Oh Bad Edom

Posted: September 3, 2015 in Obadiah, Route 66

Route 66: Obadiah, “Oh Bad Edom”

With all of the prophecy written against the people of Israel & Samaria, it can be easy to think that the Scripture only contains God’s judgment for His covenant people.  Books like that of Obadiah are proof to the contrary.  This is a prophecy specifically given to a pagan nation, showing that God is God over all the nations of the earth.  Books like Obadiah (and Jonah & Nahum) are unique in this way.  It’s not that God never revealed His word to other nations through other prophets.  After all, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Amos, and others all contain sections where God gives oracles concerning the Gentiles.  However, the major focus of those other prophets was always Israel (be it the northern or southern kingdoms, or both).  In the Book of Obadiah, it’s not.  100% of the prophecy is a prophecy against Edom.  Even when the future of Israel is addressed, it’s done within the context of what God was saying against the Edomites. 

So what’s the big deal?  So God is God over every nation, including the ones that do not recognize Him as God.  God is God, period.  People might try to ignore Him – to disavow Him – but nonetheless they will one day face Him.  That’s simply a fact.

God is God over every nation, but God has a special relationship with a certain nation: Israel.  This was His covenant people, and though they were disobedient & rebellious against God, God was still their Sovereign King.  He rose to their defense and protection.  Even in the middle of God’s judgment toward His people, He still acted on their behalf.  Other nations of the world might even be used in the process of God’s judgment of Israel, but that did not excuse their own sins against Israel.  That was the case with Edom, as outlined by Obadiah.

Edom had sinned in major ways against the Jews.  They had been at odds against the Israelites for centuries, and once the Babylonians came in, they believed that the Jews finally received their comeuppance.  So they gloated.  They rejoiced over their enemy, even helping the Babylonians in the task of picking them off.  No doubt, that’s a sentiment we can understand. Who wouldn’t rejoice in the destruction of their enemy?  The problem comes in when your enemy are the chosen people of God.  At that point, your enemy is Almighty God Himself, and He is going to act.  And that’s exactly what God promised to do.

Edom may have rejoiced in the moment, but they wouldn’t be rejoicing for long.  God would judge them for their sin, and Obadiah was the prophet sent to take that message to them.

We know nothing about the prophet himself.  “Obadiah” was a common name in the OT, and there’s no way to really associate any of the listed Obadiahs with the prophet who wrote this vision.  The author gives no family background, nor any timeframe as to the exact date of his prophecy.  All we know of him is what is contained within the prophecy itself.  His name means “Servant of Yahweh,” and perhaps that’s enough.  Whoever this man was, he was faithful to serve the Lord in whatever the Lord called him to do – even to give a prophecy to a pagan people.

That actually brings up a good question.  Why would God give a prophecy to a people who would never read it?  God’s prophets (with a few notable exceptions) are among God’s people, and the Edomites had little to no reason to want to receive a prophecy from the God of Israel.  What did they care about Yahweh?  That was the God of the nation who ruled over them; it wasn’t their god.  If no one is going to read the prophecy & warning, why would the Lord God give it? 

  • Never say never.  There’s no way to know whether or not any Edomites received this prophecy and read it.  There’s no way to know whether or not Obadiah actually took it to the Edomites personally.  It’s not told us in the Bible, but we cannot argue from silence.
  • Even if the prophecy was never read, it still needed to be written.  After all, it is the word of God & is still 100% true.  If for no other reason, God could give the prophecy as a testimony to Himself, and that would be enough.
  • Who’s to say Edom was the only audience?  Although the prophecy was written against the Edomites, it also has words of comfort to the Jews.  Edom wasn’t the only nation that needed to read these words.  The Jews also needed to know how God would act on their behalf.

The bottom line is that whether or not the words were heard by Edom at the time, they were preserved for all of God’s people at all times.  God had His reasons for giving this vision, and it is important for all of God’s people to know it.  It is as we’re simply listening in on a conversation between God & someone else.  What He says to them is most important to them, but He’s going to reveal things about Himself to everyone else listening.  We need to pay attention to what it is that God reveals about Himself, His love for His covenant people, and His sovereignty over all the earth

Obadiah is the shortest book in the entire OT. That said, there is still a structure to the prophecy, and although different scholars divide the text in different ways, we’re going to take a look at three major sections:

  • God’s promise of judgment (1-9)
  • God’s reason for judgment (10-16)
  • God’s promise of blessing (17-21)

Edom will be judged, and Edom will be told why.  Edom will also see the blessing of God, but they’ll see it placed upon Israel & not themselves.  The key for Edom would be to humble themselves under the mighty hand of God, rather than being humbled by Him.  It wasn’t a lesson they would take to heart, but it was still a lesson they needed to learn.

God’s promise of judgment

  • Introduction (1)

1 The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord GOD concerning Edom (We have heard a report from the LORD, And a messenger has been sent among the nations, saying, “Arise, and let us rise up against her for battle”):

  • This is Obadiah’s “vision.”  Usually when we read that, we expect something a bit more visual…a picture or analogy of some sort.  Instead, this is going to more typically reflect what we find in other prophecies labeled as “burdens” or “oracles.”  In any case, it’s simply the word of God that came to Obadiah.
  • In regards to Edom itself, we need to remember the historical context.  Edom is descended from Esau, the brother of Jacob/Israel.  Back when they were still in their mother Rebekah’s womb, the twins struggled against each other, and it was prophesied even then that the older would serve the younger (Gen 25:23).  Esau and Jacob competed for the affection of their parents, with Esau being loved by Isaac & Jacob by Rebekah.  Eventually Jacob tricked Isaac into passing the covenant blessing from God along to him, rather than Esau (Gen 27).  However it happened, the plan of God was fulfilled and although Esau did eventually become a great nation (Edom), Jacob did as well…though only Jacob had the covenant promise of the Messiah to come.  Time passes, and once Israel becomes a kingdom, eventually Edom is made subservient to her.  Edom struggled against the kings of Israel (and later Judah) for quite a while, all until the Babylonian captivity. 
  • That’s where the Book of Obadiah comes in.  As we’ll see from the context, it seems that the Babylonian conquest of Judah is described, and Edom had rejoiced to see it.  Thus the vision from God given to Obadiah, one in which messengers had been sent out to deliver a report of impending war, preparing Edom to endure her own battle as well.
  • Again, there’s no timeframe given for the prophecy, so a question arises: when was the prophecy given?  Was it prior to the Babylonian invasion, or subsequent to it?  When a comparative study is done between Obadiah & Jeremiah, there is quite a bit of overlap found in Jeremiah 49:7-22.  Some of the wording is a bit different, as well as some of the order, but the overall message is the same & the imagery is almost identical.  It seems possible that either Jeremiah or Obadiah relied upon one another for their writing, or even wrote their prophecies from an unknown common source – perhaps God the Spirit just gave them the same words.  We know Jeremiah lived through the time of the Babylonian conquest & wrote some of his prophecies afterwards.  It’s quite possible that Obadiah did the same thing.  He didn’t necessarily need to write his prophecy in advance of the Babylonian invasion – though it’s certainly within the capability of inspired Scripture for him to have done so.  So what? So it’s possible that this letter is not only a prophecy of judgment, but a prophecy of warning.  Had the Edomites already followed through on their sin?  We don’t know.  But if they hadn’t, God is giving them ample opportunity not to do so.
    • God will punish sin where it is found, but God would much rather us not sin in the first place!  If we are warned by God about something, that’s something to which we ought to pay close attention.
  • The pride of Edom (2-4)

2 “Behold, I will make you small among the nations; You shall be greatly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, You who dwell in the clefts of the rock, Whose habitation is high; You who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’ 4 Though you ascend as high as the eagle, And though you set your nest among the stars, From there I will bring you down,” says the LORD.

  • Edom had become proud, and it would be their downfall.  They had always been in the shadow of Israel, and it stuck in their craw…just as it had with their forefather Esau.  But the way to deal with pride is not by a further puffing-up, but by humility.  We can either humble ourselves, or be humbled by God.  Edom was taking the 2nd route, and would find it to be much harder!
  • From an historical point of view, it’s interesting that the land of Edom today could easily have been described as belonging to those who “dwell in the clefts of the rock.”  The land that was once known as Edom is now Jordan, where the famed rock-city of Petra is found.  It wasn’t the Edomites who built Petra, but it seems that God is already looking past the people who are now there & grouping them with the Nabateans who would later replace them.  But it’s the imagery that’s striking.  One would think that a high fortress dug into rock walls would never be breached, but God declares that not even that would guarantee their safety.  It wouldn’t matter how high they went, or what they believed they could accomplish, when God came for them they would be cast down.
  • Beware of pride!  Pride has taken down giants among us.  Pride was at the root of a lot of the sin of Adam in the Garden of Eden, and seems to have even been the sin of Satan prior to his fall.  What created being would have been more powerful than Lucifer?  Yet in his pride, he desired to ascend high – even higher than God – and God most powerfully cast him down.  Pride can take down angels – it can take down nations – and it can take down individuals.  Take heed, let you fall!
  • The destruction of Edom (5-7)

5 “If thieves had come to you, If robbers by night— Oh, how you will be cut off!— Would they not have stolen till they had enough? If grape-gatherers had come to you, Would they not have left some gleanings? 6 “Oh, how Esau shall be searched out! How his hidden treasures shall be sought after! 7 All the men in your confederacy Shall force you to the border; The men at peace with you Shall deceive you and prevail against you. Those who eat your bread shall lay a trap for you. No one is aware of it.

  • Vs. 5 hints at the thoroughness of the destruction that would come to Edom.  Thieves and robbers might leave some behind, but God would not.  They would be completely “searched out.”  Even the treasures that they believed would be well “hidden” among the rocks would be discovered & plundered.  And the worst part is that it would all come upon them suddenly.  They would be betrayed by allies, and they would be forced out of their land.
  • Again, historically speaking, this is absolutely true.  Much of what Obadiah writes could possibly refer to the Edomites’ own troubles at the hands of the Babylonians, but this forced evacuation eventually came true through the conquest of the Nabateans.  We don’t have much information about the Nabateans from the pages of Scripture, but archaeology reveals that they were the Arabic people that swept through the areas east of Israel, where the Romans did not initially rule.  In any case, when the Nabateans came into Edom, the Edomites were forced out.  They went west across the Jordan river & ended up in the southern part of what once was the kingdom of Judah.  By the time the Roman Empire had everything settled out, there were two basic regions to the south: Judea & Idumea (i.e. Edom).
    • It seems like such a small detail in a obscure verse in a small OT book of the minor prophets…and yet it came true 100% to the letter as to what God said.  Is Biblical prophecy accurate?  Absolutely.  100% of the time.
  • The source of their destruction (8-9)

8 “Will I not in that day,” says the LORD, “Even destroy the wise men from Edom, And understanding from the mountains of Esau? 9 Then your mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, To the end that everyone from the mountains of Esau May be cut off by slaughter.

  • This is the part that ought not be overlooked.  Who is it that brings the destruction of Edom?  God – the LORD, Yahweh, the Ever-existent I AM who is the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.  Would God use humans like the Babylonians & Nabateans to accomplish His work?  Yes…but it would still ultimately be HIS work.  This is God’s judgment upon Edom, and God is the One who would bring in this vast “slaughter.
    • Objection: “But what about the Scriptures that proclaim that God is love?!”  That doesn’t change at all.  1 John 4:8 is just as true here in Obadiah as it is in the NT.  God IS love, and He has always BEEN love.  That is one of His defining characteristics.  So is His holiness.  So is His righteousness.  Our difficulty so often is that we read of one attribute of God & start believing that is His only attribute.  Not so.  God is infinitely loving & infinitely righteous.  As we’ve said in the past, that is amply illustrated at the cross of Christ.  There, God’s love is shown in that He gave His Son for us.  His justice is shown because His Son died there.  Both are attributes of God, and both are true.
    • Getting back to Obadiah, God’s love IS seen…even through this awful slaughter of Edomites.  How so?  God loved His covenant people enough to take vengeance upon their enemies.  The love that is so apparent here is God’s love for Israel.  God had ample reason to rise up in vengeance, which is exactly what is detailed next.

God’s reason for judgment

  • Edom acted with violence (10-11)

10 “For violence against your brother Jacob, Shame shall cover you, And you shall be cut off forever. 11 In the day that you stood on the other side— In the day that strangers carried captive his forces, When foreigners entered his gates And cast lots for Jerusalem— Even you were as one of them.

  • The first crime listed by God against Edom was their “violence against [their] brother Jacob.”  For all of their differences with Judah throughout the years, they still had a familial kinship with them. They had a common ancestry and could trace their lineage back to Abraham & Isaac.  And yet when Judah needed help, Edom didn’t give it.  To the contrary, they acted as “one” with those who conquered the Jews.  They helped the Babylonians in their gruesome task, rising up in violence against the Jews.  For that reason, “shame” would cover them when God brought His judgment.
  • Whether committed against individuals or Israel, may God keep us from violence!  Obviously as believers, we have no right to commit violence against our neighbors, which can come in many forms.  Perhaps we actively work against them, trying to trip them up.  Perhaps we go into fits of rage.  Perhaps we simply look at them with hate and disgust (which is no different than murdering them in our heart).  God has called us to something better than that through Jesus Christ!  We have been called to love our enemies, and to pray for those who persecute us.  Even if we are hated by others, we can still love those who hate us.  We do not need to work violence against them.  When it comes to vengeance, we can leave that to the Lord.  Far better for us to seek peace, reconciliation, and share the gospel with those who have shown themselves in desperate need of it (even when they don’t realize it).
  • Specifically in regards to Israel, these passages and others ought to give our elected leaders pause.  How is it that they treat the covenant people of God?  The Jews might be in religious rebellion against Him (in that they still reject Jesus as Messiah), but they still belong to Him.  It’s not unlike ancient Judah.  They too were in rebellion against God, and God personally brought in the Babylonians to judge them.  But He also saw the crime of the Edomites when they took part in the violence of that judgment.  That wasn’t their place, and they were judged for it.  God will protect His people, and nations need to take heed.
  • Edom acted with apathy (12-14)

12 “But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother In the day of his captivity; Nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah In the day of their destruction; Nor should you have spoken proudly In the day of distress. 13 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 In the day of their calamity, Nor laid hands on their substance In the day of their calamity. 14 You should not have stood at the crossroads To cut off those among them who escaped; Nor should you have delivered up those among them who remained In the day of distress.

  • Not only did the Edomites act with violence, but they acted with apathy.  They simply stood by and let it happen.  In fact, they even rejoiced over Jerusalem’s downfall.  They came into the land and plundered the spoil that was left behind by the Babylonians.  They even pursued the Jewish refugees & delivered them over to their enemies.  Even if the Edomites weren’t the primary cause for Jewish suffering, they certainly contributed to it!
  • Sometimes apathy can be just as sinful as the violence itself.  We’ve seen the terrible news stories of groups of young people sexually assaulting women, while people stand by and do nothing.  Even if a passer-by didn’t commit the rape, he allowed it to take place.  Silence can be sinful.  Those who knew the holocaust was taking place & remained silent committed an atrocious sin during WWII.  A similar argument might be made today regarding the horrific abortion industry, which has killed more people than the Nazis.  When people who know better do nothing, their apathy can be deadly.
  • Edom to receive what it gave (15-16)

15 “For the day of the LORD upon all the nations is near; As you have done, it shall be done to you; Your reprisal shall return upon your own head. 16 For as you drank on My holy mountain, So shall all the nations drink continually; Yes, they shall drink, and swallow, And they shall be as though they had never been.

  • Why should Edom beware? Because “the day of the LORD” was near.  As we’ve seen through some of the other prophets, the term “day of the LORD” generally refers to a time period of God’s judgment – either something in the near-term, or the final day that culminates in Jesus’ return to earth.  In Obadiah’s prophecy, it seems that a bit of both is in view.  There’s no doubt an immediate judgment coming to them (as has been referenced in regards to the Nabateans), but there is also a future day in which God’s kingdom will be fulfilled & His people will once again be exalted.  (That’s the primary theme of the final section.)
  • As for the judgment that Edom would experience in the present, it would be reflective of what they had given to others.  They took advantage of the land belonging to God; other nations would take advantage of them.  What Edom had done to Judah would come back to haunt them.
    • This is the basic principle of sowing & reaping, and it’s found both in the pages of the OT & the NT.  Galatians 6:7–8, "(7) Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap. (8) For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life."  Keep in mind this is not karma.  Karma is a concept of eastern mysticism which is foreign to what Paul (and the rest of the Biblical writers) state here.  This is not the energy of the universe being upset & brought back into balance (or whatever); this is the righteous, purposeful determination of God.  The true God is a personal God, and the judgment He gives is just as personal as He is.  It is given to particular people for particular sins, in order to satisfy His perfect justice.
    • The whole idea is that people are not able to get away from their sin.  They may try to hide it, to cover it up, to lie about it, or whatnot, but people cannot escape the judgment of God.  Even when Christians sin, it does not escape God’s sight.  He most definitely will deal with our individual sins.  The good news for the Christian is that God does not deal with our sins by eternal judgment – that was already put upon Jesus at the cross.  He’ll deal with them as necessary through His righteous discipline & the consequences we face.  (BTW – there’s more good news for the Christian.  There is still forgiveness!  1 John 1:9)

God’s promise of blessing

  • Zion’s exaltation; Edom’s humiliation (17-18)

17 “But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, And there shall be holiness; The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions. 18 The house of Jacob shall be a fire, And the house of Joseph a flame; But the house of Esau shall be stubble; They shall kindle them and devour them, And no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau,” For the LORD has spoken.

  • Notice the juxtaposition: Zion vs. Edom.  At the moment, Zion (Jerusalem) was in ruins, and Edom was laughing it up, rejoicing over their brother.  In the future, things would be very different.  Edom had plundered the spoil, but one day the people of Zion would repossess everything that once belonged to them.  The nation of Israel would be alive & well, as “a fire” – with all of the energy that is implied there.  In contrast, Edom would be burnt-up “stubble,” which would be devoured by others.  None would survive.  Just as Edom had ensured that Jewish survivors would be taken, so would God see that Edom would face complete destruction.  This was His determined word, as He had “spoken.
  • It sounds awful, and it is!  At least, if you’re an Edomite.  If you’re a Jew, this would have sounded pretty good!  This would have been a tremendous word of comfort from the Lord.  Try to imagine yourself in their situation: your homeland was ransacked & lost, you were ripped away from home & humiliated among the nations.  And to make matters worse, your neighbors came to mock you & spit in your face. (Not unlike the way some of the Muslim nations rejoiced on 9/11.)  To read these words of God would be of immense comfort!  First, you would know you weren’t forgotten by the Lord…He had a plan for you and your people (something which will be expanded upon in a moment).  Secondly, you would know that your enemies were seen by the Lord…He had a plan for them, too.  That is a reason for joy!
    • We have that same reason for joy when reading the NT!  We have our own times of suffering now, exactly as Jesus promised that we would.  We even have our own enemies.  Sometimes they are clothed in flesh, such as those who would persecute Christians or otherwise work violence against us.  Even then, ultimately our enemy is spiritual, as we wage war against principalities and powers.  But what does God promise?  Victory!  Jesus has already gained the victory over sin & death, and the Bible promises His victory over the enemy of Satan.  So likewise, we can rejoice.  God has given us a reason for joy, because He has promised to judge our enemy!
  • Zion’s future borders (19-20)

19 The South shall possess the mountains of Esau, And the Lowland shall possess Philistia. They shall possess the fields of Ephraim And the fields of Samaria. Benjamin shall possess Gilead. 20 And the captives of this host of the children of Israel Shall possess the land of the Canaanites As far as Zarephath. The captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad Shall possess the cities of the South.

  • Some of these names may not sound familiar to the 21st century American evangelical, but they would have been very familiar to the Jews of Obadiah’s day. God is basically telling the Edomites through Obadiah that all of the land they believed was forever taken away from the Jews would one day be given back.  In fact, they would even receive more than what they had before!  The people of Zion would inhabit “the mountains of Esau” (Edom), and all the ancient enemies of Israel would one day have their land given to God’s chosen people, exactly as God had promised centuries earlier.  Ezekiel had a similar vision of the Millennial Kingdom when he was given the land borders by God.
  • Of course for the people to inhabit the land, they needed to be brought back into it – and that’s the other aspect that Obadiah prophesies here.  For the present time, they were “captives” in far-off places such as “Sepharad” (which scholars have a difficult time identifying), but one day God would reconvene them back in the land, in fulfillment of all of the promises He gave to Abraham, Moses, and David.
  • When will that take place?  In the kingdom of God.  Vs. 21…
  • Zion’s future King (21)

21 Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion To judge the mountains of Esau, And the kingdom shall be the LORD’s.

  • Although the people of God were brought back into the land at the end of their 70 years of captivity, vs. 21 makes it clear that God has something different in mind.  This speaks of a time where there is a literal kingdom of God upon the earth, during which God’s people will be exalted upon Mt. Zion to help judge & administer God’s rule throughout the earth.  Edom may be exalted now, but they would be humbled soon – and later they would most definitely be ruled by their younger brother Israel.
  • The best part?  It isn’t what happens with Israel in the Millennial Kingdom; it’s the One who is described as the King: the LORD.  In times past, the people of Israel resisted being ruled by God, instead desiring a human king, like other nations upon the earth.  In the future, they will once again be ruled by God as the King, only this King will be the God-Man, Christ Jesus!  He Himself is the LORD Yahweh, the Word of God, the 2nd Person of the Trinity, and He will personally dwell upon the earth among His people, and He will be known by every creature, nation, and tribe.  Every knee will bow & every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  Praise the Lord!

The Edomites were to be judged, and rightly so.  They despised their brother Jacob – they committed violence against their brother – they were apathetic to the suffering of their brother.  They rejoiced to see the fall of Jerusalem, and that was not something that escaped the attention of Almighty God.  God has the right to judge His people, but other nations do not have the right to mock them.  God declared He would hold Edom to account, and He did.  The book of Obadiah is testimony to the fact that what God said He would do, He would indeed accomplish.

This prophecy may not be written to us, but there is much we can glean from it as we listen in to what God says to this pagan people:

  • Our God is sovereign over every nation of the earth.  Other nations may not worship God, but that does not exempt them from being accountable to Him.  One day every individual will see Jesus face-to-face, and God calls us now to be ready for that day.
  • Our God loves His people, and He will rise up in their defense.  Whether thinking of Israel or the Church, the same principle is true.  God is not blind to our sufferings, and He will deal out His justice to those who persecute His people.  As harsh as His judgment may be, so also is the grandness of His love for us.
  • Our God has a future plan for the earth.  Jesus is coming back, and He will set up His kingdom upon the earth, and that day will be glorious! Everything God promises about that day is true, and we can hardly wait to see it all come to pass!

Tonight, ask yourself if you truly trust the Lord to be sovereign over all the earth – over every circumstance – over every future event.  When we lose sight of God’s sovereignty, it’s easy to lose hope.  Yet when we remember that our God sees, our God knows, and our God acts, then we place our hope once more in Jesus, trusting Him to guide us through whatever it is we face.


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