by: Denise Robinson
Small But Mighty: Obadiah
This morning we continue our sermon series, Small But Mighty, where our focus is on the shortest books of the Bible. Today we are looking at Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament with just twenty-one verses. What comes to mind when you hear the name Obadiah? Probably not much. Last week had us thinking of the Beatles while humming “Hey, Jude” and my scientific survey at least brought up actor Jude Law. This week I tried the scientific survey again and got nothing except a reference to a Marvel comic character named Obadiah Stone who appeared in Iron Man. I did find one interesting comment, however, referring to Obadiah as the spleen of the Old Testament; we know it’s there, but most of us are hazy about its role in the body. That being said, Obadiah does share one thing with Jude in addition to its brevity and that is its confusing and difficult message. We begin with the same analysis this week as last. Who wrote it, who was it written to, why was it written, and, then, what meaning, if any, does it have for us today?
The book of Obadiah gives us no insight as to the identity of its author other than a name. In Hebrew, the name Obadiah means “servant of the Lord,” but no lineage or place of birth is mentioned. There are eleven Obadiah’s in the Old Testament, but we aren’t certain that this Obadiah is one of them. It’s clear that Obadiah is a prophet whose message has been preserved; beyond that, he, unlike other prophets, doesn’t make any reference to kings or significant historical events that help us in making an identification. After the briefest of introductions, Obadiah simply plunges into the subject matter of his message.
Our next question is, to whom is Obadiah written? V. 1 answers that question at least. He is writing to the nation of Edom. Who were the Edomites? They were descendants of Esau, if you remember him, and there is long-standing animosity between Edom and Israel. To understand the history between these two nations, you have to go back to the first book of the Bible, Genesis, beginning with Chapter 27. Esau and Jacob are twin brothers, although Esau is the older of the two. Under the law, Esau would receive the larger inheritance and their father’s blessing to continue the line. But Jacob deceives their father and receives the blessing instead, and he also plays on Esau’s weaknesses and takes Esau’s inheritance or birthright. Esau is understandably angry and threatens to kill Jacob, forcing Jacob to flee for his life. Years later, the brothers reconcile but go their separate ways. Jacob becomes an instrumental leader in what will become the nation of Israel, and Esau fills the same role for what will become the nation of Edom. The territory of Edom was located in what is today the country of Jordan, meaning that the two nations shared a common boundary, that is, the Jordan River and Dead Sea. Edom would’ve been the eastern neighbor to Israel, kind of like Ohio is to Indiana. In other words, they were neighbors who were not at all neighborly.
Before we look at the message of the book, the fact that it is intended for the Edomites makes Obadiah unique. Prophets of Israel, generally, delivered messages of God to God’s people, usually calling on them to repent of their sins and turn back to God. One exception that we looked at a few weeks ago was in the book of Jonah, where God called Jonah to deliver a message to the people living in Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire. And now we have Obadiah, who is speaking to Edom and pronouncing judgment against them.
What is the message of Obadiah? Edom has watched as Israel has been attacked and, instead of helping, they have sat by and even rejoiced. This helps us connect the message of Obadiah to the late 6th century BC when Israel was attacked and conquered by the Babylonian empire and Jerusalem fell. The Edomites should have recalled their shared lineage with Israel, remembered that they were also the grandchildren of Abraham and Isaac, and come to Israel’s aid. Obadiah points out several faults of Edom, for which God will hold them accountable.
First, the Edomites were a proud, arrogant, people who thought they were better than others, particularly Israel. Their mindset is set out in v. 3, as Scott read for us: “Your proud heart has deceived you, you that live in the clefts of the rock, whose dwelling is in the heights. You say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’” Their pride is shown in several ways. First, they have a false sense of security based on power, believing in their own abilities and strength. They have made their homes in the clefts of the rocks and in the heights and they are protected by their mighty warriors, and this has led them to believe they are invincible. Second, they have a false sense of security based on their economy, believing in their wealth and the treasures which they have hidden. Third, they have a false sense of security based on their high opinion of their own wisdom, believing their treaties will protect them from outside invaders.
So, having this mindset, what do the Edomites do when they see Israel attacked? First, they stood aside and did nothing; they sat and watched their relatives be destroyed and didn’t care. Raised with a chip on their shoulder when it came to Israel and harboring resentments from hundreds, thousands really, of years earlier, they perhaps saw some vindication in what was happening, and so they turned a blind eye. But, even more, perhaps because of ancient jealousies and resentments, they not only watched, they gloated. They rejoiced over Israel’s what was happening to Israel. As Obadiah says in v. 12, “But you should not have gloated over your brother on the day of his misfortune; you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah on the day of their ruin; you should not have boasted on the day of distress.” As we see from the end of v. 12, it wasn’t enough to do nothing or even gloat – Edom went even further and boasted that what happened to Israel couldn’t happen to them. And it couldn’t happen to them because of their strength, their wealth, and their wisdom. As descendants of Esau, the Edomites were raised with the knowledge of Abraham’s God, the God of Israel, and the covenant of faithfulness God made with Abraham’s descendants, which would include them, but they’ve gotten to a point in their society where God is absent. It’s all about them and what they have done, and God is not even an afterthought. Finally, though, what Edom has done to Israel gets even worse. It’s not enough that they stood by or gloated or boasted. Listen to vv. 13-14: “You should not have entered the gate of my people on the day of their calamity; you should not have joined in the gloating over Judah’s disaster on the day of his calamity; you should not have looted his goods on the day of his calamity. You should not have stood at the crossings to cut off his fugitives; you should not have handed over his survivors on the day of distress.” Edom, it seems, crossed the border into Israel and looted those left alive by the Babylonians, they prevented Israelite people fleeing for their lives from coming into their territory, and they captured Israelite survivors and handed them over to the Babylonians.
For these reasons, says Obadiah, Edom will be held accountable. In v. 2, Obadiah prophesies that Edom will be made least among the nations. In v. 15, God says: “As you have done, it shall be done to you.” Obadiah provides an image of thieves who come in the night: thieves will steal what they want and can carry away, but they always leave some things behind. Nothing will be left of Edom; everything will be taken. The confederates they thought they had will deceive them and lay traps for them. The wisdom they relied upon will let them down – they will rely on their own understanding, but there is no understanding left. The nations around them will drink and gulp them down, and it will be as if they had never been. The nation of Edom will cease to exist, while Israel will survive and thrive.
So, what is Obadiah’s message for us today?
First, there is a message about pride and about reliance on our own wealth and wisdom. The book of Proverbs reminds us that pride goes before destruction and arrogance before a fall and cautions us not to rely on our own understanding but to trust in God and allow God to direct our actions. Jesus once told a parable of a rich man who, like Edom, hoarded and hid his wealth; in the parable, God refers to him as “You fool.” Obadiah’s message to Edom is a warning to us that when we trust in our own abilities – be it our strength, wealth, or wisdom – it will lead only to disaster. Obadiah stands as a warning to nations, to churches, and to each of us individually. Too often we see in our own lives a belief that in our daily living we don’t need God, that we can do it (whatever it is) by ourselves. In many churches, the focus is on “us” within the church instead of on the community outside our walls. And if God isn’t in our lives or in our churches, how can God possibly be a part of our nation? Andrew Murray, Christian pastor and author said, “Pride must die in you, or nothing of heaven can live in you.” Obadiah reminds us that when we believe we have it all under control, we’re wrong.
The second message of Obadiah is that God does not, and will not, tolerate indifference to the suffering of others. Edom was guilty when it stood by and did nothing to help its neighbor in need, even if its neighbor was an old enemy. Edom had a choice: indifference or compassion – and it chose indifference. It stood aloof, it turned a blind eye, it ignored the needs of people living next door. I’m sure the Edomites had reasons for not responding – helping would require them to give up some of their own wealth, they would be helping people who had never helped them, what difference could they make really against an empire, and, honestly, it would be dangerous to help. All good reasons when you take God out of the equation. But biblical compassion requires that we choose to help those in need who are in our path, whether they deserve it or not. Turning again to Proverbs, we are warned that, “Whoever shuts their ears to the cry of the poor will cry out and not be answered.” We know there is injustice in this world and there are people struggling with problems. Much of the suffering we either can’t see or can’t do anything about. But the message of Obadiah isn’t about that: it’s about the suffering we do see, or should see if we just open our eyes, and ignore. It’s about not even asking, what can I do to help. This small book is a reminder that being apathetic is an issue with God.
In the end, Obadiah really delivers three messages. To Edom and to the proud who don’t need God, there is a message of judgment. To Israel and to those who are faithful to God, there is a message of hope. But the third message is one of promise, made for those who believe in and follow Christ. Obadiah ends with these words: “Those who have been saved shall go up to Mount Zion … and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” Jesus, when he began his ministry, announced that the time was fulfilled, the kingdom of God was near; therefore, repent and hear the good news. Obadiah’s final message is one of prayer: Thy kingdom come; thy will be done. Amen.