Preacher: Daryl J. White
Title: Lessons from Edom (or Edom’s Legacy)
Date: July 19, 2009
Occasion: Quinton Baptist Church, Morning Service
If you have ever read the newspaper and wondered what the world is corning to, Obadiah is the book for you. If you have ever read about another senseless shooting of a child and thought that there is no way things could continue as they are, Obadiah is the book for you. If you have ever witnessed or been part of a family that turns against itself to the detriment of itself, Obadiah is the book for you. If you have ever considered what will corne of North Korean nuclear weapons, Iranian aggression, Pakistan extremists, or South American guerrilla drug kings, Obadiah is the book for you. If you have ever worried that the leadership of the country is going in the wrong direction, Obadiah is the book for you. If you have ever thought there is no hope, no possibility of redemption, no way that God could possibly bring good out of all the evil that is in the world, Obadiah is the book for you.
If you can even find it without looking at the table of contents in your Bible, you’ll discover that Obadiah is a unique book in the Old Testament. It is the fifth of the twelve minor prophetic books, and its twenty-one verses make it the shortest of all the books in the Old Testament. Among the thirty-nine books of the Old Testament, including massive works like Psalms, Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, it is easy to lose Obadiah. Scholars are not even sure exactly who the prophet is or when he wrote his words. The name Obadiah was fairly common among Hebrews, and there are more than a dozen different Obadiahs referred to in the Old Testament. None of them seems likely to have been the prophet from Judah. The name itself simply means “Servant of God,” and could easily have been used as a pseudonym.
But of course, whoever he was and whenever he wrote, the book still says something to us today. It is still God’s inspired Word. So as we look into the book today, I want to ask some of the common questions any high schooler knows to ask about a text. Who? What? Why? And then some not so standard English literature questions: what difference does it make? Where do I fit in the story?
First, the who. There are a few major characters in the book. The characters are not individuals, rather they are nations. The kingdom of God’s people is referred to by various glosses throughout the book. Obadiah uses “house of Jacob,” “Mount Zion,” “house of Joseph,” “Jerusalem” and the “people of Judah.” Reading through the book, it is clear that things are not going well in Judah. They have been routed, carried off into exile, and looted. They have bourn the weight of destruction and seen their “day of trouble” While there is some debate over the matter, the likeliest occasion for the book was the fall and capture of Jerusalem by the army of Nebuchadnezzar, King of Babylon, in 587 BC. After their defeat, most of the residents of the Kingdom of Judah was carted into exile for seventy years as punishment by God for their grievous sins. Such was the promise of the covenant in Deuteronomy should the people turn their backs on God. Nebuchadnezzar was merely a tool or pawn in the great plan of God for the world.
But Obadiah’s message isn’t actually about Judah. Or the northern tribes of Israel, long ago spread out by the Assyrian defeat in 722. Certainly, the message was meant to be heard by the Jews. But it wasn’t about them directly. Instead, Obadiah’s message was about the people of Edom. Notice that the message is not directed TOWARDS Edom, but ABOUT Edom. The message was actually to those of Judah who survived the terrible day of trouble. But it was about Edom.
Edom was located south and east of Israel, in what is today southern Jordan, sandwiched between what is now the Egyptian Sinai Peninsula and Saudi Arabia. Situated in a rocky, mountainous area, the capital of Edom was located at the top of a rock face. Three sides were sheer, perpendicular cliffs. There was only one, easily defended entrance to the city. They felt very secure. Edom was also the center of trade routes between Egypt, cities on the Mediterranean coast, and cities to the east in Asia. Edom occupied an enviable position. They were the first to hear of things coming from either direction, and because of that, Edom came to be home to a very wise group of men, whose renown was well known. Wise, wealthy from the trading they supervised, and sitting on a cliff that no army could penetrate, all was well in Edom.
The nation of Edom and the nation of Judah never got along. In fact, their turmoil goes all the way back to their common ancestor: Rebekah and Isaac. Rebekah gave birth to twin boys. The older, Esau, was gripped on the leg by the younger, Jacob. Genesis records how Jacob persuaded Esau to sell his birthright for a bowl of lentil soup. In the culture of the day, the oldest son received a double portion of the inheritance and was given a blessing by his father. Not content with just the birthright, Rebekah urged her younger son to con Isaac into granting the blessing intended for Esau to him. So Jacob dressed up in an effort to fool his father and succeeded in being given the blessing. The blessing left for Esau was this, recorded in Genesis 27:38-40. “Esau said to his father, ‘Do you have only one blessing, my father? Bless me too, my father!’ Then Esau wept aloud. His father Isaac answered him, ‘Your dwelling will be away from earth’s richness, away from the dew of heaven above. You will live by the sword and you will serve your brother. But when you grow restless, you will throw his yoke from off your neck.’”
The word, “Edom,” means red. In Genesis 25:30, Esau asks Jacob for some of the red stew that he was making. This is when Jacob bargained for the birthright. And from that time on, Esau was also known as Edom, and he became the father of the Edomites. After Jacob stole Esau’s blessing, Esau was angry to the point of killing him, so Jacob fled from his home and returned to his mother’s homeland and worked for Laban, Rebekah’s brother. Many years later, having grown wealthy and with a large family, Jacob returned to the land where he was born and raised, but he returned in fear of his brother. Esau received Jacob favorably, but eventually the two separated. Esau with his household and goods settled in the “hill country of Seir” while Jacob went to Bethel and settled there.
In addition to the house of Jacob and Edom, Obadiah also makes references to other nations and peoples who were involved in the onslaught against Jerusalem. At least some of them were allies to Edom. But others were strangers and foreigners (v 11). So we have three parties in this story: Judah, being destroyed; Edom, watching and sometimes partaking in the destruction; and other nations, who started the whole thing against Judah. Beyond these nations and groups of nations, and overlooking and ordaining all of it, is God, Yahweh, the Lord of Lords who is giving the message against Edom through Obadiah. Those are the who.
Next, we have to ask what is going on in the story. The main event of the prophecy is that Edom is to be utterly destroyed, completely wiped off of the map. All traces of its existence eradicated from the pages of history. As we read in verses 1-9, they will be “brought down,” ransacked, pillaged, forced to the border, overpowered, entrapped, destroyed, terrified, and cut down. Not a wise man or warrior will be left to the kingdom. Edom was to become despised among the nations. If you wonder about God’s effectiveness, just look for Edom on a world map today and see if there are any traces left. Not even the name survived past the Roman Empire’s province of Idumea.
So the who is God and the nations of Judah, Edom, and some set of others. The what is Edom’s complete annihilation. That brings us to the why question. In giving the reasons on the other side of the “because” in verse 10, Obadiah lists out four separate accusations against Edom. First, despite their common ancestry as nations that descended from brothers, Edom did nothing to come to Judah’s rescue in the days when it was attacked and looted. Instead, as we read in verse 11, they looked down from their lofty heights and watched, unfazed, while their brother nation’s wealth and goods were carried away.
In verse 12, Obadiah scorns Edom for their mockery of Judah as they were being leveled. Edom “looked down” on them and “rejoiced … in the day of their destruction,” shouting “boasts” about all of the trouble going on to their north and west. In their brother’s helplessness, Edom did not act to defend, rather they shouted their mocks. But they didn’t stop there. Once the deed was done, we read in verse 13 that Edom came behind the armies, walked through the broken and tom gates of Jerusalem, and picked up whatever things of value were left in the rubble. They took advantage of them. Imagine your cousin being forced into foreclosure, and just before the house is sold, you walk through and carry out furniture and pictures and silverware, not to rescue for when your cousin is in a more financially secure situation, but for yourself. That’s what Edom was doing to Judah.
Finally, in what amounts to the worst offense of Edom against Judah, Edom’s forces blocked the escape routes, rounded up refugees, and sent them off to their captors. These were those of the Third Reich who, out of fear or intimidation or sheer malevolence did not house and protect Jews from the concentration camps, but instead pointed Hitler’s men to where they could be found. It is as if, after Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in 2005, every city and state around refused the busloads of people fleeing the destruction, forcing them to return to the floods and mold and fend for themselves. It is believed that King Zedekiah, the last king of Judah before the Babylonian Captivity, fled Jerusalem and headed east into Edom. Much of the rest of Jerusalem probably had similar plans. But instead of welcoming friends, they found roadblocks. Instead of protection, they found enemy collaboration. In years to come, when Edom herself was on the run, the neighbors would remember what they had done to Judah and do the same to Edom.
It was for these things: the unbrotherliness, the mockery, the trespass and thievery, and the collaboration with the enemy that God condemned Edom to destruction. For doing violence to their brothers. For abetting the enemy of God’s people. For not opening their land to those in need of refuge. For these things, God promised the utter annihilation of the descendants of Esau. God’s promise in verse 15 is, “The day of the LORD is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.
Here’s the thing about Obadiah, and why I think it is a book to turn to when all seems wrong in the world. Judah was getting its just fruits based on how it had repeatedly rebelled against God. God used the other nations – and even Edom – to carry out His justice against Judah. But it was His justice, not Edom’s or anyone else’s. God is a jealous God who cares deeply for His people. Despite the trouble that Judah has seen, God promises in verse 17, “But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance.” And then in verse 21, “Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the Kingdom will be the LORD’s.”
Despite appearances, God has not forsaken Judah. Despite all the terror, all the fright, all the displacement, all the warring, all the destruction, and of the exile, despite all of the worst they have endured, God has still not forsaken them. And, in fact, God is fighting for them in the midst of His discipline of them. God punishes Judah, but it is with the expectation that they will be restored one day. Edom expects no such thing of Judah. They never expect to see them again. They count them among the many other nations of the earth that have sprung up and gone the way of all things. Edom despised Judah, so God despised Edom.
You see, the message of Obadiah is that God is sovereign over the nations. One day He will be king over all lands, reigning from Mount Zion. Those who respect that and honor God and His people will be rewarded for their kindness, as verse 15 assures. And those who tread on God’s people and forsake God’s work for their own pride and self-interest – the Edoms of the world – will see their secure high places tom down and brought low, and they will see their name and their memory wiped from the earth.
In Matthew 16, based on the confession Peter made that “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God,” Jesus said He would establish a new people. A people that included Jews and Gentiles, Babylonians and Edomites, wise men and fools, soldiers and widows. This church would be God’s special, chosen, and holy people, a priesthood for the nations, showing God’s love for the world.
As that new people, the church, we must be sure that we do not repeat the sins of either Judah or Edom. Judah’s sins are portrayed elsewhere in the Old Testament. Suffice it to say that they forsook God for their own pleasure. But what of the sins of Edom that brought the wrath of God leading to their utter annihilation?
Certainly, none of us strives to be the one that God is set to destroy. We don’t want to be Edom. But here’s the thing: things were good for Edom. They were well provided for. They were secure. They had nothing to fear. And from their perspective, they were just making the best of a bad situation. The people of Judah weren’t going to be using the goods they picked up from the rubble any time soon. And if they helped to hide or care for them, all that would do would be to create more mouths to feed and bring on the ire of the nations that were already on the warpath. It didn’t make sense to support or protect those who had already been condemned. Better to save themselves and live to see another day than to take any risks.
We live in our comfortable homes, with our well-stocked grocery stores. We have sufficient water. We live under the protection of one of the greatest militaries in the world. And even in a recession, we live a lifestyle that is enviable and even excessive from the standards of many. How often do you or I descend from our comfortable cars and air conditioned homes to stretch out our hands to the needy – be they next door or around the world? Perhaps there is more Edom in us personally than we like to admit.
How do you find yourself treating your brothers and sisters in Christ? All of them? Is there any hint of Edom toward a fellow Christian anywhere? And consider this, our burden is not just for fellow Christians, but for all of the lost sheep that God seeks to return to His fold. That’s everyone. Do we disregard or neglect any of God’s people? Or are we vigilant about doing whatever we can, whenever we can, however we can, under God’s guidance and direction? Edom’s legacy for those of us who follow Christ is a heavy one that we can only bear through His grace and provision for us.
In the final analysis, what’s the takeaway from Obadiah? It’s this: God is God, and we are not. We are not beyond Him or above Him, as Edom imagined themselves to be. Indeed, the best of us and the worst of us – those who claim to be His and those who make no claim regarding God at all – we are all His people whom He uses, blesses, and condemns as His love, righteousness, and justice demand. We are all tools to be used to His ends. At the end of the day, whatever it looks like along the journey, God and His people will be in the land. And the kingdom will be His. He will be the King who takes power over all kings. The Lord over all lords. He will dole out justice and wrath. And He will deliver peace and prosperity. As an old contemporary Christian song says, God is in Control. Over everything. Nothing that this world can do or say can overpower God. He will use it all and render powerless the worst offenders. And He will restore and prosper His people for all of eternity.