google-site-verification: google3e8cc4742c5fd8a2.html Thursday with Tabitha - Obadiah
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Thursday with Tabitha


9. Obadiah by Tabitha Smith

This week we’ve reached the little book of Obadiah. He was the most minor of the minor prophets, in that his book is the shortest! In fact, it’s the shortest book in the whole of the Old Testament with just one chapter, containing 21 verses.
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Obadiah means “one who serves Yahweh”. We’re not told anything else about the prophet himself. In the course of the prophecy, the fall of Jerusalem (which happened in 586 BC) is referred to as a past event and the fall of Edom (which happened in 553 BC) as a future event. So it is likely that the book was written between these events.

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To understand the background to Obadiah, we need to head back to Genesis, to the account of the brothers Jacob and Esau. These two non-identical twins were born to Isaac and Rebekah. Even from their birth, they showed signs of not exactly getting along. Esau was born first, all red and hairy, and Jacob followed after him, grasping his heel. They grew up to be very different. Esau was a skilled hunter, favoured by his father, whilst Joseph was an introverted man who preferred to stay with his mother in the proximity of the family tents.


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Jacob famously tricked the hungry Esau out of his birth rite and later stole his father’s blessing by disguising himself as his older brother and fooling the elderly, blind Isaac. So Esau swore revenge on his brother and fully intended to kill him. Rebekah helped Jacob to escape and he fled to the territory of his uncle Laban. There he met and married his wives, Leah and Rachel. Esau, who was also called Edom, married several wives, including an Ishmaelite woman (that is, a descendent of Abraham’s first son by the slave girl Hagar).

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Jacob and Esau did meet again some years later, and much to Jacob’s relief and surprise, Esau didn’t kill him on the spot but appeared to have forgiven him. Jacob still didn’t trust him though, and he took his family off in a different direction to avoid having to be in close proximity to his brother’s family.


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Jacob had 12 sons by his two wives and their two servants. His 4th son, one of Leah’s children, was Judah, and from his line the tribe of Judah came into existence. From Esau’s line came the tribe of the Edomites.


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The Edomites lived in the hill country of Seir. This was a mountainous region about 1500m above sea level. Their territory appeared to be impenetrable and they felt quite safe in their high dwellings. In Numbers 20 we read that after the Exodus from Egypt, the Israelites asked the Edomites for permission to pass through their territory along the King’s Highway. The Edomites refused, adding to the tensions between these two tribes. However, in Deuteronomy 23:7-8, God commanded the Israelites that they should not hate an Edomite in view of the brotherly connection between the two tribes.

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Edom was defeated by king Saul in the 11th century BC and subdued again by king David 40 years later. Edom became a vassal state of Israel but it was never completely de-stroyed.


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Fast forward to the time of Obadiah, and we find that the tribe of Judah, the sole remnant of the original 12 tribes of Israel, had been conquered and the capital city of Jerusalem had fallen to the Babylonians. During the conquest of Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar, some of the Judeans had tried to escape from the city and flee into the surrounding coun-tryside. The Edomites, rather than helping their neighbours and brothers in the time of their distress, sided with the foreign invaders and handed over the fleeing Israelites to the Babylonians. Psalm 137:7 recalls how the Edomites gloated over the destruction of Jeru-salem:

Remember, O LORD, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!”

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The main theme of Obadiah is the judgement of the Edomites for the way they betrayed the people of Judah during the Babylonian invasion.


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The first 15 verses of the book are addressed to the people of Edom. God scorns the pride and arrogance of the Edomites, who say to themselves, “who will bring me down to the ground?” (v3), referring to their perceived safety in their high mountain region. But God will bring them down and they will be punished for their evil deeds. The prophet mixes both past tense and future tense verbs when describing Edom’s fate. This is a technique that can be found in prophetic writing, when future events are sometimes described as if they had already happened.


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God’s message through Obadiah is that Edom will be completely destroyed, with not a trace left behind. The main charges against Edom are found in verses 12-14: "But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress. Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; do not gloat over his disaster in the day of his calamity; do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity. Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives; do not hand over his survivors in the day of distress."


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The judgement is summarised in verse 15: "As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head."

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The final part of the book relates to the people of Jerusalem. God promises that he will preserve a remnant of his people who will survive the exile and reclaim the land that is theirs, according to his plans and promise. To the devastated people of Judah, this would have been an incredible promise of hope. It seemed, to all intents and purposes, that their future was doomed and that God’s promises to Abraham had come to nothing. But God promises that Judah will become like a raging fire once more, whilst Edom is reduced to stubble. Judah’s time of judgement for her own sin would be over, and then God would judge her enemies.


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The final words of the book, in verse 21, declare that “the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” The promised land of the Old Testament foretells the reality of the greater promised land, which is the coming kingdom of God. Matthew’s gospel in particular speaks of this prom-ised kingdom, which Jesus ushered in during his time on earth. The whole of the Bible is the story of this ultimate kingdom, reaching its climax in the book of Revelation. The king-dom of God is already here, but it is not yet fully here. That won’t happen until Jesus re-turns.

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In chapter 11 of the book of Hebrews, the writer recounts the names of the men and women of the Old Testament who trusted in God’s promises to them regarding the coming kingdom.

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He then writes in verse 13-16: “These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city.


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This city is the new Jerusalem, the heavenly kingdom. Jesus used several metaphors to try to help his listeners grasp the nature of the kingdom of God. He described it as a tiny mustard seed which grew into a huge tree, or as a tiny amount of yeast which could make a whole batch of dough rise. From tiny, seemingly in-consequential beginnings, something great grows. When all seemed lost to the exiled people of Judah, God says “just wait and see what I will do”. And the glory of the final kingdom is made all the greater by the trial of the journey.

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You and I are invited to be part of this coming kingdom of God. No matter how small and insignificant we might feel in the great plan of God, and no matter how dire our circumstances seem to be, we can be assured that God’s kingdom is coming and we can be part of it. It is surprising and mysterious, hidden and yet revealed, wonderful and awesome. It is something new, something different, something glorious. It is possible for the wisest brains to miss it completely whilst little children understand and embrace it.

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God is doing a new thing and he invites us to come and see. The prophet Isaiah recorded God’s words to his exiled people:

Remember not the former things, nor consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing; now it springs forth, do you not perceive it? I will make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.” (Isaiah 43:18-19)


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Some 700 years after Isaiah, Jesus walked the streets of Jerusalem and declared:

I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6)

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Even the seemingly obscure prophecy of Obadiah is part of Jesus’ great story. It’s all about him. Between the lines of prophecy about Edom and Judah we see the greater picture of God’s redemption plan and his justice, mercy and grace. When the risen Jesus walked on the road to Emmaus and explained to the amazed disciples how the Law and all the prophets spoke about himself, I like to think that he said a bit about Obadiah.


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We’ve got four more books to look at before this series draws to a close, and there are lots more interesting things to come as we look at Haggai, Zechariah, Joel and Malachi. Join me next week if you can!

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