Obadiah, Part 1

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In Luke’s Gospel we read an interesting exchange between some Pharisees and Jesus. In a strange twist, these Pharisees were trying to warn Jesus to leave the area because Herod Antipas was planning to arrest Him.

At that time some Pharisees came to Jesus and said to him, “Leave this place and go somewhere else. Herod wants to kill you.” He replied, “Go tell that fox, ‘I will keep on driving out demons and healing people today and tomorrow, and on the third day I will reach my goal.’ (Luke 13:31, 32 NIV)

You have to hand it to Jesus. Calling Herod “that fox” took some nerve. But our Lord wasn’t the only who one of His day that disliked Herod. There was a bitter, centuries old hostility that existed between the Jews and the Edomites, of which Herod was a part. Here were two groups of people that descended from two brothers: the Edomites (Herod) from Esau and the Jews from Jacob. Herod’s Edomite ancestors were the subjects of Obadiah’s one-chapter prophecy.

Jesus referred to Herod as “that fox” for a reason. History testifies to the fact that this Herod was ruthless, clever, cold, and scheming. That same history indicates that all the sons of Esau were just like that. The nuts didn’t fall far from the tree. Esau himself was schemer of the highest order. He was also something else, brought out by the writer to the Hebrews:

See that no one is sexually immoral, or is godless like Esau, who for a single meal sold his inheritance rights as the oldest son. (Hebrews 12:16 NIV)

Scottish theologian George Adam Smith, expert on all things having to do with the Holy Land, notes that throughout the Old Testament we never read a word about Edomite gods. We may be certain that they worshiped false gods, but that was not what the Edomites were all about. The Edomites were essentially irreligious, living for materialism, spoil, and vengeance – a people who deserved even more than the Philistines to have their name descend as a symbol of hardness and obscurantism.

While it may be accurate to say that all the patriarchs were men of cunning and of dubious character, unlike Easu, they were all men of very deep, abiding, yet imperfect faith.

These life-long foes of Israel are first mentioned in the first book of the Bible and last mentioned in the last book of the Old Testament. In between we read about the rocky relationship they had. Many of the Old Testament prophets foretold the doom of Edom, but none quite as eloquently as a man named Obadiah.  We know nothing about this minor prophet. His name means, appropriately enough, “worshiper of the Lord.” We also know next to nothing about his short book. It is likely, based on verse 11, that our prophet preached shortly after the fall of Jerusalem to Babylon in 586 BC.

This short prophecy breaks down in a neat, three point outline.

1. Edom’s Judgment, Verses 1 – 9
2. Reasons for Judgment, Verses 10 – 14
3. The Day of the Lord, Verses 15 – 21

Obadiah, the end times, the Church, and America

Despite what some Bible teachers say, the United States of America is not the subject of any Biblical prophecy. In a very general sense, Bible prophecy deals with Israel and its surrounding nations. And yet, Gerald Flurry in his nifty commentary on Obadiah, refers to Obadiah’s prophecy as “the most terrifying message in the Bible.” And while the prophecy of Obadiah is to us history, its message is, if not terrifying as Mr Flurry thinks it is, definitely prescient to the Church in America of the 21st century and to the nation itself.

In another Old Testament book of prophecy, we read these interesting verses:

“I have loved you,” says the Lord.
“But you ask, ‘How have you loved us?’
“Was not Esau Jacob’s brother?” declares the Lord. “Yet I have loved Jacob, but Esau I have hated, and I have turned his hill country into a wasteland and left his inheritance to the desert jackals.” (Malachi 1:2, 3 NIV)

That’s Israel complaining to God, thinking that He didn’t, in fact, love them. As proof of His love for them, the Lord compares what He thought of Jacob (also known as Israel) versus his brother, Esau. You’ll recall that Jacob and Esau were twin brothers with a long history of hostility between each other. We can certainly apply this sad family situation to the state of the Church today. The Lord through His prophet Malachi was talking about a broken family and how divided it was. The Church today is nothing if not divided. The similarities between Israel and Esau and the various factions in the Church continue:

Edom may say, “Though we have been crushed, we will rebuild the ruins.”
But this is what the Lord Almighty says: “They may build, but I will demolish. They will be called the Wicked Land, a people always under the wrath of the Lord. You will see it with your own eyes and say, ‘Great is the Lord—even beyond the borders of Israel!’
“A son honors his father, and a slave his master. If I am a father, where is the honor due me? If I am a master, where is the respect due me?” says the Lord Almighty.
“It is you priests who show contempt for my name.
“But you ask, ‘How have we shown contempt for your name?’ (Malachi 1:4 – 6 NIV)

In a rapidly secularizing society, the Church is also becoming more and more secular, with some paying the barest of lip service to the authority of the Word of God. There is a deepening spiritual divide between churches remaining faithful to God’s Word and will and those which are not – those which are morphing into apostate churches. And more churches, and more and more Christians are becoming like Esau; more concerned with appealing to the masses and maintaining their own comfort than remaining true to God’s revealed will. In that sense, Jacob and Esau are almost types of the Church of Jesus Christ today.

Theology of Obadiah

Simply put, in Obadiah’s theology God is seen as absolutely just. He holds responsible those who mistreat others, and especially those who take advantage of others during rough times. The Edomites and the Judahites shared a common ancestor: Abraham. And by mistreating Judah, Edom broke a universal law of God and a very specific promise He made to Abraham:

Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. (Galatians 6:7, 8 NIV)

I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you. (Genesis 12:3 NIV)

Another prominent aspect of Obadiah’s theology is the idea of Judah’s restoration, which dovetails into one final, big point of theology that our prophet covers: the universal rule of God. At some time in the future, the Lord will reign over all nations and people.

…the kingdom will be the Lord’s. (Obadiah, vs. 21 NIV)

The significance of Obadiah’s closing comments are echoed in the last book of the New Testament:

The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Messiah, and he will reign forever and ever. (Revelation 11:15 NIV)

So you can see, then, even though it is very short, Obadiah’s prophecy covers some huge topics that impacted, not only his time, but ours, and the future.

Edom’s Judgment, Vs. 1 – 9

The opening words of Obediah’s book of prophecy also constitute its title:

The vision of Obadiah. (Verse 1a NIV)

Right at the outset, we know we will be reading about something God has shown Obadiah. The word “vision” comes from a Hebrew word, hazon, that is commonly used throughout the Old Testament to describe the content of a personal revelation from God to one of His prophets. What’s particularly interesting to us today, during out age of specialization, is that some of God’s prophets actually had day jobs! Amos, the prophet whose book comes just before Obadiah’s, could be considered a part-time prophet. However, since we nothing about Obadiah, it’s hard to tell if he was a professional prophet or not. Regardless, the Lord spoke to him.

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, let us go against her for battle…” (Obadiah 1:1b TNIV)

God’s message – the prophet’s vision – came to Obadiah in the form of words. We are about to hear two things from the prophet: his own disgust with Edom and God’s judgment. The fact is, the Lord had already judged His own people on account of their blatant and constant apostasy, but now, as the Sovereign over all nations of the earth, God is going to level His condemnation on Edom.

This idea of the Sovereignty of God is significant. Over the centuries, Judah hadn’t exactly been kind to Edom. In our politically correct society today, some Christians may wonder about the fairness of it all. Here God is seen rallying nations to march against Edom, yet, they wonder, what about Judah? Judah is seen by some as “just as bad.” It would do us well to remember that it is God who is speaking – God who is rendering judgment – not the prophet. It’s never a great idea to question the wisdom of God’s Word or actions. Job did that and here was the Lord’s response:

Then the Lord spoke to Job out of the storm. He said: “Who is this that obscures my plans with words without knowledge? Prepare to defend yourself; I will question you, and you shall answer me.” (Job 38:1 – 3 TNIV)

There are plenty of other things a person could do that would be infinitely more pleasant than having to defend themselves or their dopey ideas before God. Peter Craigie makes an important observation on this point:

The essence of the book is that it contains the Lord’s word. And God was not partial; He had already judged His own people for their evil, and no less would He judge other nations. The essence of the theology throughout is that God is the Lord of human history; the evil acts of any nation, regardless of affiliation or national faith, invite divine judgment.

Indeed. Perhaps that’s the reason why Gerald Flurry thinks Obadiah’s message is so terrifying. It does contain timeless truths and principles. One of them is artfully spelled out in the New Testament:

For it is time for judgment to begin with God’s household; and if it begins with us, what will the outcome be for those who do not obey the gospel of God? (1 Peter 4:17 TNIV)

In the book of Revelation, we can see this in the very structure of the book. In the opening chapters, before we get to the apocalyptic bits, we read about a group of churches, seven in all, and we read a formula repeated to each of them. The Lord begins this way: “I know your works.” And He does. There isn’t anything about any person or church that is hidden from God. Some of these seven churches were commended by God. Yet, after the good part comes this: “But I hold this against you…” Each church, to varying degrees, had let the Lord down. They were warned to shape up or face certain judgment. So before God unleashes His wrath upon the world, His church will be judged.

But judgment is a tricky thing. Elsewhere in the New Testament, we are advised:

What business is it of mine to judge those outside the church? Are you not to judge those inside? God will judge those outside. “Expel the wicked person from among you.” (1 Corinthians 5:12, 13 TNIV)

There’s the rub. If the church of Jesus Christ doesn’t judge itself, it will face sure and certain judgment from God. In Revelation, of the seven churches addressed, five needed renewal, and that was only 60 years into church history! To each church John writes, “He who has an ear, let him hear.” In other words, they are being asked to stop, look and listen to what Jesus Christ is saying.  Ed Lewis’ sober observations are worth reading:

I believe God is withdrawing His hand of protection from the church in judgment, but the church hasn’t realized it yet. It’s a well-known fact that there are as many divorces today within the church as outside it. The pleasures and values of most people in the church are not much different from other people’s, either. The line that once distinguished Christians from non-Christians has become severely blurred. Why has God not judged . . . ?  When God described in Deuteronomy the judgments He would bring if Israel disobeyed Him, the scattering of families was His final judgment. Because of America’s high divorce rate–both inside and outside the church–children are being torn away from their families and being torn apart emotionally. Yet the church seems to be mostly unaware that today’s events may be part of God’s judgment on the church in America.  The main problem is not so much secularism as it is the secularization of the church. “The salt is losing its savor,” he says. The purity of the church has been compromised, and we’ve lost sight of the value of a pure church. Persecution always cleanses and purifies the church wherever it occurs, but we don’t have to wait for persecution. We can repent now for violating God’s Word, bringing the world’s values into the church, and failing to obey God’s voice.

That’s not bad advice. Obadiah’s brief word of prophecy, addressed to a race of people long gone, is just as relevant to us today. The Word of God is as up-to-date as tomorrow’s newspaper.

 

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