Obadiah - Prophet of Poetic Justice
Childbirth is always a painful
experience. Jacobís 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 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 Jerusalemís
plight may include both events. While a prophetís 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 Obediah.
Placing Obediahís 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 sonís
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 Obediah. 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 Godís
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 Churchís 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 menís tables, unaware that there is plan greater than
"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
"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
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
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.