Reading: Obadiah 1-
Deception and misplaced confidence
Comedians like to make fun of him and we’ve probably all seen cartoons portraying him with horns and a goatee beard. Your friends may laugh at the whole idea and you may be tempted to laugh with them – surely it is only Republican supporters in the US who still believe today that there is a devil! Do you believe in a personal devil?
In October last year one of the lecturers at Moorlands Bible College wrote on the subject and given the sorry events that took place in Manchester this week his words are worth taking seriously:
"Evil exists and needs an explanation, too. That there are supernatural forces for evil helps to explain aspects of the world around us. There is a malevolent will in this universe that contributes a part to the wickedness of human life. The devil and demons do not excuse us for responsibility in what we do, but their existence helps to explain just how cruel people can be. As we enter this new stage of conflict, terrorism and persecution perhaps even secular voices will find they need to look towards a supernatural explanation. Our world may begin to see again that the devil is no laughing matter."
In a letter to the church in Corinth, Paul referred to how Satan tried to cause trouble in the church adding:
"we are not ignorant of his designs." 2Cor.2:11 or "we’re not oblivious to his sly ways!"
But is that true of us? Do we really understand how he operates?
This morning we are going to look at the subject of deception. It is there in this little Book Obadiah and is given as the reason of Edom’s misplaced confidence in the face of God’s coming judgment. The devil is not overtly referred to in Obadiah but deception is his work. As Jesus himself would later teach: he is the Father of Lies. And he is also described in the NT as "the god of this world who has blinded the minds" of those who do not believe. He had done just that in the OT as he deceived the Edomites.
When someone says they do not believe that the devil exists it just goes to show how effective he can be with his work of deception! The Book of Revelation says:
Rev.12:7 "(he) who is called the devil and Satan, (is) the deceiver of the whole world"
As the arch-
He will try to stop you hearing the truth
If you do hear it, he will try to stop you believing God’s truth – by mockery, by flattery, by insinuation and then the flat contradiction of his lies
If he fails again and you not only hear and understand the truth (at least in some measure) he will then try to stop you responding properly to the truth.
Sometimes his work of deception will lead to a misplaced confidence. That was Edom’s problem as we’ll see in a moment. But sometimes his work of deception pushes us in another direction – in the direction of despair. At one extreme we are confident when we shouldn’t be and at the other we lose all hope when there are genuine grounds for hope in God’s grace and goodness.
Edom is Deceived
God is angry with Edom. The primary reason for this judgment will be presented in vv.10-
God’s anger is a problem for Edom because God is sovereign. In his sovereignty he has sent out a messenger to summon the nations to come and do his bidding: Edom’s doom will be brought about at the hands of these nations that were once its trusted allies. Edom will be brought crashing down and will be made very small, it will be despised. The effects of this judgment will be very thorough indeed. Obadiah underlines the seriousness of this judgment by comparing God’s judgment with the harm caused by a burglar or a plunderer. Such people are only interested in taking things of value away from their victim they tend to leave a lot behind them. Not so when God’s judgment falls – all will be lost.
It is at this point that the message that is directly addressed to Edom begins to speak about deception and how Edom has been deceived. We learn that Edom has been deceived in two main respects:
With regard to her pride v.3
With regard to her allies v.7
Edom knew that she had behaved badly in her dealings with Israel/Judah but thought that she was in such a strong position that she was untouchable. Now it is true that Edom did have a number of factors operating in her favour but these were in no way sufficient to warrant the trust that she placed in them. Her trust was exaggerated and this in turn led to pride – how easily we can be deceived by pride.
In Edom’s case that pride can be discerned in at least three areas:
Position in life
Wisdom and shrewd diplomacy
As we consider these a little more closely we may well see that we are perhaps challenged in similar ways, we too might be in danger of being deceived.
Position in life: for Edom this meant her literal geographical position in life. Edom’s territory included some very difficult terrain indeed. The land included some steep and rugged mountains with narrow passes – it all seemed to make the place a defender’s dream. Surely located high up in the cliffs and on the rocks they would be safe and secure – so what if others didn’t like them they would be in no serious danger.
So in this frame of mind Edom’s attitude was:
"Who will bring me down to the ground?" v.3
But Edom had forgotten that it was the Living God that she had offended! And this God had a different take on it all:
v.4 "Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the LORD."
Now, are you trusting too much in your position in life?
Perhaps you’re living a very settled and comfortable life. You have sufficient money coming in and there are no major problems to cause you grief and so you extrapolate and imagine that everything will always go on just like; and that ‘everything’ you blindly extend to cover your relationship with Almighty God. And so you look at your situation in life and conclude that you’ve done alright for yourself all things considered and your estimate of yourself creeps up and up. No, you’ll be alright. But like Edom you won’t and sooner or later you’ll come crashing down.
Military prowess/reputation: v.9 Edom had its mighty warriors and knew it was a force to be reckoned with. Others treated her with respect and you know what Edom allowed herself to believe the reputation. If others know my strengths and my renown I’ll be alright. Yes, I’ll be alright.
Don’t get me wrong, I hope you do have a good reputation amongst those who know you, it is a very positive thing to have. But good reputations can be blown to pieces when some long-
You may have your strengths and you may have impressed others but none of this is sufficient to make you stand upright before God’s righteous judgments.
Edom got things out of proportion and forgot that all its power and fame carried no weight with God – it was simply misplaced pride.
Wisdom or cleverness: Edom was also well-
I wonder whether you are proud of your own cleverness: you pride yourself that you can see through the pretensions of others, you can demolish arguments perhaps, you can make a seemingly good case for justifying the course of action you’ve already set your heart on. Yes, you’re so clever – you of all people don’t need to worry about the future, there’s plenty of time for that later.
But there wasn’t for Edom and can you really be so sure there will be for you?
And Obadiah tells us Edom was deceived by her own pride. The result was catastrophic – the necessary changes had not been made – Edom went confidently forward: straight into judgment.
Now if the first problem of deception that factored in Edom’s doom was that of her own pride, the second factor was deception over who her friends really were.
Edom had by means of careful and shrewd negotiations entered into a number of alliances by which she thought her security and safety in the world had been assured. But in the event the very people with whom she had formed her alliances turned out to be her enemies! Instead of keeping their word these nations turned on Edom and set traps for her.
How galling for a nation who prided herself upon her wisdom and cleverness to be undone like that! How galling to be told by God not only that she had acted unwisely but that she had no understanding at all.
Putting her trust in unreliable others Edom was totally unprepared when God turned the tables on her. The nations were not in Edom’s pocket after all they were at God’s beck and call!
In which friends are you putting your trust? Are you listening to those who speak with the deceptive wisdom of this world? Those voices won’t encourage to pay urgent attention to your never dying soul. Those voices will say you’re getting too religious and you can’t be having that said about you. Those voices come from men and women who will have themselves to give an account to the judge of the Living and the Dead and they won’t be able to speak up in your defence. But Jesus calls and invites you to follow him, to take his yoke upon you, and he on the other hand will be able to speak up for you on that great day when the books are opened and we each have to face God. He can speak for us because he has died for our sins and has been raised for our justification – but for those who have refused him he won’t speak on our behalf but rather he will say:
Mt.7:23 "I never knew you; depart from me, you workers of lawlessness."
Edom was deceived in these two ways and the result of being deceived was not a minor mishap – this deception had awful, destructive consequences. How careful we ought ourselves to be not to follow in Edom’s footsteps by putting our confidence in entirely the wrong place!
Deception in the rest of the Bible
Both the OT and the NT issue warnings concerning deceitfulness and the risks of being deceived. There are many areas where it is all so easy for a man or a woman to be deceived. By this I mean that a man or a woman may be unrealistic and end up placing their faith and their trust in people of things which are simply unable to meet our expectations.
You might wonder why it is that we are so susceptible to being deceived; aren’t we savvy enough by now to spot the false and to distinguish the good from the bad? Well the truth of the matter is that we are all flawed individuals and we’ve gone wrong right at the very centre of our being: as Jeremiah put it:
Jer.17:9 "The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?"
This means, amongst other things, that we are very prone to justifying to ourselves that the thing we want to do is the right thing to do. And this leads us to approving of attitudes and courses of behaviour in ourselves which we readily condemn in others.
Criminals and conmen are all too aware of this and that is why scams so often work and are effective. We want to believe that the offer is real, that we are somehow privileged to invest in a sure fire venture to make easy money. We want to believe it, we want so much to believe it that common sense is abandoned and another person is duped by the con man’s fine patter or the letter that tells me I’ve won a prize draw that I had never even entered!
Here are some of the other things that the Bible warns us can be deceitful:
"The tongue" or what people say.
Do you readily believe everything that everyone says to you? If you put your confidence in them telling the truth and being thoroughly reliable you may be in for a rude awakening:
Ps.120:20"Deliver me, O LORD, from lying lips, from a deceitful tongue."
And of course lying behind a deceitful tongue there may well be one who is an habitual liar:
Pr.14:25 "A truthful witness saves lives, but one who breathes out lies is deceitful."
The effects of such can be absolutely devastating:
Jer.9:8 "Their tongue is a deadly arrow; it speaks deceitfully; with his mouth each speaks peace to his neighbour, but in his heart he plans an ambush for him."
Not everyone out there is reliable or trustworthy and some may be deliberately misleading in their own wickedness:
Pr.12:5 "The thoughts of the righteous are just; the counsels of the wicked are deceitful."
When it comes to matters of eternal spiritual significance we certainly do not want to be listening to those who are not deeply interested in our well-
Another thing that so many of us value highly could be placed under the general heading of charm. We look at others and we tend to evaluate them so quickly but the witer of the Book of Proverbs reminds us that:
Pr.31:30 "Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain,"
Outward appearances ! How easily we can be taken in by outward appearances. In Joshua’s day it was the Gibeonites who came wearing worn out clothes suggesting they’d come from a long way off when in reality they lived just round the corner. We’re more likely to be met by a nice friendly salesman helpfully discussing solutions to problems we might have while his partner is helping himself to our valuables in another room!
Being "nice" is not sufficient. We can’t afford to put our trust in someone just because he/she is pleasant or attractive in some way – what must count for us is substance, anything else can be deceitful.
In addition to this charm affects many in another way. Large numbers of folk today aspire to celebrity status as an end in itself. The imagined delights of "fame" become the reason for living but how deceptive such aspirations prove as beauty fades to be replaced by the grey hairs and wrinkles of real life.
Jesus warns us carefully about the deceitfulness of riches but do you believe him? There are many who think that the answer to all their problems lies in winning the lottery – oh, to be rich they sigh. But how many anxieties come along with those riches! How many stories do we read in our newspapers about how families have been divided because of money matters! And yes, if we possess lots of things how easy it is to trust them to protect us from all ills and to provide us with the satisfaction we crave – but we have been made for God and these are pale, very pale substitutes for the Living God.
Well we could go on but let us return to Edom’s own experience and remind ourselves that the Bible also talks about the deceitfulness of sin. As Edom looked on Israel’s struggles she thought satisfaction was to be had in joining in with the plunderers. But Edom was to find what so many of us have painfully found out for ourselves that sin is a great deceiver that promises much but delivers very little. There are pleasures to be had in sin but those pleasures are short-
Edom’s judgment was about to fall and it was about to fall because Edom had allowed herself to be deceived in a couple of very specific ways. The enemy has his sights set on you too. He will deceive you if he can. Don’t fall for his schemes; don’t put your trust and confidence in any other than in God alone. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved!