Today we are turning to our third study of the Minor Prophets. As you turn to Obadiah let me tell you that Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, it has only 21 verses. Like Joel, whom we studied last week, we know very little about this prophet of God. As a matter of fact, we know even less about Obadiah than we do Joel. At least we know that Joel’s father’s name was Pethuel. We don’t have any background information on Obadiah. We can’t even be sure which “Obadiah” wrote the letter because there are about a dozen men in the Bible who share his name. What we do know is that God gave Obadiah a message to deliver to His people in Judah about their future and about the people of Edom. Let’s talk about Edom for a minute.
Edom was south and east of Judah and was an ancient nemesis of God’s people. The country of Edom is also called, “Seir, Hor, and Esau” in the Bible. The land of Edom was about 20-30 miles wide and approximately 100 miles long. One of Edom’s greatest assets was that it was located on the “King’s Highway,” a major trade route that ran from Egypt over to Eilat, in Edom, and then north into Syria. With so many goods traveling through the country the nation of Edom grew very wealthy. The second strength of Edom was its natural fortification from its enemies. The central part of the country was marked by cliffs that are more than 5,000 feet above sea level. Some of you are familiar with Edom, we traveled there when we went to Petra two summers ago. Petra is the ancient city of Sela, the capital of Edom. Those who made the trip will remember that there is only one way into Petra, through a narrow passage, almost a mile long, called a siq. It was said that Petra was impenetrable. The wealth and fortification of the capital city led the inhabitants of Edom to become very prideful and arrogant.
Tension Between Jews and Edomites
Why was there so much animosity between the people of Edom and the Jews? Well, the history of the struggle between the Jews and the Edomites goes way, way back. The tension can be traced to the hearts of two men, Jacob and Esau. You can trace the beginnings of the struggle between the two brothers back to Genesis 25 where Esau came in from the fields starving to death. Jacob had been cooking some stew in the kitchen and Esau wanted something to eat. Jacob, the younger brother, told Esau that he would give him some stew if he would sell him his birthright. Esau, driven by his hunger, sold his birthright to his younger brother.
Years later, when the boy’s father, Isaac, was old and preparing to die, Esau was supposed to get the blessing reserved for the oldest son, but his mother, Rebekah, had other ideas. Rebekah orchestrated a plan to deceive her husband so that he would give the blessing meant for Esau to Jacob. Once Esau found out what had happened he was furious. We read in Genesis 27:41,
41 Esau held a grudge against Jacob because of the blessing his father had given him. He said to himself, “The days of mourning for my father are near; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” (Genesis 27:41 NIV)
Jacob’s mother knew that Esau was planning on killing Jacob so she sent him away to her brother’s house in Haran. Years passed without the brothers ever seeing one another. Jacob and Esau lived their separate lives with Esau settling in the land of Seir, the land of Edom. Evidently, Jacob couldn’t escape the wrong he had done to his brother Esau. The years passed and when we get to Genesis 32, Jacob decided to make things right with his brother. It had been twenty years, twenty long years, but Jacob had to do something to clear his conscience. In Genesis 32:3-5 we read.
3 Jacob sent messengers ahead of him to his brother Esau in the land of Seir, the country of Edom. 4 He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my master Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained there till now. 5 I have cattle and donkeys, sheep and goats, menservants and maidservants. Now I am sending this message to my lord, that I may find favor in your eyes.'” (Genesis 32:3-5 NIV)
You will want to go back and read the whole story, but let’s cut to the heart of the matter: Jacob was still afraid that his brother would kill him. Esau got the message and he and his men set out to see his brother. In Genesis 33:4 we read,
4 But Esau ran to meet Jacob and embraced him; he threw his arms around his neck and kissed him. And they wept. (Genesis 33:4 NIV)
What a beautiful picture! Oh, what those boys must have missed during the twenty years that they had been alienated from one another. Well, at the end of the meeting Esau went back to Edom and Jacob traveled on to Succoth.
Years later, Jacob had his own family problems. His sons became jealous of their brother Joseph and sold him into slavery. You know the story of God’s hand upon Joseph. He became second in command over all of Egypt and God used him to avoid a national disaster.
In Exodus 1 we read that a new king came to power who did not know the story of Joseph and how God had used him to save the nation. The new king of Egypt made life hard for the Hebrews and they remained as slaves in Egypt for 430 years. God raised up Moses to lead His people out of the land of Egypt and while they were making their way to the Promised Land they came to Edom. Crossing through Edom would have been the shortest route to the Promised Land. God told Moses,
4 Give the people these orders: ‘You are about to pass through the territory of your brothers the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir. They will be afraid of you, but be very careful. 5 Do not provoke them to war, for I will not give you any of their land, not even enough to put your foot on. I have given Esau the hill country of Seir as his own. 6 You are to pay them in silver for the food you eat and the water you drink.'” (Deuteronomy 2:4-6 NIV)
When Moses and the people came to Edom they sent messengers to the king of Edom asking for permission to cross through their country, but the answer was, “No way! If you step foot in our country we will attack you.” (Number 20:14-21) You think there is tension between the Israelis and the Palestinians in our day? Well, tension between people groups goes way, way back. Yet, what I find interesting is God’s instruction to His people before they step foot in the Promised Land. Turn with me to Deuteronomy 23:7.
7 Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. Do not abhor an Egyptian, because you lived as an alien in his country. (Deuteronomy 23:7 NIV)
“Don’t do it! Don’t give in to your anger. Don’t let animosity take root.” God reminds His people that the Edomites are their “brothers,” they are family. Regardless of God’s counsel, the tension between the Jews and the Edomites continued for hundreds of years. Saul, the first king of Israel, attacked Edom. David conquered Edom. Solomon had a fleet of ships near Elath in Edom. (1 Kings 9:26-28) During the reign of Jehoshaphat the Edomites, Moabites, and Ammonites raided Judah. When Jehoshaphat’s son, Jehoram, took over the throne, the Edomites rebelled and set up their own king. (2 Kings 8:20-22) Amaziah reigned in Judah from 797-768 B.C. He retook Edom and killed 10,000 of its inhabitants. About thirty years later Ahaz was king and Edom raided Judah and took captives. Edom would never serve under Judah’s kings again.
I’ve taken all of this time to let you know the deep, deep rift between the Edomites and the Jews. Now, you have to remember, God said, “Do not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.” Don’t you know that God was also telling the Edomites, “Do not abhor an Israelite, for he is your brother.” Ten little words. That’s all they had to do was to follow a simple ten word prescription given by God, but because they wouldn’t do it look what happened.
Rather than aligning themselves with “family,” the people of Judah, the Edomites were serving the Assyrians and Babylonians. When the day of destruction was approaching for the people of Jerusalem the people of Edom didn’t come to help them defend themselves. That was the tipping point.
A Message From God
As we come to Obadiah’s prophecy we find a message given to God’s people, the people of Judah. God would restore His people. He was not unaware of what was taking place. In the message to God’s people was also a message for the people of Edom. Let’s take a look at Obadiah 1-4.
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, and 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. (Obadiah 1-4 NIV)
The people of Edom saw themselves as powerful, untouchable, and rich. Their pride was at an all-time high when the message came to Obadiah. God’s take on the people of Edom was very different than their self-assessment. God said, “The pride of your heart has deceived you…” If you and I become prideful then we are on the fast track of deception and our ruin will come. Dictionary.com defines “pride” as “a high or inordinate opinion of one’s own dignity, importance, merit, or superiority, whether as cherished in the mind or as displayed in bearing, conduct, etc.” Proverbs simply says,
18 Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall. (Proverbs 16:18 NIV)
What was true for the nation of Edom is equally true for individuals. Don’t you remember Nebuchadnezzar who walked on his rooftop and said,
30 …”Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Daniel 4:30 NIV)
Nebuchadnezzar knew where his blessings had come from, he knew that God had blessed him, and yet he was full of pride. The very next verse of Daniel 4 tells us that “while the words were still on his lips a voice came from heaven…” Nebuchadnezzar had it all taken away, he was reduced to living like a wild animal out in the open field, and eventually he came to his senses.
God’s Word says that God does not change. As He dealt with those long ago so He still deals with us today. When we get prideful and arrogant He will bring us down. Let me give you an example.
Bernie Madoff founded the Wall Street firm Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities LLC in 1960, and was its chairman for almost fifty years. During that time his clients called him a genius. They begged him to take their money and invest it. Bernie reaped the benefits of his reputation. He had an $8 million penthouse on East 64th St. in New York, a 5 bedroom, 6,300 square foot waterfront home in Palm Beach valued at $23 million, and another condo in Palm Springs as well. If Bernie and his wife ever wanted to travel abroad then they could stay in their home in France.
Bernie had lots of toys. He had a $2.2 million yacht he named, “Bull,” along with two other boats. He owned half of a $25 million corporate jet. Bernie made millions of dollars every year until he was arrested on December 11, 2008 for scamming 5,000 people who had entrusted him with their money. Bernie Madoff was too big, too smart to ever get caught. Really?
After Bernie was sentenced to 150 years in prison he moved from his 6,300 square foot home into an 8 by 10 foot cell at the Federal Correctional Facility in Butner, North Carolina. The man who made millions of dollars a year was given a job in the prison cafeteria where he walked around with a dustpan and broom sweeping up the dropped food for 14 cents an hour.
Not Just Arrogant, but Evil
It was not just the arrogance and pride of Edom that led to God bringing them down. The Edomites did evil in the eyes of the Lord when their brothers, the people of Judah, were being attacked by their enemies. Let’s read together from Obadiah 10-14.
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 look down on 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 look down on 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. (Obadiah 10-14 NIV)
There were actually four invasions of Jerusalem that took place during biblical times, but it is impossible to know which of the four Obadiah is referring to in this section of Scripture. Two of the invasions can be ruled out because Edom was not part of them, but there are still two others that are possibilities. Jerusalem was attacked by the Philistines and Arabs in about 850 B.C. They attacked Judah and carried off all of the items from king Jehoram’s palace along with his wives and all of us his children except for one, Ahaziah, the baby of the family. Secondly, Jerusalem was utterly destroyed by the Babylonians in 587-586 B.C. The case can be made for either of these horrible experiences. What is interesting is that if it was the earlier attack that is referred to in Obadiah then the evil actions of the Edomites were repeated about three hundred years later during the absolute destruction of Jerusalem. What we need to focus on is the utter evil of the Edomites during their brother’s disaster.
If you go back and read Obadiah 10-14 you can see a progression in the evil of their actions. In verse 11 we are told that Edom “stood aloof,” they didn’t lead the charges against their brother, but they stood in the distance and watched the destruction take place. In verse 12 we are told that they “looked down on their brother in the day of his misfortune.” In the second half of verse 12 we are told that they “rejoiced over” and “boasted” much in their brother’s trouble. James Montgomery Boice writes,
Up to this point all steps in this abhorrent growth of unbrotherliness have been attitudes, or at least actions of a negative sort. The Edomites stood aloof in the day of Jerusalem’s trouble. This led them to look down on the their brothers, rejoice in their misfortune, and ultimately boast that they were stronger, wiser, and superior to those who had fallen. This particular sin cannot be confined to attitudes, however. What we think inevitably issues in actions, and this is what we find… (James Montgomery Boice, The Minor Prophets: Volume 1. Baker Books. pg. 249)
Dr. Boice’s comments really struck at my heart this week. I want you to think about something with me for a minute. Let’s say there is somebody that has done you wrong and you and I both know that even though they may have done wrong we are not to return the favor. You find yourself lying in bed at night and they come to mind. You think about what they did, what they said, and you get angrier as your mind begins to race. You remind yourself that God says “Vengeance is mine,” but you continue to harbor feelings and thoughts about your enemy. Then one day you are out on the town and somebody, out of the blue, tells you about a rumor they heard about the very person who did you wrong. You join in and the dirt begins to fly. Months later the rumors you had been told prove to be true and the one who did you wrong is now being paraded on the front page of the morning paper for his crime. As you gaze at his picture you feel a sense of justice and satisfaction knowing that he got his. You think to yourself, “I hope he never sees daylight again.” You gloat over his misfortune, but what good does it really do? Don’t do it. Don’t give in to the anger and animosity that does nothing but destroy your own soul. Thoughts harbored and nurtured eventually become actions that will destroy. James puts it this way.
13 When tempted, no one should say, “God is tempting me.” For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does he tempt anyone; 14 but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed. 15 Then, after desire has conceived, it gives birth to sin; and sin, when it is full-grown, gives birth to death. (James 1:13-15 NIV)
Did you notice the progression that James describes for us? Desire leads to action and action, when it is fully grown, gives birth to death.
The Edomites stood aloof, then they looked down on their brothers, then they boasted over their troubles, but that wasn’t the end of it. In verse 13, they marched through the broken down gates in the midst of disaster and looked down on their brothers while they took what was left after the enemy looted their city. If that were not bad enough, in verse 14, we find them waiting outside the city to capture those who had escaped so that they might hand them over to the enemy.
In Genesis 4:9, after Cain had killed his brother Abel, God stepped into the scene of the crime and asked Cain, “Where’s your brother?” Cain said, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” The answer to that question for Cain, the answer for the descendants of Esau, and the answer for you and me today is, “Absolutely you are!” We absolutely are our brothers and sisters keepers.”
We live in an amazingly confusing day. We are called The United States of America, but there are so many divisions in our land. We are divided in so many ways. There are racial divisions, socio-economic divisions, and religious divisions. There are sophisticates and rednecks, fat folks and skinny folks, bikers and skaters, lovers and haters, corporate suits and levis with cowboy boots. And all of them have opinions about one another. There are the good lookers whose worth is in the mirror, the well-heeled whose worth is in the bank, the popular whose worth is in the approval of the crowd, and everyone else who are trying to figure out if they are worth anything at all. All of these divisions are used as ladders and walls to separate us and try and elevate us above one another.
We look down on one another, we stand at a distance from one another, and if it will benefit us, we will take advantage of one another. Where is the Good Samaritan today? Where is the person who is willing to help someone who is hurting or being taken advantage of even if there is nothing to be gained personally? Where is the person who is willing to treat others as a child of God regardless of what they have or don’t have going for them?
We have many teachers in our church and you teachers see it all the time in the classroom. If a kid isn’t smart or good looking or a good athlete then those around them treat them like they are less than human. If someone is socially awkward or marches to the beat of a different drummer then they are shunned by others. If someone takes advantage of them then other kids stand aloof, just like the Edomites. The bullies laugh and mock and belittle and berate as if they are somehow better than the kid who is being crushed under the weight of ridicule and mockery. There is another group of folks who are not nearly as mean and brash, but they are just as evil because they stand and watch it all take place and say, “Boy, I’m glad that’s not me” instead of doing something about it.
I’m describing a situation that we are all familiar with, but you know as well as I do that what takes place in school is perfected by adults in society. For the general population of folks it might be enough if their family is ok and everything is going well for them, but for God’s people that is not enough. We are our brother’s keeper! We are our sister’s keeper!
When there are those who are being taken advantage of we are to stand up, we are to speak out, we are to get involved. I know some kids from this community who are now playing professional sports. One of those guys didn’t grow up here in this neighborhood, but he benefitted from the ACT program here at our church. Since he has been playing in the NFL he has gotten involved with what we are doing here in this community. He has donated money, he has given his time to come and hang out with the kids, he has provided scholarships for our boys to attend his football camp, he has bought Thanksgiving baskets for families in our church, and just recently he has provided back packs for all the kids in the Middle School Learning Center. You see, for Reggie Smith, it is not enough for him to make it; they need to have opportunities to make it as well.
We cannot stand at a distance simply because we have convinced ourselves that it doesn’t affect us. We are our brother’s keeper. We are not to take delight in the hardships that others encounter in life. We are not to take advantage of someone just because it might benefit us. If we think we can turn a blind eye to what is going on around us and that the Omniscient eyes of the Father won’t see then we are only kidding ourselves. He sees.
In Genesis 16, we find Sarah still had not become pregnant even though God promised Sarah and Abraham a child. Because of Sarah’s lack of patience she tells Abraham to sleep with her servant Hagar. Once Sarah finds out that Hagar is pregnant she begins to mistreat her. Hagar flees the camp and while she is on the run the Lord finds her sitting by a spring in the desert. She’s pregnant, all alone, unwanted, and unnoticed, but God saw Hagar. In verse 13 she says, “You are the God who sees me.”
Just five chapters later in Genesis, Hagar had given birth to Ishmael and Sarah told Abraham to get rid of the slave woman and her son. Abraham did as he was told. Hagar and Ishmael left the family and made their way out into the desert. Where were they going? She didn’t have a clue. What was she going to do? She had no idea. Eventually she ran out of water and she couldn’t bear to watch her son die. In Genesis 21:15-18 we read,
15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob. 17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.” (Genesis 21:15-18 NIV)
God sees. He acts. He wants us to follow in His steps. Don’t stand by and watch those around you struggle and suffer alone. Don’t stand at a distance when others are suffering injustice. Stand up and speak out. Get involved and let them know that you see and you care enough to go out of your way to try and help.
For those of you who are at this moment struggling and feel all alone. Please hear me…you are not alone. God sees your suffering, he knows about your struggle, and He is working in your life to use your struggles to mold you and make you into the man or woman He desires for you to be. He is with you in your struggle and He will deliver you if you will keep trusting in Him, crying out to Him. Seek Him with all of your heart.
Britton Christian Church
922 NW 91st
OKC, OK. 73114
August 29, 2010