Obadiah: Pity in the Place of Contempt
This is the shortest book in the Divine Word. It deals with one subject - the destruction of Edom. The only historical evidence appears in verse 11. This is the center of discussion for fixing the date of the prophecy. The verse speaks of the day when strangers captured Jerusalem, entered its gates, and cast lots upon the city. Many critics think that this can only refer to the overthrow of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar in 586 B.C. Other critics consider it more probable that the book was written in earlier times, and that the capture and plundering of the city by the Philistines and Arabians (strangers and foreigners) in the reign of Jehoram, about 846 B.C., could well have furnished the situation described by Obadiah. (2 Chron. 21:16-17) It is preferable to accept the earlier date. It harmonizes with other similar references to Edom in pre-exilic prophets, and relieves us of the necessity of disturbing the ancient order of the books, which certainly shows some regard to the time in which they were written. It can stand where it is.
Judah's misfortune is the occasion of Edom's exultation. (Obad. 1:12) For this cause Edom shall perish. His pride shall be humbled. He shall be brought low, and dispossessed; "and the kingdom shall be the Lords." This is the simple teaching of the prophecy.
The story of Edom's relations with Israel is a very sad one. Esau sold his birthright for a mess of pottage. (Gen. 25:29) Jacob received the blessing of Isaac in place of Esau. On this account, Esau hated Jacob and sought to slay him. (Gen. 27:41) Jacob fled to Haran. Esau established a home in Mount Seir. This is the country lying to the south of the Dead Sea, stretching a hundred miles to the head of the Gulf of Akabah and extending for about twenty miles from east to west. This wild mountainous district is said to present the finest rock scenery in the world, a perfect haunt for banditti. In this wild fastness, Edom found a home, and looked with contempt and envy upon his brother Israel.
Twenty years after Jacob and Esau separated from their father's home, they met again as friends in Gilead. But the hatred that Edom bore toward Israel must have returned, never to burn out again, for the two nations are now continually at warfare. Edom's "anger did tear continually, and he kept his wrath forever." (Amos 1:1l) His was "a perpetual hatred." (Ezek. 35:5) It manifested itself in the refusal to allow Israel to pass through his land. (Numb. 20:14-21) When Israel was established in the land, the two again came into conflict. Saul attacked them (1 Sam. 14:47), but it was left for David to subdue them. (2 Sam. 13:14) Later, Hadad the Edomite became an adversary to Solomon. (1 Kings 11:14) Still later, King Jehoram endeavored to quell a revolt of Edom. (2 Kings 8:21-22) But it is said that "Edom revolted from under the hand of Judah unto this day." Again Amaziah fought with Edom and took its rock city Petra or Sela. (2 Kings 14:7) The immediate cause of contention was most probably the command of Elath or Ezion Geber at the head of the Gulf of Akabah. At least we read often of the kings using this port, and we find that "it was restored to Judah" by Uzziah. (2 Kings 14:21-22)
This hatred in Edom continued throughout the history of Israel. Hence sprang the bitter prophecies against Edom in the days of the kings. Read Isaiah 34:5-8; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Amos 1:11-12. Subsequent history records a continual renewal of the old warfare. And that ancient hatred against Israel seems also to have burned in the breast of Herod the Idumean (Edomite) and threatened the existence of Christianity itself. (Matt. 2) But the Lord did not allow the land of Edom to prevail. Edom has been judged. His name has disappeared from the pages of history, and "the kingdom shall be the Lord's."
It is only in the spiritual sense that we can look for the fulfillment of this prophecy. The word Esau means "hairy," the word Edom, "red," and the word Seir, "shaggy." These words express the quality of the representation "the good of the natural man." (A. 3518, 3527) In the good sense, "Edom signifies the good of the rational to which are adjoined the doctrinal things of truth. But in the opposite sense, he signifies the evil of the love of self to which falsities are adjoined." Esau and Edom both represent "those who turn aside from good by utterly despising truth, and who chiefly from the love of self, do not want anything of the truth to be adjoined." (A. 3322) This makes clear the representation of Edom in Obadiah given in the Prophets and Psalms: "those who are in self-intelligence, and who pervert the literal sense of the Word." Self-intelligence! It may otherwise be expressed by "learning which is from man's own intelligence." We sometimes think we know what is best for ourselves by our own reasoning, and require help from no one. We scorn the interference even of persons of superior judgment. Likewise we often imagine that we can decide for ourselves the right course of life without consulting the Lord, without turning to His Word. This is the spirit which Obadiah deals with under the type of Edom. It is constantly at warfare with the regenerating soul; a constant enemy. We must fight against it (verse 1). It is contemptible when seen in its true light (verse 2). The conceit and pride which lie concealed within it are boundless (verse 3). But this pride will be humbled (verse 4). The false ideas of the heart will be searched out thoroughly (verses 5, 6). And it will be seen that we are then destitute of the truth (verse 7). Therefore, this spirit must be condemned and destroyed (verses 8, 9). For it hurts the church, it takes delight in doing violence to the teachings of the Lord (verses 10-13). It must be judged. "The day of the Lord is near."
This rebellious spirit is present with us all the time. Sometimes we are conscious of it. Then we must fight. It works within until it reaches a degree of opposition to our spiritual growth that threatens great harm. Then we must subdue it with the Lord's help. The pitched battles we have with it are pictured in Israel attacking and subduing Edom, already referred to. Each time the spirit manifests itself, it assumes a more dangerous attitude. But in time, it reaches its limits: it is seen in its entirety, in all its harmfulness and utter uselessness. Then it is finally judged and cast out (verses 15, 16). This enables us to enjoy the blessings of the church, in the spirit of humility, which readily turns us to the Lord for instruction, and prepares us for the reception of an increased knowledge of the truth. "Saviors shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau: and the kingdom shall be the Lordís."