JUDAH’S ENEMIES PERISH Obadiah
“Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever” (Obad. 10).Those hostile to God’s people take a great risk when they act against them.
Names in Obadiah.
The prophet used a number of different racial and geographic terms in this short book. The majority are synonyms used to identify either Edom or Judah. These names reflect the Hebrew custom of identifying peoples by their ancestors (thus “Esau” is another name for Edom and “Jacob” for Judah) or by place names (thus “Teman” also refers to Edom, and “Mount Zion” to Judah). If this is kept in mind the message of Obadiah will be much clearer.
Edom would be pillaged and her people slaughtered (vv. 1–9) as punishment for violence she directed against Judah (vv. 10–14). In the coming Day of the Lord all nations will judged and their lands occupied by God’s own (vv. 15–21).
Understanding the Text
“The vision of Obadiah” Obad. 1. Nothing is known of Obadiah as a person. His name, however, means “servant of Yahweh.” Obadiah did not think it was important even to identify himself, as most Hebrews did, by stating their father’s or family name. Obadiah saw himself simply as God’s servant. What was important was the message he had to deliver. You and I want to adopt Obadiah’s perspective. Oh, yes, we are important—important to a God who loves us for ourselves rather than for what we do for Him. But when we’re given the mission of speaking for God, we must exalt the message. Obadiah would do nothing to detract from his message by drawing attention to himself. “You who live in the clefts of the rocks” Obad. 2–4. Edomite population centers were built on a great ridge of mountainous land opposite the Dead Sea. These heights, ranging from 4,000 to 5,700 feet, made the land easily defensible, and it was in fact protected by a series of stone fortresses built to command the roads that wound up precipitous cliffs and traced the edges of terrifyingly deep gorges. These natural defenses contributed to the pride of Edom, reflected in their rhetorical question, “Who can bring me down to the ground?” How dangerous a sense of security is! The Edomites felt untouchable. Arrogant, they struck out at Judah from behind the barriers they thought protected them. Undoubtedly if they had felt vulnerable they would never have risked trying to harm their neighbor. God said to Edom, “I will bring you down.” In this saying Obadiah reminded all of us that no one is ever beyond the reach of God. Every person is responsible for his actions, and every person is within reach of the disciplining hand of the Lord. “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob” Obad. 10. The ancient covenant that God made with Abraham guaranteed that God would bless those who blessed him and his descendants, and curse those who cursed him and his progeny. God recalled His promise, and announced through Obadiah that Edom would be “destroyed forever” because of just such an offense. What a revelation of the nature of God’s commitment to His word. If Obadiah did prophesy just after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians, as many believe, the generation of Jews that were Edom’s victims was an apostate generation. They willfully abandoned God to serve idols, and consciously rejected His word. They were themselves under the ban: themselves doomed to judgment. Even so God intended to keep His ancient promise. Those who cursed His people must be cursed. Edom must fall. Remember this verse and its historical context next time you fail yourself and God and, burdened by a sense of shame, wonder if God can forgive you. God remains fully committed to every promise He has made to you in Christ, even as He remained fully committed to Judah despite far worse sins. God keeps His word. You can trust Him to keep on loving you, keep on working with you, until at last you do reflect the very character of Christ. “Look down on them in their calamity” Obad. 11–14. The text shows a fascinating progression in the behavior of Edom toward Judah. At first, as the invasion developed, the Edomites stood off, to watch and enjoy the discomfort of Judah (vv. 11–12). When it became clear that the people of Judah were losing, the Edomites became more brave. They marched through the gates of the ruined city to gather all the loot that might be left. They then became bolder still, and positioned troops along escape routes to “cut down their fugitives” and “hand over their survivors.” It was a classic case of waiting till the fight was over, and then hurrying in to kick the loser. Kicking a person who’s down has always been popular, because it carries little risk. At least, little risk of the victim kicking back. What people need to remember, however, is that God takes the side of the oppressed. So, if in your home, office, or your community, you’re ever tempted to join the crowd that kicks one of life’s underdogs, remember Edom. A victim may seem defenseless. But he or she has God on his side. “For all nations” Obad. 15–21. Obadiah announced that the principles seen in his oracle against Edom have universal application. They do. One day God will openly act on behalf of the victims of every oppressive power. Even nations will answer to Him. When that happens every Esau will be destroyed, and Judah, the “loser,” will occupy their territory. There is no “ill-gotten gain.” There is only “ill-gotten loss.”
Like One of Them(Obad. 11–12)
I confess! I do like to read the comics when I get up in the morning. At least, I like to read three of them—Calvin and Hobbes, Sally Forth, and For Better or For Worse. Last week—the first week of school—the little girl in Better threw her teddy bear on the school bus. She was assigned the painful task of writing a note of apology. In a later set of panels she aimed the bear carefully, and bopped her big brother squarely in the back of the head! Why? Because he was the one who encouraged her to toss the bear on the bus in the first place, and then laughed when she got caught and was punished. I don’t suppose cartoonist Lynn Johnston had been reading Obadiah. But she might have been. Obadiah 11 and 12 reads, “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.” In comic strip terms, “I didn’t throw any bear!” And again in comic strip terms, “Na Naa Naaa! That bus driver got you good. Ha ha ha!” I suspect everyone suppressed a smile of satisfaction when the bear plopped on the brother’s head. He sure deserved it! That’s what God said to Edom through Obadiah. And what He says to us. You can’t stand around when you see your brother a victim, egg on the perpetrators, and be guiltless. If you don’t step in with help, you are “like one of them.” Biblical faith doesn’t let us stand on the sidelines when others are victimized. Even if the “others” aren’t particular friends of ours. Even if they are our enemies.
Don’t stand by when you see others in need. Help.