"Pride is spiritual cancer: it eats up the very possibility of love, or contentment, or even common sense" (Mere Christianity, C S Lewis). Who could argue with such a statement? From the beginning of the Bible it is clear that pride is a serious problem in God's creation. We learn from Isaiah that pride lay at the root of Satan's attempts to exalt himself: "I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will be like the most High" (Is 14.14). After being cast down he brought his temptations into the Garden of Eden tempting Eve with the promise that she and her husband could be as "gods, knowing good and evil" (Gen 3.5). Was the garden unpleasant, the food poor, or the Lord ungracious in any way? Pride reared its ugly head, and before long Adam and Eve were hiding behind a tree ashamed at the consequences of their rebellion.
The story of mankind is punctuated by pride. It is everywhere in Biblical history. Uzziah had a good start as king in Judah, "But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense" (2 Chr 26.16).
Haman was promoted by King Ahasuerus who "set his seat above all the princes that were with him" (Esth 3.1). It seemed to go to his head "when Haman saw that Mordecai bowed not, nor did him reverence, then was Haman full of wrath (Esth 3.5). The story ended with proud Haman cast down from his position of power and suffering the end that he had prepared for Mordecai his enemy.
It was nothing less than pride that saw Nebuchadnezzar lose his kingdom when he said, "Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honour of my majesty?" (Dan 4.30). Nebuchadnezzar repented of his pride, but his grandson was not given the same opportunity. Belshazzar, who knew of his grandfather's rebuke, refused to learn his grandfather's lesson. On the night of King Belshazzar's demise, Daniel the prophet stood before him and said, "And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this; But hast lifted up thyself against the Lord of heaven" (Dan 5.22-23).
For anyone who has not read the Bible it may come as a surprise to learn that the harshest words spoken by the Lord Jesus were directed to the religious establishment of his day. He repeatedly condemned the pride of the Pharisees. There was a day when "he spake this parable unto certain which trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others: Two men went up into the temple to pray; the one a Pharisee, and the other a publican. The Pharisee stood and prayed thus with himself, God, I thank thee, that I am not as other men are, extortioners, unjust, adulterers, or even as this publican. I fast twice in the week, I give tithes of all that I possess. And the publican, standing afar off, would not lift up so much as his eyes unto heaven, but smote upon his breast, saying, God be merciful to me a sinner. I tell you, this man went down to his house justified rather than the other: for every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Lk 18.9-14).
Obadiah was God's prophet who brought a ministry of rebuke to the Edomites. As a people they traced their origin to Esau, the firstborn (twin) son of Isaac and Rebekah (Gen 25.24–26) who struggled with Jacob even while in the womb (Gen 25.22). He showed a disregard for the covenant promises by marrying two Canaanite women (Gen 26.34) and later the daughter of Ishmael (Gen 28.9). He settled in a region of mostly rugged mountains south of the Dead Sea called Edom. The struggle and birth of Jacob and Esau form the ultimate background to the perpetual animosity between their respective descendants, Israel and Edom. When Israel came out from Egypt, Edom denied their brother Israel passage through their land, located south of the Dead Sea (Num 20.14–21). Nevertheless, Israel was instructed by God to be kind to Edom: "Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land. The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the Lord in their third generation" (Deut 23.7-8).
Having received a vision from God, Obadiah was sent to describe their crimes and to pronounce total destruction upon Edom because of their treatment of Israel. History records the fulfilment of Obadiah's prophecies.
The Edomites opposed Saul and were subdued under David and Solomon. They fought against Jehoshaphat and successfully rebelled against Jehoram. They were again conquered by Judah under Amaziah but regained their freedom during the reign of Ahaz. Edom was later controlled by Assyria and Babylon; and in the 5th century BC they moved to the area of southern Palestine and became known as Idumeans. Herod the Great, an Idumean, became king of Judea under Rome in 37 BC. They participated in the rebellion of Jerusalem against Rome and were defeated along with the Jews by Titus in AD 70. Ironically, the Edomites applauded the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC but died trying to defend it in AD 70. After that time they were never heard of again. As Obadiah predicted, they would be "cut off forever" (v.10); "and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau" (v.18).
The root cause of Edom's prophesied demise lay in their pride. They thought they were untouchable. Obadiah brought the word of God to them and graphically described their sense of grandeur and impregnability. "The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?" (v.3). But God declares, "Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord" (v.4).
Edom's proud self-exaltation and gloating over of Judea's calamity is familiar behaviour. There is something in the sinfulness of the human heart that delights when others are diminished and we are exalted. Apart from the grace of God we all appear to exhibit these traits. Times like these seem to cover our inadequacy and magnify our success. Edom relished the destruction of Judah, stood aloof, gloated, boasted, looted, and cut off the stragglers thinking that this was their moment and they would make the most of it.
It is interesting that although Edom seemed to have pulled off their sinful behaviour without consequence, God noted what happened and in His perfect timing brought His righteous judgment upon that nation. God never overlooks pride, with the Scriptures teaching us that rather than being passive or uninterested He actively opposes the proud: "God resisteth the proud" (James 4.6).
Let us learn the lesson that Obadiah pronounced upon Edom. Gloating at the distress of others is not wise. It may give us opportunity to advance ourselves, or our interests, as it did for Edom, but God ultimately visited them with the same destruction that they had seen their enemy experience. In modern parlance we might say something like, "What goes around comes around", except as a Christian we understand that it is not fate, it is the intentional righteousness of God.
To be continued.