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‘The vision of Obadiah.’
I. Nothing is certainly known about the author of this brief prophecy.—It forms the shortest separate book in the Old Testament, and it is nowhere quoted or referred to in the New. The first nine verses resemble Jeremiah 49:7-22 so closely and curiously that it appears as if one of the prophets must have borrowed from the other,—or, perhaps, both from some common source. The Book of Obadiah probably belongs to the period of the exile in Babylon. It is occupied almost entirely with a message of doom denounced upon Edom. For long generations the fierce children of Esau had made their home in the rocky fastnesses of Mount Seir,—whose red sandstone cliffs and chasms lie south of the Dead Sea, culminating in the summit of Mount Hor. Although the villages in this highland region resemble nests of wild birds, yet its terraces and gorges are well watered and fertile, and the Edomite ruled securely in this rich fortress-land. ‘Dweller in the clefts of the rock, the height is his habitation, that saith in his heart “Who shall bring me down to earth?” ’
II. The ancient, traditional rivalry between Esau and Israel lasted on between their children through a thousand years.—And when Jerusalem was destroyed and carried captive into Babylon, the crafty Edomite chiefs allied themselves with the enemy of Judea. They exulted when the holy city fell in ruins ( Psalms 137:7). They cut off the escape of her fugitives, and mocked at her overthrow. The Jews never forgot or forgave this savage insolence of their kinsfolk. A fiery hatred of Edom smoulders through the prophets, and bursts into flame in this Book of Obadiah. Even the Evangelical prophet foresees the Divine Avenger clad in raiment which is deep dyed in Idumean blood ( Isaiah 63:1-4). And although we dare not call such a spirit the spirit of Christ, yet from one point of view these stern prophetic cries have an eternal meaning. They represent God’s abiding ‘malediction on a sin common alike to East and West, to churches, kingdoms, and individuals—the sin most difficult to be forgiven—the desertion of kinsmen by kinsmen, of friends by friends—the readiness to take advantage of the weaker side, hounding on the victorious party—“standing on the other side” on the day of sorest need.’
III. Israel’s bitter wrath against Edom never died out.—Herod the Great was doubly hated by patriotic Jews because of his Idumean blood. The rabbis make Edom into a kind of synonym for the worse enemies of Judaism. They took Edom as a type and emblem of Rome. They imagined ‘that Cæsar and Titus were Edomites by descent, and that the soul of Esau still lingered in the Christian persecutors of the race of Israel.’ Without endorsing such fantastic interpretations, we shall read a deep, true lesson for ourselves from Obadiah’s prophecy, if we take Edom to represent that selfish materialism which still remains the crafty and malignant adversary of the spiritual Church of God. Every good cause on earth—the cause of justice, or of liberty, or of temperance, or of purity, or of peace—has to fight against the same kind of foe,—just as cynical and insolent as Edom of old, and like Edom also, embattled and entrenched in some earthly vantage-ground of wealth and vested interest. There are institutions and monopolies and privileges mighty in our own land to-day, which, as we know full well, work poverty and misery and mischief among our brothers and sisters. When we feel ourselves mocked by those hostile powers it is good to remember that on each one of them God has written the curse of Edom. They are doomed already. ‘And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.’
IV. It will be not less true if we identify Edom in a spiritual sense with ‘the world.’—Every ardent Christian is engaged in deadly, irreconcilable warfare with that general assembly and church of the unfaithful. Leopardi has described it as ‘the praiser and upholder of all feigned virtues, the disparager and persecutor of all true ones; the derider of every exalted sentiment, provided it be but genuine, and of every tender affection, if such be but deep and heartfelt; that slave of the strong, that tyrant of the weak, that hater of the unfortunate, which Jesus Christ was the first to designate as “the world.” ’ When we know ourselves daunted and dismayed by the hateful conspiracy of evil prejudices and conventions, we take courage from the Easter certainty, that ‘the world’ is after all a conquered foe. He Who bids us be of good cheer goes on to say, ‘I have overcome the world’; and we have only to gather up the fruits of His eternal victory.
‘It may seem a far cry to this long-since extirpated tribe in the rocky clefts above the Jordan, and yet the worldling temper lives and scorns and exults in the day of the Church’s sorrow now as then. It is the temper revealed in Herod, “that fox,” as Jesus called him, with his scorn of Christ; and in Herodias, with her merciless revenge against John the Baptist. That temper is ever with us. Mr. Howells, the shrewd American observer, tells us in his London Films that as he stands at Hyde Park corner he marks the faces of those who drive out and in. The look on their faces is not simply authoritative, as all ruling races show. It is the look of the authorised. It displays openly a sense of security, through the wealth which has been safely invested, a self-sufficiency, which comes of proud independence of others, and, above all, a remorseless indifference to the needs and sorrows of others. That is the Edomite temper. Behind it there is a sheer unbelief in God, a heart-mockery of the ideals of Christ, a self-assertion against all the claims of religion which makes the word “gospel” a byword and jest. They are the people; for them all else exists; no one will pull them down from their seat. The calamities of a Church, its spoliation, the hardships of its preachers, the anguish of its people, are a theme for their scorn. Now and again one meets this temper in some successful man of the world, whose business has eaten up his humility and his reverence. As often it appears in some man of letters of a cheap and transient popularity. No man of Thackeray’s insight or of Matthew Arnold’s sympathy could ever play the part of the Edomite, however they might rebuke cant and expose unreality. But the Edomites of literature sit on high, and in their pride the “little ones” of Christ are their scorn.’
POSSESSING OUR POSSESSIONS
‘The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.’
As long as Edom invaded and annoyed the house of Jacob the people were unable to possess their possessions in peace. But its dominion was to be ended, and then there would be no cloud in the sky, no barrier to their uninterrupted joy.
I. There are many instances of people not possessing their possesions.—Such are those who put their plate and valuables into furniture depositories, and for years leave them to neglect; who have shelves of unread, uncut books; who do not realise that coal and iron mines lie under their estates; who never enjoy the wealth of love and tenderness in their friends’ hearts; and refuse to avail themselves of resources which are well within their reach.
II. But too many of God’s people are like this.—The Father has caused all His fullness to reside in the nature of Jesus; He hath given us all things that pertain unto life and godliness in Him; He hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in Christ Jesus; in our Saviour are treasures of wisdom, of purity, of prevailing power, of love and patience. The Divine Merchantman has come to us to give us gold tried in the fire, white raiment, and eyesalve. But we go blundering on in our own selfish, sinful, faltering way. We do not possess our possessions. We do not call into practical use the boundless reinforcements awaiting us, at every hour, within the tiniest beckoning of our faith. We are like the manufacturer who refuses to use the steam-power, though it is laid on into the mill; or the householder who refuses to touch the button of the electric light in his house.
(1) ‘Some of us have received the crowning gift of God; but we have not fully received it. That is a striking passage in Obadiah: “The house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.” What a great deal belongs to us that we do not possess! It lies beyond us untouched, unseen, unrealised; estates that we do not tread, gold that we do not reckon, dainties that we do not taste. We have a great inheritance in Christ; but we do not possess our possessions. The infinite light, grace, and energy which are really ours are most imperfectly actualised in our experience. This poor experience is not the measure of the gift of Christ. We possess the dust of gold rather than the gold itself, a few rose-leaves rather than the garden, the grape gleanings rather than the vintage. Let us afresh seek to possess the fullness of the blessing Christ came to bestow. He means to make us unutterably peaceful and pure; and we ought not to be satisfied with less. Oh, for an experience that will correspond with the “unspeakable gift”! We are ready enough to grasp the lesser gifts of time and sense; let not these abate our desire for the superlative blessings “in heavenly places in Jesus Christ.” ’
(2) ‘Happy is the inhabitant of Zion, even in the most afflicted times! There alone is deliverance from the wrath to come, and from every evil; there holiness is communicated and resides: and while the Lord purifies His redeemed … He both marks them out as His own, and prepares them to possess their purchased inheritance. His people will also be victorious, and as a flame to consume their enemies: and they shall inherit all things, whilst others shall lose even what they seemed to have. Blessed be God, for the Divine Saviour and Judge on Mount Zion, and for those whom He sends forth as His ministers, to bring sinners to partake of His salvation!’
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Nisbet, James. "Commentary on Obadiah 1". The Church Pulpit Commentary. https://www.studylight.org/
the Second Week of Advent