It’s human nature to enjoy it when those who have wronged us get what’s coming to them. As a kid, it was fun gloating when your brother or sister got into trouble for annoying you.
And particularly in Australia it extends to sporting teams: I still enjoy watching anytime the Canterbury Bulldogs get beaten, because I still haven’t forgiven them for their 1 point win over the St. George Dragons in the 1985 Grand Final.
In fact, in families, sport, and international politics, the rivalry gets more intense with those who live close by: brother v sister, St. George v Canterbury, Australia v New Zealand, Israel v Edom…
Israel and Edom? You haven’t heard of that local derby? Well today we’re looking at the shortest book of the OT – Obadiah. It contains one prophetic vision against Edom – Israel’s next-door neighbour. Israel’s “New Zealand.” (Or “Canada,” for U.S. readers.)
And boy did they hate them. Now, admittedly Edom did more to Israel than just win a few too many rugby tests: at some point they went back on a peace treaty andinvaded them. You could never see New Zealand doing that to us. It’s hard to without an air force.
But in Obadiah we have a pronouncement of God’s judgement on the nation of Edom, for how they have treated God’s people Israel. Now don’t you think, if you lived in Israel and heard this message, it would be tempting to feel a little smug? To gloat a bit? To enjoy this turn-up for the books – after all these years, Edom’s finally getting what it deserves!
Part of the reason this prophecy made it into the bible is as an encouragement to Israel. God hasn’t forgotten her. Those who have done bad to her will ultimately be called to account. Those who are God’s people, in the face of persecution, will be vindicated. Since the people of Israel are the ones who collected all the books of the OT, it makes sense they’d be quite happy for this one to make the cut.
But is that the only reason it has been preserved? To remind Israel to hang in there when other nations pick on you – God will come to your rescue!
Or is there a lesson there that Israel is meant to overhear, so that they don’t suffer the same fate? A lesson that we also, some 2500 years later, should overhear, so that we don’t face the same judgement as Edom?
To answer this, we first have to read the book of Obadiah. As we do this, we’re going to find out what Edom has done to deserve this pronouncement of judgement from God.
The Message of Obadiah1 The vision of Obadiah. This is what the Sovereign LORD says about Edom – We have heard a message from the LORD: An envoy was sent to the nations to say, “Rise, and let us go against her for battle”
God’s not happy. Think about this, if you were an Edomite. To hear that the creator of the universe has sent a message about you. That he’s told the nations around to come and attack you. That it’s not just the armies of earthly nations that are against you – it’s God himself. Scary stuff. Now God addresses Edom directly, and tells them why:2-4 “See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised. The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the LORD.
The reason God’s not happy is essentially because Edom is proud. Edom think they are secure – that they rule their own destiny, that no-one can touch them. God hates this kind of pride, and is about to bring them down. With a bang…5-7 “If thieves came to you, if robbers in the night– Oh, what a disaster awaits you– would they not steal only as much as they wanted? If grape pickers came to you, would they not leave a few grapes? But how Esau will be ransacked, his hidden treasures pillaged! All your allies will force you to the border; your friends will deceive and overpower you; those who eat your bread will set a trap for you, but you will not detect it.
It’s not going to be pretty.The picture here is one of total destruction. It’s not just going to be a burglary you can recover from. Burglars might take your TV & DVD player, but they leave the stuff they don’t want. But God is planning to take everything away – total destruction. And he’ll do this by turning those who were supposed to be their allies against them. (Just like Edom did to Israel!)8-9 “In that day,” declares the LORD, “will I not destroy the wise men of Edom, men of understanding in the mountains of Esau? Your warriors, O Teman, will be terrified, and everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter.
What they trust in won’t save them. Teman was the most important city in Edom, the military HQ and the home of their intelligentsia. But neither their military might, nor their great wisdom will save them. Their source of pride will be no more.
Then God expands on why he’s not happy with them. It’s how their pride has caused them to behave that he now rebukes:10-14 Because of the violence against your brother Jacob [that is, Israel], you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster. You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.
God’s not happy because their pride led them to stand idly by when Israel was in trouble. God says they “stood aloof” while Israel was invaded, a bit like the Swiss. They “looked down” on their neighbour Israel. They “rejoiced over” their destruction. And they took advantage of Israel’s misfortune by taking the opportunity to “seize their wealth.” (Again, a bit like…) And in so doing, they became “like one of them.” They participated in Israel’s destruction.
They stood idly by, not doing anything to help. And it wasn’t just with indifference. They actually got enjoyment out of it! They gloated. It made them feel more important. That’s what pride does – it makes us want to put others down to make ourselves seem better. And that is what God has taken exception to – the pride in their hearts which resulted in a lack of love for others.15-16 The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head. Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been.
So it will be on the Day of the Lord. “The Day of the Lord” is a phrase that occurs many times in the OT. There has been a number of “days of the Lord”; times when God has intervened decisively in human history. We still wait for the ultimate “Day of the Lord” when Jesus returns, and the world will be judged.
Edom here was facing its own Day of the Lord – it probably occurred in the 6th century BC when they were invaded and destroyed. God will return their evil, prideful actions upon their own heads.
The prophecy’s attention then shifts to Israel, who by contrast with Edom, will be restored:17-18 But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance. The house of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; the house of Esau will be stubble, and they will set it on fire and consume it. There will be no survivors from the house of Esau.” The LORD has spoken.
For God’s people, however, there is hope. Although Edom will be destroyed, God will keep a remnant of his people, as holy and special for himself. The people of Israel – from the southern kingdom of Judah – had been taken away to Babylon in 587BC. But they will return, once again to possess the land God promised to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob – which includes the land of Edom:19-21 People from the Negev will occupy the mountains of Esau, and people from the foothills will possess the land of the Philistines. They will occupy the fields of Ephraim and Samaria, and Benjamin will possess Gilead. This company of Israelite exiles who are in Canaan will possess the land as far as Zarephath; the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the towns of the Negev. Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the Lord’s.
God will be true to his promises. His promises in this case are represented by the promise of land – by re-establishing Israel in the land promised to Abraham. God has promised never to abandon his people.
Why did Edom deserve judgement?
Having been through the whole prophecy now, we can go back to our original question: what made Edom deserving of such judgement?
There are two parts to the answer.
Firstly, they were proud, trusting in things other than God. They trusted in many things to protect them: their wisdom, their military strength, their allegiances with other nations; even their difficult-to-conquer landscape – their capital, Sela, was set high in rocky terrain which gave them great confidence that they could hold off any attacker. A bit like the terrain in Afghanistan which gives a natural advantage to the defender.
All these things, however, let them down in the end. They were attacked and conquered. And they didn’t trust the one thing that they could have relied on – God – and so in the end he turned against them.
Secondly, this pride manifested itself in relationships with others. It led to a selfish, uncaring – even gloating – attitude to its neighbours in trouble.
But what about us?
To think about
In what ways are we proud?
(Think back to the letter to Laodicea over the past few days.)
How does this pride play out in the way we relate to others?
Edom stood idly by while Israel was carted off by Babylon; do we stand idly by while others are on the way to eternity without God?
(Isn’t that just laziness or indifference? How is it pride? But pride is essentially putting ourselves and our desires at the centre of our universe, rather than God’s. And God’s desire is that people of all nations would come to know him, too. Further, stops us taking risks in mission, in case we look foolish. And pride tells us – usually quite subtly – that our welfare and comfort in the here-and-now is more important than the eternal destiny of others.)