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Trevor Stewart-Sweet on the Book of Obadiah


The subject of Obadiah is Edom and it’s interesting to note that there are more references to Edom in the Hebrew scriptures than to almost any other single nation.

Obadiah proclaimed a coming divine judgment on Edom but he also gave hope to Israel by reminding them of the future that He’d promised them.

Historically, Obadiah’s prophecy relates to the rivalry between Jacob and Esau, a rivalry that began while they were still in Rebecca’s womb. In Genesis 25 verses 22 and 23 we read this

22 But the children struggled together within her; and she said, “If all is well, why am I like this?” So she went to inquire of the Lord.

23 And the Lord said to her:

“Two nations are in your womb,
Two peoples shall be separated from your body;
One people shall be stronger than the other,
And the older shall serve the younger.”

Genesis 25.22-23

But, in Obadiah, we don’t read so much of Esau. we read of Edom. Well, that’s not an issue since they are both one and the same.

In Genesis 25.30 we read that Esau was called Edom when he asked Jacob if if you remember to give him that stew that he’d made.

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

And in Genesis 36.43, we read that Esau is called the father of the Edomites:

43 Chief Magdiel, and Chief Iram. These were the chiefs of Edom, according to their dwelling places in the land of their possession. Esau was the father of the Edomites.

Genesis 36.43

We read in the Bible that Jacob and his descendants suffered. They were chastised by God but that their ultimate destiny is restoration, whereas Esau and his descendants were proud, rebellious, and defiant, and their destiny was destruction. That is what is described in Obadiah.

It’s quite interesting to remember that Jesus came from the line of Jacob but Herod came from the line of Esau and both Herod and Jesus were kings of the Jews, weren’t they?

The prophecy of Obadiah is a warning to all that God will judge and severely punish any who harm His people.

Let’s begin by reading the first four verses of Obadiah. I’m going to try and read from the new King James which you’ve got.

The vision of Obadiah.

Thus says the Lord God אֲדֹנָי יְהוִה [ʾădōnāy yhwh] concerning Edom אֱדֹום [ʾĕdōm]
(We have heard a report from the Lord,
And a messenger has been sent among the nations, saying,
“Arise, and let us rise up against her for battle”):

“Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
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 1.1-4

Obadiah receives a vision a, a message from the Lord concerning Edom. A messenger will be sent to the nations (the heathen) telling them to rise up and fight against Edom in battle. The Lord tells Edom that ‘He has made them to look small in the eyes of those who will come against her’ and that ‘her enemies will greatly despise her’.

In verse three we read that Edom was proud of heart and that, deceived by her pride, Edom boasted: ‘Who shall bring me down to the ground?

Why? Why were they so sure of their impregnability, so sure of their position?

One reason is that ‘they dwelt in the clefts of the rock‘. We read in the King James’ Bible: ‘whose habitation is high‘. They’re in the clefts of the rock whose habitation is high. See, the lived in the area that we now know today as Petra the ancient city of Sela.

How many of you have ever been to Petra? Okay, a couple of you. Well, if you haven’t and you get the opportunity, I highly recommend it.

How many of you have seen Raiders of the Lost Arc? I haven’t, but how many of you have? One or two confess to having seen those movies, okay.

You remember that as Indiana Jones travels down through Al Siq, through what is the gorge that leads to Petra, you can see that there is a narrow entrance into the stronghold, can’t you? And he comes across what we call the treasury building.

You can get a picture if you’ve seen that film of what Petra looks like.

One thing I find fascinating when we read about Obadiah and Edom is that if ever you go to Petra (those of that you who have been will know the rocks, as you go into Petra, are predominantly red sandstone) is that, of course, Edom means ‘red’ or ‘ruddy’ (having a healthy reddish colour, rosy), and the they dwelt in the clefts of the rock whose habitation is high. It was indeed because of this, because the area was well protected by the rocky mountains, that they they considered themselves to be impregnable.

As a result, Edom had become proud, and they challenged God by asking: ‘Who shall bring me down to the ground?‘ It was if they were saying: ‘Look, I’m too big, I’m too important, I’m invincible. Don’t you even try it!

Pride, among other things, is this, it is arrogance, it is conceit, it is self-importance, and it is superiority.

It would seem from what we’ve read so far that Edomites were probably guilty of all of these things. And Proverbs warns that pride brings shame,

13 The fear of the Lord is to hate evil;
Pride and arrogance and the evil way
And the perverse mouth I hate.

Proverbs 8.13

it brings contention, Proverbs 13

10 By pride comes nothing but strife,
But with the well-advised is wisdom.

Proverbs 13.10

pride goes before destruction, Proverbs 16

18 Pride goes before destruction,
And a haughty spirit before a fall.

Proverbs 16.18

and pride brings a person down, Proverbs 29:

23 A man’s pride will bring him low,
But the humble in spirit will retain honour.

Proverbs 29.23

Their pride gave the Edomites a false sense of security. That’s what pride does. Its arrogance, its self-importance, its conceit all combine to give a false sense of security.

And we have that saying here, don’t we? ‘Pride goes before a fall’ which rather sums up those verses in Proverbs.

Edom had rebelled against God and they were deceived into thinking that they were safe and secure in this high and rocky dwelling place of theirs. They believed in fact that they could live without God.

But in James chapter 4 and 1 Peter 5 we read that God resists

“God resists the proud,
But gives grace to the humble.”

James 4.6 & 1 Peter 5.5

The Pride of the Lord responds to the pride of Edom in verse 4 that we’ve just read:

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 1.1-4

J. Vernon McGee makes an interesting observation about this verse. He says:

Pride was the sin of Satan‘. Satan said: ‘I will exalt my my throne above the stars of God, I will be like the Most High‘.

13 For you have said in your heart:
‘I will ascend into heaven,
I will exalt my throne above the stars of God;
I will also sit on the mount of the congregation
On the farthest sides of the north;
14 I will ascend above the heights of the clouds,
I will be like the Most High.’

Isaiah 14.13-14

McGee goes on to say:

Pride was also the root of Nebuchadnezzar’s insanity. He strutted like a peacock in the palace of his kingdom of Babylon. And Daniel 4.30 tells us that “30 The king spoke, saying, “Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for a royal dwelling by my mighty power and for the honour of my majesty?”

J. Vernon McGee

Referring to Obadiah verse 3, McGee describes the pride of the heart as ‘the attitude of a life that declares its ability to live without God‘.

We find here in the Book of Obadiah that pride of heart had lifted up this nation of Edom just like Esau who had despised his birthright. Even in the home of Isaac where there was plenty to eat Esau liked that bowl of soup more than he liked his birthright. He didn’t care for God at all in despising that birthright. He despised God.

And now, Esau had become a great nation that had declared its ability to live without God. J. Vernon McGee says,

Satan’s desire is to set himself above God and make his nest in the stars, but the Lord told Satan in verse 15 of Isaiah 14: “15 Yet you shall be brought down to Sheol,
To the lowest depths of the Pit.”

J. Vernon McGee

In verse 4 of what we’ve just read Obadiah uses a similar language in relation to Edom. He tells them that, though they might think of themselves as an eagle nesting among the stars, He would punish their pride by bringing them down.

I think we all need to be mindful of the fact that we should not be like the prideful and deceive ourselves into thinking that we can live our lives without God. Amen?

Moving on, the accusations against Edom continue in verses 5-9. We we read there,

“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?

“Oh, how Esau shall be searched out!
How his hidden treasures shall be sought after!
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.

“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, shall be dismayed,
To the end that everyone from the mountains of Esau
May be cut off by slaughter.

Obadiah 1

In verses 5 and 6, we see that the coming judgment upon Edom will be worse than if robbers had come in the night. At least, robbers would eventually cease stealing and leave when they’d either taken enough or they couldn’t carry anymore plunder.

And, likewise, when grapes or when the vines are harvested, grapes and some gleanings are left behind. But the picture here is that robbers and marauders do not destroy everything yet, when God judges Edom, their destruction will be complete.

We’ll also see that the verses 5 and 6 we’ve just read are also quoted by Jeremiah in chapter 49.9 and 10. Jeremiah says,

If grape-gatherers came to you,
Would they not leave some gleaning grapes?
If thieves by night,
Would they not destroy until they have enough?
10 But I have made Esau bare;
I have uncovered his secret places,
And he shall not be able to hide himself.
His descendants are plundered,
His brethren and his neighbours,
And he is no more.

Jeremiah 49.9-10

The Edomites were deceived by their pride, by the thought they were safe from being discovered in their stronghold of Petra. But the Lord will expose them. Does pride ever cause us to think that we can hide things from God?

I trust that we never think that, but it’s possible, isn’t it? The Edomites believed that they could not only hide from their enemies, but that they could also hide from God. They had forsaken God’s word, they’d ignored the fact that He is all-seeing, and all-knowing.

Neither you nor I can in fact hide anything from God. There is a prayer in the Anglican tradition which takes me back to my early days. A prayer in the Anglican tradition that reminds of this fact. It goes like this:

Almighty God, unto whom all hearts are open, all desires known, and from whom no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of thy Holy Spirit that we may perfectly love thee and worthily magnify thy Holy Name. Through Christ our Lord.

The Book of Common Prayer | The Church of England

I just love that prayer. There is some depth of meaning to it, isn’t there?

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