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Reading: Obadiah 10-
Edom’s Crime: Persecuting God’s People
In January of this year the magazine Christianity Today published an article entitled: ‘Worst Year Yet’ The Top 50 Countries Where It’s Hardest to Be a Christian’. The information came from Open Doors which has been keeping track of persecution against Christians for the last 25 years.
According to Open Doors some 215 million Christians are exposed to serious and severe persecution. While North Korea is listed as the most dangerous place in the world to be a Christian 35 out of the 50 countries are Islamic and Islamic extremism remains globally the driving force in the persecution of Christians. Last year a new force in addition to the Islamic threat appeared on the scene: ethnic nationalism. The increase of violent Hindu nationalism has seen India rise to occupy 15 th place on this unhappy list.
Various organisations publish their estimates of just how many Christians are killed annually because of their faith – it is impossible to verify the accuracy of the figures which hover around the 90,000 mark for 2016.
And yet some situations are hard to deny: the Christian population of Iraq, for example, has plummeted as believers have been relentlessly targeted and harried. In 2003 the Christian community numbered some 1.5M but since then many have been forced to flee the country and today that population has been reduced to around just 200,000.
Our news was dominated for a few days recently by the horrendous events that took place in Manchester on May 22 ndwith the loss of 23 lives. A few days later there were just two articles in the Times reporting on an attack that left 29 Coptic Christians dead, bringing the number killed by ISIS sympathizers to over 80 since December. The reality is, whether our media wants to tell us or not, is that Christians are the most persecuted of peoples around the world.
Edom was a Persecutor
But what has all this to do with this obscure little Book that we’re considering, the Book of the prophet Obadiah?
Well, the reason that this little Book is to be found in the pages of Holy Scripture is that God takes note of persecution directed against his people.
Edom was facing judgment. Warnings were ignored and Edom was continuing to place her confidence in all the wrong places. All this mis-
And now the time has come to spell out just what Edom had done to bring God’s hostility towards her. Let’s look together at what Obadiah has to tell us.
We’ve seen in previous weeks that Edom and Israel/Judah were closely related: they were blood related as well as being near neighbours. There was history too between these two peoples – they really didn’t get on well with each other. One nation, Israel, had benefitted from God’s grace and was God’s nation; the other, Edom, had not and was not.
At the time Obadiah wrote God was applying some much needed discipline to his people Israel. Being God’s people was an enormous privilege but it was privilege that came with responsibility. Sadly, Israel was not carrying that responsibility well and so God was preparing to send her off into exile for seventy years in an effort to wean his people from their idolatrous lifestyle. To achieve his purposes God sovereignly made use of the nations as his tools. Edom took advantage of the situation and imagined that she could act with impunity in feathering her own nest.
Do you remember how back in the Garden of Eden Adam and Eve sewed fig leaves together in order to try to cover the shame of their sinful nakedness? Edom’s situation was far worse: it is not that she had shame to cover up but rather Edom was covered by shame v.10.
Shame may well have different degrees of effectiveness in different cultures eg. so called "honour killings" but we all know something about shame. We understand what it means to "name and shame" those incredibly rich and powerful companies which avoid paying taxes at the appropriate level. We also experience it ourselves when we’ve done something wrong and then we’ve been found out. Have you never felt your face warming as you blush – it is one of our human reactions to shame? Sometimes however we will try to face it out: we try to hide our shame or perhaps even to deny it altogether. As moral standards decline we may even notice that men and women start boasting and glorying in those very things that ought to make them hang their heads. (Rom.1:32 & Phil.3:19)
What had Edom got to be ashamed of in its relations with Israel? And what exactly are the accusations that being laid against Edom?
It’s time to look at the charge sheet.
The first charge may seem to our modern day ears fairly innocuous but we must realise that sin sets us on a slippery slope and once on it the slide continues.
The first charge that is levelled against Edom is that when Israel was suffering at the hands of the nations Edom did nothing at all!
That’s it, nothing. Look at v.11:
"On the day that you stood aloof,"
That was how it began. Israel was in trouble and Edom did nothing. But where is the problem in that, you may ask. Well, while we may prefer to think of sin only in terms of doing what is wrong the Bible tells us that sin, as far as God is concerned, also includes the failure to do what we ought to do. There are sins of omission as well as sins of commission.
Edom should not have stood aloof but instead should have stood up, as it were, for Israel. But no, silence was easier. She didn’t want to get involved and so she simply kept quiet. At least that is how it started...
If Edom had begun by doing nothing it wasn’t long before her fundamental hostility towards God’s people was making itself known.
Israel, her old enemy, was suffering and Edom was enjoying the spectacle of it all. Edom was gloating over the mishaps that had come Israel’s way and Edom was rejoicing in her neighbour’s downfall. It’s all very simple, so very understandable, so normal perhaps – but it was profoundly displeasing to the LORD God. It was something that Edom should not have allowed herself to do but Edom was on that slope of sin and was about to slide still further.
From watching as a disinterested bystander and from gloating as a interested spectator it was only a short step to participating with the rioters.
History teaches us that there are always more looters prepared to line their pockets than there are rioters who take the initial risks. But oh how tempting it is once those risks have been taken by someone else to join in and to make sure that you don’t miss out on the pickings. And Edom just couldn’t resist the temptation any more! Others were helping themselves, everyone else was doing it, and so Edom did too. Surely it was alright. But, no. God saw, God knew and God was displeased. This was something that Edom should not have done.
The fourth and final charge was that at the last Edom had become even more actively involved. If it wasn’t bad enough to have moved from aloof indifference through gloating to plundering now Edom went yet further.
Refugees were desperately fleeing and trying to escape to safety. Did Edom take these refugees in? No. Did Edom at least look the other way? No. To add insult to injury Edom waited for the fleeing refugees and then handed them back into the power of those pursuing them. Instead of alleviating pain and suffering Edom did her level best to make matters worse for Israel.
Did it matter? Was it really that big a deal?
Yes, it was because this was God’s people who were being mistreated and God stands firm in his commitments!
Did you miss that reference in v.13?
"Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity;"
Or again in v.16
"For as you have drunk on my holy mountain,"
All sin is an offence to God and each sin will excite his wrath on the Day of the LORD when justice, strict justice, will be meted out. All nations will get what their deeds deserve. The pattern described in v.15 is in harmony with the rest of Scripture:
v.15 "As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head."
This is another way of stating the principle of an "eye for an eye" justice found in the Law of Moses:
Deut.19:21 "It shall be life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot."
In the Book of Esther it is the justice that came the way of Haman who was executed on the gallows he had erected to deal with his enemy Mordecai:
Est.7:10 "And the king said, "Hang him on that." So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai."
It is in line with what Jesus taught too:
While all sin offends the LORD the sin of mistreating his own people is particularly important because he has a regard for his own people which he does not have for others.
The LORD refers to his own people as the "apple of his eye":
Deut.32:10 "He found him in a desert land, and in the howling waste of the wilderness; he encircled him, he cared for him, he kept him as the apple of his eye."
Zech.2:8 "he who touches you touches the apple of his eye:"
Sometimes those who persecute are twisted in their thinking that they even convince themselves that by their persecution they are doing the right thing. Jesus put it like this:
Jn.16:2 "They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God."
It is this that makes Edom’s sin such a serious offence for the LORD really does identify with his suffering people. Do you remember how the Lord Jesus later spoke to Saul on the Damascus Road? Paul later recounted his experience as follows:
Acts 26:14 "And when we had all fallen to the ground, I heard a voice saying to me in the Hebrew language, ‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is hard for you to kick against the goads.’"
What evil and wicked men do to God’s people is not something that he is indifferent towards or powerless to do anything about. Judgment will come and it’s justice when it does will be inescapable.
Salvation is to be found with the people of God cf. v.17 but this salvation is not available to those who deliberately cut themselves off from God’s grace and who persist in their mistreatment of the church.
As Christians we should take great heart at the fact that our fellow believers’ sufferings will not go forever unnoticed and will certainly not be forgotten by God. Those who persist is persecuting God’s people will be called to give an account and the condemnation will be as dreadful as their acts deserve. For Edom it meant the destruction of the nation!
But what if you are not a Christian? What if you know that you too have sinned both by omission and by commission? What if your sin has included a hostility and a mocking of God’s own people? Does that mean that all you can expect to hear this morning is a gloomy message of judgement?
Well in a measure that depends upon you? Perhaps you think that you’ve gone too far, that you’re too bad and that it’s too late to change now. If that is what you think and with such thoughts you determine to go on just as you are then, yes, the only message for you is one of judgment. But, my friend, it need not be so.
We’ve already mentioned the example of Saul and his example is there in Scripture to encourage us that all is not lost.
Saul was an "Edom-
And Paul found pardon!
That is the wonder of the good news of Jesus Christ. Jesus is ready able and willing to save sinners. He saved Saul and transformed him. He can do the same for you too but you must settle with him before it is too late and your opportunity is forever gone.
To God be the glory for his wonderful love and mercy.