OBADIAH: a little book with a big message!

Posted on 11 January 2011

The smallest prophet carries quite a punch as these noted demonstrate!

This short book is, nevertheless, long enough to justify the claim that Obadiah is ‘the theologian of human history.’ To say as much may be a ‘turn off’ but, in fact, we all need a way of understanding the circumstances in which we individually or corporately and, sometimes, agonisingly find ourselves. Thus it is a profoundly practical book: designed, especially, to bring comfort to the people of God in desperate times.

Thus Obadiah teaches the following lessons:

As God’s people we sometimes have ‘our day’ of agonising and inexplicable pain and suffering (10-14).

This little section bears all the marks of an eyewitness of calamitous events: and what events they were! While there are hints that part of the reason was the LORD’s discipline, this is not fore-grounded here. What is emphasised is the bewildering, overwhelming circumstances of Obadiah and his fellows. Here then are four examples noted by Obadiah:

1. We may suffer from calamity and lose all we treasure (esp. 11, 13 end). Here the inhabitant of Jerusalem had suffered defeat, the entry of the enemy within the city and the widespread looting that followed. As any who have been robbed know, such is worse than the mere loss of goods: there is the pain of ‘psychological’ rape. But there are other forms of ‘loss’: not least that of reputation, status, honour. Whether ‘sticks or stones’ or ‘names’ such are excruciatingly painful and can be experienced by the people of God! Thus,

2. We may find ourselves the objects of scorn (12). We may, therefore, find ourselves, in the depths of pain, friendless and surrounded by those who seem to enjoy our discomfort and make all they can of it. There is something in fallen human nature, the bully in us all,  that is ever ready to hit the person already down. As if our calamity is not enough….! The respect that we are owed as those made in the ‘image of God’ is denied us. Further,

3. We may find ourselves in an inescapable disaster (14). For some of these people a possible ‘light at the end of the tunnel‘, the path to escape, proved a false dawn and only led to greater tragedy, pain and loss. Sometimes to offer the hope ‘things must get better’ is to promise the impossible. There may not be a way out! Finally,

4. Above all, we may suffer from the silence, pleasure and advantage-taking of those ‘near to us’ (esp. 12a). Lying at the heart of this passage is the fact that it is ‘brother Edom’ who is implicated in all that is taking place. Implicated by:
a) adopting the role of bystander (11a, ‘its nothing to do with me’),
b) worse of joining in the witness against a ‘brother’ (12a, ‘I expect he deserved it, you know’)
c) taking advantage of his calamity (13a, ‘well! I suppose I must live with the new situation and make the best of it for myself’)  and
d) of assisting the ‘fall’ when looked to for help (14) . 
What depths of tragedy we may fall to individually (and corporately) as the LORD‘s people! Obadiah’s realism is one that we need to take to heart.

The LORD is watching all we experience and will ‘reward’ those who have acted against us (1-9, 15).

Obadiah traces, with great effect, the psychology of the bully: here the bully nation, for he is not just dealing with individuals! Thus we note:
a) the fundamental self-confident amorality of those whose wisdom is ‘might is right’ (2) and may even claim ‘religious’ sanction (4) but who,
b) when their foundations are destroyed, are quivering jellies (8.9).
c) Indeed, it is such over-reaching self-confidence that often constitutes the basis for destruction (7).

But all this is preamble. Not only is the bully not as secure as he/she thinks but in his tendency to ‘look down’ he forgets to look up (3,4) to the one who will, in a word, bring him down and expose his despicable nature (4b, 2) as the world’s moral sovereign. Often, indeed, the destruction is total (5,6); as human history often attests and even individual experience frequently shows.

This is not the LORD’s final word to either the bully or the bullied… as we shall see. However, there is some robust realism here that we do well to grasp: together with the reassurance that the LORD is in control and ’rewards’ the wicked. And this, too, the Son of God experienced!

In Obadiah’s presentation of his practical ‘theology of history’ he mentions two ‘days’ in verses 1-14: the day of his suffering people (esp. 11-14)  and the ‘day’ of Edom (8). As we have seen, the former highlights the tragedies and calamities through which the people of God may pass, the latter foregrounds the judgments that inevitably follow the wicked.

But there are three ‘days’ in Obadiah and, without the final one, ‘the day of the LORD’, described in 15-21, Obadiah’s message was and is incomplete.

Nations rise and fall but, one day, all will find themselves answerable to the LORD’s justice (15f). 

The Edomites and nations may have binged themselves on violence and oppression but the time would come when they would recognise they had drunk deep draughts of a poisoned chalice. They would do so because they had failed to recognise the LORD’s moral governorship of his world. Such failure would result in their total destruction.
Often worked out on the page of history, Obadiah here, however, points to a final reckoning. Despite the ambiguities of that same history, evil will not finally triumph. 

The overthrow of the nations is the glory of the Church (17-20).

Obadiah uses two related pictures so as to make his points here:

i) The people of God will act as the agents of God’s justice against evil (17,18).

This picture may seem rather ‘unChristian’ in a ‘soft’ and rather ‘namby pamby’ world. However, while we should avoid bitterness and vindictiveness towards those who do us evil (whether individually or corporately), the LORD declares that we will eventually become part of our own vindication. Those who have done us evil will be forced to recognise it and suffer the consequences.
ii) The people of God will enjoy full possession of all God’s promises (19,20).

Perhaps, more positively, all that frustrates and prevents our full enjoyment of our promised inheritance will be overcome. All enemies will be overthrown: the world, the flesh and the Devil. Whether ‘shut up’ or ‘exiled’ all barriers to the enjoyment of the promises and purposes of God will be overcome.

The glory of the people of God is the salvation of the world and the vindication of the LORD (21).

This verse contains two final and vital truths.

i) There is hope for the wicked (21a,b).

For all the description of the utter devastation of Edom and the nations, there will be deliverers/saviours on mount Esau. Deliverance comes alone from despised Zion (see 17) but even Edom is not exempt from the experience of salvation… in Zion! Worldwide salvation is promised.

ii) All this is for Him (21c).

Simply, the blessing is ours but the glory is His. Thus Obadiah depicts the end of history.

Those of us who live the other side of the incarnation ought to understand Obadiah’s message more fully than he himself did. We know the one who is the saviour, we recognise the themes of worldwide domination on a scale that even Obadiah may have failed to grasp. So, then, our hope and confidence should burn more brightly. In a dark and lowering world there is undying and assured hope upon which we can and should build. And strangers to Christ must needs listen to Obadiah’s philosophy of history and wake up!