We’re in the fourth week of our sermon series “Who Are These Guys?”, looking at the Minor Prophets. Today we take a look at the book of Obadiah.
We said at the start of this series that the Minor Prophets are not minor because they’re less important. These are not the bush league prophets, the ones who could not quite make the majors. They’re called the Minor Prophets just because their books are shorter. And Obadiah is the shortest of them all.
In fact, you may have noticed in the bulletin that we don’t have a chapter number by our Bible reading. That’s because Obadiah is not divided into chapters. It’s so short it’s all one chapter. There are fewer than six hundred words in the book of Obadiah. In fact, the book of Obadiah is so short that in our Bible reading today we read the entire book of Obadiah. You heard all of Obadiah today.
The name “Obadiah” sounds odd to us today, but it was not odd in that time or in that place. When you read the Old Testament you see lots of references to people named Obadiah, especially in first and second Chronicles and first and second Kings. None of those Obadiahs is this Obadiah, though. They think this Obadiah lived in the sixth century B. C., but we really don’t know any more about him than that.
The words of Obadiah are directed to the country of Edom—in fact, in verse one it says, “This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom”. Edom is not the same as Israel or Judah, but they were related. Edom was founded by Esau, who of course was the brother of Jacob, who founded Israel and Judah. These nations were, well, not exactly allies, but they were not enemies, either. They may not have liked each other, but they accepted each other and tolerated each other.
At least, that was how it was supposed to be. And for quite a while, that’s how it was. But, ultimately, but Israel and Judah were taken over by other nations. Judah was taken over by Babylon. And when that happened, not only did Edom not come to Judah’s defense, Edom actually helped Babylon and participated in the looting of Jerusalem.
And so that’s what some of this stuff in Obadiah means. When it talks about “Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever” and when “foreigners entered his gate and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them”, this is what it’s talking about. Edom was not supposed to turn against Judah. And because it did, God pronounced judgment against it.
So what’s that mean for us? Does it mean anything for us at all? How does this short book, talking about God’s judgment against a nation for things it did thousands of years ago, a nation that does not even exist any more, how does that have any application for us today?
Well, as I was looking at this and thinking about it, the thing that jumped out at me was a part of the fifteenth verse. It says, “the day of the Lord is near…As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”
When we talk about “the day of the Lord”, of course, we’re talking about God’s judgment. And you know, that whole idea of God’s judgment is one that can make us really uncomfortable. We don’t like to talk about it much. We like to talk about God’s love. We like to talk about God’s grace. We like to talk about God’s mercy. And don’t get me wrong, I like to talk about all that stuff, too. And of course, those things are all true. God is love. God is gracious. God is merciful. It’s not wrong to talk about that stuff.
But the thing is that if that’s all we say about God, we’re not giving a complete picture, are we? It comes back, again, to what we’ve said a couple of times already in these messages, which is that we cannot play God for a fool. If we just talk about God’s love and grace and mercy and don’t include God’s judgment, we’re saying we can do whatever we want to without any consequences, because God will forgive us and love us anyway. And the Bible makes clear that that’s not how it works.
But here’s the part that really sticks out to me. “As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”
Now don’t take that the wrong way. We’re not talking about a works-based salvation. We’ve said many times that our salvation comes from our faith in Jesus Christ, not from our works. I still believe that and I think the Bible makes that clear. But still, we need to deal with this other thought. “As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.”
And as I thought about that, what it reminded me of is what we say in the Lord’s Prayer. “Forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who trespass against us.” To me, those are two sides of the same thing. God forgives us in the same way that we forgive us. God judges us in the same way we judge others. God treats us in the same way we treat others. “As you have done, it will be done to you.”
And sometimes, that thought can make us even more uncomfortable. Because I suspect most of us, maybe all of us, have people in our lives that we have not forgiven. Maybe they’re in our lives now or maybe they were in our lives in the past, but they’re still there, and we have not forgiven them. And I suspect most of us, maybe all of us, have passed judgment on other people. And I’m pretty sure that most of us, maybe all of us, have had times when we have not treated others the way we should have. And so, when we think about “as you have done, it will be done to you”, well, we don’t like that idea very much.
We’ve all heard the Golden Rule, right? “Do to others as you would have others do to you.” You know, we hear that, and we agree with it. We think, “how nice. What a nice thought. That’s really nice.” But the Golden Rule is not just nice. It’s not just a pleasant-sounding saying. The Golden Rule came from Jesus. The Golden Rule is the reality of the situation. And God, speaking through Obadiah, told the people of Edom that they were about to meet that the reality of the situation face to face.
And someday, the reality of the situation will meet each one of us face to face, too. And what that tells us is that we need to take a look at ourselves. We need to take a look at everything about our lives—our deeds, our words, our attitudes. If we’re going to rely on God’s love and God’s grace and God’s mercy, then in our lives on earth, we need to show love and grace and mercy to others.
We cannot do that as perfectly as God can, of course. I know that. God knows that, too. But we should not use that as an excuse, either. We may not be able to show perfect love, but we should show love as well as we can. We may not be able to give perfect forgiveness, but we need to give as much forgiveness as we can. We may not be able to show perfect mercy, but we need to show as much mercy as we can.
Obadiah’s words were a judgment on Edom. But one of the reasons they’re in the Bible is as a warning for us. It’s a warning for us to examine the way we live our lives. And when we do that we need to think of it in these terms: What if God was to love to the same extent that we love other people? What if God was to forgive us only to the extent we forgive other people? What if God was merciful to us only to the extent we’re merciful to others? Where would we be? Would we be comfortable with that? Of would we be in big trouble?
God does not expect us to be perfect, but God knows what’s in our hearts. God know whether we’re trying or not. God knows whether we’re doing our best to get things right or whether we’re just doing whatever we want to and thinking God will forgive us and love us anyway.
Obadiah told the people of Edom the reality of the situation: “As you have done, it will be done to you.” Jesus told us the reality of the situation: “Do to others as you would have others do to you.”
That’s the reality of the situation. That’s the way it works. If we remember that, we’ll be able to live our lives in a way that serves God a lot better. And not only that, we’ll be a lot closer to being the people God wants us to be.