Obadiah: The Penalty of Prejudice

Obadiah 10-21

In 1897 Wilhelm Marr coined the term “anti-Semitism” to explain the European prejudice and persecution against the Jew. Such bigotry was not new; it has stalked the Jew from the brickyards of Egypt to the death camps of Europe. Their history leaves a trail of blood worldwide as Jews have been hounded, harassed, humiliated, and humbled wherever they have traveled.

Edom was no exception. She is a classic example of how nations have tried to destroy the Jew for millennia. Although a distant relative of Israel, her deep-seated prejudice motivated the Edomites to aid Babylon in Judah’s destruction. Prejudice, like pride, is a stench in God’s nostrils. He will not allow Edom to violate His people without judging her actions. In this section, Obadiah described the vengeance God poured upon Edom for her violence toward Judah.

Violence on Jacob

There were two reasons for God’s judgment on Judah. The one was pride (v. 3-5) and the other perpetual persecution described as “violence against thy brother, Jacob” (v. 10). Israel is specifically called “Jacob” in order to show Israel’s relationship with the Edomites who were Esau’s descendants (Gen. 25:24-26). Although Jacob and Esau had a history of troubled relations, Israel was commanded not to “abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother” (Dt. 23:7).

Esau and Jacob were twin brothers (Gen. 25:21-26). Although Esau was the eldest, Jacob, by election, would receive both the birthright (as payment for a bowl of red pottage, Gen. 25:29-34) and the blessing (through deceiving his father Isaac, Gen. 27:22-29, 33-37).

Esau’s hatred for Jacob was so bitter that he purposed to kill him after Isaac’s death (Gen. 27:41).

Jacob fled to Haran where he resided with Laban for the next 20 years (Gen. 27:42-31:55). When Jacob returned to the land of Canaan, Esau met him with 400 men (Gen. 32:3ff). Jacob sent gifts to Esau in order to appease his anger, but Esau met him with open arms in brotherly friendship, dismissing the vindictive spirit shown years earlier. Esau even invited Jacob to dwell with him in Seir, but he declined the offer. This reconciliation between the two brothers was real, for there seemed to be no animosity when the brothers buried Isaac their father (Gen. 35:29).

Esau’s descendants settled in Mount Seir and became known as the Edomites. Later they were to dominate the whole area (Dt. 2:4, 12, 22).

Over the centuries, the Edomites developed a deep-seated hatred for the Israelites. This hatred first erupted when they refused to allow Israel passage through their land during her pilgrimage to Canaan (Num. 20:14-21; 21:4; Jud. 11:17-18). Hostility dominated the relationship between the two peoples, reaching its climax when Edom abetted the Babylonians in their destruction of Judah.

The writer of Hebrews described Esau as a “profane [ungodly] person” (Heb. 12:16). It was this character flaw that explained Esau’s disinterest in the things of God. Esau’s priorities were distorted; he despised his spiritual heritage, choosing to live on the baser level of worldly appetites, thereby displeasing God and his parents.

Esau typified many people who give little concern for the spiritual privileges set before them. They sell or sacrifice their godly heritage for worldly opportunities to gratify the flesh. Often they marry outside the faith, as did Esau, solidifying their ungodly relationship. They may, in time, turn upon their godly relatives and persecute them as Edom did to Israel.

The result of Edam’s hostility towards Jacob was twofold. First, “shame shall cover” (v. 10) them. The nation, filled with great “pride” (v. 3), would be covered with great shame. Second, Edom would be “cut off forever” (v. 10) as a people. This eventually took place, as history has recorded.

Edom’s sin was revealed when Israel was taken captive. The phrase “in the day” (v. 11) is used eight times to pinpoint a specific incident when Edom showed unusual cruelty toward Jacob. It was “in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered into his gates and cast lots upon Jerusalem” (v. 11); that is, a foreign power carried away the wealth of Jacob, not her army.

Scholars debate exactly which invasion is being referred to in this passage. There are at least four incidences mentioned in Scripture when Edom could have aided in the plundering of Judah and Jerusalem: First, when the Philistines and Arabians attacked King Jehoram around 853 B.C. (2 Chr. 21:8, 16-17); second, during the reign of Joash when the Syrians invaded Judah and carried spoil to Damascus (2 Chr. 24:23-24); third, during the reign of Ahaz when Edom attacked Judah and carried away captives around 735 B.C. (2 Chr. 28:16-21); or fourth, during the reign of Zedekiah in 586 B.C. when the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem (2 Chr. 36:11-21; Ps. 137:7). Most likely this latter invasion is being referred to in the text.

Although Edom was not confederated with Judah’s enemies, they acted “as one of them” (v. 11) by aiding in the nation’s destruction. Edom’s offense is expressed in a number of ways. First, they looked upon Judah as a stranger or stood aloof from the people in their time of calamity (v. 12). Second, they rejoiced over Judah’s destruction (v. 12). Third, they spoke proudly or mockingly boasted of Judah’s distress (v. 12). Fourth, they entered Jerusalem for the purpose of violating the people (v. 13). Fifth, they gloated over Judah’s calamity (v. 13). Sixth, they robbed Judah in her time of crisis, laying “hands on their substance” (v. 13). Seventh, they cut off the escape routes to the Judean desert making flight from persecution impossible (v. 14). Eighth, they seized Jews and delivered them into their enemies’ hands (v. 14).

In verses 12 through 14 the phrase, “Thou shouldest not” is to be translated “do not!” God is saying, Edom, in view of your past oppression of Judah, I am warning you to look not, speak not, enter not, and stand not against my people Jacob. Notice the downward progression of Edom’s hatred for Jacob. They looked, gloated, mocked, and then acted against Judah. The three expressions “in the day of their destruction…calamity…distress” (vv. 12-14) heighten the offense of Edom against Judah.

There is no depth of human suffering greater than that of the Jew. The horrors of anti-Semitism stain the pages of Asian and European history for over 3,500 years. Jews were made to live in ghettos, wear badges, stars, capes, pointed hats, and beards to identify them within the countries in which they lived. From the Crusaders to the Cossacks, their villages were victimized and vandalized. They were blamed for the Black Death in Europe (1348-1350), blood libels for their Passovers, and clandestine attempts to dominate the world politically and financially. They were expelled from Rome, Russia, France, England, Spain, Germany, and Austria at a moment’s notice, leaving with only the clothes on their backs, left to wander from country to country seeking a secure place to reside.

In 1492 they faced the Spanish Inquisition. They were made to convert to Christianity or suffer torture, expulsion from Spain, or being burned at the stake and in their synagogues. If all this were not enough, Jews had to face the extermination camps of Nazi Germany where 6,000,000 died in the Holocaust.

And if you think that anti-Semitism has faded into the past within modern Europe or North and South America, guess again. M. R. Wilson put it very succinctly when he wrote, “At present anti-Semitism persists wherever Jews are found. Jews of Russia and France have been especially oppressed. In European countries and in the United States recent anti-Semitic incidents have included synagogue smearing and bombing, desecration of gravestones, vicious graffiti, Nazi pamphlets, and grotesque Jewish stereotypes in the press. At other times the so-called polite variety of anti-Semitism is found, namely discrimination and/or antipathy displayed toward Jews in the social, educational and economic realms.”‘

Vengeance of Jehovah

With the words, “For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations” (v. 15), the prophet announced God’s vengeance upon Judah’s enemies. The phrase “day of the LORD” is used in a variety of ways throughout Scripture. First, it is used to express a specific time of God’s judgment upon Israel and Judah. Second, it has reference to God’s decisive judgment of Israel’s  enemies as seen against Edom. Third, it speaks of God’s universal judgment against all ungodly nations during the Great Tribulation. Fourth, it refers to a long time period, from the Rapture of the Church to the eternal state, which includes both judgment and blessing.

God’s justice against Edom is fair, “As thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee” (v. 15). Here is the “eye for eye” principle found in the law of God (Ex. 21:24; Dt. 19:21). Edom is to reap exactly what she sowed against Israel. “Thy reward shall return upon thine own head” (v. 15), said the Lord.

Jesus revealed the same principle in the New Testament for those who pass condemning judgment upon others. He said, “Judge not, that ye be not judged. For with what judgement ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye measure, it shall be measured to you again” (Mt. 7:1-2).

Jesus is not saying judgment should never be made but that hypocritical judgments are to be avoided. Believers are to be careful not to judge in a condemning way but cautiously and constructively. Too often the one judging sees a “mote” (speck of sawdust) in a brother’s eye, when he has a “beam” (large log) in his own eye (Mt. 7:3). Such judging is hypocritical and will receive the same measure of judgment in return.

After the destruction of Jerusalem, the Edomites desecrated God’s “holy mountain” (v. 16). They did this by indulging in drunken revelry upon the sacred premises of the Temple while the Babylonians carried Jews into captivity.

Edom’s drunken desecration is used to portray how “all the nations” who persecute Israel are to continually drink in God’s judgment (v. 16). They will not only drink His judgment but swallow down (v. 16) or partake of the whole cup, dregs and all.

The nations that persecute Israel will, like Edom, be totally destroyed at Christ’s second coming (Rev. 19:15, 17-18, 21), and “they shall be as though they had not been” (v. 16). The nations of Edom, Assyria, and Babylon experienced such devastating judgment from God that they ceased to exist.

Victory for Jacob

Although Jacob was destroyed and divested of all its holdings, it will experience “deliverance” (v. 17). The word “deliverance” is better translated “those who escape,” or “a remnant who are saved.” There will be survivors from “Mount Zion” (v. 17), or Jerusalem’s destruction, whereas Mount Sier (Edom) will be utterly destroyed.

Although these prophecies were fulfilled in the past, they are referring to a future day when God will bless Israel and judge her enemies.

After Christ returns to set up His kingdom, Israel will be characterized by “holiness” (v. 17; Zech. 14:20-21). In that day the “house of Jacob shall possess their possessions” (v. 17); that is, possess all the land promised in the Abrahamic Covenant (Gen. 15:18-21) as a unified people (Ezek. 37:15- 23).

The remnant who survive out of the “house of Jacob…and the house of Joseph” (v. 18) will be reunited (Isa. 11:11-12; Jer. 3:18) against “Esau” (v. 18) and devour him as a flame devours dried stubble. This will be fulfilled at Christ’s second coming (Zech. 12:6). The certainty of this prophecy is assured, “for the LORD hath spoken it” (v. 18).

During the kingdom age, Israel will re-occupy various areas promised to them in the Abrahamic Covenant. Those living in “the Negev [southern Judea] shall possess the mount of Esau” (v. 19) or Edom (vv. 8, 21). Those living in “the Shephelah” (the plains of northwest Israel) will move into the “Philistine” area (v. 19) along the Mediterranean coast­ line. Others will possess the “fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria” (v. 19). This is the central portion of Israel. “Benjamin shall possess Gilead” (v. 19) which will extend her borders east of the Jordan River where Reuben, Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh once occupied.

The scattered remnant of Israel, called “the captives of Israel” (v. 20), will be liberated and take over the areas formerly occupied by the Canaanites. Their holdings will reach into the area of “Zarephath” (v. 20) near Sidon on the sea coast.

The captive remnant from Jerusalem described as “in Sepharad” (v. 20) is to possess various cities in the Negev. The location of Sepharad is difficult to identify since it is not mentioned elsewhere in the Bible. The Assyrian, Sargon II, linked Sepharad with an area of southwest Media where he was engaged in war. Others identify it as Sardis, the capital of Lydia in Asia Minor. A Jewish writing, Targum Jonathan, interpreted Sepharad as Spain, thus Spanish Jews take the name Sephardim. Although the actual area referred to is unknown, the point of the passage is clear. Restored Jews will travel great distances to reoccupy the land of Israel after the Lord’s return (Ezek. 47:13-48:29).

In the day of Israel’s return to the land, God will provide “saviors…on Mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau” (v. 21). Christ, who is the Savior, will provide judges to govern the people who occupy Edom (cf. vv. 8, 19).

Obadiah closed his book with the messianic hope, “and the kingdom shall be the LORD’S” (v. 21). This has been the Jewish hope for centuries. They have watched and waited for Messiah to come, deliver them from worldwide persecution, secure the land of Israel for the people, bring world peace, and rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. God has assured the Jew through Scripture that Messiah will fulfill His promise.

The Lord gave a stern warning, both corporately and individually, to those, like Edom, who are prejudiced toward the Jew. He said to Abraham concerning him and his seed, “I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee” (Gen. 12:3). This has been fulfilled in biblical and secular history.

Friend, we, as well as nations, must examine our attitude toward the Jew. If prejudice or hatred exists in our hearts, we must deal with it or eventually suffer the penalty of our prejudice. Let us be careful to learn from history that God means what He says concerning those who try to destroy the Jew.

  1. M. R. Wilson, “Anti-Semitism,” Evangelical Dictionary of Theology (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House), p. 61.

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