Obadiah The Prophet

by Joseph Hunting

Obadiah's name means servant of Jehovah, and he lived and prophesied about two thousand eight hundred year ago. His important message is the briefest of all the Old Testament prophecies; indeed it occupies only twenty-one verses in my Bible.

However, the briefness of Obadiah's prophecy does not detract from its importance and potency. When the Eternal told Abraham, "I will curse him that curses you" (Genesis 12:3) He meant it for all time, and a survey of the destiny and destruction of various nations that have persecuted Israel down the centuries defies explanation apart from this promise.

This is the message Obadiah was given by God to deliver concerning Edom, the one nation that He singled out in the prophecy for both immediate and long-term punishment.

Edom is Esau's nation, and we remember that Esau was Jacob's twin. Little is known of their family life except that Esau, the firstborn of the twins, despised his birthright and parted with it for a bowl of soup. In all fairness to the brothers though we need to look again at the deal that was made between them.

Firstly, the birthright itself. By virtue of being the firstborn Esau would have been in line to inherit the major part of their father Isaac's material wealth, and more importantly he would also have inherited the spiritual blessings of the Abrahamic covenant.

Whatever conclusions we may draw from Esau's casual evaluation of this marvellous birthright, it is the Scriptures that throw light on the incident. "Look, I am about to die; so what profit shall this birthright be to me? ... Thus Esau despised his birthright" (Genesis 25:32,34). So Esau sold his birthright to his brother and in this way Jacob inherited all the blessings which Esau despised.

Secondly, the blessing. The relationship between the brothers broke down completely following Isaac's desire to confer the birthright blessing upon Esau. We remember that the Lord had told Rebekah before the children were born that the elder would serve the younger, a revelation quite opposite to the accepted practice of the day.

Rebekah therefore ordered Jacob to obey her instructions and deceive Isaac in order to have him bless him instead of Esau. The Matriarch knew the mind of the Lord and proceeded to act accordingly to avert a disaster, and history and the blessing of the Almighty upon Jacob show God's overruling in this matter.

But the die was cast concerning the descendants of Esau and Jacob for thousands of years. Esau's descendants became known as the Edomites and Jacob's as Israel. The Edomites dwelt in the south country, their capital was Sela, an almost impregnable fortress known today as Petra, and there was almost continual warfare between Edom and Israel.

God's judgements upon Edom were very severe because of events during Israel's wilderness wanderings. Moses had sent messengers to the king of Edom requesting permission to pass through his territory. Moses guaranteed: "We will not pass through fields or vineyards, nor will we drink water from wells ... we will not turn aside to the right hand or to the left until we have passed through your territory.

"Then Edom said to him, 'You shall not pass through my land, lest I come out against you with the sword.'" Again Moses pleaded and offered to pay should his cattle drink any water, but to no avail. "You shall not pass through. So Edom came out against them with many men and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his territory" (Numbers 20:17-21).

There follows an indictment by Obadiah that should be blazoned from the house-tops, as it declares God's faithfulness to His promise: "I will curse him that curses you." If only religious leaders and heads of governments heeded the warning God gave Edom for its unpardonable sin in siding with Israel's sworn enemies!

Because Israel is again a nation and even after fifty years is still surrounded with implacable enemies, the warning to Edom that is timeless in its application should be carefully heeded by leaders of all nations.

"For your violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off for ever. In the day that you stood on the other side, in the day that strangers carried captive his forces, when foreigners entered his gates, and cast lots for Jerusalem, even you were one of them.

"But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother in the day of his captivity; nor should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; nor should you have spoken proudly in the day of his distress.

"You should not have entered the gate of my people in the day of their calamity ... nor laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity.

"You should not have stood at the crossroads to cut off those among them who escaped; nor should you have delivered up those among them who remained in the day of their distress."

Edom was certainly singled out by God for judgement, and for good reasons. But so will His judgement fall on other nations, as the prophet goes on to promise: "For the day of the LORD upon all the nations is near; as you have done, it shall be done to you; your reprisal shall return upon your own head.

"For as you drank on my holy mountain, so shall all the nations drink continually; yes, they shall drink and swallow, and they shall be as though they had never been.

"But on Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions ... and no survivor shall remain of the house of Esau, for the LORD has spoken."

The Edomites occupied the territory that in these days is Jordan and Saudi Arabia, and their deserted capital Petra is silent testimony to the faithfulness of God's warnings that went unheeded. If Obadiah were alive today perhaps his message to national leaders would be: "DON'T LET THIS HAPPEN TO YOU!"