God’s Determined Compassion For

Obadiah brings to climax the clearest historical example of divine election. The fathers of the two nations struggled even in their mother’s womb (Genesis 25:22), and God told Rebekah that they would be two nations and that the older [Esau] would serve the younger [Jacob]. When Israel came up from Egypt and reached Edom, on the basis of their kinship and in light of their hardship, they requested permission to pass through Edom. Edom would not allow it and threatened them with a large army (Numbers 20:14-21). In Deuteronomy23:7, God prohibited the Israelites to “abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.” Nevertheless, war characterized the relation between Edom and Israel (2 Samuel 8:13, 14 and 2 Kings 8:20-22) Six prophets point to Edom’s sins, cruelty, and pride as coming before God for judgment. See especially Jeremiah 49:7-22 for language similar to that of Obadiah. Malachi enlists the favor to Jacob over Esau as a manifestation of God’s love to Jacob in saying “I have loved Jacob but Esau I have hated” (Malachi 1:2). At the time of Malachi’s prophecy, they have been thoroughly routed as a nation and any attempt they make to regain their status will be thwarted by God. The people and land went through a variety of permutations until 70 AD at the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, a Jewish rebellion in which the Edomites supported Israel, but also marked clearly the distinction between believing and unbelieving Israel. After that, no further historical records of the “Idumaeans” (the name that included the various people groups that had absorbed the Edomite people and land) exist as the Roman attack apparently eliminated them. Paul, in order to demonstrate God’s purpose of election,, shows that the sovereign choice of one of the brothers and consequently one of the nations is analogous to God’s choice of individuals to salvation (Romans 9:10-13).

I. God Threatens Edom with violence against them

A. Verses 1-3 – By God’s Decisive Providence Nations are being prepared for attack on Edom.

1. The vision of Obadiah – It is possible that this was written even before the destruction of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar since it is a vision. It seems more likely that the vision follows the destruction and is limited to the punishment of Edom for their hostility to Jerusalem during the siege and to set forth the vision of the future blessing on Israel.

2. The “report from the Lord” is God’s decree of punishment against Edom. Their punishment is not the mere accident of history but the arrangement of God. The messenger sent out among the nations is not a formal invitation given from some person designated, but is the secret arrangement of God when he stirs the nations to do his will in the earth. Matthew Henry notes, “When God has bloody work to do among the enemies of his church he will find out and fit up both hands and hearts to do it.”

3. Their sense of self-importance, their haughtiness, will be annihilated. Neither their goods not alliances will be sought after by other nations, but they will be utterly despised. They thought they had allies and admiration, but their pride has deceived them.

B. Verses 3b, 4 – Edom feels secure in its location. Their security was built solely on their earthly position. Their topographical advantage made them a difficult target for attack. Some portions of the population lived in houses carved into the side of cliff (“you who live in the clefts of the rock”). No matter how safe Edom felt, they cannot escape God’s justice.

C.  Verse 7 – Assyria had placed Edom under tribute until Babylon seized authority. Edom joined Babylon in its attack on Jerusalem. But now, those that Edom considered allies will be her enemies. Others such as Ammonites and Moabites will not respect them but will plunder them and search out all their treasures. This kind of experience had already taken place as recorded in 2 Chronicles 20.

D. Verses 8, 9 – Neither their wisdom nor their might can deliver them. The world trusts in its own power and its own wisdom. These traits are employed in seeking political and economic superiority but little thought or effort is given to seeking a true knowledge of God. God has his own purpose in this fallen world and it is not dependent on the power and wisdom of the sinful creature. It is in the weakness and foolishness of the cross—“Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men” (1 Corinthians 1:24, 25). Even so as in the earlier defeat of the Moabites, Ammonites, and Edomites “the battle is not yours, but God’s . . . see the salvation of the Lord on your behalf, O Judah and Jerusalem” (2 Chronicles 20:15, 17).

II. Verses 10-14 – A Catalogue of the Offense of Edom toward Jerusalem

A.  Verse 10 – A summary of Edom’s cruelty toward Jerusalem in its day of distress.

1.The language goes back to the reality that Edom and Judah are descended from brothers. The grudge is old, but the ground of kindness should be compelling—he is your brother.

2. The punishment has reached its height, the sin is full, and a final end of Edom will be made.

B. Their hostility to Jerusalem came in the form of gloating over their calamity, refusing to aid them in their distress, and showing themselves to be in sympathy with the godless invaders. As the distinguishing treasures of Jerusalem were carried away, the Edomites in their resentment (endorsing generations of hatred thus assuming all that guilt to themselves) “were like one of them” (11). Jesus looked upon the Jewish religious leaders in their response to the prophets in the same way (Matthew 23:29-36). It was not just the Edomites that were enemies to the true people of God.

C.  Verse 13 – Apparently the Edomites entered the city after its defeat at the hand of the Babylonians and mopped up with vandalism. They looted the city now that its walls were destroyed, its officials had been carried away and its army routed. Few things are as despicable as looters of the property of others in a day of calamity. Such “looting” can be done in two ways:

1. Looters take advantage of moments of defenselessness during a time of intense social disruption to steal. They justify it on the basis of some perverted sense of rights against those that they view as oppressors.

2. Looting may be done by stealing someone’s good name by malicious or careless talk, and by passing on gossip. The Christian must avoid such looting (Colossians 3:8).

D. Verse 14 – When the inhabitants of Jerusalem were seeking to escape, the Edomites stood in their way and drove them back toward the invaders. Some escapees they captured and turned over to the Babylonians. In every way they could, they participated in the destruction of Jerusalem, and for this God would require just payment, their own destruction. All commentators refer to Psalm 137 in this context and point especially to verse 7: “Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, ‘Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!’”

E. We should take important instruction from this phenomenon. Israel was under the judgment of God; he brought the Chaldeans upon Jerusalem and Judah (e.g. Jeremiah 7:15-20, 34; 21:1-7). The sovereign prerogative of God, however, does not release us from any moral responsibility we have toward others. Though God ordained it, the attack of the Chaldeans was evil in itself perpetrated by war-hungry, power-hungry rapacious idolaters and should neither have been approved nor encouraged by the Edomites. They should have mourned the condition of Jerusalem and have aided any of those that escaped. They should have given refuge and shared necessary goods with them, not celebrated their destruction and hindered their attempts at finding safety. We have revealed moral responsibilities and neither the judgments of vengeance nor of mercy serve to release from us those divine mandates. The biblical certitude of God’s sovereign grace as manifest the biblical teaching of election does not diminish the universality of the mandate to preach the gospel to all nations nor to set forth the promise that is universally applicable, “If you confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, You will be saved” (Romans 10:9). Nor does the certitude and particularity of God’s purpose of grace eliminate the use of the means that he has ordained as consistent with, and necessary for, the effecting of his eternal purpose (Roman 10:14-17). Upon the preaching of the gospel, some believe and others remain disobedient.

III. The Day of the Lord will bring destruction to the nations including Edom but will preserve the remnant of Zion. In making the covenantal promise to Abraham, God promised to curse those who dishonored him (Genesis 12:3).

A. Verses 15, 16 – Retribution according to the crime

1. “The day of the Lord” always is near (Joel 1:15; 2:1). God could at any moment bring judgments on any individual or on any nation. This could be executed so as to bring them into their eternal abode or to vindicate his holy justice in the eyes of all beholders among the nations, so that all would know that there is a God of justice from whose hand just retribution will flow.

2. When God comes for the vindication of his character, to  demonstrate that he alone is worthy of worship, and that there is no injustice or anything intrinsically imbalanced in all the claims he makes for being the sole recipient of heart-felt love and adoration, each sin shall be dealt with according to the moral heinousness of it. “As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head” (15).

3. Verse 16 – The attitude of casual irreverence for and disregard of God’s requirements of worship and his teaching of the necessity of sacrifice for sin. [a sacrifice that he himself would provide through the death of his eternally beloved Son] will be shown for its true perversity. Such sophisticated detachment from the absolute exclusivity of God and the singular way of reconciliation to him through the way he has given will result in utter destruction. The arrogance implicit in such attitudes and lifestyles will vanish and the confident self-importance that engenders the cavalier spirit toward God cannot possibly co-exist with the revelation of his pure justice. Truly, “the way of the wicked shall perish” (Psalm 1:6).

B. Within the general verdict of condemnation that has come over all, God still reserves a remnant. “But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape, and it shall be holy.” So said Joel, “For in Mount Zion and in Jerusalem there shall be those who escape, as the Lord has said, and among the survivors shall be those whom the Lord calls” (Joel 2:32).

1. Even though all deserve condemnation and are included in the general verdict of destruction and judgment, for the purpose of his mercy God reserved for salvation a remnant. (Romans 9:27-29).

2. Already the reality has been effected by the ascension of Christ (Ephesians 1:19-22), but a visible display of the destruction of all God’s enemies will take place (1 Corinthians 15:24-28) in vindication of the holiness and wisdom of the Father, the perfect victory of the Son in accordance with the Father’s will (John 12:27, 28), and the perfect effectuality of the covenantal work of the Spirit (Romans 8:1-11).

3. Even as Judah would see the destruction of Edom through the “house of Jacob” (18) so the ultimate covenantal Son of Jacob will devour by fire all the enemies of God and of his people. “God considers it just to repay with affliction those who afflict you, and to grant relief to you who are afflicted as well as to us, when the Lord Jesus is revealed from heaven with his mighty angels in flaming fire, inflicting vengeance on those who do not know God and on those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. They will suffer the punishment of eternal destruction away from the presence of the Lord and from the glory of his might, when he comes on that day to be glorified in his saints, and to be marveled at among all who have believed” (2 Thessalonians 1:6-10)

4. Even as judgment comes to all and all are held accountable, though God’s covenantal revelation had come only to Abraham, through Isaac, and then Jacob and his sons, so mercy will be given to all representatively in the Messiah, who is Himself Israel. Though Edom and the world are destroyed, Jacob, that is, the remnant preserved and the fullness of the Gentiles, will be saved; “And in this way all Israel will be saved.” In that same way “God has consigned all to disobedience, that he may have mercy on all” (Romans 11:26, 32).

Tom has most recently served as the Professor of Historical Theology at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. He previously taught at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School where he was Professor of Church History and Chair of the Department of Church History. Prior to that, he taught at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. Along with numerous journal articles and scholarly papers, Dr. Nettles is the author and editor of fifteen books. Among his books are By His Grace and For His Glory; Baptists and the Bible, James Petigru Boyce: A Southern Baptist Statesman, and Living by Revealed Truth: The Life and Pastoral Theology of Charles H. Spurgeon.
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