What has Edom to do with us? The nation of Edom is who Obadiah’s prophecy is all about. Edom is evil, and Edom will be eliminated. But what does this ancient message mean for our modern world? Is it hopelessly outdated, or can we find some relevance for our contemporary lives in these age-old words of judgement?
To get at Obadiah’s significance for the modern reader, it is helpful to zoom out. We need to see where Edom appears on the ongoing line of history.
The Edom saga begins in the womb. Specifically, it begins in Rebekah’s womb, but we could go back further to the two sons born of Eve. In the Old Testament, lineage and genealogy are important clues as to what God is doing in history. So, when we read of two brothers both offering sacrifices to God, we are not merely reading of a one-time, isolated event in history. God is teaching us something of humanity, of the choices each one of must make, and about his sovereignty over it all. Cain and Abel became symbols of two different kingdoms. One of pride and idolatry ruled by the father of lies himself. One of grace and life ruled by the Creator of the universe. The kingdom of the world and the kingdom of God.
So, when we reach the story of Rebekah’s twins, we should be paying attention to how these brothers fit into God’s history. Our first clue to their importance is the phrase: “but the children inside her struggled with each other.” Two brothers fighting. When Rebekah asks God about what is happening in her womb, God explains that there are two nations in her wombs.
In fact, there are two kingdoms struggling with each other. To our human eyes, we assume it will be the older and more manly brother who will overcome the younger and weaker brother. But the struggle between kingdoms is not merely about physical strength. What separates these brothers into two kingdoms is not anything physical, rather it is there response to God. One brother throws away the promises of God for lentil stew, while the other wrestles God for a blessing. This is what marks the difference.
The two nations to come out of Rebekah’s womb are of course Israel and Edom. Long after the well-documented struggles and feuds of Jacob and Esau, the antagonism between the brothers continues. One famous episode between the two nations is when Israel was en-route to the Promised Land and wanted to pass through Edom’s territory. Esau’s descendants refused, adding to the hardships of the sojourning Jacob.
The prophets use this episode as a prime example of Edom’s hostility towards his brother and the reason for their judgement. But before we get there, we must make a stop in the life of David, who is himself a descendent of Jacob. David’s struggle with Edom comes in the form of Doeg. To put it briefly, Doeg snitched and told king Saul that David was hiding out in the town of Nob. While David escapes to safety, Doeg executes the priests of Nob who had harbored David.
David writes about Doeg’s hostility and pride in Psalm 52. It is here where we read the following about Doeg the Edomite:
…God will bring you down forever…he will uproot you from the land of the living.Psalm 52:5
With these words, and their history, fresh in our minds we return again to Obadiah. In the opening lines of his prophesy Obadiah clearly articulates what Edom is guilty of:
Your arrogant heart has deceived you…who say to yourself, “Who can bring me down to the ground?”v.3
Overflowing out of Edom’s prideful heart is all kinds of wickedness including hostility, hatred, bitterness, and blasphemy. Most of this is directed against Israel and their God. Another prophet, Ezekiel, informs us that Edom was guilty of harbouring an ancient enmity against his brother Israel (Ezekiel 35:5). Edom’s prideful heart made it impossible for him to show mercy to others and to come humbly before his Creator. Instead, Edom perched himself on the heights and looked down on the world in pride.
To some Edom appeared to be like a soaring eagle. Their worldly strength was envious and their lofty abode seemed ideal. Yet, God will bring them down forever. Obadiah echoes David as he warns Edom that they will be wiped off the face of the earth. Looking back from our vantage point in history we see how true those words were.
In condemning the pride and boasting of Edom, God exposes the fatal flaw of the kingdom of the world. It is built on the sandy foundations of created and finite things. It leads to a bitter and prideful heart which in turn produces all sorts of wickedness and dooms the kingdom to destruction. Because of its inherent pride, those who belong to this kingdom cannot see the goodness of grace. The author of Hebrews warns against allowing bitterness to take root and gives Esau as example. Esau allowed bitterness and pride to dominate and missed out on the grace of God as a consequence (Hebrews 12:14-17). Those who followed and are still following in the footsteps of Esau take the same path. Their pride leads to their downfall.
We return again to Genesis. All this talk of pride and falling reminds us of Satan, the enemy of God. Out of pride, Satan rejected the rule of God and attempted to set up his own kingdom. He then tempted God’s good creation to follow him in his prideful rebellion. After the fall into sin, we are told of an ongoing enmity which will take place between God’s kingdom and Satan’s. There will be the seed of the women and the seed of Satan. In other words, there will be those whom believe in the grace of God’s promise made to Eve and whom seek to live in the shadow of that promise. And then there will be those who pridefully reject God’s grace and follow in the bitterness and arrogance of Satan.
Esau, Edom and Doeg all belong to the family line of Satan. Obadiah’s message is that this line, this kingdom, will be brought down from its perch and thrown down to utter destruction. The kingdom of this world will give way to the kingdom of God. As Obadiah put it:
The kingdom will be the LORD’sv.21
In God’s revelation to the Apostle John we are given a preview of what this will look like. Satan and his kingdom are thrown into the abyss while God’s kingdom remains. There is a refrain in heaven which goes like this:
The kingdom of the world has become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ and he will reign forever and ever.Revelation 11:15
The harsh reality is that, by nature, we are of the kingdom of the world – prideful, bitter, and selfish. The good news is that the King himself has made a way for us to cross over into this everlasting kingdom. By grace alone, through humility and repentance, we can be born anew into the kingdom of God and be among those who will posses the land of the living. However, if we cling to our pride and allow bitterness to fester, we will, like Edom, miss out on grace and be toppled along with Satan’s worldly kingdom.
This is both Obadiah’s warning and his hope. And this is what Edom has to do with us.