Introduction and overview - "Sunnyhill" Herne Bay Evangelical Free Church

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Obadiah 1-21 Overview


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Reading: Obadiah 1-21.

An Introduction and an overview

Let me introduce you to the shortest book in the OT and according to a number of reputable web-sites the least read Book of the entire Bible.

I want to help you see what this little book is all about and to try to show you how relevant its message remains for us today. We really don’t want to overlook this book simply because it is small; its message has great importance!

Not only is this the shortest book in the OT it is quite probably the only book in the entire Bible that is directly addressed, not to believers, but to an unbelieving nation, to Edom. The message contains a sober and stern warning about God’s righteous judgment that is about to fall upon Edom and an explanation is given as to why. This judgment is not arbitrary but an act of justice as the LORD repays Edom for what it has done to God’s own people. This message concerning the judgment of God’s enemies should bring great comfort to the believer.

In the weeks to come I hope that we will be able to investigate the text more closely under the following headings:

vv.1-9 The Judgment of Edom and the problem of misplaced confidence
vv.10-16 Why must Edom be judged? What had it done?
vv.17-21 Hope in the midst of despair: Israel restored and Edom destroyed

This morning we are going to content ourselves with a general overview of the whole book.

The Author
Who was Obadiah?

Well, it won’t take us long to answer that question: we know nothing of the author other than his name: Obadiah.

It was quite a common name and around a dozen different men in the Bible are called Obadiah. The name means simply "one who serves Yahweh". And what a name that is!

Who is it about?
If Obadiah is a servant of the LORD his message from the LORD concerns a people called Edom v.1b. And it quickly becomes clear that Edom is soon to be in trouble, big trouble.

But who is Edom? And what was its relationship to God’s people? Why should it figure so prominently in one of the divinely inspired books that make up the Bible?

In order to answer that we need to stop and consider the back-story to Obadiah’s prophetic message.

Israel and Edom were two separate nations, they were indeed two near neighbours, and they just didn’t get on. Their rivalry however was about much more than that. It reflected a very different spiritual outlook that each nation had and that meant that they enjoyed a very different place in God’s plans.

Several hundred years before Obadiah’s day, God had made a promise to Abraham: he would bless those who blessed him and curse those who cursed him. That blessing was passed on to Abraham’s descendants firstly to his son Isaac and then on to one of Isaac’s sons. Isaac actually had  two sons and they were twins. Their names were Esau and Jacob. Esau was the elder but he forfeited his claims to these blessing by showing himself to be totally unworthy of them as he was a thoroughly unspiritual man. He despised his privileges by selling his birthright for the instant gratification of a bowl of soup! It wasn’t long before Esau wanted to kill his brother. Jacob too had many faults of his own. There is no way in which he could claim to deserve God’s favour - indeed no true member of God’s people ever dares to imagine that he deserves God’s blessings – but God was gracious to him and Jacob was changed by his encounters with God: as a recipient of God’s grace Jacob became a spiritually-minded man.

Eventually the two brothers settled their differences and God generously gave both of their descendants a land to live in. Esau’s descendants became the nation of Edom, while Jacob fathered the 12 tribes that made up the nation of Israel. Israel’s capital was Mount Zion (Jerusalem); Edom’s was Mount Seir. Both had an inheritance. Both had a mountain. But only one was God’s chosen people.

Although the brothers had settled their differences the relationship between the two nations was never an easy one and frequently strained. Sometimes Edom had the upper hand but usually it was Israel.

Over time the Kingdom of Israel became divided: Israel in the north and Judah in the south. First, Israel, because of stubborn refusal to honour and obey the God who had brought them into being, was carried off into an exile from which there was to be no return. Then it was Judah’s turn: failing to learn from what had happened to Israel Judah too had to suffer exile as punishment for her sins.

In 586BC God used the Babylonian empire to discipline his people. The Babylonian armies overran Judah and destroyed the city Jerusalem taking many of the inhabitants away to exile in Babylon. This defeat was an act of divine judgment against God’s own people for their persistent rebellion against his instructions. God freely uses the nations he chooses to carry out his purposes even though those nations involved may have a totally different reason for doing what they do.

At that time Edom joined the Babylonians in looting  Judah. Instead of helping the refugees who were fleeing for their lives the Edomites actually betrayed them into the hands of their enemies and then happily returned to their own fortified cities in Mount Seir.

Obadiah was not alone in being horrified by this treacherous behaviour of Edom. Other Biblical writers also found Edom’s behaviour particularly shameful and shocking. After all the two nations were closely related: they were descended from two brothers and twin brothers at that!

Jeremiah made a lengthy and stern proclamation of judgment against Edom. The nation’s destruction would serve as an example to others:

Jer.49:17 "Edom shall become a horror. Everyone who passes by it will be horrified and will hiss because of all its disasters."

Ezekiel too spoke of the Lord’s vengeance being directed towards Edom:

Ezek.25:13 "I will stretch out my hand against Edom and cut off from it man and beast. And I will make it desolate; from Teman even to Dedan they shall fall by the sword."

And Edom thought it could get away with it all!

How often the enemies of God and of his people think and act like this!

Obadiah’s message is a simple one: no matter how safe they think they are, no matter how wise they think they are,  Edom can’t and won’t get away with it.   Oh yes, it looked as though they were getting away with it, after all:

For the moment:

  • Edom dwells in security on their mountain

  • Israel is scattered and in exile

  • Edom has plundered Jerusalem

The promises of God had been made to Israel so why was he allowing the Edomites to do what they were doing? It all looked as though God‘s promises had failed, that God himself had failed – was there any room left for hope?

The book of Obadiah provides and answer. God will not forsake his promises to Abraham, Issac, and Jacob. To the Edomites, Obadiah’s message was a message of judgment and doom but to the Jews, it was a message of faithfulness and salvation. How so?

Because another day is coming, declared Obadiah, the Lord has his day:

  • Edom will be brought down from Mount Sela v.3

  • Israel will be gathered back to her land vv.19–20

  • Edom will be plundered and plundered in a devastating manner vv.6ff

Edom may seem to have won, but it is the Lord who prevails in the end.

How encouraging this should be to the believer who sees the wicked apparently triumphing and going from strength to strength. Obadiah tells us that justice will prevail. It may catch up with the wicked in this life but if it doesn’t it will certainly be dealt with by the LORD God afterwards.

None of us likes the thought of wickedness going unpunished and Obadiah tells us it won’t.

But the climax is not to be found in the defeat of the wicked or the righteous judgment of the guilty so much as it is in the victory of the LORD. The LORD will exact vengeance upon guilty Edom, as he will on all those who stubbornly persist in being his enemy, but he will also secure a wonderful victory for his people.

Israel would experience a restoration of her fortunes as her lands that had been taken from her were returned while Edom suffers only loss. Deliverers will come to Israel, a succession of saviours until the Saviour of the World would come, even our Lord Jesus Christ.

This One would be the Saviour of the World with a salvation by no means limited to the Jews only. The Day of the LORD is approaching for all nations and then it will not be nationality that determines our destiny but whether or not we have become friends of God.

The Message
To an unbelieving people who had no theology Obadiah did not water down his message: he had a lot to say about the God they rejected, the God whom they tried to ignore.

We meet folk who claim not to believe in God but our task is still to proclaim this God and his words because faith comes by hearing the word of God!
The heart of Obadiah’s message was that the Lord God was determined to carry out his own purposes. He would exercise his own righteous rule over all the nations of the world whether they recognise him or not. At the very moment that Edom thought herself to be safe God had sent a messenger to summon the nations to come and deal with Edom!

As Obadiah explains his vision we are made aware that, as far as God is concerned, the world of men is divided into two camps: God has his friends but he also has his enemies.

Now you may not like the idea that God treats some people as enemies. "But isn’t God love?" you may say to yourself "how can a God of love treat us as enemies?"

And of course many of our contemporaries live their lives on the assumption that God cannot have enemies; they want to believe that whatever they might do here and now, if there is a God, then he will surely accept them at the end.

But God has made it clear in the Bible that he does have enemies and here in the book of Obadiah he really does treat Edom as his enemy. The message of the Book of Obadiah is that God does not treat these two categories in the same way. He didn’t in Obadiah’s day and he doesn’t in ours either.

This is an important truth for us to understand and it is by no means restricted to the OT.

The writer to the Hebrews speaks about people who are who God’s enemies and refers to what awaits them:

Heb.10:27 The only thing that lies ahead for them is a "fearful expectation of judgment and of raging fire that will consume the enemies of God."

Jesus’ own brother wrote:

Jam.4:4 "Do you not know that friendship with the world is enmity with God? therefore whoever wishes to be a friend of the world makes himself an enemy of God."

Yes, it is true that God is a God of love but it is a love that has led him to provide everything that is necessary for men and women, boys and girls to become his friends. It is not a "love" that pretends that sin is something other than it is. In his wonderful love he has made friendship a possibility but if we don’t respond to him and to his offers and gracious invitations then we exclude ourselves from his love. In not responding we simply go on in with our hostility towards him intact: in other words we continue to be his enemies.

The very language that is used so often to describe Christian salvation presupposes this hostility between a holy God and unholy sinners:

Rom.5:8 "God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us."

A couple of verses later Paul made this presupposition explicit when he wrote:

Rom.5:10 "If while we were enemies..."

But the gospel as it is preached includes more than a mere declaration of what God has done it is accompanied by impassioned pleas to respond to it:

2Cor.5:20 "Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ, God making his appeal through us. We implore you on behalf of Christ, be reconciled to God."

Now to a happily married couple you don’t need to tell the husband to be reconciled to his wife for he is already living harmoniously with her. Reconciliation is only necessary when there has been a falling out. We have had just such a falling out with God because of our sin and that falling out has made us his enemies – we all need to be reconciled to him, we all need to stop being his enemies and to become his friends. Praise God that he is not only willing to have us but has done everything so that we might become his friends.

Don’t be stubborn, don’t think that you can get away with it. God’s justice will catch up with you sooner or later. Don’t be duped by appearances imagining that if the wicked are prospering now and perhaps the godly are suffering now that that situation will simply continue. God rules and he distinguished between those he loves and those who continue as his enemies.

There is an escape but it is to be found in Mount Zion, that is amongst God’s people, amongst his friends and it is the polar opposite of continuing in sin – it is holy. Why go on rejecting the friendship of God which is freely offered you in Jesus Christ? Believe today.


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