you were as one of them. But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother in the day of his captivity; nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; nor should you have spoken proudly in the day of distress. You should not have entered the gate of My people in the day of their calamity. Indeed, you should not have gazed on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity. You should not have stood at the crossroads to cut off those among them who escaped; nor should you have delivered up among them who remained in the day of distress. For the day of the Lord upon all the nations is near; as you have done, it shall be done to you; your reprisal shall return upon your own head. For as you drank on My holy mountain, so shall all the nations drink continually; yes, they shall drink, and swallow, and it shall be as though they had never been.”
What this passage describes is an Edom that opportunistically joins with Babylon to help loot Judah in its moment of judgment, to deny sanctuary to refugees, and to glory in the destruction and punishment of a wicked Judah, without knowing that their own sins were just as severe and that they too deserved judgment. Rather than seeing the judgment of others as a reminder of their own state before God, they thought nothing about their own evils and instead heaped scorn and abuse in pride and arrogance against their longtime enemies and cousins. They should have instead repented in sackcloth and ashes, seeing that God’s judgment on His own people is merely the first step in the judgment of the whole world. Judgment begins at the house of God, and then it goes everywhere else.
But Obadiah’s judgment was not the only one against Edom. Far from it. Let us look at Amos’ earlier judgment that showed a similar pattern of behavior to what Edom did during the time of Jerusalem’s fall. We read of this previous judgment in Amos 1:11-12. Amos 1:11-12 reads: “Thus says the Lord: “For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because he pursued hits brother with the sword, and cast off all pity; his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever. But I will send a fire upon Teman, which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah.” God had promised Edom’s destruction over 150 years before Obadiah because of Edom’s continual anger against Israel. Edom never forgave Israel for stealing the birthright that God had promised to Jacob in the first place, many hundreds of years before, and kept a grudge over centuries like the grudge between Thailand and Burma.
Because Edom would not forgive, God would not forgive Edom either.
The bad blood between Edom and Israel went back a long way. All the way back in time of Moses, almost a thousand years before the time of Obadiah, we find that Edom was already hostile toward Israel. We see this in Numbers 20:18-21. When Israel was marching toward the promised land, they wanted to enter Edom and pass along the highway that ran through that nation. Here was Edom’s reply, in Numbers 20:18-21: “Then Edom said to him, “You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.” So the children of Israel said to him, “We will go by the Highway, and if I or my livestock drink any of your water, then I will pay for it; let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.” Then he said, “You shall not pass through.” So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory; so Israel turned away from him.” Here we see that even in the time of Moses, the people of Edom refused to show proper hospitality to Israel during their wilderness travels by giving them transit visas and allowing them to buy some snacks on the way. The consistent attitude of Edom toward Israel and Judah was sullen hostility, and for this long record of hostility against the people of God across many hundreds of years, God gave a well-deserved judgment against Edom.
So Much For My Happy Ending
However, like most good books, the book of Obadiah has a happy ending that we can learn a great deal from, in Obadiah :17-21. Obadiah :17-21 reads: “But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau shall be stubble; they shall kindle them and devour them, and no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau,” for the Lord has spoken. The Negev shall possess the mountains of Esau, and the lowland shall possess Philistia. They shall possess the fields of Ephraim and the fields of Samaria. Benjamin shall possess Gilead, and the captives of this host of the children of Israel shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as Zerephath. The captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the Negev. Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”
Here we see that in a book mostly about judgment that Obadiah closes by contrasting the fate of the righteous remnant of Israel’s people with that of wicked Edom. While God’s people are judged now for our sins, those who believe in God and are faithful will eventually be restored to land and prosperity, while those who reject God’s ways will be judged. Those who believe in God, no matter how difficult times are, will be rewarded in the end while we look forward to the return of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, while those who mock and rebel against God have only the fearful expectation of judgment. Do we look forward to the return of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, or do we fear His judgment and wrath because of our wickedness and unbelief? The return of Jesus Christ can either be something we greatly fear, or long for. The choice is ours: life or death, blessing or cursing. Everyone must choose for themselves, and live with the consequences, as Edom chose the way of hatred for God’s people and wound up with biblical judgment.
Let us therefore conclude. The book of Obadiah is a small book of the Bible, seldom read and easy to forget. Few people these days know or care about the nation of Edom or its history or its many hundreds of years of hostility against the people of Israel. In the grand scheme of God’s plan for humanity, the place of the book of Obadiah is a small and modest one. But that modest place is still important and can teach us several lessons. Let us review them. First, God’s plan covers all of humanity and not only the people of Israel. Just because a nation is not part of Israel does not mean that God is any less the ultimate Ruler of that nation. Even a nation that has no covenant relationship with God is responsible for obedience to God’s clearly expressed moral standards or it will face the consequences. In addition, persistent hostility to God’s people will lead to God’s judgment. Hatred and disrespect of God’s people is hatred and disrespect of God Himself. How we treat ambassadors is how we treat that nation. Finally, whether we receive judgment or blessings from God at the return of Jesus Christ depends on the choices we make. If we choose to follow God and obey Him, we will be blessed accordingly. If we choose to reject God and hate His people, we will receive the appropriate judgment for our wickedness. The choice is ours. Let us choose life, so that we and our descendents may live.