Whoever said the Bible is irrelevant to the way people live today needs to take a fresh look at the “Minor Prophets” of the Old Testament. These twelve books may be short in length but they are major in message. They have something today’s world leaders and citizens need to hear — the proud and the humble, the good and the bad, the skeptic and the believer. The target of Obadiah’s message was primarily the people of Edom, and he gives it “all he’s got” in a little book consisting of a single chapter!
WHO WERE THE EDOMITES?
Edomites were descendants of Esau, one of two sons of Isaac and Rebekah (Genesis 25:19-34). Esau was born around 2,000 BC and his descendants lived Southwest of the Dead Sea. Although the Edomites were relatives of the Israelites (who descended from Jacob, the twin brother of Esau), they did not treat the Israelites well. When Israel was traveling from Egypt to the Promised Land around 1400 BC the Edomites refused to allow passage through their territory (Numbers 20:14-21). This created significant strain in the relationship between the Israelites and the Edomites.
King David conquered Edom around 1,000 BC (2 Samuel 8:14). However, when Israel was attacked by the Babylonians in 586 BC the Edomites aided and abetted Babylon as it ruthlessly conquered God’s people and took them into Babylonian captivity for 70 years. The Lord was angry with Edom for its cruel treatment of their kinsmen in the flesh and promised that a day of reckoning was coming when Edom would be destroyed for their actions against Israel. He said, “Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever” (Obadiah verse 10). Other prophets such as Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Joel and Amos joined with Obadiah in denouncing the Edomites, and promising the end of the nation. God said through Obadiah: “I will bring you down!” (verse 4). Other prophets were very specific in their predictions about what would happen to Edom. They wrote that:
• Edom would become a desolation (Isaiah 34:13) •
• It would be conquered by Israel (Ezekiel 25:14) •
• It would have a bloody history (Ezekiel 34:5-6; Isaiah 34:6-7) •
• Wild animals would inhabit the area (Isaiah 34:13-15) •
• Trade would cease (Isaiah 34:10; Ezekiel 35:7) •
• Spectators would be astonished (Jeremiah 49:17) •
• Edom would never be populated again (Jeremiah 49:18) •
In the sixth century BC the Nabateans expelled Edom from their rock fortresses and occupied their country. They were again conquered by the Maccabees around 150 BC in fulfillment of the prophecy of Ezekiel 25:14. At that time 20,000 Edomites were put to death! In the first century AD the remaining Edomites were absorbed by the Arabs and their identity was lost completely. Today there is not one person on earth who can trace his ancestry back to the Edomites. The promises of Jeremiah 49:18 have been fulfilled: Edom will never be populated again.
Higgins comments on the annihilation of ancient Edom: “Today the land stands deserted, a mute testimony to the sure Word of the Lord. Petra is a remarkable example of the literal fulfillment of this prophecy. This great ancient capital with its theatre seating 4000, its temples, its altars and its monuments, is now silent and alone, decaying with the passage of time.” (Higgins, David C. “The Edomites Considered Historically and Prophetically.” Unpublished Master’s Thesis, Dallas Theological Seminary, 1960). The inspired word of the Lord through Malachi, the last Old Testament prophet, still grabs our attention and raises our eyebrows: “Esau (referring to the Edomites) I have hated. I have laid waste his hill country and left his heritage to jackals of the desert” (Malachi 1:2-3).
WHO WAS OBADIAH?
Ten people bore the name “Obadiah” in the Old Testament. The one who authored the book bearing his name received a “vision” sometime between the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem (586 BC) and Edom’s destruction by the Babylonians (553 BC). Almost nothing is known for certain about his background. According to “Jewish” tradition, Obadiah was a convert to Judaism who came from Edom, a descendant from Eliphaz, one of Job’s three “friends”. According to “Christian” tradition, Obadiah is said to have been born in Shechem and was the third captain of 50 men sent from king Ahaziah to bring Elijah to meet the king face to face (2 Kings 1:13-16). What we know for sure is that Obadiah was a prophet of God, a courageous preacher and a man of few words. His entire book covers only 21 verses. His name means “one who serves the Lord.” Come to think of it, that’s really all we need to know to make us attentive to his timeless message!
WHAT IS HIS PRACTICAL AND TIMELESS MESSAGE ?
1. God Rules Over the Nations. God is not the God of the Israelites only; He is the God of all nations. The Edomites may have thought they were impregnable because they dwelt among the cliffs, high above the canyon floor, but God’s presence and power would bring them down from the cliffs where eagles soared. “Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord” (Obadiah verse 4). It is true even today that the fate of nations is in the hand of God. He has determined “the allotted periods and the boundaries of their dwelling place” (Acts 17:26). Even rulers who do not know or honor the Lord are subject to His will. He makes kingdoms rise and He makes kingdoms fall. “The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes” (Daniel 4:32).
2. Prideful Self-sufficiency Is a Delusion. A famous theologian once said that there is only one basic sin: pride. It is man’s determined insistence that he is master of his own fate and captain of his own soul that continually gets him in trouble. Mankind thinks that it deserves whatever it desires; that the world owes it whatever the “good life” has to offer; that no one has the right to criticize or pass judgment on its conduct, belief systems or pleasures. Any concept of the need for a Savior is foreign to the thinking of prideful people. As someone recently put it to me, “I may not be doing what God wants me to do, but when I get to the judgment I want to have my say!” Such arrogance will keep a person from reading his Bible, repenting of his sins or committing his life to Jesus Christ. It’s faulty thinking. Obadiah assured the Edomites that pride would be their downfall. “The pride of your heart has deceived you … You have no understanding” (verses 3 and 7).
3. It Matters How We Treat People. The Edomites and the Israelites were kinsfolk, and kinsfolk ought to “cover each other’s backs.” They ought to feel obligated to defend and protect members of the family even if they don’t do the same for non-family! How do we expect people to treat strangers with equity and kindness if they don’t care enough to be equitable and kind to their own family? God said: “Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.” (verse 10). What follows is Obadiah’s eight “do nots” for family relationships:
• Do not gloat over the misfortune of your brother (verse 12) •
• Do not rejoice in his day of ruin (verse 12) •
• Do not boast in the day of distress (verse 12) •
• Do not enter the gate in the day of his calamity (verse 13) •
• Do not gloat over his disaster (verses 13) •
• Do not loot his wealth (verse 13) •
• Do not cut off his fugitives (verse 14) •
• Do not hand over his survivors (verse 14) •
Jesus put it positively when He said: “So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them” (Matthew 7:12). Family members and neighbors, friend and foe alike must be treated with the love of Christ. “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink” (Romans 12:20). It is by practicing love that Christians are identified in this world of violence, hatred, apathy, abusiveness and self-centeredness. “By this all people will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another” (John 13:35).
4. Divine Punishment Is Fair, Just and Inevitable. “The day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head” (Obadiah verses 15-18). God does not exercise his wrath like a bully who abuses others. His anger is always just and fair. It is in proportion to one’s sins. Some sins are more serious than others; some have greater consequences. However, we can be assured of this one fact: God’s judgment against sinners is inevitable. “We must all stand before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil” (2 Corinthians 5:10). We dare not take the coming judgment lightly! “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God!” (Hebrews 10:31).
5. “The Kingdom Is the Lord’s” Even Today. Obadiah announced the promise of God to His faithful people: “Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau (that is, Edom), and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (verses 19-21). This is more than a promise of a return to Palestine following Babylonian captivity. The prophet Amos spoke of this very same promise to “possess the remnant of Edom” when the Lord would “raise up the booth (or tent) of David that had fallen” (Amos 9:11-12). Early Christians saw these promises fulfilled in the establishment of God’s spiritual kingdom, the church. James applied this prophecy to the salvation of Gentiles: “After this I will return, and I will rebuild the tent of David that has fallen; I will rebuild its ruins, and I will restore it, that the remnant of mankind may seek the Lord and all the Gentiles who are called by My name, says the Lord, who makes all these things known from old” (Acts 15:14-17). The coming of Christ’s Church and the salvation of Gentiles is the assurance that “the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” in our own day. You can inherit the kingdom-blessings Obadiah promised to God’s faithful people!
Have you entered the Lord’s kingdom (His church) through obedient faith? You do not need to wait till next Sunday to do that –– you can enter the kingdom by being “born of water and the Spirit” this very day (John 3:5)!