Sermon preached on Obadiah 1:2-9 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/5/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Declaring Judgment Against Edom
We began our short series through Obadiah last time with an overview. We saw that this was a judgment oracle against the nation of Edom. This was to be their punishment for how they afflicted God’s people of Israel. We said that was surely a reference to the evil Edom did against the Jews when the Babylonians came and conquered them. But we also remembered that what was especially bad about this is that Israel and Edom were related through their respective patriarchs. Edom came from Esau and Israel came from Jacob. They were twin brothers born to Isaac and Rebekah, and we saw the conflict between these two peoples begin with their forefathers Jacob and Esau. Well for today, we’ll be focusing on verses 2-9 which announce the judgment on Edom. We’ll learn about the nature and scope of this judgment. In next week’s section, we’ll get into the reason for this judgment. But for now, we will consider what God says about the judgment that would be imminently falling upon them.
When we look at the details of this judgment, we see how what began with their patriarch Esau has carried its way through the history of Edom and lies behind how God would now judge them. What I mean is that in Genesis we see that a key failing of Esau was his carnal worldliness. What we see is that Esau valued earthly treasures and satisfying fleshly passions and worldly pleasures more than the things of God and heavenly treasure, things which often required more patience and waiting in faith. Genesis illustrates that by Esau’s choice of pagan Canaanite wives. But Genesis especially illustrates this by Esau’s choice of a bowl of soup over his birthright. Recall, he was the firstborn and therefore the birthright inheritance would have been normally his right. And that was not just any birthright, it was the birthright inheritance to this special family; that family whose heritage was the covenantal promises given to Abraham and Isaac. Jacob recognized that and valued that as the high blessing from God which it was. Esau, on the other handed thought so little of it that he was willing to sell it for the price of one bowl of lentil soup. More to the point, Esau valued that fleeting earthly pleasure more than a heavenly inheritance from the LORD. Genesis 25:34 summed this up like this: “Thus Esau despised his birthright.”
This is how Genesis characterizes Esau, and it’s the same sort of thing Obadiah shows us about Esau’s descendants. We’ll see today that the judgment God announces upon them reveals that Edom had continued the path Esau had set them on. They continued to value and even trust in worldly and human things over the heavenly and divine things of the LORD. So then, in tragic irony, we see this connection made for us in the opening statement in verse 2. “Behold, I will make you small among the nations; You shall be greatly despised.” There’s great tragic reversal in that statement. Esau despised his birthright of the LORD, Genesis 25:34. The LORD will make Esau greatly despised, verse 2, same word in the Hebrew. And notice how the irony is further stated there. In what sense will they be despised? By the world. God will make them small among the nations. To a people that valued being in and of the world, God’s judgment would make them small in that world.
And so, with this theme in mind of Edom valuing and trusting in the world, let’s dig further into the details of this judgment being pronounced upon them. Look at verses 3-4 first. There we see this theme put in terms of pride. They thought too highly of themselves. They thought themselves invulnerable. Their pride took voice in their hearts by saying “Who will bring me down to the ground?” But their pride was misplaced, because the answer to that question of their pride would be “God”. God would bring them down to earth.
These verses home in on one specific aspect of their pride: their defensible position, militarily speaking. They had pride and a sense of self-security in their defensible position. Edom, in general, was located in a mountainous region known as Mt. Seir. And their capital city was a mountain fortress known as “Sela”, which literally meant “rock”. It was a city sitting on a plateau, only accessible from one route from the southeast. If you are familiar with the Israelite mountain fortress of Masada, it is something along those lines. And so, verses 3-4 repeatedly uses this imagery of this mountain fortress as representative of their pride in general. Verse 3 challenges them who “dwell in the clefts of the rock,” literally, the Hebrew word sela. Verse 3, “Whose habitation is high”. When they say in their heart about being brought down to the ground, again, this imagery of them taking refuge high up comes to mind. Similarly, verse 4 likens them to eagles who are nested and perched high up in the stars. But God says that no matter how high they climb in this world, he would bring them down. The obvious point is that God sits far higher in the heavens than the Edomites.
So then recognize that their pride expresses trust in their worldly refuge. From a worldly sort of view, this makes a lot of sense. I remember visiting Mesa Verde National Park several years ago. There you can see the ancestral Pueblo Indians who lived in cliffs, apparently for protection. From a worldly sort of thinking, such lofty fortresses are considered highly advantageous and very difficult to take. Yet, such pride is very similar to words of Psalm 20:7 which says, “Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the LORD our God.” There is nothing wrong with building earthly protections against enemies. But if that is where you ultimately put your trust in, you are putting your trust in the wrong place. Instead, we need to be like the rebuilders of the Jerusalem wall who in Nehemiah 4:9 set a guard for protection but also prayed to God for protection. Edom had trusted in an earthly rock for their refuge. They needed to trust in God as the rock for their refuge. They needed to say like King David in Ps. 18:2, “The LORD is my rock and my fortress… in whom I take refuge.
So then, the takeaway point in verses 3-4 is that their pride deceived them. That’s the literal statement in verse 3. Pride that looks at our outward estate and thinks us invincible is foolish. Pride goes before a fall, and frankly the bigger and higher you are, the harder you fall.
Let’s turn next to verses 5-6 where we see God telling them they will lose everything. These verses describe the coming judgment in terms of complete and total loss. Two analogies are employed: thieves and grape harvesters. The point of both analogies is that normally you expect such people to leave something. Thieves who break in and steal at night don’t usually take everything. They take what they can carry and get away with. But they’re not usually going to take everything. Likewise, grape harvesters don’t strip every last grape off the vine. Sure, they’d remove the bulk of the grapes, and the best, most ripe grapes. But they’d leave the gleanings. It’s not worth their time to try to grab the gleanings and then it is something to leave for the poor to enjoy. But God’s point here is that he’s going to come and plunder them so completely that there will be absolutely nothing left. Here, the words of their pride in their heart are answered with the exclamation in verse 5, “Oh, how you will be cut off!” Their demise is so foretold that verse 6 switches from speaking directly to Edom to speaking about them in the third person. “Oh, how Esau shall be searched out! How his hidden treasures shall be sought after!” It’s like Esau has been so completely destroyed and driven out that they aren’t even here to hear about it anymore.
Though later in our passage it speaks of how Edom’s people will be killed, here it seems to speak of their loss of property. Not only does the analogy both relate to various earthly possessions and goods, verse 6 more explicitly makes this point. The idea in verse 6 when it talks about “hidden treasures” is that wherever Edom hides his valuables, the enemy who comes to destroy them will find them and take them. Hiding your valuables under the mattress or under a floor board won’t keep it safe! Burying your treasure in the backyard won’t keep them from finding it. They will search out Edom from top to bottom, find each and every last treasure, and take it for themselves.
Surely, this continues to develop that theme of that core problem of the heart for Edom. Like Esau, Edom had accumulated earthly treasures. As Esau valued that bowl of soup, so too Edom had set its heart on its many earthly goods. But in the deceitfulness of riches, it was all going to go away. If only they had set their heart to value heavenly treasure. Only such treasure is truly invincible for those God has given it. For no thief can break in and steal someone’s heavenly treasure. And no corruption can ruin what’s guarded in heaven for the benefit of God’s own.
Next look at verse 7. There we see that God’s judgment upon them will find all Edom’s allies betraying them. It says their allies will force them to the border. It’s unclear exactly what this has in mind. It might refer to how when Edom faces trouble from an enemy, they go the country of their allies looking for help and are instead forced out and turned away empty-handed and helpless. Or it might refer to how their allies will turn against them and drive Edom out of their own land. I think that seems most likely, in context. Verse 1 already saw the nations being called to fight against them. Verse 7 speaks of these allies prevailing against them and laying a trap for them, which seems to say that their allies themselves will fight against them. They will break their peace with them and be a part of those who attack them. But either way, the bigger point here is clear. Edom had put trust not only in their rock fortresses, but also in their political alliances, and that trust would be broken.
This is especially brought out with the literal wording in verse 7. The pew Bible says “all the men in your confederacy”; literally it is “all the men of your covenant.” These are ally nations that Edom has entered into a covenant of peace with. Likely that is what’s behind the reference to the eating of their bread. Such covenant making would often involve occasional fellowship meals together to show and celebrate the covenantal alliance that had been established. Edom had covenantally placed their hope in their friendship with the world.
And yet they found that trust broken. It says Edom was deceived by these allies by covenant, verse 7. The verse ends saying that “no one is aware of it.” In other words, nobody in Edom would see this betrayal coming. It would take them by complete surprise. Again, it’s this same idea of deceptiveness. To the world’s wisdom, it seems like this is a wise thing to do. It is a certain kind of wisdom to gather strong military allies. Certainly, there is nothing wrong with that. But ultimately there was a better covenant they needed. If only Edom had been in covenant with the one true God! If only they hadn’t long before forsaken that covenant line of promise that they had been born into in the house of Isaac. Sadly, covenants with men may be broken, because men are sinful. But God is faithful, he cannot deny himself. Again, that is where we must put our trust and hope, in a covenantal relationship with the LORD!
Lastly, let’s look at verses 8-9 and see how God tells them that he will bring their human wisdom and their human strength to nothing. Verse 8 addresses the wisdom. Through a rhetorical question, God says he will destroy the wise men from Edom and understanding from the mountains of Esau. It seems there was at least some reputation for wisdom in Edom according to Jeremiah 49:7. As an example, the lead of Job’s three friends that come to comfort him was Eliphaz who was from Teman, a city in Edom. Eliphaz is a great example of Edom’s wisdom, because in the book of Job it shows that he has an appearance of wisdom, but it was not in keeping with God’s wisdom. This, of course, was the issue with Edom’s wisdom. It was surely typical human wisdom, but it couldn’t save them from God’s wrath. The point comes out here in verse 8 when it says there will be no understanding in Mt. Esau. That’s the same word used at the end of the previous verse that said that no one would know, or have understanding, about the betrayal of their allies. In other words, in human wisdom, Edom amassed strategic alliances, but it was their very failing of wisdom that made them oblivious to how those same allies would betray them. I’m reminded of how God thwarted the otherwise wise counsel of Ahithophel in 2 Samuel 7:14. Certainly, God’s wisdom and power can overcome man’s wisdom. Here he prophesies that he will do this with Edom.
Verse 9 addresses the strength. “Your mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that everyone from the mountains of Esau May be cut off by slaughter.” When it says they will be dismayed, it means they will be overcome by fear. So, here it describes their mighty ones, their strongest soldiers, gripped with fear. When God comes in judgment, their confidence-instilling, mountain fortress won’t be enough to give courage to even the strongest among them. Their courage and strength will fail in that day. We can think of ways God has done in the past with powerful armies. Like what he did with Gideon and his 300 men with torches against the Midianites in Judges 7. Or how Jonathan and his armorbearer were able to elicit the same against the Philistines in 1 Samuel 14. Other examples could be given. Of course, God might choose to do the same this time by gathering the nations against Edom, as we see referenced in verse 1. But however it would happen, it would leave the mighty men of Edom in terror with the result that they would be slaughtered.
Thus, notice the “day” reference and notice who will act on that day. There would be coming a day when all this judgment oracle would be fulfilled against Edom. And however that happens, Edom should know that God is behind it. God’s the ultimate architect of this doom against Edom. And this was fulfilled, historically. The surviving archeological records are a little limited about the details. I mentioned last week that by the time of Malachi, it sounds like it had already happened. There is some evidence to suggest that Babylon turned against them. What is clearer historically is that not long after this a people known as the Nabateans controlled the land of Edom. By the time you get to the New Testament, the Edomite survivors become harder to find. (more)
Again, one way or another, this prophecy was fulfilled. There came this day of God’s reckoning against Edom. And this day of the LORD against Edom should remind all of us that God has also said there is coming a final day of the LORD against all the nations.
So then, this final section of verses 8-9 is more of the same with Edom. Edom valued and trusted not in the wisdom and power of God but in the wisdom and power of men. As I think of this last section for today, I’m reminded of that passage from 1 Corinthians that we recently looked at during the Good Friday service. That passage speaks to the wisdom and strength of men versus the wisdom and strength of God. It addresses this last section in Obadiah so well, but really speaks to all the verses we studied today. That was where Paul said that God answered wisdom-seeking Gentiles and power-seeking Jews with the wisdom and power of the cross. That was not a wisdom and power that the world recognized, but it was actually a far greater wisdom and power than they could realize. So Paul said in 1 Cor. 1:27, “But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God.”
So then, I point you all again today to Christ and the cross, the wisdom and power of God. You see, today we’ve been confronted with the outcome of not valuing the Lord nor trusting in the Lord. Worldly things constantly call out to us to love them and value them and entrust ourselves to them. But we have to be on guard against their deceptions. Don’t put your value and trust in yourself, nor in earthly position, nor in worldly treasures, or in human allegiances, or in man’s wisdom or strength. Those things promise much but they ultimately will fail you if you make them your chief end instead of a relationship with the God who made all those things and stands above all those things. Let us then instead value what we have in Christ as Christians. As we put our value and trust in Christ, we are putting our hope in the wisdom and strength of God. As we put our faith in Jesus, we are in a covenant of peace with God and have fellowship with him. As we value and trust Jesus, we know that ours is the riches and treasure of heaven, and that in the end we will even inherit the earth. Be reminded again today, of the surpassing value of a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. Come to him, repenting of your sins, and looking to his sacrifice on the cross to pardon all your sins. Be delivered from the day of doom that awaits the unbelieving nations at the end. Value Jesus and the things of heaven and eternity beyond any fleeting fleshly pleasures of this world. Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
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