Obadiah 1:11-15 ESV
On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. 12 But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress. 13 Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; do not gloat over his disaster in the day of his calamity; do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity. 14 Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives; do not hand over his survivors in the day of distress. 15 For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.
Today we begin a new series of studies on the Old Testament prophets. For quite a while I have wanted to preach a series like this, because of all the types of literature in the Bible, I think the prophets get ignored the most. That is a shame, because the prophets were literally spokesmen for God. If you want to know what God is thinking, read the prophets.
I think one of the reasons we tend to ignore the prophets is that their messages were tied to events so far in the past that we find it hard to understand them. We are tempted to see them as outdated, irrelevant. But as we study the prophets over the next few months we are going to see that the messages they gave are just as applicable today as they were thousands of years ago. God’s word is never out of date.
But God’s word is dated. It was revealed in historical contexts, and sometimes is hard to understand unless we know something about those contexts. To simplify matters, I’m going to place each prophet we look at in one of four periods. Each period is an era of history. In the first period we will put those prophets who prophesied before the Northern kingdom fell to Assyria. In the second are those prophets who preached to Judah alone until Judah fell to Babylon. The third period is for those who prophesied during the exile. The fourth period is for those who prophesied when the Israelites began returning to rebuild the nation.
There is not a lot of consensus among bible scholars as to when Obadiah prophesied. I don’t want to be dogmatic about that issue then. But how one interprets the message has a lot to do with when one thinks it was given. I go along with those scholars who place Obadiah quite early. In fact, the reason I chose to preach about Obadiah first in this series is that I think he is actually the first of the canonical prophets. There were other prophets who came before him (like Elijah, Elisha, and Nathan), but I think it was Obadiah who first wrote a book containing his prophecies, and that book came to be named after him.
I place Obadiah’s prophecies during the reign of king Jehoram of Judah, which dates from 848-841 BC.
What do we know about Obadiah? Not a whole lot. His name means “servant of Yahveh” and it was a very popular name. In fact, the Arabic version of the name, “Abdullah” is still very popular today. In Old Testament times it was so popular that twelve other OT characters are called Obadiah, neither of which is the writer of this book.
We can say this about Obadiah: He saw God as being sovereign over time, and knew that God would eventually bring justice to Judah, but he wasn’t too concerned about that happening in his lifetime. Like the other canonical prophets who came after him, Obadiah saw into a future so distant that it would take centuries for his predictions to even begin to be fulfilled.
To really get the context of Obadiah, you have to go back all the way to Genesis. You will remember that Israel was born with the name of Jacob. His parents were Isaac and Rebekah. Rebekah gave birth to twins. Jacob’s twin brother was Esau. The Bible says that these two twins had been fighting each other even in their mother’s womb (Gen. 25:22).
Esau was the eldest, and, as such, stood to inherit a special blessing as Isaac’s firstborn. But (you remember the stories) he sold his birthright to Jacob for some stew. Jacob (fearing that Isaac would not honour that transaction) tricked his father into giving him the blessing.
The descendants of Jacob became the Israelites. In Obadiah’s time they inhabited Israel and Judah. The descendants of Esau became the Edomites. In Obadiah’s time they inhabited the area Southeast of Judah.
Verse 11 tells us what the problem was: “On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.”
What day is Obadiah talking about there? During the reign of Jehoram, Edom revolted against the rule of Judah, and set up their own king. (2 Kings 8:20-22). The LORD allowed that because he was punishing king Jehoram. He also sent a horrible bowel disease which inflicted no only the people of Judah, but even Jehoram himself. The third strike was that God allowed the Philistines and Arabians to attack Jerusalem, killing all but one of the king’s sons, and looting it of the royal treasures (2 Chron. 21:8-17).
The Lord blames Edom because it refused to help Judah during its time of distress.
The next three verses are so problematic that many translations do not render them literally. They are commands for Edom not to do certain things. The King James translated them as if God were saying “you should not have…” But some of the modern translations have gone back to translating these verses literally, and (in my opinion) rightly so. I think Obadiah is looking into the future to an event even more disastrous for Judah, and warning Edom not turn its back on his brother again. We know from history that Judah suffered its ultimate defeat under Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. At that time, even the great temple of Solomon was destroyed.
Specifically, Obadiah warns Edom not to do three things.
No Bragging (12) “But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress.” When bad things happen, don’t say “I told you so.”
No Looting (13) “Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; … do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity.” When bad things happen, don’t make them worse by taking advantage of Judah when they are down.
No Bounty Hunting (14) “Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives; do not hand over his survivors in the day of distress.” When bad things happen, don’t make them worse by exacting revenge on the fallen.
Verse 15 begins with the word “For” or “Because.” It is the ground for what Obadiah has prophesied.
15 “For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.”
The heart of Obadiah’s message to Edom is a message for us all. Since Judgment Day is coming for everyone, we should not be too quick to assume that our enemies are just getting what they deserve. God expects us to love them, especially if bad things are happening to them.
The Message of Obadiah was foundational. It goes back to Leviticus 19:18, and is repeated by Jesus in Matthew 22:39.
The next time Judah was in serious trouble, the Edomites did the same thing. They helped the Babylonians ransack Jerusalem and helped capture and enslave Jews who were trying to escape. The Edomites no longer exist. They did not learn their lesson. God had sent his first missionary prophet to a people who were the enemies of the Jews. Obadiah’s message would go on to predict the utter destruction of Edom. He said “The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau, for the LORD has spoken” (18).
There is a message for you and me coming from the heart of Obadiah today. That message is about the people we might tend to marginalize because they are different from us. They are the beggars, and people suffering from natural disasters, or people caught in the trap of drugs, or some alternative lifestyle that we see as wrong.
It may seem like God has given up on those people. But Obadiah tells us that God is watching us to see if we will chose to love them. We may say, “They made their bed, let them lie in it.” That is exactly the attitude Edom had.
God is calling us to love the unlovable. If we are going to be children of our heavenly Father, we will have to act like he does.