the Minor Prophets


the Reluctant Prophet


Childbirth is always a painful experience. Jacob’s birth was no exception. Jacob was a twin who struggled in the womb and, but for an unfortunate placement would have been before his brother Esau. Jacob seemed to "grasp" the heel of his companion and thus began life with a tarnished testimony. Jacob and Esau were different in appearance and temperament. One seemed to be of the earth, the other of heaven. Their lives epitomize the antagonism the flesh has for the spirit. It also demonstrated the incompatibility of the spiritual soul with the carnal. Esau sold his birthright, and, even with tears, could not find repentance.

Jacob became a father of Israel, Esau of Edom. The hostility of these two peoples continued from generation to generation. They were to the Old Testament, what the Samaritans were to the New.

The Edomites settled in the naturally protected mountains south of the dead sea. They refused the Israelites passage through their territory as they tried to make their way to the promised land (Num. 20:14). This was an unkindness that Judah would never forget. Edom struggled with Israel throughout history as it fluctuated between political submission and rebellion.

After the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadrezzar, they were settled in Southern Judah in what the Greeks called Idumaea. An Idumaean was later named by Julius Caesar Procurator of Judah in 47BC. His son would become King of Judah in 37BC. This Edomite, a member of a hated and despised race of people,enemies of Israel, and once a reluctant tributary under David, was named Herod, and known to us as Herod the Great.

Edom means "red" so named for the color of the earth in the region. Adam also means "red." Just what, if any spiritual significance, is hidden in this coincidence is unclear, but there are still Adamites and Edomites that will attempt to block our passage into the promised land, offer no assistance, and is no "friend of grace."

Obadiahis the first and earliest writing Prophet who delivers a message to Edom. Dating this letter is difficult. Some of the best scholars give it an early date, others a later one. It was written sometime between 845BC (2Chron.21:16-17) and shortly after 587BC (destruction of Jerusalem). But since prophecy is often like a "wheel within a wheel," the allusion to Jerusalem’s plight may include both events. While a prophet’s message may be delivered in the context of historical circumstances the implications are spiritual, timeless, and eternal.

There were three occasions that Judah was overrun by enemies. The first was during the reign of Jehoram (853-841) the despicable son of Jehoshaphat. God removed his protective hedge from the realm of this murderous king and the Philistines, Arabians and Ethiopians sacked the city. Edom was in rebellion at this time (2Chron. 21:10) and must have rejoiced in such a spectacle.

The second occasion was during the reign of Ahaz (743-715BC) spoken of in 2Chron. 28:18. The third occasion was when Jerusalem fell in 586BC before the armies of Nebuchadnezzar.

It was not during the reign of Ahaz since the city itself was not breeched on that occasion. It was not the last since that exceeded in devastation the picture drawn by Obadiah.

Placing Obadiah’s ministry during the days of Jehoram explains the seriousness of the message. Jehoram married Athaliah the daughter of Jezebel and Ahab. He killed all his brothers when he ascended to the throne. Upon his death, and his son’s deaths by the hand of Jehu, Athaliah killed her own grandchildren to insure her own place on the throne. It was in such a dark hour as this that God speaks, first by Elijah and Elisha, and now by Obadiah. That this first prophetic message was directed toward Edom and not Israel is most curious. That he did not also thunder against the house of Jerohoam and later Athaliah is impossible to prove, yet the eternal record of God’s Word immediately addresses a foreign nation. Since "all Scripture is given by inspiration, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness," we can be sure there is a message to us as well as to Edom.

1. That a Prophet, sees, hears, goes, and warns is clear from the beginning (v.1). In another place we are told that "holy men of God spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost." Thus is the ministry of preacher and prophet in every age. The prophetic formula contains all the authority and the power to make the message effectual, "thus saith the LORD." The work of the shepherd is to feed the sheep, but the earnest need is still to preach to the "heathen." We are still being hindered and mocked by Edom, who glories in the Church’s calamities.

2. Pride deceives its victims. "The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee" (v. 3). Edom as well as all we Adamites are proud and haughty. Edom built its city in the high, almost impregnable heights of the red stone of Petra. But those impressive fortress dwellings were not beyond the reach of a hand from heaven. The question, "Who shall bring me down to the ground?" was about to be answered by Jehovah. Ants have no idea how small they really are. They scamper around in their world, oblivious to those who tower over them. Ants fill their lives with crumbs that fall from poor men’s tables, unaware that there is plan greater than themselves.

"Behold, I have made thee small..."(v.2). This would be a good lesson for each of us to learn. "I have made thee small among the heathen." Pride is the sin that so easily besets us. Pride is the virus to which man is so easily susceptible. Much of Edom is in every man. This evil spirit attempts to "exalt itself and set its nest among the stars."

This little letter is in harmony with the first beatitude: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." One of the greatest enemies to salvation and to the advancement of the spiritual life is that of pride. It is not insignificant that the first sin condemned by the prophets is this insidious moral malady. "Humble yourself, under the mighty hand of God, and He will lift you up" (1Pet. 5:6).

Be sure your sins will find you out. Sin is not something soon forgotten. The sins of Esau seemed to live long after he was buried. The result of sin is felt from generation to generation. That is why it is imperative that they must be sought out, confessed and forsaken. Esau set out cursed by his own rejection of holy things. He became a hunter and a wild man. His descendants made their way to the cliffs of Petra, yet they still carried the sin of Esau.

What secret sins will be exposed in your life when God visits your comfortable fortress? What "hidden things" will God reveal? No person, or people can hide from God. "Be sure you sins will find you out."

3. We reap what we sow. Esau not only sold himself, he missed an opportunity to assist his brother Israel as the refugees from Egyptian slavery tried to make it to the promised land. That act of unkindness would reap an awful harvest. "Many have entertained angels unawares." Perhaps someone will seek shelter in your inn, remember the inn keeper of Bethlehem before you send them away.

On another occasion they stood by and watched as Jerusalem was over run, and rejoiced. "But thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother in the day that he became a stranger; neither shouldest thou have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress" (v. 12). Beware the temptation of gloating when your enemies stumble. Even if their calamity be the hand of God falling on them in judgment, it is better to think " There go I, but for the grace of God."

Obadiah gives the formula for the worst of all judgments upon a man: "as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee." Jesus put this law of life in a more useful form when He said "Do unto others, as you would have them do unto you." This most golden of rules is a two edged sword. It will bring either joy of sadness depending on how we use it.

There is a little phrase in verse 17 that is rich with wisdom as well as hope, "Jacob shall possess [his] possessions." God will one day heal that which he has allowed to be broken. Judah, though crushed and scattered throughout the world will one day change its tune from lamentations to joy and shall "possess its possessions." But what does it mean to possess ones possessions? Most go through life never redeeming their birthright. Like Jacob they clasp tightly to the text and deed, but never realize their inheritance. Many a rich man has his library shelves filled with un-read books. Many a man lives in a shack thinking himself poor while he sits upon a "Mother-load" of gold. Many a man is given a brain but fails to use it, opportunity but fails to take is, time and fails to invest it. They live like paupers, when God has made them heirs and benefactors of great riches.

God wants Jacob it possess his possessions, as he does us ours.

For Modern Preachers & Teachers

Teachers usually address the mind. Prophets speak to the will and the emotions. A church that has no prophets is in danger of being all head and no heart. There must be some prophet in every preacher. It is a cold pulpit that has only a scholar or a technician. The world does not need walking encyclopedias or linguistic experts holding lectures near the gates of hell, for man in his blindness, will stumble into eternity oblivious to their presence. The world needs desperately to hear the truth with passion if they are to be arrested long enough to consider what we know to be the truth.

Paul was perhaps the most scholarly teacher and astute theologian the world has ever known. God used him to write the classical Christian theological textbook known to us as his Letter to the Romans. Although Paul was a "teacher come from God" he was also a prophet as seen on Mars Hill and in the bloody road at Lystra. Paul himself said it was by the "foolishness of preaching" that God would save the lost.

The prophet was the mouthpiece of the Omniscient One used to move the heart of man. Any teaching or preaching ministry that fails to move the heart fails to move the man. A passionless pulpit is a powerless pulpit.

The prophet called men to be true to God in public and in private. The prophets were often before an audience of one and sometimes that one was a king. It is dangerous work to correct a king. The prophets were not known to enjoy the company of such powered and privileged persons to be entertained or amused. They came in moments of great crisis and did the work of a conscience pointing hearts to God. Obadiah wrote to Edom, but he really wrote for our benefit. Edom sounds remarkably like Adam. We are all related.

Obadiah is actually writing to everyone who has ever gloated over the fall of a competitor. His warning is for all who have ever even secretly rejoiced at the misfortune of a rival (1:12). The golden rule of Jesus is a more than a suggestion of charity. It is the measure of our smallness or bigness and the judgment of ourselves by ourselves. This spirit of generosity is the air of a happy kingdom.

"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you" is the timber of kindness that shall make a life large and substantial. On the other hand, resentment and envy, jealously and pride is wormwood and dry rot, and unsuitable for building.

Esau and Jacob were feuding brothers. No one is wise who holds a grudge. Even if we have been wronged and robbed of our "birthright," we poison our own well when we try to get even. Edom never lost an opportunity to try to repay Judah for cheating their father of his blessing and benefits. They rejoiced at the news of every calamity and hardship that befell Israel.

All we sons of Adam have found how easily the seeds of bitterness can sprout and take root in the soil of our human nature sending it tendrils climbing upon wounded memories until they blot out the sun. Esau became Edom and Edom became great and greatness became pride and pride is the kiss of death. The words of God to all who lift themselves up, or climb and grapple to the top of the world, (as did Edom at Petra), are always the same "The pride of your heart has deceived you." Pride is always followed by destruction.

God does not even have to actively fall upon sinners in judgment or justice, though He shall; for the seeds of destruction are in the deeds themselves and sin bears its own fruits. "For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you, your dealing will return upon you own head" (Obed. 15; Isa. 2:10-22; Zeph. 3:8-20; Zech. 12:1-14; Rev. 19: 11-21). After reading Obadiah we should have a cup of cold water ready for any thirsty traveller who should ask for a drink, be he friend or foe.