Saturday, November 25, 2023

Mining the Minors: Obadiah (5)

What will the Middle East look like during Christ’s millennial reign?

Obadiah tells us seven distinct facts about the future division of the former land of Israel and the territory around it. Considering their number, we should not expect them to be comprehensive. They supplement the more detailed tribal division of the land described in Ezekiel. If you notice, as I did, that these details harmonize better in some places than others, bear in mind that any map drawn today based on ancient place names is bound to have considerable wiggle room. Some ancient locations are well attested; others are mere speculations. As a result, no two maps of Ezekiel’s tribal division of the land square exactly.

Both passages agree future Israel will occupy considerably more territory than at any point in its previous history, expanding north, south, east and west.

4. The Former Territory of Edom during the Millennial Reign

Because Obadiah’s subject is Edom, he begins and ends his list of territories with Mount Esau, but his statements about the future are not limited to the former territory of Esau’s descendants. All have historical or political implications.

Obadiah 1:19-21 — The Exiles and the Land

“Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau, and those of the Shephelah shall possess the land of the Philistines; they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria, and Benjamin shall possess Gilead. The exiles of this host of the people of Israel shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath, and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the Negeb. Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”

Expositors are all over the map with these verses, but this comment from John Gill serves as a good summary: “The land of Judea, and the countries adjacent to it, were never as yet inhabited by the Jews in the form and manner here mentioned.” That is definitely my understanding. He adds that this passage “rather respects their settlement in their own land, in the latter day, when their borders will be greatly enlarged”.

1/ Mount Esau

After being driven out of Mount Seir, the Edomites migrated west into the Negev (or Negeb) in the south of Judah, where they eventually became intermingled with the Judeans and lost their ethnic distinctiveness, religion and culture. Here Obadiah tells us the reverse will occur: in the millennium, Israelites from the Negev region will take possession of what used to be Edom and is currently Jordan.

2/ The Land of the Philistines

The second statement is equally interesting in light of present events. We are told in plain language that the “land of the Philistines” — the area presently known as the Gaza Strip — will be the millennial possession of the Jews of the Shephelah. The Shephelah refers to the Judean foothills, a transitional region in south central Israel between the Judean Mountains and the Coastal Plain. This was the territory originally assigned to the tribes of Judah and Dan.

Of course, we should not confuse the current attempts by the Israeli government to ethnically cleanse the Gaza Strip with any sort of fulfillment of Obadiah’s prophecy, which awaits the time when the “kingdom shall be the Lord’s”.

3/ The Land of Ephraim and Samaria

The lands of Ephraim and Samaria were largely lost to Israel after the Assyrian invasion in which the Assyrians took all the elites in the northern kingdom into exile and dispersed them across the Empire, leaving only the poorest of the poor behind. Most of the descendants of these exiles have yet to return to Israel and will not do so until after Christ returns. Obadiah tells us these Jews of the aforementioned Shephelah will occupy the territory formerly referred to as “Galilee of the Gentiles”, a separate Roman province populated by Samaritans, the Israelite poor who intermarried with the Gentiles planted in the former nation of Israel by the Assyrian king.

4/ Gilead

That Benjamin will possess Gilead is a revelation, to the best of my knowledge, found nowhere but Obadiah. Gilead, on the east side of the Jordan, does not appear to be included in Ezekiel’s tribal division of future Israel, and used to be home to Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. But then again, Benjaminites were always a quirky bunch.

5/ The Land of the Canaanites

Zarephath is located north of the former territory of Israel roughly halfway between the ancient cities of Tyre and Sidon. It marks the northern point of the land to be possessed during the millennial reign by “the exiles of the host of the people of Israel”. Here “Israel” means the northern kingdom, because Obadiah is going to contrast it with “the exiles of Jerusalem”, or Jews of the southern kingdom. In Ezekiel’s tribal division, the former land of the Canaanites as far north as Zarephath is assigned to the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh. In this respect, Ezekiel and Obadiah are in full agreement.

6/ The Cities of the Negeb

If the Jews of the Negev will possess Edom, then the Negev itself will be the possession of “the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad”. Spanish Jews gave the name Sepharad to the Iberian Peninsula. Since they did this long after Obadiah was written (and since this is the only time the word is used in the Hebrew Bible), it’s hard to read much into this, except to note that the exile in question probably didn’t take place until AD70. The name “Sepharad” gave rise to the sub-designation “Sephardic Jews”, which is often applied to the Jews of the Middle East and North Africa heavily influenced by Spanish laws and customs.

7/ Rule from Zion

Finally, Obadiah tells us that Mount Esau will be ruled from Zion. It will be Israelite territory, administered by “saviors”. That word has no particular spiritual significance, of course. It simply means “deliverers”, “liberators” or even “helpers”. Amos confirms that God will raise up the fallen booth of David and Israel will “possess the remnant of Edom”.

The Kingdom shall be the Lord’s

Obadiah is not an obviously Messianic book for the most part. We have to look into other parts of scripture to realize that the prophet is not merely looking forward to an Israel that is autonomous and submits itself to the law of God, but to an Israel ruled by Christ himself. Those of us who have the other prophets to read, along with our New Testaments see in this more general comment Christ gloriously enthroned.

Obadiah in the New Testament

Depending on which authority you consult, Obadiah is one of either eight or ten Old Testament books from which none of the New Testament writers quoted. There are, however, two relevant references to Esau, who, however indirectly, is very much Obadiah’s subject.

1/ Romans 9:13 — Loving and Hating

“As it is written, ‘Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated.’ ”

In Romans 9, Paul is making the point that a subset of Israelites exists who form the true Israel, the one that matters to God. We often refer to them as “the remnant”. He gives two Old Testament examples to illustrate the principle that God’s promise to Abraham did not extend to every one of his genetic offspring, but only to a specific, chosen group. Firstly, there was Isaac, to whom God’s blessing passed. Ishmael and Abraham’s other sons were not the “offspring” God promised to bless. Secondly, there were Isaac’s two sons, Jacob and Esau. Though Jacob obtained the blessing and birthright by trickery, God had already promised their mother that the older twin would serve the younger. Thus, like Ishmael, Esau was excluded from the promise. The final line, “Jacob I loved, but Esau I hated” sums up God’s purposes in election. Paul points out that Jacob was chosen while Esau was rejected long before either had done any works. Such is the nature of election.

Several things are noteworthy about that:

  • The election was corporate rather than individual. God chose the children of Jacob over the children of Esau through whom to bring Messiah into the world.
  • The election in question had nothing to do with salvation. In fact, the entire ninth chapter of Romans, though often quoted as evidence of determinism in salvation, has to do with the election of people groups to strategic roles in human history, as explained in more detail here.
  • The “hatred” of Esau was not personal. Paul’s quotation comes from Malachi, a post-exilic Minor Prophet who wrote after Edom had been invaded and shattered in fulfillment of Obadiah’s prophecy. In context it is evident God’s anger was directed against the nation of Edom because of its behavior toward Israel, not against Esau personally despite his failure to appropriately value his blessing and birthright.

Determinists also cite Paul’s statement in this same passage that “not all who are descended from Israel belong to Israel” as evidence God’s promises to Abraham are completely fulfilled in the church and exclude the nation of Israel. But Paul said no such thing. He was talking about a subset of Abraham’s genetic descendants chosen by God for blessing and testimony, not a superset that could include Gentile spiritual descendants, as discussed here.

2/ Hebrews 12:16-17 — No Chance to Repent

“See to it that … no one is … unholy like Esau, who sold his birthright for a single meal. For you know that afterward, when he desired to inherit the blessing, he was rejected, for he found no chance to repent, though he sought it with tears.”

In this case, the writer to the Hebrews is using Esau as an example of what Christians ought not to be. His “unholiness” consisted in his failure to value his birthright, which he sold to his brother for a single meal. Holiness literally means “set apart”. Esau had the chance to have his offspring set apart for the sovereign purposes of God and failed to value the opportunity. Instead, he behaved like the Canaanites around him, marrying at least three. In contrast, Jacob in his youth was a scheming, disloyal cad, but at least he knew the blessings of God had value.

With respect to the statement that Esau “found no chance to repent”, there is nothing in the Genesis narrative to suggest Esau was in anguish over the guilt of having despised his own birthright, and that he struggled to find it deep within himself to confess to God and his family the sin of having apocalyptically terrible priorities. It was not that sort of repentance. He was just hoping to salvage something material for himself when he cried, “Have you but one blessing, my father?” And he was indeed blessed, though the particular blessing given to Jacob could not be reversed.

In any case, we see that Esau’s children were just like their ancestor or maybe more so, afflicted with blindness to everything of true value in the world. Their disloyalty to their Israelite brothers showed they had no more respect for Israel’s God than Esau did.

Map nicked from “The Utopian Map in Ezekiel” by Harold Brodsky in The Jewish Bible Quarterly, Vol. 34, No. 1, 2006.

No comments :

Post a Comment