So as we wade into the waters of reading through the Old Testament Prophets, we can start out with the shortest of them all, and he happens to be also the first in historical order. Meet Mr. Obadiah.
As we will encourage you throughout this series, check “The Prophets” link on the web site home page to see a simple historical overview and where each prophet fits in the list and in history.
Obadiah is the first, as he was a prophetic voice of God, not to Israel or Judah, but rather to Edom. The Edomites were the descendents of Esau – the brother of Jacob and the father of the 12 tribes of Israel. So, the Edomites were a little bit like the distant relatives and cousins that you’ve only ever heard about and don’t even see at Thanksgiving anymore.
Though there was great bitterness between the twin brothers because Jacob stole the birthright away from Esau who did not value it appropriately, the problems between their descendents at the time of the prophets had more to do with international commerce and trade routes. As well, the Edomites were not god-fearing people and had become idolaters like the rest of the nations around Israel.
As a people and nation, the Edomites REALLY angered God – arguably more than any other nation. And so God uses Obadiah to speak a message of their future destruction and of the ultimate blessing of His own chosen people.
The Call to the Nations to Destroy Edom (1-9)
1 The vision of Obadiah… This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom—We have heard a message from the Lord: An envoy was sent to the nations to say, “Rise, let us go against her for battle”—
2 “See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ 4 Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord.
5 “If thieves came to you, if robbers in the night—oh, what a disaster awaits you! —would they not steal only as much as they wanted? If grape pickers came to you, would they not leave a few grapes?
6 But how Esau will be ransacked, his hidden treasures pillaged!
7 All your allies will force you to the border; your friends will deceive and overpower you; those who eat your bread will set a trap for you, but you will not detect it.
8 “In that day,” declares the Lord, “will I not destroy the wise men of Edom, those of understanding in the mountains of Esau?
9 Your warriors, Teman, will be terrified, and everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter.
So God says that he has sent out a call to the nations to gather for the destruction of Edom. Again we see the sovereign hand of God over major events in the world, as he executes justice and works his master plan.
At the heart of Edom’s sin was the issue of pride, which surely led as well to independence from God and a false sense of security without a relationship with the true creator.
Bolstering their confidence was the location of their city Sela (known as Petra) in the mountains to the south of Palestine and below the Dead Sea (in modern day Jordan). The geography was one of a natural rock-fortified city with only one narrow way into it through a narrow pass (see pictures). This is the same narrow gorge through which Indiana Jones went racing on horseback and out into the sunset at the very end of The Last Crusade (Here is a YouTube Link to that). The Edomites were proud of their impregnable mountain fortress “among the clefts of the rocks.”
The Reasons for Edom’s Condemnation and Destruction (10-16)
10 Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever.
11 On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.
12 You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.
13 You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor gloat over them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster.
14 You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.
15 “The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.
16 Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been.
Obadiah prophesied (accurately as it would turn out) that Edom would not stand up for Judah when the time of destruction of Jerusalem came at the hands of Nebuchadnezzar and the Babylonians. Not only did they not defend their former relatives, they participated in a variety of ways in assisting the decimation of God’s people… even gloating over it.
But God says that their own day of destruction will indeed come to them. And it did. In a variety of ways, even through former allies, they were defeated to the extent that by the time of Christ, there were no Edomites to be found in the world.
The Deliverance and Inheritance of God’s People (17-21)
17 But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance.
18 Jacob will be a fire and Joseph a flame; Esau will be stubble, and they will set him on fire and destroy him. There will be no survivors from Esau.” The Lord has spoken.
19 People from the Negev will occupy the mountains of Esau, and people from the foothills will possess the land of the Philistines. They will occupy the fields of Ephraim and Samaria, and Benjamin will possess Gilead.
20 This company of Israelite exiles who are in Canaan will possess the land as far as Zarephath; the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the towns of the Negev.
21 Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the Lord’s.
The Prophets often finish on a high note by mentioning what will be the final story when ALL is said and done. Often called “The Day of the Lord,” it looks forward to a time of final justice, where God and His people are vindicated and truth and righteousness reigns.
A common theme in the Prophets is that though there may be injustice in the present time, and though it seems that evil prospers and all is upside-down, God and truth will ultimately prevail. Those who ignore God and proudly believe that they are the sovereigns over their own lives should not think “it will never happen to me!” The “it” is judgment and God’s authority. And “it” will happen. God’s holiness demands judgment and blood, while his love offers grace and his own blood-payment provision.
God is ruler over all, and as Obadiah finishes, the timeless truth of his final words resound to today, “And the kingdom will be the Lord’s.”