For the Love of God, Volume 2/November 21
From Gospel Translations
1 Chronicles 16; James 3; Obadiah; Luke 5
WE EARLIER REFLECTED ON THE judgments God pronounced on Edom, the nation made up of the descendants of Esau (and thus the distant cousins of the Israelites). Ezekiel is very explicit (Ezek. 35; see meditation for October 2); Hosea is less prosaic but says similar things (Hosea 13; see meditation for November 7). Here in Obadiah, an entire book (albeit a short one) is devoted to this theme. The time is after the sack of Jerusalem in 587 B.C., and possibly as late as the early postexilic period when the Jews started returning to the land. The fulfillment of these prophecies took place over an extended period. Certainly by 312 the capital of Edom was firmly in the hands of the Nabatean Arabs. A coalition of Arabs had been displacing the Edomites for more than a century. In the early period they were led by King Geshem, who in about 440 was one of Nehemiah’s opponents.
One must ask why the Old Testament prophets devote so much time and space to Edom.
(1) Swelling through this little book is the theme of God’s justice. If Edom could get away with her triumphalism and gloating, when her own conduct was no better than that of the nation of the Jews she mocked, then there is no justice.
(2) The point can be universalized. “The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head” (15, italics added). Although in some ways Edom is unique (of the surrounding nations only she had blood ties to Israel), yet at another level she stands as an important model for all nations. When we see opponents fall, we had better recognize that God is the One who exacts temporal judgments—and one day all of us will face eternal judgment. Temporal judgments are thus God’s prophetic announcement of what will happen to all. Jesus argues along similar lines (Luke 13:1-5) with respect to relatively small groups of individuals. Here Obadiah insists the same thing is true at the level of the nation. The Nazis fell: should we gloat and pat our backs in triumphalistic glee? Shall we not remember that Germany was a country of extraordinary education and technical competence, and it turned toward power, expansionism, and cascading evil—and fell? Should we not fear, and beg God for mercy that we might walk in integrity, honor, and love of virtue?
(3) In some ways, Obadiah is a commentary on Amos 9:12. Like Judah, Edom is cut down. Nevertheless the hope of the world lies in Judah’s future, not Edom’s—and that kingdom is the Lord’s (17, 21). That was reason enough not to despise God’s covenant people, both then and now.