‘Reflections’ on the Writing Prophets 42
O B A D I A H
Obadiah 1:1 to 1:21
We do not have much detail about Obadiah the man, or the actual date of this prophecy. It is thought to have been written about the time of the fall of Jerusalem under the siege of Nebuchadnezzar around 586 BCE, but it could have been much earlier, during the reign of king Jehoram (852 - 841 BCE). It does not alter the substance of the prophetic vision God gave to him. Nor the message which this prophecy has for us today.
This is a relatively brief prophecy, (one chapter in our Bible) concerned largely with just one nation, Edom. That is the one nation most singled out in the Scriptures to receive the full force of the wrath of God. Psalmists 83 and 137, Isaiah 11, 34, and 63, Jeremiah 49, Lamentations 4, Ezekiel 25 and 35, Joel 3, Amos 1 and 9, and Malachi 1, all make mention of the judgment of God on Edom. And it all goes back to the time when Esau sold his birthright to Jacob, and the bitter hatred which flowed from that incident. Edom is where Esau settled. Centuries later, his descendants refused to let the sons of Jacob pass through their territory as they journeyed to the land of God’s promise. God was displeased too when these same Edomites rejoiced over the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BCE. Edom is situated just south of the dead sea in today’s Jordan, and includes the famous tourist area of Petra (constructed by the Nabateans). It is one of two places which, after the war to end all wars, will be totally desolate. (Babylon is the other).
The description of the Edomites living in elevated caves in rocky country can be readily identified with the area where Petra is today. At least the geography fits. Proud, not least because of their elevated position, the Edomites seemed to consider themselves impregnable. Safe from all attack. It was one source of their great pride. Earlier, Solomon had written “Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall”. (Proverbs 16:18) Obadiah said “The pride of your heart has deceived you well”. We have mentioned a number of times that what God says, God will do. And the prophet was sent with a simple enough message from God. Your end has been determined by your present. A good enough lesson for everyone to learn. It is not what you say. Words are cheap. It is what you are, what you do, on which God makes judgement (Revelation 20:12). But in His love and mercy, His judgement is not without warning. “For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off for ever”. For the Edomites of course the deed had already been committed. But for anyone who is able to see a lesson here, God has referred these people, Israelites, known globally today as “Jews”, as His ‘special treasure’, and ‘the apple of My eye’. He told Abraham that He would bless those who blessed him (and his descendants), but He would ‘bitterly curse’ those who treated them ‘with contempt’.
Obadiah had the task of letting the Edomites know what was ahead of them, and why. He could not have known that his message was timeless. It is the wonder of the Scriptures that God is able to convey, through His dealings with His own people, and by extension through the actions of those they came into contact with, how He exercises judgement. The ‘christian church’ has a record of appalling behaviour towards the Jews down through the ages. We should pray that God would enlighten us, in this generation, to avoid the mistakes of those who preceded us. It is evident from our text that the Edomites had metaphorically ‘danced on the grave’ of the Israelites in their days of distress. “You should not have entered the gate of My people in the day of their calamity. Indeed you should not have gazed on their affliction … nor laid hands on their substance (looting). Nor should you have stood at the crossroads to cut off those among them who escaped; nor should you have delivered up those among them who remained”. There was no more to be said to Edom.
But there was a word of warning left for the other nations too. As I write these words, a vivid, horrible, picture comes to my mind. Millions of Jews, men, women, children, old, young, middle aged, no discrimination, who were murdered in the holocaust of the early 1940’s. And the countless millions who died during the period we know as “the inquisition”. Pogroms of Britain in 1290, (they did not officially return until 1655) Spain in 1492. Of Russia, of Algeria. It is endless. Hatred of those who are “called by My name” says the LORD.
In his vision, God told Obadiah to continue “For the day of the LORD upon all nations is near; As you have done, it shall be done to you; Your reprisal shall return upon your own head. For as you drank on My holy mountain, so shall all the nations drink continually; …. And they shall be as though they had never been.” No-one cares think that God’s judgment might be turned on them. But God is just. He deals with everyone with equanimity. No special deals. But now Obadiah sees some light at the end of the tunnel. “But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions”. There was a day ahead when Israel would once again take their rightful place, as God intended, in their own land. That has already happened, temporarily, since the return from Babylonian exile. In our generation, we are witnessing a return from “all the nations to which they were scattered”. But even this is not the end. But it is “the beginning of the end.” Look forward to the day when Messiah Yeshua returns to reign on His throne. Wouldn’t Obadiah be pleased?