A Tale of Treachery
Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament: it has only one chapter with a scant 21 verses, but I daresay that it is almost entirely ignored by the Lord’s people today. Obadiah is also the only book of the Bible that was written in its entirety during the time of Judah’s exile in Babylon. The other eleven Minor Prophets were written before or after the exile.
This little book is very focused: it is a strident condemnation by God and God’s people of the treachery of the nation of Edom for enthusiastically encouraging Babylon to destroy Judah and to carry its people into exile.
The nation of Edom had a long and ugly history with Israel. In Genesis 25, we read the story of the two sons of Isaac and Rebekah: Esau and Jacob. These boys constantly competed. From before their birth, God had chosen to bless Jacob and to form the stronger nation of Israel from his descendants. Esau did not recognize God’s choice and instead chose to move his family into an area south and east of Israel, in what has become present-day Jordan. Esau’s family became the nation of Edom.
Over the centuries, the competition and enmity of the two brothers, Jacob and Esau, grew into a competition of brotherly nations, Israel and Edom. Edom refused to allow the Israelites to pass through his lands when they traveled from Egypt to Canaan (Num 20). In King David’s time, the two nations openly warred. Indeed, all of the Herods were from Edom (Idumea). They killed the babies born around the time of Jesus’ birth, they murdered John the Baptist, they consented to the death of Christ, and they killed the Lord’s brother, James.
This little book deals with a single interaction between Israel and Edom at the time of the destruction of Jerusalem and its exile into Babylon.
What did Edom do that made God and Obadiah so angry? God’s anger was based upon Edom’s treacherous actions, including the following:
Edom was extremely proud. While it was a small nation, it boasted of its accomplishments and attributed them to its own strength (v 3);
Instead of respecting its brother-nation, Edom. treacherously chose to align itself in a coalition of nations who were enemies of Israel (v 7);
Edom violently assisted in the destruction of Jerusalem (v 10). In fact, Edom shouted encouragement to the destroyers from the sidelines: “raze it, raze it, even the foundation” (Psa 137:7).
The people of Edom enthusiastically cheered the violence of Babylon’s attack on Israel, not lifting a single finger to assist (v 12);
They took advantage of the breakdown of order to steal from the vanquished (v 13);
Edom blocked families who escaped from reaching protection, and handed fugitives over to the Babylonians (v 14); and,
Edom celebrated Judah’s defeat on the holy mountain of Jerusalem (v 16).
At last, the Edomites gloated, their enemy was defeated! Little did they know, however, that each of their actions would rebound against them. In Obadiah, God promises Edom that it will reap what it sowed:
As Edom betrayed Judah, so it would be betrayed (v 7);
As Edom robbed the Jews, so would it be looted (vs 5-6);
As Edom encouraged violence, so would it be slaughtered (vs 9-10)
As it gave Jews up for destruction, so would it be destroyed as a nation (v 18).
I can hear someone questioning why God was so upset with Edom, especially since He had allowed the Babylonians to perpetrate all the same injustices on Judah. After all, was it not Israel’s own fault that this punishment was falling on it because of its rejection of God’s covenant? Well, the answer is that it is quite one thing for God to punish Israel, His chosen people, and quite another thing for a nation to take it on itself to destroy them. Appropriating God’s “will” as a premise for an injustice against a brother, in this case a brother-nation, will boomerang every time. God will punish all oppressors and He will keep His covenant with Abraham to bless Israel and through Israel, bless all the nations of the earth. Nations that choose to ignore God’s promises to Israel do so at their own peril.
Obadiah’s Promises to Israel
Verse 17 begins with a critical word, “but,” that signals a swing in the fortunes of Judah. Indeed, Israel and Judah had sinned against God and deserved the judgment that befell them. However, God promises a reaction to Edom’s treachery and makes a series of promises to the Jews about their future redemption, including:
To rebuild the temple of Mount Zion,
To restore the nation to its place (the “family of Jacob” in v 17);
To reunify the nation (Jacob represents the southern kingdom of Judah and Joseph represents the northern kingdom of Israel in v 18);
To restitute its lost possessions (v 17-20).
Obadiah ends with the promise that “the kingdom will be the Lord’s.” This gives Israel and us the hope of a coming day when the Lord will restore all of the glory of Israel through the arrival of the Lord Jesus Christ to reign in glory.
Implications for Christians Today
The implications of our understanding of God from this little book are many.
First, God makes moral judgments and acts upon them. Oppressors and traitors to Him and His people will not go unpunished. Perhaps the timing of God’s retribution is not exactly the timing we would choose, but His judgment will come.
Second, despite His disciplining of Israel, He continues to love them. He will always respect His promises (covenants) both to Israel and to us: His word is completely reliable.
Third, we can see a spiritual lesson in Judah and Edom. Judah represents the Christian, chosen by grace and, though often sinning and requiring of repentance, is loved by God and will be protected by Him. On the other hand, Edom represents the flesh, proud and rebellious, resulting in selfish boasting and treacherous actions against God. The flesh will fail and the Lord with His people will be victorious.
Lastly, all Gentile nations should carefully consider the way they treat the Jews, God’s chosen people. Nations that oppressively act against the Jewish people will suffer the fate of Edom. God calls nations into account for their actions and, in His time, God’s judgment will fall on oppressors.