“And saviors shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau, and the Kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (Obadiah 21).
The prophecy of Obadiah is admittedly a strange page in the Old Testament. One could almost imagine it being said that surely there is no message in it for us, and for our times. Nevertheless it is true that Isadore said of this prophecy in his book on the Allegories of the Sacred Scriptures: “Among all the prophets, he is the briefest in number of words; in the grace of mysteries he is their equal.”
The book really consists of one set message. The identity of the prophet and the historic setting are of minor importance. It is impossible to say with any definiteness who Obadiah was. We meet the name in other places in Scripture, but we cannot identify him. Neither can the actual hour of his prophesying be fixed. Therefore we do not pause with these minor matters, but give attention to the message itself.
The peculiar quality of the book is that in it the antagonism between Jacob and Esau is brought into clearer view than in any other of the prophetic writings. If we look at the first eight verses we shall find that much that Obadiah is recorded as saying is found in the prophecy of Jeremiah, which may mean that Obadiah was familiar with Jeremiah’s prophecy, or that Jeremiah was familiar with Obadiah’s prophecy.
This antagonism is patent throughout the Bible in definite historic statement and in continuous suggestion. In Genesis we read that “the children struggled within her.” The fact thus stated created a premonition on the part of Rebekah which was most significant as it filled her with fear. A statement with which we are all familiar, “Jacob have I loved, Esau have I hated,” seems to have given pause to very many thoughtful people. Let it at once be said that God’s attitude did not create that in Jacob which He loved, or that in Esau which He hated. These men did not become what they were because God loved or hated. Rather it is true that God’s love or hatred resulted from what they were, and what their character was. The antagonism was always recognized in the Old Testament, and emerges again in the New Testament, and is finally revealed in an almost startling way in two outstanding personalities, those of Jesus and Herod. We must remember that Herod was an Edomite, and Jesus according to the flesh was a descendant of Jacob. It is a very arresting and appalling fact that Jesus never spoke to Herod. He once sent him a stinging message, asserting His own authority, and the definiteness of His antipathy, dismissing him with profound contempt.
In this prophecy of Obadiah the background is Jacob. He is seen suffering, and suffering by the chastening hand of God; while in the foreground Esau is seen gloating over the suffering of Jacob, adding to his trouble; and God is seen dealing with both.
The supreme value of the revelation of Edom is that of concrete godlessness. We are far away from the days of Jacob and Esau but the principles revealed in Jacob and Esau are still appearing, and indeed were never more manifest in human history than they are today. The two ideals, the two conceptions, the two methods of life are in the world still.
In this prophecy we have brought before us first of all, and principally, an unveiling of the spirit of Esau, and the meaning of Edom. The prophet was dealing with these things as they were manifested at the time, not in the individual men, but in the races descended from them.
What, then, is the revelation that we have here of Esau and Edom? It is a terrible picture of cruelty and violence. Edom is here seen watching, from her heights of self satisfaction, the suffering of the nation of Israel as it was passing through the chastisements of God. Edom is revealed as looking on, and presently crossing the border line, and acting so as to add to the suffering of Jacob.
That, however, is not the beginning of the revelation. What is the profound wrong which is revealed? If we say, as we have said, that it was that of godlessness, let us remember that there was something prior to that, and causing it. It is found in the words, “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee.” Pride of heart expressed itself in carelessness about God. There are some scholars who hold that the Edomites not only did not acknowledge God, but that they had no gods. Other nations had gods, but were idolaters. The Edomites seem to have done away with any reference to God or to gods in any form. “The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee.” That is to say, they did not feel that God was a necessity in any sense.
When we come into the New Testament we encounter that tremendous phrase describing Esau, and applicable to all his descendants, and the attitude of life which he represented, “that profane person Esau.” Profane here does not refer to careless or lewd speech. It means, quite literally, against the Temple. The profane person is one who has no spiritual conception, whose life is that of pure materialism. The man who says, I do not want God; I am independent of God; that is pride of heart.
If that conception does not shock us it is because in our thinking today we have come to lay emphasis on certain sins, and shudder when we hear of them, failing to recognize that underlying all sin there is this root sin, the pride of heart that says this life is sufficient in itself, without any relationship to God.
That pride expressed itself in Edom as she climbed to the height of rocky fastnesses and said, “Who shall bring me down?” Mounting high as the eagle, making her nest among the stars, she was guilty of self deification. The whole thing is illustrated by the fact of the case at the time of this prophecy. The Edomites were living in a rocky district which we have now come to call Petra, and they felt that their position was absolutely invincible. Moreover, it was a long time before anyone was able to break through their fastnesses and overcome them. They were the very embodiment then of practical defiant godlessness, expressing itself in the deification of self, and the conviction that self was sufficient, and that the fastnesses which it had made for its own protection were enough to protect it against all opposition.
We now inquire how was that pride of heart manifested? The one sin that is named as resulting from it was that of violence, cruelty, hardness of heart, opposition to everything that Jacob represented. It manifested itself first in passive cruelty. In the day of disaster they looked, and the day of destruction they rejoiced in. In the day of distress they vaunted themselves, and spoke proudly. Presently that which was passive became active. In the actual day of calamity they entered the gate, they looked upon the affliction, they robbed Jacob of his substance, and they cut off his escape when he endeavored to escape, and this is the expression of an attitude toward man which is the outcome of an attitude toward God. When God is ignored, violence is done to our fellow men.
The question arises: How will this end? And it was in order to answer this, probably, that the prophet uttered his message. In that particular hour Jacob is revealed as depressed, suffering not only as the result of the chastisements of God, but from the brutal and violent opposition of Edom. Jacob heard that insolent cry of Edom, “Who shall bring me down?” and it seemed that the challenge had no answer, that Edom was always to flourish, that godlessness must perpetually remain in the ascendant. To that the reply is given in the words of Jehovah, “I will bring thee down.” I will “destroy the wise men.” I will dismay the “mighty men.”
The prophet then shows that such action will be through the cooperation of events. The message to Edom was that “the men of thy confederacy” will be against you. “The men that were at peace with thee, that is under the covenant, will break their covenant. The men that are eating thy bread will become thine enemies. Thus, by cooperation of events under the government of God, Edom is to be brought down from her rocky fastnesses, and from her nest among the stars; and this issue will be what we sometime speak of as poetic justice. “As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee.” Then we come to the last word which is certainly an arresting and remarkable one. “Saviors shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the Kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”
That final sentence seems as though it were an outburst from the depths of the heart, as the result of profound conviction, “The Kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” The statement that there shall be saviors on the mount of Zion is open to two interpretations. Much depends upon the meaning of the word “judge.” “Saviors shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau.” The prime meaning of this word judge is that of government in righteousness. Of course it often refers to that action of government which is punishment. To me at least there ever seems to shine in the statement of the Prophet hope even for Esau, hope even for the godless; “saviors” on mount Zion, the hill of God, and there, if Esau so will, a judgment that deals with everything that is wrong, and sets it right, until at last “the kingdom shall be Jehovah’s.”
This last sentence in the prophecy is in harmony with all the prophetic writings. It cannot be too often emphasized that no Hebrew prophet ended on a note of pessimism. These men saw the gloom and the darkness, saw the iniquity and the godlessness, but they saw beyond. None of them saw everything ended in gloom and darkness and godlessness. They looked through, and this Prophet in his brief message, in which he has shown us clearly the antagonism between godlessness and Godliness, utters as his last word: “The Kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” He saw beyond the present conflict, beyond the suffering of Jacob, and the taunting of Edom, and the judgment that must inevitably come upon Edom, an hour in which all these things should end, and the Kingdom should be Jehovah’s.
This is the declaration that we need to hear and heed today. Perhaps godlessness was never more rampant and blatant than it is in this hour. The old days of infidel attack upon the Christian religion have largely passed away – and yet there never was a day when practical godlessness was more rampant than it is now. Men are saying in effect: We do not need God. We have made our nest among the stars.
Who will bring us down? Men are acting as independent of God, and therefore without prayer. They have no vision of the unseen, and no spiritual conception.
Yet in this very hour when men are taking up this attitude, all their confederacies and their self sufficiency are working together towards the bringing of them down from the position of pride, that they may stand face to face with reality.
In spite of all these things, we affirm with Obadiah our conviction that “the Kingdom shall be Jehovah’s.” We are sure of it first because it is His today. He is reigning. The world has never escaped from the grasp or the grip of the government of God. There are so many things that we cannot understand today, but the one absolute certainty is that all these things are under the government of God. The fact remains, then, that the Kingdom shall be His because in this sense it is already His.
It is being made His in the full sense of human realization, because of His proclaimed Word and Gospel.
Though a wide compass round be fetched,
That what began best, can’t end worst.
“The Kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”
The question arises as to where we stand in relation to this fact? Are we with Jacob or with Esau? Jacob was not a very praiseworthy person, but he represents us, and that is why he stands out so clearly, blundering, failing, foolish, but always believing in God even in the hours of his folly when he did stupid things. God was patient with him because of that fact, gave him a vision when he was wandering from his home through his own duplicity, and met him on his way back, crippling him in order to make him.
But am I with Esau, the profane person against the Temple, having no vision of the unseen, no sense of the spiritual, satisfied in rocky fastnesses as I imagine, and crying out, “Who will bring me down?” If that is where I live, I must remember first that an alternative is before me. God is waiting, and He has provided a Savior. The profane can be made sacred in the gracious economy of God. The final word, however, the only word with which to close this meditation, is the word of the Prophet, with its vastness of meaning, and its application to individual life. “The Kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”