Monday, November 23, 2009

Four of the Twelve - Obadiah and a question of kingdoms

Perspective, for people like us, has limitations. We live within the confines of time and space. God, the creator of time and space, lives in eternity. Eternity isn't a never-ending sequence of moments, though. God exists outside of time and space. So, we can assume He sees all the points of human history, forwards and backwards, all at once.

Have you got all that? Read it again if you need to. It's important.

I want to make sure we keep this idea of eternity in mind as we study Obadiah. It's a short book. One chapter where God lowers the doom on Edom. At first glace, it sounds like the kind of thing one of the major prophets would have said as an afterthought. I suppose that's why so many Christians overlook Obadiah, or read him simply because his book falls on a certain date in the Bible-in-a-year calendar. But if all scripture is inspired by God and profitable, then why put it in there at all?

To understand the words of Obadiah, let's go back to the birth of Jacob and Esau in Genesis. In chapter 25, Rebekah becomes pregnant with twins. "The children fought with each other inside her so much that she said, 'If it's going to be like this, why go on living?' So she went to inquire of the Lord, who answered her, 'There are two nations in your womb. From birth they will be two rival peoples. One of these peoples will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger" (Gen. 25:22-23). Esau is born first, Jacob (later named Israel) comes second. The first story told of the brothers' relationship explains how Esau sold his rights as the oldest son to Jacob for a red-lentil stew. The word "Edom" means "red" in Hebrew and was given to Esau, apparently as a reminder of "how little he valued his birthright."

In chapter 27, we read of how Rebekah and Jacob trick the now-blind Isaac into giving his blessing to Jacob instead of Esau. Isaac blesses Jacob, saying, "may God give you dew from heaven, the richness of the earth, and grain and wine in abundance. May peoples serve you and nations bow down to you. May you be lord over your kinsmen, let your mother's descendants bow down to you. Cursed be everyone who curses you, and blessed be everyone who blesses you!" Jacob slips out of Isaac's tent just before Esau enters to find the blessing already gone. He weeps and begs his father to give him a blessing as well. Isaac says to Esau, "Here! Your home will be of the richness of the earth and of the dew of heaven from above. You will live by your sword, and you will serve your brother. But when you break loose, you will shake his yoke off of your neck."

In time, Jacob and Esau have children who birth generations becoming the nations of Israel and Edom. At the time of Obadiah's prophecy against Edom, it might have made the people wonder why Edom wasn't serving Israel as predicted in Genesis. Obadiah 11-14 tells of wrongs Edom committed toward Israel in the past. Standing by passively as other nations came in to conquer and destroy. Rejoicing over their disaster. Taking advantage of the calamity and looting Jerusalem. Killing those fleeing the invaders. I can see some wise man explaining how Edom broke loose and shook off the yoke.

But Obadiah's prophecy is forward-looking. God has more in mind for the nation of Esau. The second half of Obadiah tells of how God will bring judgment to Edom and restore Israel as the ruling nation. When God made these new promises, one had a choice to trust God's reputation or the pain of surrounding circumstances.

For those who believe in Jesus, we can see how God fulfilled his promises in the coming Messiah. Even though Jesus fulfilled the messianic prophecies, there are some prophecies He has yet to fulfill. For example, the prophecies of Jesus coming to judge the living and the dead? That hasn't happened yet. What about His return to earth to rule and reign as King. Obadiah points to this day when God reestablishes Israel in verse 21, "Then the victorious will ascend Mount Zion to rule over Mount Esau, but the kingship will belong to the Lord."

See? Perspective is important. We can have a few reactions to God's promises. One response shows pride when we trust in our understanding of God's promises more than the One who made the promise. This might foster an attitude of unbelief. Another response recognizes the eternal God instead of the temporal circumstance. When God tells of what's to come, we can have patience as He leads us toward the promise.

In the end, Obadiah's prophecy had little to do with the struggle between the Kingdom of Edom and the Kingdom of Israel. Instead, Obadiah proclaimed the eternal Kingdom of God.

1 comment:

Dan Knight said...

I like the way you contrast pride and confidence. Faith is trusting God, being confident of his love, knowing our purpose in life. Pride puts me on the throne, telling God how he has to do things because we don't trust that he will work all things out for the good of those who love him.

The peace we forfeit when we are unable or unwilling to trust God-who-loves-us!