Saturday, November 18, 2023

Mining the Minors: Obadiah (4)

History teaches many lessons … if we are paying attention.

The children of Esau treated the children of Jacob despicably. Their traitorous disloyalty to their brothers would come back to haunt them; this is the burden of Obadiah’s prophecy. But the judgment of Edom would also serve as a cautionary tale for other nations that had either mistreated Israel or would go on to do so. God made an example of Edom to teach others not to do what they had done.

It’s not as if Edom had not been put on notice. God promised Abraham, “I will bless those who bless you, and him who dishonors you I will curse.” When Jacob obtained the birthright and the blessing from Esau, this promise and protection became his. Esau knew it, but apparently his distant descendants had forgotten it.

That’s one of those lessons it’s unwise to forget.

3. Edom as a Cautionary Tale for the Nations

Obadiah 1:15-18 — Judgment Delivered

“For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, so all the nations shall drink continually; they shall drink and swallow, and shall be as though they had never been. But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape, and it shall be holy, and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions. The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau, for the Lord has spoken.”

The Day of the Lord

As noted in our studies of earlier prophets, the day of the Lord is not a singular event or period at the end of human history, but something that occurs repeatedly throughout it. It simply describes God, who normally allows men to govern in accordance with their wills, stepping into history to act directly in judgment in accordance with his own sovereign will. Not all mentions of the day of the Lord point to the same object of his wrath or the same time period.

Obadiah has described God’s retribution against Edom not just so that that his fellow Judeans can take comfort in the future distress of their enemies, but as an object lesson to the nations. First Edom (“As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head”), then the nations (“For as you [Edom] have drunk on my holy mountain, so all the nations shall drink continually”). The concept of reaping what you sow did not originate with the apostle Paul. In the judgment of Edom, the Babylonians, Syrians, Ammonites and other enemies of Israel could see their own future. Moreover, this would be an ongoing process, stretching into our own future and culminating in the judgment of nations in the Valley of Jehoshaphat.

Drinking as a Metaphor

In both Old and New Testaments, drinking is frequently a metaphor for meeting one’s fate, either good or sometimes very bad. Jesus asked James and John, “Are you able to drink the cup that I drink?” He meant, “Are you willing to be put to death because you identify with me?” Indeed, they did not know what they were asking. The sons of Zebedee too would go on to experience the wrath of rebellious men set against God.

In Psalm 75 Asaph wrote, “In the hand of the Lord there is a cup with foaming wine, well mixed, and he pours out from it, and all the wicked of the earth shall drain it down to the dregs.” It is probable he too had in mind God’s judgment of the nations.

The cup is not always a bad thing. The writer of Psalm 116 refers to lifting up a “cup of salvation”, and when David says, “my cup overflows” in Psalm 23, he is not complaining about it. Everybody gets a cup to drink. It’s what’s in it that makes the difference.

So then, what Obadiah is saying is that Edom’s fate is an illustration for all with eyes to see and ears to hear that how you treat Israel will have consequences. This is the basis of the judgment of the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25: “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” I believe there the Lord is speaking about how the nations treat the remnant of Israel in its coming time of crisis. Acts of kindness will be rewarded. Indifference and turning a blind eye will be punished.

Those Who Escape and Those Who Don’t

The words “those who escape” are literally “an escaped portion” or remnant. There has always been a believing remnant in Israel throughout history. Here the remnant is not dispersed throughout the nations across the world, but “in Mount Zion”. (More on that here.) In the judgment of the nations, Israel will have its final deliverance.

Ezekiel speaks of the future division of Israel among the twelve returned tribes, devoting forty verses to the subject and a great deal of detail. Here, Obadiah sums up the same timeframe in a single sentence: “The house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions.” The house of Jacob will be the flame that burns their enemies, the reason they are consumed.

In contrast to “those who escape” in Mount Zion, Edom will have no remnant. “There shall be no survivor for the house of Esau.” History tells us invaders drove the Edomites west from Mount Seir to settle in the south of Judah, after which they were called Idumeans. Later, they intermarried with Jews and lost all trace of distinctive culture, religion and nationhood.

Still, we cannot say with certainty that there is “no survivor for the house of Esau” today. Isaiah writes that at the time the “righteous branch” (the Lord Jesus) rules over Israel and the wolf dwells with the lamb, “those who harass Judah will be cut off”. He includes Edom among those to be plundered and destroyed by reunited Israel, but it is notable that unlike Obadiah, he does not use the phrase “house of Esau”, which would be Esau’s genetic descendants. It may be that he is referring to the nation occupying Mount Seir during the great tribulation. Today, that would be Jordan.

The Lord Has Spoken

Perhaps, then, this aspect of Obadiah’s prophecy has already been effectively fulfilled, or perhaps there is a final desolation of the vestiges of Edom still to come. We simply don’t have enough information to say. What we can say is that Obadiah’s prophecy is absolutely certain. He closes this section of the prophecy with the words, “The Lord has spoken.”

That is always more than enough.

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