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Notebook: The Prophecy of Obadiah

J Grant

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About the prophet Obadiah nothing is known apart from the little that can be gleaned from his prophecy. His name, meaning "Servant" or "Worshipper of Jehovah", indicates that his parents were godly and desired that the son born to them should follow in their footsteps in that respect. It is difficult to ascertain the date of the prophecy, although it appears to have been written towards the end of, or at the end of, the independent existence of the kingdom of Judah. All Scripture, however, is of value, and this little book, which is so often disregarded, has valuable lessons to teach us. It also, while dealing with a past troubled day for Israel, pictures a coming day when Israel will again be in times of trouble and when final deliverance will come.

The history of Edom

The subject of the book is the relationship between Israel and Edom. The name "Edom" (Red) was given to Esau as a result of his hunger for the red pottage which was being cooked by Jacob (Gen 25.29-34; 36.1,8). On his return from his time with Laban, Jacob sent messengers to Esau in the land of Seir, which is Edom, and then met Esau who invited Jacob to return with him and live in Edom. Jacob made excuses and then went another way (Gen 32.3; 33.16-17). It may be that this incident further soured the relationship between the two brothers, even although Jacob could not have settled in the land of Edom. In Genesis 36 the growth and development of Edom is noted. When at its zenith it was clearly a major power. Balaam, while seeking to curse Israel, is caused to say that for Israel "Edom shall be a possession" (Num 24.18). However, Israel was expressly told, "Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother" (Deut 23.7).

Before this, when Moses requested permission for the Israelites, on their way to Canaan, to pass through their land they were refused. The king of Edom stoutly proclaimed, "Thou shalt not pass by me, lest I come out against thee with the sword" (Num 20.18). Little more is heard of them until the times of King Saul, but it would appear that they were hostile to Israel throughout those years. Twice they were conquered by Israel: during the reign of David (2 Sam 8.14) and later by Amaziah (2 Chr 25.11-12). There is, however, an indication in Lamentations 4.21 that Edom had assisted Babylon in the overthrow of Judah. Other prophets write of Edom and there is agreement among them that the kingdom would be destroyed. This came to pass.

The history of this people cannot be separated from the decision Esau made regarding the birthright. He "despised his birthright" (Gen 25.34). He had no appreciation of the value of the birthright and in so doing revealed his lack of interest in the God of Abraham and of Isaac. The lesson is vital. Those who fail to value the promises of God and have no interest in spiritual things will oppose those who do value these promises and the God who made them, but will ultimately be the losers. The history of Edom can, therefore, be summed up in a few statements.

Whether with nations or with individuals this is always the pathway of those who reject God. Written large over the history of this nation are the words, "Be not deceived; God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal 6.7).

RETRIBUTION ENDURED BY EDOM (vv.1-16)

The results of divine judgment (vv.1-9)

The opening words of the book declare the downfall of the nation. They had been

Ungodly alliances would be proved to be unstable. Their allies would desert them; their friends would deceive them; their familiar friends who sat at meat with them would wound them. The Lord would take away from them the wisdom necessary to maintain their position and possessions. In the dealings of God with the nations there are many other examples of those that reached great heights and fell ignominiously. Let the student of history understand that these are not the "accidents of history", but were due to the judgment of God.

The reasons for divine judgment (vv.10-14)

That judgment, however, was not without cause, and the reasons why they were brought low are now noted. Their evil conduct against their "brother Jacob" is cited. Their behaviour as they observed Israel’s troubles is detailed. We do not know to what particular time this refers. It is, as has been noted, towards the end of Judah’s existence as a kingdom. There have been a number of other suggestions, but the point at issue is not so much the identity of the enemy, but rather the reaction of Edom. It should be noted, however, that what is described here also looks ahead to a day when Edom will again act against Israel.

A day of crisis is a test for all who are involved and often reveals what lies in the heart of those who play a part in events. In this situation the heart of the Edomites is clearly displayed and seen to be one of disregard and even enmity towards their "brother". They were guilty of indifference, joy at Israel’s trouble, public declaration of that joy, robbery, cutting off escape routes, and delivering some of them into captivity.

The righteousness of divine judgment (vv.15-16)

But God rules amongst the nations and Edom paid the price for their sin. The issue of whether Edom’s judgment was righteous is now addressed. Their actions, as we have already noticed, were sowing, and, as with all sowing, there comes later a day of reaping. Obadiah does not express it in this way, but rather, "as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee". But note that the judgment will ultimately come upon all the heathen. So what has taken place in the past will take place in the Day of the Lord, that day, yet to be, when the judgment of God will fall upon a sinful, Christ rejecting world.

It must not be thought, however, that this principle of divine rule applies only to nations. It applies also to individuals and is a warning that ought to cause all to think before acting. Nor can believers count themselves to be outwith this. This has not to do with eternity, but, in time, reaping for earlier actions which have taken place.

RESTORATION ENJOYED BY ISRAEL (vv.17-21)

Restoration of her position (v.17)

These verses continue the description of what has yet to occur. Israel also reaped what she sowed, but for her there will come a day of restoration when the Lord comes back in glory to establish His kingdom. Mount Zion will be a holy place and Israel, named here "the house of Jacob" will regain Mount Zion.

Restoration of her power (v.18)

With what remarkably descriptive language we read of this. The house of Jacob will be a fire and a flame. Before them the house of Esau will be but stubble, and how can stubble survive the flame. It is easily devoured and cannot safeguard itself, for it has no means of defence against the flame. In a coming day the descendants of Edom will know what it is to be defeated by that nation which they had despised.

Restoration of her possessions (vv.19-21)

In that day a united Israel will spread throughout the possessions which had been promised to the nation from the times of Abraham. It will be seen that all that the Lord had promised throughout the long years between had come to pass. Despite the enmity, even of those who were related to them, Israel will be seen to rise again, not as a weak vassal state, but as the most powerful nation on earth. The reign of Solomon was marked by greatness and glory, but in that coming day a greater than Solomon (Mt 12.42) will rule over a kingdom more glorious than any seen in the history of this world.

The resounding words at the end of this little but remarkable book sum it up well: "…the kingdom shall be the Lord’s". He will rule, His sceptre will hold sway, even beyond the land of Israel. Never again will the enemy attack. Secure from all enemies Israel will be at peace and all the world will enjoy the glory!

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