by Richard T. Ritenbaugh
June 5, 2007
One might imagine that, because of all the trouble Israel and Judah have suffered at the hands of the Edomites down through history, Obadiah would have written his prophecy against Edom with great antagonism: "These are our enemies, and they deserve this!" This, however, does not seem to have been the case. A sadness seems to run through the book; there is a sense that Obadiah's poetry is a lament for an entire people caught in the act of rebellion against God. From time to time, his message takes on an imploring tone, suggesting an ephemeral hope that they—or at least some of them—will change. Between the lines are hints that perhaps some Edomites will read this message and not do what their fellow Edomites are prophesied to do. This slight hope may spring from God's command in Deuteronomy 2:2-6:
And the Lord spoke to [Moses], saying: "You have skirted this mountain [Mount Seir] long enough; turn northward. And command the people, saying, 'You are about to pass through the territory of your brethren, the descendants of Esau, who live in Seir; and they will be afraid of you. Therefore watch yourselves carefully. Do not meddle with them, for I will not give you any of their land, no, not so much as one footstep, because I have given Mount Seir to Esau as a possession. You shall buy food from them with money, that you may eat; and you shall also buy water from them with money, that you may drink.'"
God tells Israel, "Treat the Edomites with kid gloves as you go through their land." Later, in Deuteronomy 23:7, He warns them again, "You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother." By God's command, Israel was to approach the Edomites with fraternal care in all their dealings. Brothers have a bond by virtue of birth; they are of the same blood. They should get along, and cooperate with each other. Each should guard the other's back.
The two sons of Isaac rarely treated each other in this manner, but this is the standard to which God held the Israelites. Obadiah may have written his message with God's standard in mind. In his vision, he sees Edom's mistakes as the Edomites stubbornly head toward destruction. The prophecy takes the form of a brotherly warning for them to turn from their course before it is too late, but by all indications, Obadiah's warnings will go unheeded.
Edom Thoroughly Ransacked
Galatians 6:7 provides the theme for the second section of the prophecy against Edom: "Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap." Human nature tries to foist the blame for misfortune on outside factors, but the apostle Paul succinctly quashes such self-justification. We generally cause our own troubles.
"If thieves had come to you, if robbers by night—Oh, how you will be cut off!—would they not have stolen till they had enough? If grape-gatherers had come to you, would they not have left some gleanings? Oh, how Esau shall be searched out! How his hidden treasures shall be sought after! All the men in your confederacy shall force you to the border; the men at peace with you shall deceive you and prevail against you. Those who eat your bread shall lay a trap for you. No one is aware of it. Will I not in that day," says the Lord, "even destroy the wise men from Edom, and understanding from the mountains of Esau? Then your mighty men, O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that everyone from the mountains of Esau may be cut off by slaughter." (Obadiah 5-9)
This is quite grim. Edom will not just be defeated but annihilated. Normally, if a thief enters a home, he takes only those things of value and interest; he does not take every item in the house. He takes only those things he can either fence or use himself. Similarly, when grape gatherers go through a vineyard, they take the best for their purposes, leaving the rest on the vine. Some of the clusters might not have ripened, or some might simply be missed. Biblically, a farmer was supposed to leave some of his crop behind for the poor to glean (Leviticus 19:9-10; Deuteronomy 24:19-22).
Obadiah 5-6 indicates that such selectivity will not be the case when Edom is punished. It will be as if the thieves came and stole everything—to the bare walls! Nothing will be left—even the hidden things will be searched out and taken. God lays out the terrible consequences for Edom's rebellions; He is serious about punishing this people for what they have done. This is what Edom will reap—and what he has sown will shortly be revealed.
The New King James soft-peddles some of the Hebrew verbiage. For instance, in verse 6, "Oh, how Esau shall be searched out!" should be, "Oh, how Esau shall be ransacked!" a much more aggressive and violent expression. "His hidden treasures shall be sought after" suggests a functionary making a thorough search for valuables. The Hebrew, however, describes a pillaging army invading and taking everything of value and destroying the rest. Edom will be completely sacked.
Conversely, one of these two phrases and another in verse 5 also hint at Obadiah's empathetic attitude. "Oh, how you will be cut off!" (verse 5) is a typical Hebrew expression of grief. Obadiah repeats his heartache in verse 6, "Oh, how Esau will be searched out!" The prophet laments that this people must come to such a horrible end.
While verses 5-6 focus on the ransacking of Edom's wealth, verses 7-8 home in on the diminution of their wisdom and understanding. In other words, their "smarts" will be taken from them. A parallel prophecy in Jeremiah 49:7 asks, "Is wisdom no more in Teman? Has counsel perished from the prudent? Has their wisdom vanished?"
These rhetorical questions presuppose that both counsel and wisdom are Edomite hallmarks. Historically, Edom was known in the region for its sagacity, having produced some notable wise men. In Job 1, the narrator relates that Job is from Uz, thought to have been in the area of Edom, and Job 4 introduces Eliphaz the Temanite, one of his (supposedly) wise friends who counseled him.
That Edom has a reputation for wisdom makes its removal a more personal, significant, and ghastly punishment. Indeed, it is a stern lesson for the reader: For their sins and crimes, the Edomites are prophesied to lose, not just their wealth, but also their less tangible riches—even their common sense! The worst part may be that they will fail to recognize that it has deserted them.
Verse 7 also describes their confederates and allies betraying them to the point that even Edom's ambassadors will be shown to the border, yet the Edomites will reckon that their "friends" are acting in good faith toward them. This is the essence of the last clause, "No one is aware of it," suggesting that none of the Edomites understands that they have been betrayed.
Obadiah paints an illustration of Edomites sitting down to eat with their allies and not perceiving the treacherous trap being laid for them. Something clouds or blinds their eyes. Similarly, the disciples on the road to Emmaus could not recognize Jesus, despite having spent many years with Him (Luke 24:16). One day, God will blind Edomite eyes to their peril just as He, for His own purposes, has blinded the minds of Israelites in the reading of His Word (II Corinthians 3:14-15). In Edom's case, He will remove her wisdom so that she will be unable to avoid betrayal and destruction.
Verse 9 relates the consequence of the loss of wisdom: Edomite leaders and warriors will lose their courage, leading to annihilation. Edom will reap what she has sown, which Obadiah details in the next section.
Leviticus 19:17, "You shall not hate your brother in your heart," succinctly describes the fundamental flaw in Edom, hatred. Edom's hatred is the primary consequence of her pride. Because he always felt that he should have been the master and received his father's wealth and blessings, Esau nursed his wounded feelings of superiority, and it boiled over into hatred of his brother. This flaw became a prime feature of Edomite character.
For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. (Obadiah 10)
Hatred against a brother can lead a person to terrible acts, most often underhanded ones. In the case of the Edomites, their vile attitudes first manifested themselves in such things as gloating and rejoicing over Israel's catastrophes, and led to actions such as pillaging, selling into slavery, and taking the other's territory when Israel and Judah were weak.
God encapsulates the reason for His terrible judgment against Edom into a single word: "violence." In Hebrew, this word is chamas, believe it or not, so strikingly similar to the name of the Palestinian terrorist organization, Hamas. In actuality, Hamas is an acronym for Harakat al-Muqawima al-Islamiyya, the Islamic Resistance Movement. Along with Hezbollah, it has been Israel's chief enemy for many years. It is difficult to see this as a mere coincidence.
Could this be a scriptural clue as to the modern-day identity of Edom or perhaps Amalek? The details revealed in Obadiah support such a conclusion. A survey of recent Middle East history shows how Hamas has set itself against the Jews; no other group bears such vehement hatred for them. Even though it has secured political power in Palestine, it will not renounce its perpetual hatred against the state of Israel—not even to become a viable player on the world stage. Members of Hamas simply want to annihilate Israel.
Chamas suggests immoral, cruel violence, going hand-in-hand with "slaughter" in the previous verse. The two words are undoubtedly linked. Edom will be cut off with the same slaughter and in the same manner by which she treated Israel: with violence, with chamas!
Why does God describe Esau in these terms? What drives Esau to hate Israel so viscerally? Deuteronomy 32 succinctly illustrates God's attentive relationship with Israel, how He found her, cared for her, and formed her into a great nation. God's love for Israel undergirds why hatred and violence against Israel is such a terrible transgression. Indeed, God's relationship with Israel is a driving factor behind Edom's hot anger—it is essentially jealousy!
Zechariah 2:8 describes Israel as "the apple of His eye." If a person pokes another in the eye, it hurts the recipient terribly. Because Esau's perpetual enmity and violence against Israel are fingers in God's eye, He takes extreme umbrage. The Edomites, rebelling against God's will, picked on one whom God has chosen. This is sin, not only against Israel, but also against God. Rather than humbly bowing before His will that the older shall serve the younger, Edom has waged perpetual war against Jacob's descendants. In doing so, she has, in effect, declared war against God—a very serious sin.
Edom's Rap Sheet
The Edomites' record of brutality and aggression against Israel is found throughout Scripture. Earlier, we saw Esau's personal hatred and murderous vow against Jacob (Genesis 27:41), the Amalekites' sneaky attack against the Israelite stragglers in the wilderness (Exodus 17:8-16; Deuteronomy 25:17-19), Amalek's alliances with other nations against Israel (Judges 3:12-14; 6:1-6), and even Haman's attempt to exterminate the Jews in Persia (Esther 3:1, 8-11, 13). Beyond these, the Bible provides more examples of Edom's almost incessant hostility against Israel and Judah and against God's will.
Psalm 137 is a lament describing the Jews' grief and longing for Jerusalem while they were held captive in Babylon. They were too forlorn even to sing "the Lord's song in a foreign land" (verse 4). The later verses tell of the Edomites' role in the sack of Jerusalem, and the psalm ends with the Jews' hope that the Edomites will suffer as they had:
Remember, O Lord, against the sons of Edom, the day of Jerusalem, who said, "Raze it, raze it, to its very foundation!" O daughter of Babylon, who are to be destroyed, happy the one who repays you as you have served us! Happy the one who takes and dashes your little ones against the rock! (Psalm 137:7-9)
Evidently, in 586 BC, the Edomites had joined with Nebuchadnezzar's Babylonian forces against Judah and reveled in the Jews' defeat, committing atrocities against defenseless babies and youngsters.
Other Old Testament chroniclers add to the tally against Edom. God, through the prophet Ezekiel, relates the same account of fratricide, as well as what He has determined to be His just response to Edom's cruelty against His chosen people. These prophecies agree in full with Obadiah's:
»Because of what Edom did against the house of Judah by taking vengeance, and has greatly offended by avenging itself on them, therefore thus says the Lord God: "I will also stretch out My hand against Edom, cut off man and beast from it, and make it desolate from Teman; Dedan shall fall by the sword. I will lay My vengeance on Edom by the hand of My people Israel, that they may do in Edom according to My anger and according to My fury; and they shall know My vengeance," says the Lord God. (Ezekiel 25:12-14)
»"Because you have had an ancient hatred, and have shed the blood of the children of Israel by the power of the sword at the time of their calamity, when their iniquity came to an end, therefore, as I live," says the Lord God, "I will prepare you for blood, and blood shall pursue you. . . . Because you have said, 'These two nations and these two countries shall be mine, and we will possess them,' although the Lord was there, therefore, as I live," says the Lord God, "I will do according to your anger and according to the envy which you showed in your hatred against them. . . . The whole earth will rejoice when I make you desolate. As you rejoiced because the inheritance of the house of Israel was desolate, so I will do to you; you shall be desolate, O Mount Seir, as well as all of Edom—all of it! Then they shall know that I am the Lord." (Ezekiel 35:5-6, 10-11, 14-15)
»Surely I have spoken in My burning jealousy against the rest of the nations and against all Edom, who gave My land to themselves as a possession, with whole-hearted joy and spiteful minds, in order to plunder its open country. (Ezekiel 36:5)
Jeremiah also refers to Edomite perfidy in the same destruction of Jerusalem:
Rejoice and be glad, O daughter of Edom, you who dwell in the land of Uz! The cup shall also pass over to you and you shall become drunk and make yourself naked [see Jeremiah 25:15-38]. . . . He will punish your iniquity, O daughter of Edom; He will uncover your sins! (Lamentations 4:21-22)
Among these, the prophecy in Joel 3:19 is most interesting, since the prophet Joel lived in the latter half of the ninth century BC, 250 years before Jerusalem fell to the Neo-Babylonians! He writes, "And Edom [shall be] a desolate wilderness, because of violence against the people of Judah, for they have shed innocent blood in their land." Amos, writing in the mid-eighth century BC, accuses Edom of similar crimes:
For three transgressions of Edom, and for four, I will not turn away its punishment, because he pursued his brother with a sword, and cast off all pity; his anger tore perpetually, and he kept his wrath forever. But I will send a fire upon Teman, which shall devour the palaces of Bozrah. (Amos 1:11-12)
In the Bible, we have a comprehensive record of the violence that Edom has perpetrated against ancient Israel and Judah. The evidence from Obadiah reveals that the Edomites will continue their anti-Israel crime spree until God Himself intervenes in the last days. He takes great offense to these heinous acts, and thus He promises, they "shall be cut off forever" (Obadiah 10).