Dr. Richard L. Strauss
June 2, 1974
One of the things that bothers believers is why God lets unbelievers get away with the things they do. For instance, here is an unsaved man is making life miserable for his Christian wife, beating her and badgering her. And we ask, "Why does God let this happen?" All she tries to do is please him. We don't understand why God doesn't do something.
Or here's an unbelieving employer who is taking unfair advantage of his Christian employee. He's just trying to do an honest day's work for his employer. We don't understand why God doesn't avenge this wrong in some way.
Or here is a nation which is guilty of committing senseless aggression and atrocities against a neighboring nation, which has done nothing to deserve it whatsoever. People are asking, "If there is a God above and He's in control of all things, why doesn't He step in and do something?"
There are answers to questions like these scattered all through the Word of God. An answer to this question comes from a little one-chapter book called Obadiah. So small in size, it's one of the minor Minor Prophets.
We don't have any idea who Obadiah was; the Scripture doesn't tell us. His name was a common one and it meant simply the servant of Jehovah. That's all we really know about him: that he was a servant of Jehovah. We also know probably one other thing, and that is that he was a man of few words. He wrote the shortest book in the Old Testament.
It has one subject. If you have your Bible open to it, you'll see the subject in verse 1.
"The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom" (Obadiah 1a).
The book of Obadiah is about Edom. Now you're probably wondering who Edom was and why, in 20th Century America, we should care. Well, let's search this book and maybe we'll find out why God put it in His Word and what He has to share in it for us today.
The name "Edom" means "red." It was the name given to Jacob's twin brother, Esau.
"So when her days were fulfilled for her to give birth, indeed there were twins in her womb. And the first came out red. He was like a hairy garment all over; so they called his name Esau" (Genesis 25:24-25).
Esau was red. He had red skin. Now look at verse 30.
"And Esau said to Jacob, 'Please feed me with that same red stew, for I am weary.' Therefore his name was called Edom" (Genesis 25:30).
Not only was his skin red, but he loved red stew. Esau was called Edom.
The Edomites were descendants of Esau.
"So Esau dwelt in Mount Seir. Esau is Edom" (Genesis 36:8).
Edom means "red." Esau was red and loved red stew so he was called Edom. And the descendants of Esau were called Edomites.
"And this is the genealogy of Esau the father of the Edomites in Mount Seir" (Genesis 36:9).
Where is Mt. Seir? It's an area between the Dead Sea and the Gulf of Aqaba (pronounced ACK-a-ba). It's a mountainous region that is referred to many times in the Scripture. It is the land of the Edomites.
The people who first occupied this area were called the Horites. However, God gave this area to the children of Esau. So they displaced the Horites and they took control of it. Mt. Seir belonged to the Edomites, the descendants of Esau.
The Israelites (descendants of Jacob) were commanded not to take Mt. Seir. God told them not to touch it because it belonged to the Edomites. While it was a mountainous and rugged area, there were also many fertile valley scattered in among the mountains. It was a perfect place for the rugged descendants of Esau, who loved the wild earth.
The capital of Edom, or Mt. Seir, was the city of Sela, which later came to be called in the Greek language, Petra. Petra was an impregnable fortress city which was hewn out of solid rock. People who have seen Petra tell me the rock, strangely enough, is rose red.
Petra was surrounded on all sides by perilous cliffs and was accessible only by a few mountain passes or gorges. How they took this city away from the Horites we don't know, but the Edomites occupied it during Old Testament times. They were proud of their strength.
"'The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high'"--that's Petra--"'you who say in your heart, "Who will bring me down to the ground?" Though you ascend as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,' says the Lord" (Obadiah 3-4).
They were proud. Petra was a great city. And not only was it an formidable fortress but it was a major commercial area as well. The King's Highway, which was the major trade route between the Gulf of Aqaba and the city of Damascus, passed right beside Petra.
Now that brings us to the rivalry between the Edomites and the Israelites. They were descendants of twin brothers so you would think they'd be pretty good friends but that wasn't the case. The problem wasn't Israel's fault. God had commanded the Israelites to treat the Edomites charitably (see Deuteronomy 23). But the Edomites didn't reciprocate. In fact, they went out of their way to give the Israelites a hard time and to spite them whenever possible. Turn over to the book of Numbers and we'll look at one of those occasions.
Israel is coming out of bondage in Egypt and they're trying to get to their promised land when they come to Edom.
"'Please let us pass through your country. We will not pass through fields or vineyards, nor will we drink water from wells; we will go along the King's Highway; we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.' Then Edom said to him, 'You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.' So the children of Israel said to him, 'We will go by the Highway, and if I or my livestock drink any of your water, then I will pay for it; let me only pass through on foot, nothing more.' Then he said, 'You shall not pass through.' So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory; so Israel turned away from him" (Numbers 20:17-21).
I don't see any excuse for this unkindness whatsoever, but that's the way it was. Is God going to put up with this? That's what the little book of Obadiah is all about. Is God going to tolerate this?
There are two sections. The first 16 verses is about the ruination of Edom. Then the last 5 verses are about the restoration of Israel.
1. The Ruination of Edom
Look at the revelation of Edom's ruin in the first part of the book of Obadiah.
"Behold, I will make you small among the nations"--God says, "You're so great? I will make you small"--"You shall be greatly despised. The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who dwell in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; you who say in your heart, 'Who will bring me down to the ground?' Though you ascend as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,' says the Lord" (Obadiah 2-4).
Now in verse 5, Obadiah suggests that there will be two kinds of plundering in which there will be something left.
"If thieves had come to you, if robbers by night--oh, how you will be cut off!--would they not have stolen till they had enough? If grape-gatherers had come to you, would they not have left some gleanings?" (Obadiah 5).
The thief takes what he wants but leaves the rest. The grape-gatherers leave some gleanings. But that won't be so with Edom when her enemies plunder her.
"Oh, how Esau shall be searched out! How his hidden treasures shall be sought after!" (Obadiah 6).
When God gets through with Edom, there won't be anything left. Not even hidden treasure. In the day of Edom's calamity, even her allies will betray her.
"All the men in your confederacy shall force you to the border; the men at peace with you shall deceive you and prevail against you. Those who eat your bread shall lay a trap for you. No one is aware of it" (Obadiah 7).
Notice the completeness of their defeat.
"'Will I not in that day,' says the Lord, 'even destroy the wise men from Edom, and understanding from the mountains of Esau? Then your mighty men, O Teman'"-- Teman was a grandson of Esau and there was another city in Mt. Seir named after him--"'shall be dismayed, to the end that everyone from the mountains of Esau may be cut off by slaughter'" (Obadiah 8-9).
Every one of them shall be cut off. That's the completeness of her destruction. And look to verse 10 to see the permanence of her defeat.
"For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever" (Obadiah 10).
Forever. When the Edomites are finally cut off, it's going to be a complete destruction and it's going to be a permanent destruction. Incidentally, the prophet Jeremiah predicted the same thing. He said, "No man shall abide there."
"'Edom also shall be an astonishment; everyone who goes by it will be astonished and will hiss at all its plagues. As in the overthrow of Sodom and Gomorrah and their neighbors,' says the Lord,
'No one shall remain there, nor shall a son of man dwell in it'" (Jeremiah 49:17-18).
Now no one would believe this in Jeremiah's day. Had anyone taken this prophecy down to the city of Petra and read it there, they would have split their sides laughing. "That's ridiculous! Nobody can touch us. Petra will live forever!"
But God is a God of His word. That was the problem with the Edomites: They didn't believe God was a God of His word. The ending came slowly but it came completely. In about 300 B.C., the Nabataean Arabs drove the Edomites to the west. They drove them out of Mt. Seir and over into the south of Judea. Petra then became the capital of the powerful Nabataean kingdom for many years, until they were conquered by the Romans in about 105 A.D. After that conquest by the Romans, the trade route between the Gulf of Aqabar and the city of Damascus began to fall into disuse. Other routes became more important, and Petra lost its importance as a city until it completely fell into ruins and dropped completely out of sight. It wasn't discovered again until 1812. You can visit those red ruins at Petra today. Nobody dwells there, just as God said.
So the Edomites lingered down near Judea for a while. They were called by the Romans "Edomeans" rather than "Edomites." Herod the Great, incidentally, who was the king of the Jews, was an Edomean (pronounced edo-ME-an). Eventually these Edomeans intermarried with people from other desert tribes. Not many years after the death of Jesus, the Edomites or Edomeans disappeared completely from the record books and off the face of the earth as a separate people. Their identity is gone. They are cut off forever. There is a God above who keeps His word.
It wasn't just coincidence that both Jeremiah and Obadiah accurately predicted the doom of the Edomites. They didn't just happen to guess right, like a lot of modern "prophets" do (who are wrong at least half the time). This wasn't just a good guess; this was a divine revelation. They made this unbelievable prediction at the direction of Almighty God, whose word is true. Petra and the Edomites are just another link in the long chain of evidence that the Bible is the inspired word of God. Inerrant, infallible, and authoritative.
We ought to learn from Edom's mistake and heed the message of the Word of God. The central message of the Scriptures is that men are sinful and God is love. And God loves sinful man so much that He sent His only Son to the face of the earth to live a perfect life and die a sacrificial death and pay for the sins of the world. The message of the Bible is that if men will turn to Jesus Christ--God's eternal Son--in faith and put their trust in His shed blood, God will forgive them of their sins and impart to them eternal life. That's the central message of the Bible.
Now I want you to look at the reason for Edom's ruin because this becomes rather important. It begins in verse 10. The thrust of this entire passage concerns Edom's treatment of Israel. It never mentions that unkindness we read about in Numbers 20. Rather, it records a later incident--one that occurred at the fall of Jerusalem at the hand of the Babylonians in 586 B.C. There was a psalm written about this.
"Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom the day of Jerusalem, who said, 'Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation!'" (Psalm 137:7).
You get the picture? The Babylonians were battering the walls of Jerusalem. They were beating the city, and just about to destroy it and take the people into captivity, and the Edomites were cheering them on. "Go ahead! Level it to the ground! We don't want one stone of that city remaining atop another."
Now is God going to stand by and let that sort of thing happen? Absolutely not! The Edomites were there reveling in every minute of Israel's distress. So let's look at it again in verse 10.
"For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever" (Obadiah 10).
They stood by in that day of captivity.
"In the day that you stood on the other side--in the day that strangers carried captive his forces, when foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem--even you were as one of them" (Obadiah 11).
Not only did they stand by but they rejoiced.
"But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother in the day of his captivity; nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; nor should you have spoken proudly in the day of distress" (Obadiah 12).
They also shared in the plundering.
"You should not have entered the gate of My people in the day of their calamity. Indeed, you should not have gazed on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity" (Obadiah 13).
But that's not all they did. They even captured some of the Israelites who were trying to escape and they returned them to the Babylonians.
"You should not have stood at the crossroads to cut off those among them who escaped; nor should you have delivered up those among them who remained in the day of distress" (Obadiah 14).
Now those Edomites cannot just commit those kinds of atrocities against the people of God and get away with it. Certainly God does discipline His people and that's what He was doing here. But God's instrument of discipline was to be the Babylonians, not the Edomites. God is not going to permit Edom's proud, self-willed outrage in defiance of Him. Edom will reap what she sows. That's the principle laid down in verses 15 and 16.
"For the day of the Lord upon all the nations is near; as you have done, it shall be done to you; your reprisal shall return upon your own head. For as you drank on My holy mountain, so shall all the nations drink continually; yes, they shall drink, and swallow, and they shall be as though they had never been" (Obadiah 15-16).
It's the same principle God laid down in Galatians 6:7, "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap."
"The day of the Lord" mentioned in verse 15 has a near view and a far view. Those of you who are students of Bible prophecy know that. When God talks about His day, sometimes it's a near thing but it also has a future fulfillment--one yet to come. We can't deny that it's a near view here. There is something that's going to happen to the Edomites when God's day comes.
You can't go on defying Him and deliberately wronging His people without feeling the sting of His vengeance. He is a God of justice. He will avenge His righteous name and He'll do it in His own way. Every belligerent unbeliever needs to sit up and take notice of the little book of Obadiah and its big warning.
"Whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." God has given fair warning. And to those who deny His Word and lash out against believers and try to destroy them--the book of Obadiah was written for their warning.
There was a people who thought they were unconquerable and indestructible, and today there is not a one of them on the face of the earth. There is not one person who can say, "I am an Edomite. I can trace my ancestry to Esau." Not a one. Because they dared to take into their own hands anger and hate and attack against God's people.
What poetic justice is in this book. Just as Edom had robbed Judah, her enemies would rob her, according to verse 6. Just as Edom committed treachery against Judah, so her allies would commit treachery against her, according to verse 7. And just as Edom sought the utter destruction of Jerusalem, so she would be utterly destroyed (verses 9, 10, and 18).
The solemn warning is this: As you have done, it shall be done to you. What a solemn warning to unbelievers in this day. The nations of the earth need to heed this warning, too, particularly as it relates to God's chosen people Israel. God promised Abraham in Genesis 12 that He would bless those who blessed Abraham and curse those who cursed him. The nations of the earth that have blessed or cursed the descendants of Abraham have felt the blessing or cursing of the Lord.
Nazi Germany learned that lesson. Other nations of the earth have learned it. Maybe the Soviet Union and the Arab nations should beware. The solemn warning of God: As you have done, particularly to my people Israel, so shall it be done to you.
I'm not saying the nation of Israel is right in every point of this conflict. Please don't misunderstand me. Most of the nation Israel are not believers today. But they still have a very special place in God's plan of the ages. The very establishment of their nation clearly shows that God's word will be fulfilled. Israel is not right in everything she does. But the nations of the earth still need to heed God's warning concerning their treatment of the nation of Israel.
Most of you here today are Christians. I think there's an application here for us, too. That is, it is God who avenges His people. It isn't our responsibility. "'Vengeance is Mine. I will repay,' says the Lord" (Romans 12:9). I think we overstep our bounds when we take things into our own hands. When we do, it usually boomerangs. We need to rest in God's righteous judgment.
Yes, sometimes the unbelievers around us lash out against us. God wants us to have the spirit of meekness that Jesus had and maintain a Christlike attitude. God's going to deal with these unbelievers in His own way. He most certainly will.
There's a great contrast now in verse 17 as we turn from the ruination of Edom to the restoration of Israel.
2. The Restoration of Israel
"But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions" (Obadiah 17).
What God is saying is that Israel may be the spoils and scattered among the nations and persecuted, but for her ultimately there is going to be salvation. There is going to be deliverance. She shall dwell in holiness and possess her possessions. When the Lord Jesus comes back and establishes His kingdom on earth, Israel, according to many Old Testament prophecies, shall have a place of preeminence.
"'The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame; but the house of Esau shall be stubble; they shall kindle them and devour them, and no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau,' for the Lord has spoken" (Obadiah 18).
Israel is going to be a flame with zeal for God some day. But the house of Esau will be stubble and there shall not be any remains of the house of Esau. The absence of a single Edomite on the earth today is a silent testimony that there is a God above who keeps His word.
And His word, among other things, is that His Son someday will return and come back to this earth. In like manner as He left this earth. And He's going to restore Israel to a place of prominence among the nations. He's going to rule over the world in righteousness and peace. That's the promise of God's Word.
Do you notice the description of Israel's restoration in the rest of this chapter. Some of the areas that Israel will inhabit in the Messianic kingdom is outlined here. You can read it all for yourself, but I want you to especially notice the first part of verse 19.
"The South"--that is, the southern part of Judah--"Shall possess the mountains of Esau" (Obadiah 19a).
What poetic justice. Someday all the area of Mt. Seir--all of it--shall be inhabited by the Jews.
And look at verse 21.
"Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord's" (Obadiah 21).
The saviors, plural. Who are they? Well that must be those who reign with Christ in His kingdom. Remember in Revelation 20:6 when it says they shall rule and reign with him a thousand years? In other words that could be you and me. Wouldn't it be exciting if one of us got as our domain during the Millennium Petra and Mt. Seir and that area?
Saviors are going to come to Mt. Zion to judge the mountains of Esau. But we're not going to have the glory even if we get Petra for our little domain. God's going to have it all. He says "the kingdom shall be the Lord's." It reminds us of Revelation 11:15 when it says "the kingdom of this world is become the kingdom of our Lord and of His Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever.
Trusting Jesus as Your Savior
God is a God of His word. The whole book of Obadiah is great testimony to that fact. Christ is coming back someday to establish His kingdom on earth. Do you want to be a part of that righteous rule of Jesus Christ on earth? Do you want to share in the joys of a world free from violence and war and aggression and poverty and pollution and prejudice? Is that your desire? You can be.
But there is only one way. You can work for it and strive for it and fight for it and legislate for it, but it will never be, until the righteous Son of God returns and sets up His kingdom on earth. Then there will be peace and righteousness on earth. Only those who have put their trust in the Savior and who know Him personally as their deliverer from sin--its guilt and its condemnation--shall be there to share in the joys of that day.
Have you trusted Him and received Him? That's the issue. Just trust Him. Open your heart to Him. Do it today.
If I read the book of Obadiah and didn't know Jesus Christ as my Savior, I think I would heed its warning and receive Him now.
Continue to LB-1B: Habakkuk: The Big Promise