Profile Of The Prophets - Obadiah

by Joseph Hunting

Obadiah's name means "servant, or worshipper of Jehovah", and he lived and prophesied about two thousand eight hundred years ago. His important message is the briefest of all the Old Testament prophecies. Indeed, it occupies only a single page in the Bible I have before me.

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

But there is one nation that is singled out for both immediate and long-term punishment and that is Edom. Jacob's twin was Esau. 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 we need to re-evaluate the deal that was made. What did the birthright consist of?

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

Whatever conclusions we may draw from Esau's casual evaluation of his birthright Scripture throws light on the incident. Esau came in from the field feeling faint and said, "Behold, I am at the point to die, and what profit shall this birthright do to me?" Thus Jacob inherited all the blessings of the birthright 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. At this point in time we must recall that the Lord had told Rebekah before the children were born that the elder would serve the younger. This revelation was the opposite to the accepted practice of the day. No doubt Jacob had also told his mother of the birthright deal he had made with Esau.

In the light of this background Rebekah ordered Jacob to do as she told him, thereby deceiving Isaac into believing he was Esau.

I know that the popular view is that Jacob was a cad in deceiving his father. However, in this case the Matriarch knew the mind of the Lord regarding the birthright and acted promptly to avert a disaster that would affect countless generations had Isaac gone ahead with his intention to confer the blessing upon Esau. Subsequent history and the blessing of God upon Jacob and his descendants have proved Rebekah's action to have been wise, as she knew God's will in the matter.

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

Because God's judgements upon Edom may seem severe let me recount the events that greatly displeased the Lord during Israel's wilderness wanderings. Moses sent messengers to the king of Edom requesting permission to pass through his territory. Moses guaranteed that they would "not pass through the fields, or through the vineyards, neither will we drink of the water of the wells ... we will not turn to the right hand nor the left until we have passed your borders.

"And Edom said unto him, You shall not pass by me 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. "And Edom came out against him with much people, and with a strong hand. Thus Edom refused to give Israel passage through his border ..." (Numbers 20:14-21).

There is a brief statement by Obadiah that should be blazoned from the house-tops as it declares God's faithfulness to his promise, "I will bless them that bless thee, AND CURSE HIM THAT CURSETH THEE." 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 is surrounded with implacable enemies, the warning to Edom that is timeless in its application should be carefully heeded by all leaders of 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 the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even you were as one of them.

"But you should not have looked on the day of your brother in the day that he became a stranger; neither should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction: neither should you have spoken proudly in the day of their distress.

"You should not have entered into the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; yes, you should not have looked on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor have laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity. Neither should you have stood in the crossway, to cut off those of his that did escape, neither should you have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress.

"For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations: as you have done, so shall it be done unto you: your reward shall return upon your own head. For as you have drunk upon my holy mountain, so shall all the nations drink continually, yes, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been.

"But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions ... And there shall not be anything remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD has spoken it" (Obadiah 10-18).

The Edomites have long since ceased to exist 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"!