Saturday, 1 May 2021

Obadiah - Joy from Ashes

 Click here for AUDIO

I.      Introduction

Proverbs 27:6 in the old AV says "Faithful are the wounds of a friend;

but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful."

Well that's possibly not the best translation, as is highlighted by the fact it often doesn't feel like that.

When a friend puts the knife in when you're down, it wounds but it doesn't feel very faithful.

And that's the sort of situation the little-known book of the prophet Obadiah deals with.

This is an all-too-common situation, in reality, isn't it?

Let down by 'the church'.

Let down by someone you thought was your brother ... or sister.

Turned on by those you would have least expected to shape up like that.

Here's how that situation develops and then pans out in the prophet Obadiah.

Just a sneak preview of where this is going, though: God is watching – but it’s not going to simply pan out the way you might think.

But let’s not jump the gun!

II.     Who is Obadiah?

A.   His identity

The name Obadiah in Hebrew means “servant of the Lord.”

A dozen or so individuals in the OT have this name, none of whom may be safely identified with the author of this book.

In reality we know very little about this prophet with regard to his exact identity or historical circumstances.

What about his era?

B.   His Era

The date of the book of Obadiah is very difficult to determine too.

Since there is no direct indication of chronological setting clearly suggested by the book itself, and since the historical identity of the author is uncertain as well, a possible date for the book can be arrived at only on the basis of internal evidence ... what goes on inside the book.

When did the hostile actions of Edom against Judah that are described in this book take place?

Many nineteenth-century scholars linked the events of the book to a historical note found in 2 Kings 8:20 (see 2 Chronicles 21:16-17): “In [Jehoram’s] days Edom rebelled from under the hand of Judah and established a king over themselves.”

If this is the backdrop against which Obadiah should be read, it would suggest a ninth-century B.C. date for the book, since Jehoram reigned c. 852-841 B.C.

But the evidence presented for this view is not entirely convincing, and most contemporary Old Testament scholars reject a ninth-century scenario.

A more popular view, held by many biblical scholars from Luther to the present, understands the historical situation presupposed in the book to be the Babylonian invasion of Judah in the sixth century (see Psalm 137:7, Lamentations 4:18-22, Ezekiel 25:12-14; 35:1-15).

Understood in this way, Obadiah would be describing a situation in which the Edomites assisted in the Babylonian sack of Jerusalem.

Although it must be admitted that a sixth-century setting for the book of Obadiah cannot be proven, the details of the book fit reasonably well into such a context. Other views on the dating of the book, such as an eighth-century date in the time of Ahaz (c. 732-716 B.C.) or a fifth-century date in the post-exilic period, are less convincing.

Parallels between the book of Obadiah and Jeremiah 49:1-22 clearly suggest some kind of literary dependence, but it is not entirely clear whether Jeremiah drew on Obadiah or whether Obadiah drew upon Jeremiah,

In any case, the close relationship between Obadiah and Jeremiah 49 might suggest the sixth-century B.C. setting.

C.   His Scenario

The early church father Jerome warns us that Obadiah is as difficult as it is brief … the shortest book in the Old Testament at just twenty-one verses, and one of the only ten Old Testament books that aren’t quoted in the New Testament.

Anyway the scenario is this - Obadiah has had a leak

He's heard or over-heard of something that has gone on in the Court of Heaven:

"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’–"

Obadiah 1:1

And that brings us to our next question ...


III.    What is he dealing with?

Adom in Hebrew is 'red'.

Edom is a kingdom living in the red rock desert by the Dead Sea

Adam is the Hebrew word for humanity.

Hebrew lacks vowels in the Biblical text and Hebrew, especially Hebrew poetry like the first eighteen verses of this book, just LOVES to play around with words and sounds like that.

As we’ll see Edom, its red rocks and then humanity in general figure across the face of this book with a thread running right through it.

But Edom is not, in fact, the name that’s used so much for these protagonists in this book.

There are seven references to Edom as ‘Esau’ and two to ‘Jacob’ instead of Jerusalem or Judah in the book.


Well ...

A.       'Edom' is an enemy with a history

Edom shares its genes with Israel.

Abraham married Sarah and they had a son called Isaac

Isaac married Rebekah and they had two sons, Jacob and Esau ... you can read about them in Genesis 25-27, and it's a tale of brotherly contrasts and hostility.

Famously, the old translations say that 'Esau was an hairy man but Jacob was a smooth man'.

That points up the contrast.

But the contrast seems to have influenced parental favouritism, as Rebekah favoured Jacob but Isaac favoured Esau who was a hunter and used to bring him game to eat.

Genesis 25:22-28 tells us that when Rebekah was expecting:

"The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, ‘Why is this happening to me?’ So she went to enquire of the Lord.


The Lord said to her,


‘Two nations are in your womb,

    and two peoples from within you will be separated;

one people will be stronger than the other,

    and the elder will serve the younger.’


When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. 

The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau. 

After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau’s heel; so he was named Jacob. 

Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.


The boys grew up, and Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was content to stay at home among the tents. 

Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob."


Now, that shows you the differences between the two ... the contrasts ... and gives you the beginning of a clue that there’ll be conflict, because the contrast in their characters and the idea that the younger will rule the older (which in THAT sort of society was an outrageous idea) paints a picture that is going to lead to trouble.

And that's exactly how it worked out in Genesis

What happens in Obadiah is that the Kingdom of Edom, based in the red rocks of the desert east of the Dead Sea, recapitulates the hostility of Esau against Jacob in the book of Genesis ... it runs the story again.

Obadiah deals with the WORST episode in this stormy family history, at the time when Edom took advantage of Babylon's conquest of Jerusalem and Judah.

In the big picture of what happens in Obadiah, that stormy relationship, rivalry, cheating and betrayal gets worked out between the following generations ... between what grew to be Judah and Edom.

So what you've got with Edom taking advantage to rule over Judah is a rebellion against the sovereignty of God ... Who had decreed that the younger should rule the older, but which Edom was trying to overthrow, rebelling against God's decree as to which brother should rule the other and against God's decrees distributing the Land He led them all into way back in the book of Joshua.

Edom was becoming a cipher for Babylon in the outworking of history as it dealt 

treacherously in this family feud and overthrew the sovereign decree of God concerning the two peoples.

We could say, then that Edom was ...


B.       Being Babylon by betrayal

When Babylon over-ran Jerusalem, destroying and plundering  the city and the Temple,

the Edomites took advantage, they acted just like Babylon and plundered other cities in Judah and abused the refugees trying to flee (capturing and killing them).

You get a taste of what that was like in Psalm 137:7-9 which wishes for Edom what she has done to Jerusalem …

Remember, Lord, what the Edomites did
    on the day Jerusalem fell.
‘Tear it down,’ they cried,
    ‘tear it down to its foundations!’
 Daughter Babylon, doomed to destruction,

    happy is the one who repays you
    according to what you have done to us.
Happy is the one who seizes your infants
    and dashes them against the rocks.


In Ezekiel 35 God speaks out against this sin of the Edomites in very round terms.

And also in Amos we read:

 “This is what the Lord says:

‘For three sins of Edom,
    even for four, I will not relent.
Because he pursued his brother with a sword
    and slaughtered the women of the land,
because his anger raged continually
    and his fury flamed unchecked,
 I will send fire on Teman
    that will consume the fortresses of Bozrah.’”

                                             Amos 1:11-12


Other prophets deal with this sin of Edom as one issue among many others, but with Obadiah this issue is the main course.

What happens in Obadiah is that the prophet receives a 'leak' from the Court of Heaven that God is going to hold them accountable for what they have done ... but that is most certainly NOT all of it!


IV.     What has Obadiah got to say about it?

The prophecy of Obadiah comes in two halves with a bit of a hinge in the middle.

Verses 1-14 set out a pretty thorough indictment of Edom.

It's all about their erroneous self-image and pride.

They thought they were above everyone else ... quite literally they lived in the crags in the red rocky cliffs above and to the East of the Dead Sea.

Metaphorically, they thought they were above everyone else too:

"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?”

Though you soar like the eagle

    and make your nest among the stars,

    from there I will bring you down,’

declares the Lord."

                        Obadiah 1:3-4

That pride had led them to not just stand idly by while Babylon was destroying Jerusalem, but to jump in and join in with the destruction.

So Obadiah gets the leak from the Court of Heaven that Obadiah then publishes like any good journalist ... except he's a prophet ... that Edom will be brought down from their height and destroyed, according to the rule of strict justice: 'as you have done to Israel, so it will be done to you'.

So ...


V.      How do things pan out?

Well, NOT as you'd expect!

Just as you are expecting to hear the gruesome details of what will befall Edom ... that's not what you get ... and here's the crucial thing about the point of this book and possibly why it is in the Bible at all.

Obadiah may have started to seem to you like a bit of a 'venge-fest' where Obadiah is showing that Edom is a bad boy and gets the absolute kicking he deserves, 'yah-boo Esau and your attitude'.

That might make a good block-buster movie but it wouldn't make a very good book in the Bible.

There's a point which makes Obadiah (like any other Bible book) useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work! (yup - 2 Timothy 3:16 ff. is something we really need to keep in mind in the Old Testament too!)


A.       The 'hinge', v. 15

So, just as you think you're about to hear how Edom meets its Waterloo, the topic suddenly pivots around v. 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.

Just as you drank on my holy hill,

    so all the nations will drink continually;

they will drink and drink"

                                Obadiah 1:15-16


B.       The Day of the Lord for All Nations

It's not just Edom ... you see?

ALL prideful nations will fall from their heights in the same way and come to ruin ... and all of a sudden the Book of Obadiah is all about OUR history and OUR politics!

The combination of these two sections in the book, one about Edom and the other about ALL nations shows us why Obadiah was so interested in Edom, of course.

Obadiah sees Edom's pride and fall as an example, an illustration, even a proto-type (except God doesn't NEED to make prototypes to work out how to do things better!)

It's an EXAMPLE then, of how God will one day confront all prideful nations and bring about their fall too before His righteous Kingdom.

Look at v. 16:

" Just as you drank on my holy hill,

    so all the nations will drink continually;

they will drink and drink"

                                Obadiah 1:16

VI.    Conclusion

So here in Obadiah we get a bit of a review of why nations fail, first of all.

A.   Why Nations Fail

·       Too much pride in their military defences, vv. 3-4

·       Too much trust placed in ungodly alliances, vv. 5-7

·       Too much confidence in their own 'experts', as if God is saying 'there's no use your experts knowing a lot of stuff if they don't know Me!' v. 8

And (get this!)

·       Poor treatment of God's people, vv. 10-14

God won't have any of this ... especially that last one.

B.   Deliverance for God’s People

This is something that gets picked up explicitly in 2 Thessalonians 1:6  and it’s worth noting this:

“God is just:

he will pay back trouble to those who trouble you

 and give relief to you who are troubled,

 and to us as well.

 This will happen when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven in blazing fire with his powerful angels. 

There, you see?

Deliverance on the ultimate Day of the Lord!

“ He will punish those who do not know God and do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus.

In Obadiah 1:11 Edom didn't come to help God's people but stood aloof.

They WATCHED God's people get abused and allowed them to be plundered of the inheritance God gave them.

And not only did they take advantage of the situation themselves by piling in and grabbing what they could, but Edom GLOATED over their calamity.

They didn't even allow God's people to run away but cut off their opportunity to flee in retreat.

Edom were supposed to be allies but defeated God's people from the back.

But that’s not really the essential message of Obadiah.

C.   The Message of Obadiah

Deliverance for Judah DOES come in verses 19-20, but the resolution comes in v. 21

There is only one winner out of a terrible situation like this.

And that winner is going to be God.

The Edomites thought they'd win wealth, power and prestige by their treachery.

The Jerusalemites of Judah thought that they'd have God come in to vindicate them and give them revenge against the Edomites.

Yes, it’s true that:

There will be no survivors
    from Esau.’

The Lord has spoken.

 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.
 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.”


(Obadiah 1:18-20)


Yes, the wronged brother WILL have their justice done and the abusing brother WILL get his just deserts.

But that isn’t the resolution of the matter, which is far bigger and encompasses all time and all of humanity in the bigger solution:

Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion

    to govern the mountains of Esau.
    And the kingdom will be the Lord’s.”


We can see now with our New Testament spectacles on that it is the salvation of God and the restoration of His dynamic rule – His Sovereignty and Kingdom – that will bring the resolution of the feuding of brothers and the sins of the world as a whole.


The ‘saviours’ of v. 21 are like the Old Testament Judges on steroids, fighting a religious war with ‘the Nations’ by preaching the Gospel to win over their hearts.

In verse 21 we see the plan for the coming Day of the Lord is salvation through judgement.

In Obadiah, Edom’s rise and fall is like a parable of how God’s justice will one day oppose human arrogance and pride in the great Day of the Lord … but in Scripture, God’s judgement is never His FINAL word.

So let's finally see ...

D.   Where does this fit in God’s Good News ‘big picture’?


Johnny Gibson in Nancy Guthrie’s ‘Help Me Teach the Bible’ podcast on Obadiah for The Gospel Coalition talks about how the two prophets that precede Obadiah (Joel and Amos) talk about what happens AFTER the Day of the Lord.

Joel 2-3 follows the Day of the Lord as judgement with a new act of salvation in Jerusalem after which all those who humbled themselves would call on the Lord and be delivered … it makes fascinating reading alongside Acts 2 where the people cry out to Peter after Peter explains the events of the Day of Pentecost that first time up in Jerusalem: ‘Brothers, what shall we do?’ and Peter … in the role of one of these ‘saviours’ that’ve gone up on Jerusalem’s hill… responds to that crowd drawn from ALL NATIONS: ‘Repent and be baptised, every one of you, in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 The promise is for you and your children and for all who are far off – for all whom the Lord our God will call.’  (Acts 2:37-39).


Then, Amos 9:11-15 speaks of God restoring David’s fallen line after the Day of the Lord, including Edom and all nations in the new Kingdom of God … comprising all who are called by His Name.

Yuo see, Obadiah has been placed where it is in our Bible to expand on these promises about the HOPE of ALL  NATIONS!

And the book concludes with a very hopeful future rising out of all this terrible rivalry and brokenness in human history.

God says (Obadiah 1:17-21) that He is going to restore His Kingdom over the New Jerusalem.

God says He will populate that Kingdom with His faithful remnant.

And from there, God’s Kingdom will expand to fill all the territory and nations around Israel that end up hearing the praises of God declared in their own languages on the day the Spirit was poured out at Pentecost and that still come together in the Church of God.

Yes, the ancient pride and betrayal of ancient Edom portrays an example of the fallen human condition.

It relates to all the ways we oppose God’s sovereignty and betray and hurt one another in the world God created ‘good’.

But Obadiah is showing that even in dark days like those when Edom became Babylon, there is HOPE in the awful Day of the Lord as God judges sin and brings about salvation.

Edom’s come-uppance (as its’ sin meets God’s justice) points forward to the final Day of the Lord when God will deal with the evil in His world, but also bring about His healing Kingdom of peace over all the Nations.




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