Obadiah’s encouragement for us today

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Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament but continues to encourage God’s people in the ongoing warfare Satan and his followers wage against God and His people. In a recent sermon on Obadiah[i] Rev R Bredenhof said that through this book God gives us a living message about the enemies of God’s people, enemies who hate Christ and His church and wage war against them. Whether we see them or not, these enemies are all around us and they’re not idle. God calls us to withstand these enemies in the comforting knowledge that He will care for us.

This book, said Rev Bredenhof, shows a showdown between two arch enemies: God and Edom. Who will win? God will, for who can withstand Him? That assurance offers us great encouragement in our warfare. In this book we see how “Obadiah foretells the end of Edom, the enemy of the LORD and of His church”.[ii] What follows is an approximate summary of that sermon.

Edom was a proud and violent nation, living in the hills just east of the Dead Sea. The Edomites descended from Esau, Jacob’s twin brother. So they had blood ties with Israel; they were brother nations, maybe a bit like Australia and Canada which are both tied to Great Britain and have many similarities.

Jacob and Esau were both born in the covenant but had already struggled together in their mother’s womb, an indication of their later struggle when Esau, having sold his birthright to Jacob and being cheated out of the blessing, threatened to kill his brother. Although they had parted ways Esau’s resentment had continued through his descendants: the Edomites hated Jacob’s descendants.

In time the Edomites became a powerful and proud nation. They felt invincible because the steep and rocky mountains in which they lived in crags and caves proved a natural fortress and it was almost impossible for enemies to fight them. Even the God of Jacob, they thought, could not conquer them. God detested this arrogant pride and therefore rebuked them. Just as God took action against the proud people who built the Tower of Babel, so God would take action against Edom.

But it’s not just because of Edom’s pride that God would act; it was also because of what they had done to Israel when it was being attacked by Babylon. They had rejoiced at Israel’s defeat, had joined the Babylonians in plundering Jerusalem of its wealth, and had even captured and put to death those who tried to escape.

Esau and Edom’s hatred of God’s people provides an occasion for Obadiah instructing us today. For the opponents of Christ and His church continue their attacks. Think, for example, of the Middle East where Christians live in constant fear of Islamic fanatics. Just studying the Bible together or having a worship service in these places is enough to get Christians imprisoned or killed. Think also of China and other places where churches are destroyed and Christians are persecuted.

And what about us? Don’t we see the hatred of those who push evil ideas like ‘gay marriage’, abortion and ‘gender fluid’ identity? Christians are accused of being bigots, untrustworthy and narrow-minded. Like Edom these oppressors of Christians and what they stand for are proud and arrogant and feel secure in the godless ‘politically correct’ position they have established. Most people feel intimidated and don’t dare to challenge them.

This tends to make us feel uncomfortable. As church members we just want to be quiet, peace-loving and friendly people who desire to be neighbourly and do what’s right in accordance with Scripture. So why are the godless so against us?

But we need to remember who is behind this. We’re targeted because the opponents of Christ’s Church are governed by Satan who always opposes God and his Christ. It is simply part of that ongoing fierce warfare between Christ and Satan. Both are fighting for a prize, and that prize is people. The people who are so determined to do wrong to us are doing it because they are attacking God’s cause. So issues such as gay marriage, or abortion, or whatever, are simply the catalyst for attacks. Satan wants to attack all that belongs to Christ. Having rejected Christ, Satan’s followers want to destroy all that is associated with Christ. Yes, we live in a world of conflict marked by a battle of kingdoms.

The good news is that God, who is in full control, will take up the cause of His covenant people and punish their oppressors. Obadiah prophesied that the LORD would stir up nations against Edom so that it would be destroyed completely. But he has a message for us as well. It’s the age-old prophesy to Abraham: “I will bless those who bless you, and curse those who curse you.” Obadiah says (verse 15): “The day of the LORD upon all nations is near. As you have done, it shall be done to you.” All those who today pride themselves on their victories against God’s people will drink the cup of His wrath. Look at what God’s people say in Revelation 11:17-18: “We give you thanks, O Lord God Almighty… because you have taken your great power and reigned. The nations were angry, and your wrath has come.” The church here is thanking God for His wrath and judgement upon the world’s nations! Christ condemns those who refuse to bow to him.

Now, these vivid scenes might embarrass us. Isn’t Jesus all about love, and shouldn’t we love our enemies, and pray for our persecutors? Yes, but we also have to fight and resist evil. Remember how Christ said that if they persecuted Him, they would persecute His followers. If we have the courage to show that we are His disciples we will be hated. We take comfort in knowing that one day their hostility will end, just as it did for Edom. The LORD can use enemies to humble His church but can also act to preserve His church. If you look at history it seems that God often lets evil run its course so that evil nations simply destroy themselves by continuing to ignore the wisdom contained in God’s holy law.

If we look at the world today we see Islam gaining ground, promoting their cause and spreading great fear and terror. But it can only go so far. God teaches us not to be anxious or to fear when evildoers prosper and when false religions thrive but simply to trust in Him. He is a bulwark never failing. Remember how Babylon came to an end and Edom was destroyed. And remember what John writes: “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work” (1 John 3:8). He did that by humbly serving God, dying on the cross, rising from the grave and ascending to heaven from which Satan was cast out for ever. From there He rules over all, including the wicked and rebellious. “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11: 15). His eternal rule offers us great comfort today.

Oppression will continue, as we see when Judah was overrun and Jerusalem was destroyed, but God promises a new day. Their land will be returned to them, the temple and city rebuilt, the enemies will be conquered and the people will live in holiness to the LORD. How? “The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame” (v 18). Israel will be like a raging fire consuming Edom like a fire consumes stubble in the fields!

This must have been great comfort to God’s people in exile. After all, Judah was completely powerless, just as the church today often seems so divided, battered and bruised by the world. But just as Edom was destroyed and their land given to God’s people so we will one day be given the land of our enemies, a land ruled from Mount Zion. For as we read in the last verse of Obadiah: “And the kingdom shall be the LORD’s” (v 21). What a powerful message! God’s new kingdom will encompass every nation and swallow up every enemy. That will happen when Christ shows Himself as the King of the whole world! For all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Him.

God lifts us—His weak and seemingly insignificant people—up and makes us great. Remember how He said about Jacob and Esau, Israel and Edom, “the elder shall serve the younger”. That is God’s way: the younger, the weaker, the disadvantaged are exalted so that not man but God receives the glory. We seem so helpless but God reveals his power in our weakness. He is glorified when we are humble and admit that in this world we are so helpless in the face of trouble and so dependent on Him for our survival.

Just look at what happened when our Saviour was born. He seemed so vulnerable when another Edomite, King Herod, sought to kill this threat to his throne. But God was in control preserving Jesus for His death in God’s time and for God’s people. In Christ the enemy’s power is completely broken; in Jesus, a humble descendant of Jacob, the LORD showed His power. He will crush Satan, that ancient enemy, and build a new nation by his blood. Thereby: “The kingdoms of this world have become the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ, and He shall reign forever and ever” (Rev 11).

So let us not fear but go forward faithfully and confidently trusting in our Saviour, standing firm in Christ our Lord and boldly speaking up about the only truth that can save, and that sets captives free. When we do stand apart and we are opposed, let us be resolute. The old message of Obadiah keeps ringing the sound of victory that’s surely coming with Christ our Saviour, when “the kingdom shall be the LORD’s”.

J Numan

 

[i] Sermon held in the Free Reformed Church of Mt Nasura, Western Australia, 3rd April 2016.

[ii] The clause in quotation marks was the theme of Rev R Bredenhof’s sermon.