Edom was, well, in love with themselves (themselves? themself? You get the picture)! They only thought of “me,” what they could do, how they could survive, how they could be built up, and how they could ultimately thrive OVER Israel and anyone else (and remember, Edom and Israel were long-ago siblings!). And we must have SOME conversation, or at least make it understood, that back then it was kill or be killed as you either adapted and survived or you and your people were no more. But this isn’t about adapting – this is about Edom’s brutality, backstabbing, and self-serving actions. It’s about recognizing that their heart was corrupt and so all that they touched was going to come out of that too (it’s kind of the opposite of the “Midas touch”). So what does God declare? Battle. He sends out an “envoy” (a message) to all the other nations that they must rise up, gather together, and declare war against Edom. Harsh? Well…no. We get scatterings of just how bad Edom was throughout this short vision but verses 2-9 gives us some details all the while declaring the work of the sovereign Lord.
The Edomites may not have been the biggest nation out there but they were big enough, strong enough, and cunning enough to be positioned in the world with power. With a city positioned upon the rocks it made them impregnable to invading armies. They were able to invade other nations, plummet them and take their loot thus becoming rich with silver and gold and all other booty of wealth. They had a mining community and access to copper ore that in turn would allow them to buy what they needed and have influence upon other nations around them. Thus money, wealth, position, and pride became her focus and her sins. She thought she had friends and allies but, as most people know, when you’re THAT arrogant and mean person those “friends” and “allies” only remain with you while you have power and can help me (and possibly keep you from attacking me). Once your power is lost, your gold is taken, and your status removed you’ll REALLY see who your so-called “friends” are (hint: you don’t actually have any “friends”). So God will make you fall from the sky (vs 3-4); he’ll take all your booty away from you (vs 5-6); you’ll see what “friends” you truly have as they attack YOU just as you have attacked others and you’ll never see it coming (vs 7); and the pride of your men and warriors will be cut down and slaughtered (vs 8-9). So everything we read here (vs 2-9) is God’s movement upon them and giving them the very opposite things they loved, thrived upon, and acted in. You were big and now you will be small, rich and now poor, strong and now weak, alive and now dead.
To the people of God who heard this message concerning their enemy this would have been music to their ears. Tired of being attacked, tired of having their young men slaughtered, tired of being beaten and over-run time and time again, Obadiah’s vision would have been cause for celebration. “You mean all those meanies who abuse us will be ransacked, pillaged, cut down and slaughtered!? WAHOO!”
So where do we go with this? What do we do with this text? Well, as I read of God’s acts upon them I first realize that it’s a buildup of judgment. Pride is first and pride is something that isn’t necessarily seen by others but it starts within and puffs us up and explodes upon others. Pride isn’t good as it’s, essentially, an infection and the only way to deal with it is to pop it. And in this case the pride is so thick that it’s infected their heart and exploded everywhere else. The “heart” of the matter, so to speak, is that the heart IS the problem and that problem lead to everything else. That pride of the heart made them think they were better than everyone else, higher than everyone else, and could have everything they wanted. An infected heart leads to an infected way-of-life. Paul writes in Gal 5:9 that “a little yeast work through the whole batch of dough.” And it does. So as we read through these verses the judgment for Edom’s sins increase in severity… and that’s what struck me.
I’m not a fan of egotistical people – I’d argue that most of us aren’t. We won’t hang around them if we don’t have to. We’ll interact with them as little as possible but really if you are arrogant and prideful and full-of-yourself then I’m going to do what I can to NOT be around you. And, if I’m honest, there is a BIG part of me that wants you to be knocked off your pedestal. I want your pride to be swallowed, humility to smack you upside the head and to have this done so the whole world can see it. And if you, and your prideful self-loving self-harmed me or my family, then you better believe that I want judgment to come upon you, your tower to be toppled, all that you’ve stolen and taken from people to be taken from YOU and your life to come tumbling down. And it feels good when you hear about those types of people who climbed on the backs of others only to fall by their own greed…but then, as I read this text, we come to verse 9 and it’s a full STOP. I’m up for you falling from your tower…but I am uncomfortable with your “slaughter.”
Or am I?
IF you have a second, I invite you to read one of my favorite psalms (which sounds odd to say – you’ll understand why it’s odd to say once you read it) – read Psalm 137. In this psalm the people of Israel have been exiled by the Babylonians and here, by the rivers of Babylon they weep for all that is lost…and it is here that the Babylonians taunt and chide them into singing a merry little happy song. The Israelite’s response? “Happy is the one who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” The Israelites are not only in captivity and heading to exile – but THEIR children’s head were crushed and dashed against the rocks by the Babylonians – so happiness, for them, is “payback.”
I cannot imagine how I would feel, or how I would respond, if my family and friends were slaughtered by my enemy only to now face my enemy and be given the option of “payback.” Part of me would want to grab the sword and cut down all those who brought terror to my family, friends, and community. Part of me would want to do everything, and possibly more, to YOU that you have already done to me. Eye for an eye and tooth for a tooth? Absolutely – and possibly then some. But…is that how we are to live – and is that what this vision from Obadiah is stating? No.
This isn’t about payback. This isn’t about retribution and nor is this about God’s people doing whatever they want. Yes, we read in verse 1 that an envoy is coming and will go into battle and it will be them that are “cutting down” and taking away, and destroying but it’s NOT the envoy who is doing it…its God. GOD is the agent. GOD is the judger. And GOD is the carrier of said judgment. Edom’s own actions against the other nations is seen as an act not only against them but against God and so God is the only one who can act.
It’s a good reminder for you and I that judgment, and BEING judge, is not upon you or I. I’m sure numerous times the people prayed to God for Edom to fall by her own hands and I’m sure numerous times the people tried to lead things by their own hands and desires – but everything will completely fail when it’s by my hands or your hands. You and I CANNOT be the ones who take matters into our own hands because by us all we do is harm and destroy. Leaving a BIGGER wake of destruction is not what we are called to do and really does nothing but harm us even more. I think we can read enough Old Testament scripture and look through enough online articles concerning the history of people throughout time to realize that all we do, when left to our own devices, is cause more division, more harm, more hatred, and more anger. One thing I like to tell the congregation I serve here is that we recognize that we are broken sinners but we often like to THINK that when a group of broken sinners gather together that somehow we turn into this super-holy-mega-body of believers. But in truth when you add broken sinners with broken sinners all you get is more broken sinners. We cannot un-break our sin-ness and think that we are now holy. I actually think that our brokenness just perpetuates the brokenness of others.
So this is where I land. Not knowing HOW I would react to this scene and yet reminded that MY BEST reaction is going to be to trust God and allow him to work. It’s kind of his shtick – isn’t it? Doing what’s best, in His way, and only the way He can? Can you see how this text leads us to Jesus? The Edomites are being judged because they’re horrible people to not only others but to God as well (even though they don’t acknowledge him – it doesn’t mean he doesn’t exist or that he isn’t the God of all creation) and yet “horribleness” is kind of OUR shtick too. I’d like to look at this text and say, “You Edomite jerks!” but really I would need to be declaring it while looking in a mirror. You and I are no better at loving and serving our neighbors than the Edomites were…and so we too should be judged…and we ARE. God will not sit idly by while all this takes place – and yet thanks to Jesus Christ our judgment falls upon his shoulders. By coming to earth and going to the cross, by dying for OUR SINS, the judgment WE should have for the sins WE commit, the taking of OUR lives for sin is passed over and Christ took it upon himself. It’s why we call Christ the “Passover Lamb” as God’s judgment passed over us and went to Him. There’s a beautiful word that describes this: propitiation. It means atonement. It means satisfying God’s requirement of death for sin. Christ IS our atonement and he IS our propitiator.
The people of Israel needed to be reminded that God is still concerned with all that is going on in this world – as do you and I but let us never forget that times haven’t changed and, more often than not, we can see ourselves IN the text. God IS STILL concerned with this world, it’s where his heart is and what he died to restore, and we CLEARLY still see terrible things going on to this day – but DON’T BE ONE OF THOSE TERRIBLE PEOPLE DOING THOSE TERRIBLE THINGS! Just because we believe in the propitiation of Christ doesn’t mean we get a free-pass! So let us be humble, loving, considerate, compassionate, and full of mercy and grace. Because where our heart is…there we shall go.