It is an unfortunate human trait: we don’t pay much attention to the little things or people in life. How many times have you seen a parent oblivious to the cries of their child who keeps saying, “Mom! Mom!”? It is a fact that older siblings are generally deaf to the wisdom of their younger siblings? Corporate Executives often ignore the suggestions of those who are working on the plant floor. Military officers seldom listen to enlisted men. Powerful nations seem unable to hear the voice of the weaker nations. The spiritually experienced often dismiss the insights of the new believer.
The shortest book in the Old Testament is the book of Obadiah. Being a little book, its message is often overlooked in the shadow of the big boys of Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Daniel. It is a book that is never quoted in the New Testament like some of the larger books. There is a good chance that you have never read this particular book of the Bible nuzzled between Amos and Jonah.
Obadiah may be small but the message is powerful and vital. The book is a prophecy directed against the nation of Edom (located where the country of Jordan is today) but the Implications of the words are just as relevant today as ever.
Edom was Israel’s antagonist from the very earliest days. Isaac and Rebekah had twin boys. One was Jacob who was the father of the Israelites, and the other was Esau who was the father of the Edomites. The words of Obadiah are a stinging judgment upon Edom. We can divide the message of the book into three pretty distinct sections: The Charge Against Edom, The Evidence Against Edom, and the Judgment Against Edom.
The Charge Against Edom (vv. 1-9)
In verse 3 we are told that Edom’s pride is the main vice that has led them astray. Edom was proud of many things,
They were proud of their security Edom was a strong nation and very sure of themselves. Since the land of Edom was a hilly the majority of their cities were built high up on the rocks. Any soldiers coming through the area were sitting ducks. The chief city of Sela was part of a fortress known as Petra. It was nestled in the rocks and the only way to get into the city was via a winding canyon that was about a mile long and not very wide anywhere. Because of the configuration of the city it was possible for just a dozen or so men to hold off an entire army. And even if an army got past the canyon, all the homes built into the rocks would allow the people themselves to rain down on the armies and destroy them. It was one of the most secure places in the world.
Their Wealth (v. 5-6)
The people of Edom were also proud of their wealth. Edom was a fairly fertile terrain and it was the center of a great copper industry. The major trade routes of the world went through Edom. Anyone who wanted to trade in Egypt had to travel through Edom. Consequently Edom was able to control and tax all the commerce that came through them. We say that the key to a good business today is “location, location, location.” Edom had a great location.
Their Alliances (v.7)
Edom was situated strategically so all the surrounding nations had to maintain good relations with the Edomites. These alliances made Edom feel quite secure.
Their Wisdom (v. 8-9)
Apparently Edom was a country of learned people. Because they were on the trade route they encountered learned men of many different lands.
So Edom was proud because they were strong, rich, smart, and had many powerful friends. How many people (and nations) do you know who are filled with pride for some of the same reasons? When a nation becomes too proud, it is brought down just like Edom was.
In Mere Christianity, C. S. Lewis writes this about Pride:
There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which every one in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. I have heard people admit that they are bad-tempered, or that they cannot keep their heads about girls or drink, or even that they are cowards. I do not think I have ever heard anyone who was not a Christian accuse himself of this vice. And at the same time I have very seldom met anyone, who was not a Christian, who showed the slightest mercy to it in others. There is no fault which makes a man more unpopular, and no fault which we are more unconscious of in ourselves. And the more we have it in ourselves the more we dislike it in others.*
The problem is that we don’t see pride as being that big of a problem today even in the church. If you were to say that a professing Christian was a thief, a drug addict, or an adulterer, we would question the genuineness of that person’s Christianity. However if you said another believer was an arrogant person, we would shake that off as more of an unfortunate personality trait.
Perhaps some of this has to do with the twofold use of the word pride. We talk about American Pride, we encourage school pride, we tell people to take pride in their work and we encourage athletes to play with pride. And in most of these cases we are simply encouraging people to strive for excellence.
But pride in it’s most simple sinful manifestation is the feeling that we don’t need God. We are self-sufficient. We can do it on our own. We begin to look down on others and measure everything and everyone by our own standards. Proud people don’t need faith. They believe religion is for those who are weak. They believe God’s law does not apply to them.
Someone has written, Men who trust in anything short of God are like the man who in a.thunderstorm takes shelter under a tree, whose tall branches attract the lightning, which scorches him to ashes.
The Evidence Against Edom (vv. 10-14)
The evidence against Edom is brought before the court. Proud people reveal their pride by the way they act toward those around them. The book of Obadiah was written sometime after an attack on Israel. We aren’t sure which attack this was in Israel’s history, but we do know what Edom’s response was to the attack on Israel. There are four pieces of evidence presented,
1. Edom did not help when Israel was under attack (v. 11). Edom was a “brother” of Israel and yet they did not help Israel when that help was needed.
2. Edom looked down on Israel (v. 12). There was a sense in which Edom felt Israel was getting what was coming to them.
3. Edom rejoiced over Israel’s demise (v. 12) They not only remained aloof, they celebrated the defeat of their brother, Israel. They talked about it with smiles and with an air of joyfulness.
4. Edom took part in the attack (v. 13-14). Edomites came and looted the city and when Israelites tried to escape into Edom, the Edomites turned them over to the invading armies.
These are powerful words that remind us of our responsibility to each other. God expects us to get involved in helping those who are hurting.
- As a nation we do not have permission to turn a deaf ear to the hurting nations of the world. We get upset sometimes that our country “sticks it’s nose into the business of others.” We are tempted to say with Edom, “Let them fight their own battles”. But that is not God’s way.
- As a church we can put all our energy into building our own congregation. But we have an obligation as people of God, to invest in the work of those outside our congregation and our community. We must help those who are on the mission field. We must get involved in social ministry. We don’t have to be obnoxious in dealing with social and moral issues but cannot simply remain silent. If we will not defend the weak and powerless we are worse than Edom and should not expect to escape the consequences of our inaction.
- As individuals, it is tempting to shut our eyes to the needs around us. We can become so absorbed in ourselves that we don’t even see those who are around us. But when we do this, we are just like Edom.
The Judgment Against Edom (15-21)
The judgment against Edom is twofold. First, Edom was going to be destroyed. They would be wiped out as a nation. Historically, this happened in stages. It began not long after Obadiah’s words when Babylonian began an invasion of the so-call impregnable fortresses. Around 100 BC the Jewish group known as the Maccabees subjected what was left of Edom. They forced them to be circumcised and nominally to accept the Jewish religion. Sometime during the Roman Empire after the time of Christ, the Edomites were completely absorbed by the Arabs and their identity was lost.
The second “punishment” was that while this proud nation would be destroyed, the Israelites, whose attack and exile was applauded, would return to their land and inhabit it once again. Edom would see that faith in God was superior to their faith in themselves. Today you will meet many who are Jewish. You will not meet any Edomites.
Lessons for Contemporary Believers
The First Lesson is that the person or nation who puts their confidence in their own strength, is a fool. We can see that this is a danger for our own country. The nation that feels invincible is the one that is really most vulnerable. As we continue to drift away from the Lord . . . as we continue to feel that we are qualified to determine our own standards of right and wrong we are in increasing danger of the judgment of God.
But I’m not interested in talking about others. We need to begin with ourselves. You cannot change a nation. You must change one individual at a time. We need to ask ourselves, “Do I have a problem with pride? Here’s a fourfold test,
- he test of position. How do we react when another is selected for the assignment we expected, or for the office we coveted? When another is promoted and we are overlooked? When another outshines us in gifts and accomplishments. Are we irritated or do we rejoice with the good fortunes of others?
- The test of consistency. In our moments of honest self-criticism we will say many things about ourselves, and really mean them. But how do we feel when others, especially our rivals, say exactly the same things about us?
- The test of criticism. Does criticism arouse hostility and resentment in our hearts, and cause us to fly into immediate self-justification?
- The test of grace. If someone were to say to you, “What makes you think you are a Christian?” Would you immediately begin listing the good things you do, the organizations you belong to, the knowledge you have? Or would you point to the cross and humbly confess that you are saved only and solely by God’s grace that is extended to you through Jesus Christ?
My guess is that you see evidence of pride in your own life. I see it in me. The message of Obadiah reminds us of the words of Solomon, “pride does come before a fall.” If we want to live faithfully we must remind ourselves day after day that our help comes from the Lord. We are HIS people. We are dependent on His mercy and His grace. As we come to trust Him we will be less focused on ourselves and more open to each other.
Second, we are reminded that we have a responsibility to care for those around us. It is not an accident that when we are told about the humility of Christ in Philippians 2 that we are told that He humbled himself, taking the form of a servant. The humble person is the person who has a heart of compassion toward others. They understand that they need mercy, so they are more willing to extend mercy.
We aren’t as different from the Edomites as we would like to believe. Let me ask some probing questions,
- Have you ever seen a fellow human being in need but willfully ignored what you could do to help? Have you witnessed someone who was the target of abuse and not only not defended them, but actually joined in the meanness?
- Have you ever stood by and did nothing when you knew that wrong was being done? Have you ever stood by silently while the name of God was dragged through the mud or watched as co-workers stole from the company?
- Have you ever been swept up in the competition of the moment and found yourself becoming just as much a savage as those who were around you? (Think about an athletic event when you find yourself screaming for your team to “get” the opposing player.)
- Have you ever smirked (publicly or privately) when someone you disliked faced a difficult time in their life? You felt they finally got what was coming to them? Perhaps a popular student got in trouble and “came back down to earth?” Instead of feeling sorrow you were glad. Perhaps a co-worker was laid off and you felt a quiet satisfaction that is wasn’t you. Maybe a friend who seemed to have everything ran into some very hard times and instead of extending a hand you thought, “now they can know what life is like for the rest of us.” Maybe you felt a quiet satisfaction when another church (the competition) was experiencing conflict. Instead of praying for the unity of the church maybe you enjoyed telling others about the struggles of these people in the hope that it would make your own church look better.
When we do these kinds of things . . . are we any different from Edom?
You see, the message of Obadiah is not at all archaic and outdated. This message is just as powerful and pertinent today as it has ever been. It is a call for you and I to remember who we belong to. We are called to remember that our job is not to climb over others . . . our job is work together. We are not playing “King of the Mountain”. We know who the King of the mountain is. His name is Jesus.
In fact, there is a critical time in the gospel when Israel and Edom meet again. This time Israel is represented by one man and Edom is represented by another. The Edomite is a man by the name of Herod. The Israelite of course was Jesus.
Herod Antipas was the son of Herod the Great who tried to kill Jesus shortly after his birth. Antipas had John the Baptist killed. Jesus and the reports of His miracles fascinated Herod. In Luke 23 we read the account of Jesus being tried before this King.
Herod had everything he wanted. He had power, He had money, and he had the freedom to indulge himself in any way he desired. He was a proud man. So proud that when the King of Kings, the Son of God, the Ruler of Universe stood before him the only thing that concerned Herod was, “What’s in this for me?”
Herod hoped that Jesus would entertain him with a miracle. Jesus did not oblige. So instead of worshiping the Savior, he mocked him, ridiculed him and became a party to his execution.
The Kingship of Jesus was different. Jesus needed to only say the word and Herod would be struck dead. He could have fought back but didn’t. He didn’t claim the throne that was rightfully His at this time because He wanted to make it possible for us to share His glory with Him. For that to happen, He had to go to the cross. He had to lay down his life on our behalf.
Two kings. They represent two different ways of living. Each one of us has to choose which path we are going to follow. Will we follow the ways of Herod or the ways of Jesus? Will we trust our strength or the Lord’s? Will we seek to exalt ourselves or exalt the Lord? Will we proclaim our goodness or His grace? Will we use others or will we reach out to others? Will we see others in terms of what they can do for us or will we look for what we can do for others?
They are basic questions. In fact, they are the most basic questions of life. Of course, they are raised by a prophet who wrote only 21 verses in the entire Bible. It’s true that these question are raised by a man we know little about. But we would be wise to listen, and to listen well.