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Online Text Sermon - Survey of Obadiah, Obadiah ch.1 vv.1-21

PreacherRev. Maurice Roberts, Inverness
Sermon TitleSurvey of Obadiah
TextObadiah ch.1 vv.1-21
Sermon ID339

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Obadiah consists of only twenty-one verses and is the shortest book in the Old Testament. I should explain that we have been conducting a short series in which we have been looking at the minor prophets - taking one each week. Of course, it is impossible to do more than open a door and a window. The purpose of the study is so that in our own private reading we might perhaps have a little more understanding as to why these books are given to us in the Bible.

The great Robert Murray McCheyne said something we should always remember, that if we neglect any part of the Bible it will leave us with some spiritual weakness or handicap. We all understand what it means to have a physical handicap: short of sight, dull of hearing, or incapacitated in some other way. So shall we be if we are ignorant of any part of Scripture: all Scripture is profitable. That is the basis upon which we are looking at what often are neglected portions of the Word of God.

Although the book of Obadiah has only twenty-one verses and is the shortest book in the Old Testament, it is equally inspired with all the other books of Scripture. It doesn't matter how weak we are in grace or gifts, we are as much a part of the true church as those with great gifts and great grace. God has put these little books in the Bible as well as the bigger ones to remind us that He doesn't judge a people according to their size or the amount of grace they have. If you and I are only true believers with the real grace of God in our hearts, though you and I come far short of other believers who are much above us, yet we are as much a part of the true church of Christ as they are - just as Obadiah here was as much a part of the Bible as were Isaiah and these others.

Some people have wondered who this Obadiah was. They have wondered if he was the Obadiah who lived in the days of King Ahab. You will remember there was an Obadiah in Ahab's reign. In love for the people of God, and at great personal risk, he fed the prophets of God in a cave. It is most unlikely, however, that this was the same man. We believe that the Obadiah here was very much later as I hope to show by and by. Some of you are keen on commentaries. The longest commentary I personally know about on this book of Obadiah was written by a Puritan - a seventeenth century writer - who had the name of Edward Marbury; it takes a full two hundred pages to explain these twenty-one verses. It shows how thorough those great Puritans were and those men at that time.

I think it would be profitable for you if I tell you what the divisions of this little book are. It is easy to note them because there is a little paragraph mark in your Bible against each new paragraph. Verses one to nine form the first section, then verse ten begins with that paragraph mark. Verses ten to sixteen form the second section. We find the second paragraph mark at the beginning of verse seventeen. Those paragraph marks are often very helpful in the old King James or Authorised version. In our private reading, as our public, we would do well to pause as we come to those marks very often; they indicate the division within the book.

The whole of this prophecy deals with the nation of Edom. You see them mentioned in verse one: "The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord God concerning Edom..." (v.1). Edom was a country, a nation, a kingdom; its location was immediately to the south of the Jewish country of Judah. This is a vision. The prophets received their messages in various ways - sometimes by dreams; sometimes by God, as it were, whispering in their ear and telling them precisely what they had to say: their utterance was "Thus saith the Lord!" They received it by direct revelation from God, as though God was speaking in their ear or in their mind. They uttered it by divine inspiration. On other occasions God gave the message in the Old Testament through visions. Their mind and soul were so lifted up and illuminated that they truly saw a mental picture of the things they had to declare. That is the kind of revelation given to this man Obadiah; it was in the form of a vision. The vision concerned one single nation called Edom and the Edomites. It was an oracle from God - a message just for this people. It was about them and their future and what was going to happen to them. That in itself reminds us, does it not, that God sees the future, not only of individuals, which is true, but also of nations. He knows what the future of our own nation is. Nations rise and fall, they come and go - that is one of the great lessons of the Bible. They have their great periods of importance and then they die away and fade into nothing; Egypt, Rome, Greece and Great Britain were all such. We had a great empire but now it is fading away. All of this was because the nations have their parts to play in God's eternal plan. When they come to an end of the purpose that God has for them they wither and die; very much like the flowers in your garden - they all have their own flowering season. The spring flowers come early - such as daffodils - then they fade and die. Then the later spring flowers come and they die. The roses follow into the autumn and perhaps the winter but then they die also. So it is with the nations of the world - they are like trees in the garden of God and can sometimes be compared to trees in the Bible. This oracle is all about one nation - Edom and the Edomites.

The first division which is in verse one to nine, as I mentioned, tells these Edomites this: God is going to destroy them with war; He is going to raise up enemies to the nation. There is no such thing as an enemy to a nation except by God's divine appointment. All the enemies of nations are ordained by God for wise reasons. Our politicians don't seem to remember this but the enemies that we had, for instance in Ireland, are ordained by God. It doesn't mean to say that they are doing what God approves of, of course, but in His sovereign purpose they are there for a reason - in order to be thorns in the side of this nation. So, in verses one to nine, God is threatening these Edomites that they are going to be the objects of an invasion: war is going to break out. They are going to have a terrible time, so terrible that they will be crushed and overthrown; they will cease to be a nation - they will come to nothing. They will be virtually annihilated.

You and I need to ask why God would do that. God doesn't do these things without a reason. God doesn't take any pleasure in destroying men or nations - there is always a moral and spiritual reason and a spiritual explanation. In the second section of this prophecy - verses ten to sixteen - God states the reason why. He explains the thing that they have done wrong. We have to do this even in civil and criminal matters among nations and peoples ourselves. You don't commit a person to prison without first of all putting him on trial and telling him what he has done wrong - not in countries anyway that are worthy of being called democratic. Before a person was locked up in prison or fined or, in the old days, put to death, first of all he was told what he had done wrong. So it is here with God. In the second section He informs these Edomites why they are to be punished, why they are to be judged and why they are to be annihilated.

I want to make this observation. The God of the Bible is a God of love and also a God of justice. Love and righteousness go with God hand-in-hand. The liberals, when they spoil the Bible and the Gospel message, they always, always talk about the love of God only; they never talk about the righteousness, justice and holiness of God. Still less do they talk about the wrath or the anger of God. It is becoming increasingly popular in our modern world, even in church and evangelical circles, for people to talk about the love of God - only. Of course, God is a God of love but we must never give people the impression that God is a God of love only. If people preach a God of love only they haven't got the true God - that is idolatry. You are stripping away half of God's attributes as soon as you say that He is love and nothing else. We are not warranted to turn God in to an idol. So the God of the Bible has these two aspects to His moral character - more than two, but two which concern us just now: He is full of love, kindness, goodness, affection, mercy and compassion but also a God of righteousness, truth, justice and a God who will punish the wicked. That is what comes to our attention here in this book of Obadiah as indeed it comes to our attention everywhere. If anyone cares to check on what I say concerning the character of God then they can look at any of the prophets - including Moses - or you can look at the teaching of Christ, John the Baptist and the disciples Peter and Paul. You will see that they all speak about these two sides as it were to the moral character of God. He is the God not only of love and goodness but the God of justice and holiness.

We need to know both. We need to both rejoice in the goodness of God in the Gospel and also tremble. It is right and proper for the true believer to have both of those emotions: we rejoice in God and we tremble before Him. The apostles and the early church made that very clear. They delighted in God, they rejoiced in His grace and goodness but at the same time they knew the terror of the Lord. Paul repeatedly uses the phrase - "with fear and trembling": "work out your own salvation with fear and trembling". That also comes to light in this book of Obadiah. God is not a God to be trifled with. I am afraid the ministers of this country who get in to any prominent position on the radio and television that we hear about, almost never do they tell the nation about this sobering aspect to the character of God - His justice and holiness. But men need to know that. Nobody is going to go to Christ for salvation until he realises that God is a God of strictest righteousness. Nobody is afraid of God; they have no need of Christ. If God is a God of love and nothing else then we don't need a Saviour do we? A Saviour is to deliver us from something that is to be feared. However, if God is nothing but love then there is nothing to be feared. That is the last lie promoted by the devil himself.

Books like Obadiah are a reminder to us that the God who is love is first and foremost a God of holiness. In our preaching and teaching we must begin with sinners at this point of the holiness of God. The epistle to the Romans begins like this; it begins not with the love of God but with the holiness and justice of God. When John the Baptist preached he began with same theme. He said, "How can you escape the damnation of hell?" He warned them. We need to be warned because it is only when we see our danger that we begin to run. If nobody sees his danger, he doesn't begin to run to safety. Christ was the same - "The time is fulfilled," He said, and the kingdom of God is at hand: repent ye, and believe the gospel" (Mark 1, 15). You see there is something to be afraid of and something which requires action on our part.

The third section of this book of Obadiah deals with the Kingdom of God, which was going to succeed the judgement upon Edom and Esau and was going to last to the end of time. The third section looks to the New Testament age from verse seventeen down to verse twenty-one. The vision that he sees, given to him by inspiration of God, carries his mind beyond time in the Old Testament period to time in the New Testament period. He sees something of the glory in which, after Jesus Christ has come into the world, this great Gospel which was now among the Jews, would be spread abroad throughout all the world. All the ends of the earth would see the salvation of the Lord. That is how the book actually ends: the Kingdom is the Lord's; it is a vision of the way in which, in the fullness of time, "the earth shall be full of the knowledge of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea" (Isaiah 11, 9). We need therefore to look a little more carefully at why God gives this great message to Esau.

Let me remind you that Esau and Edom are the same person. Let me also remind you that Esau was the twin brother of Jacob. The Edomites were therefore, in fact, not strangers like the Philistines or the Egyptians, they were blood brothers with the Jews. They had their own nations certainly, their own territory, their own kingdom, their own government and so on but they were brothers according to natural birth: Esau was the older twin and Jacob the younger. So there was every reason why Esau should have loved his brother and the Edomites should have loved the Jews. I have to tell you however, that is not the way matters were. As a matter of fact, the Edomites hated the Jews and they took every opportunity to make war against them, to trouble them and to vex them. There is a lesson there, surely.

The sad fact is that even those who are related to us by blood are our enemies - as Christians - until they also come to the experience of the new birth. Blood relationship and human affection does not make people love one another with a spiritual love. Only one thing can do that and that is a change of heart and character. The new birth - regeneration - bringing grace into the heart is the only way whereby men and women come, in Christ, to love one another as God commands. That is the fulfilling of the law and you do not need me to remind you that sometimes our bitterest enemies are those who should be our closest friends. Our most sharp and unkind critics sometimes are those who used to be close to us and at one with us. In fact, as events transpire, they have no love for the things that we love. That is because of this terrible fact - that men cannot love God's people until and unless they also are renewed, and that was the condition of Esau. God was going to destroy them and bring war upon them.

I think it would be helpful if I read some of these verses again to bring you into the spirit of what he is saying. God is speaking now to Esau at verse three.

"The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground? Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord" (v. 3-4).

You will be interested to know that Edom's country was an extraordinarily well-defended country. There was only one way in which you could get in to it. There were great high rocks surrounding the entire country; it was a wonderful natural formation. It was impregnable by any enemy; apart from through one great crevice which lasted about two miles with high barren rocks on either side. Inside was this safe territory. The Lord was saying to them that it didn't matter how safe they felt or what walls they had or soldiers they may train - He would bring an enemy upon them that would flatten them, crush them and destroy them. God is therefore saying to us that men are not safe with any kind of human protection. Neither learning, nor wealth, nor influence, nor power, nor popularity nor anything else is a defence against God. There is only one way to be safe with God and that is to be at peace with Him by the reconciling work of God's Son upon the cross and the Edomites were strangers to that. They knew nothing at all about that, neither did they wish to. They had neither love nor affection for the Jews who were God's people. They had neither love nor affection for the truth that God had given in the holy Scriptures. They cared for none of these things; they had their own gods. They sacrificed human beings to their gods. They were brutal, barbarous, cruel and haters of truth. So the Lord is saying here to this people that they are to be crushed.

The second section begins, as I have said, at verse ten. Here at verse ten down to verse sixteen, God is explaining the reason why they are to be punished. The Lord does not punish men without a good reason. The reason is given in verses ten and following. Let me read some of these verses.

"In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them. But thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother in the day that he became a stranger; neither shouldest thou have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction; neither shouldest thou have spoken proudly in the day of distress" (v. 11-12).

That is a sample of what God is saying. What is God saying here? What does this mean? What is this charge, this accusation which God is bringing? It is this: that the day came in the experience of the Jewish people that the Babylonian armies surrounded them. They captured them and killed many thousands. Many were scattered over the countryside, running for their very lives and many of them came towards the country of these Edomites looking for mercy and for, what we today call, asylum. The Jews became asylum seekers - to use a modern phrase. They wanted food, shelter, kindness, warmth, mercy, protection, care and medical supplies. You would have thought, would you not, that Edom, who was the brother, would have been ready to have given all he had. However, for these poor refugees, it was not so. Not only did Edom shut the bowels of their compassion against their Jewish brethren but, worse still, they took advantage of them in this time of their weakness to invade their land, to annexe some of their property, to kill many of their refugees and to treat them with brutality. The human heart - the human heart - the human heart - it has not changed!

The comforting thing is this: to know that God sees when men treat us with unkindness and brutality. The comfort that God's people had through Obadiah was to know that when these things would happen, the Lord was watching; the Lord will avenge the unkindness which is shown to you. Remember that dear friends. When people are unjust and violent, when they speak lies about you, remember; remember, the eyes and ears of the Lord are noticing these things. Men notice how they treat His people especially. The Lord takes knowledge of how His own people are being dealt with by others: He sees; He looks; He watches. He pays attention to the way people treat His own because His own people are as the apple of His eye.

The profitable message from that section clearly is this: whenever any of the Lord's people are in difficulty, never gloat over it. Even supposing they should be, in a sense, your enemies; never gloat over them. When any of the Lord's people is in trouble, even if they have been unkind to you - don't you rejoice over their fall. The same is true of churches. Sometimes if it happens that a denomination comes to a time of trouble, or, they have big problems, the message here is, when that happens, these churches may have been critical of us, they may have said unkind things about us - don't you lift up your voice against them. Remember who is hearing. Remember who is seeing your heart and attitude. When the Lord's people and the churches of Christ come into any kind of trouble, do you have the same attitude of respect, love and affection towards them as you would wish them to have towards you - whether they have shown it to you or not. Let your love and kindness flow towards them. If ever you come across any of the Lord's people who, through poverty, weakness, fear or through any circumstances are in difficulties, do what you can to assist them. God is watching! "Thou shouldest not have entered into the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; yea, thou shouldest not have looked on their affliction in the day of their calamity, nor have laid hands on their substance in the day of their calamity" (v. 13). God had noticed; God had seen; God had been watching and hearing. So it is.

Then the last section - verses seventeen to twenty-one. God here tells us that all His purposes are moving steadily on to their great climax. The great climax is the blessing of His own people - both in this life and that which is to come. Take verse twenty-one as a sample of them all.

"And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord's" (v. 21).

Little by little, all things that are happening in time are working towards the introduction of the Kingdom of Glory. We must remember that today as we see great changes in the world: changes in Britain, the Middle East. Every one of these changes is working towards one great final end - the consummation of the Kingdom of God; the gathering out of this world of all the elect.

The lesson for you and for me is to take courage that nothing will interrupt God's purpose, to walk humbly and lovingly with God, and to be at peace with your neighbour.

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