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The Vision of Obadiah
A voice thundering at midnight is the voice of Obadiah. It was the voice of a stranger. His age, his country, his parents, his cradle, his grave, are all unknown. Yet, his was a prophet's voice, deep as the boom of thunder, and penetrating as the lightning, it fell upon the fortressed hosts of Idumea, and destruction was in every shivering note. He had been standing on some high pinnacle, on which he heard "a rumour from the Lord"; and with the fidelity of incorruptible righteousness he breathed that fiery rumour across the doomed nation, the sword was bared against Edom, and whoso sought to turn it aside was cleft by the gleaming blade.
The prophecy is short, but terrible in its fulness. It is a single shout, but the cry rends the rocks of Edom; it is one glance of anger, but all lightnings are in that one flash; it is a single blow, but the blow is from the fist of God. Let us surround the prophet, and hear him repeating the syllables which dropped from divine lips on to his own. It is not a text to be marshalled under cumulative heads. Who could pile a thunderstorm into propositions? Who could tamely syllogise on the slopes of a bursting volcano? Who thinks of his square and compasses when the foundations of the earth are quaking? We run into this storm of annihilating anger, and try to catch one view of indignant Omnipotence, that we may know how to approach him in the gentler aspects of Fatherhood.
"We have heard a rumour from the Lord, and an ambassador is sent among the heathen" ( Oba 1:1 ).
The nations are in the hands of God. From his throne he notes every relationship conceived by human wisdom and sealed by human covenant. We cannot build out God. He can summon other nations, and put this war-cry into their mouth, "Arise ye, and let us go up against her in battle." In the shoutings of these Biblical battles, we often hear but the echoes of the Eternal voice. God sometimes argued with words of wisdom and persuasive entreaty, and sometimes with sword and spear and bow; but whether in this way or in that, the sublime truth written on the fronts of history is, that underlying everything there is a divine hand, and far above everything is an unslumbering eye. God is the only true defence of nations. If he has set his purpose on our ruin, he can put force enough into the spoiler's muscle to crumple up our navy, and show the spoiler how to melt our piled iron that it may be poured out like water! To some it will sound like a fool's philosophy when we declare that altars are the mightiest bulwarks, righteousness is the invincible panoply, and reverence the holy atmosphere which cannot be rent by the shouts of war. Do not sneer at the idea. When you have put it to the test, and found it fallacious, then reduce it to ashes by the flames of mockery.
"Behold, I have made thee small among the heathen: thou art greatly despised" ( Oba 1:2 ).
God himself describes all the circles into which creation is divided. We have our own compasses, but their lines are written on the sand, and the hissing wave dances upon them in scorn, and behold they cannot be found! Who was it that determined that the daisy should for ever look up at the oak, without being able to advance one cubit towards its proud height? Who was it that bade the lark come so high, and the eagle so much higher towards the domes of light? Who established the unalterable proportions and wrote the unchanging laws of nature? Who made one star differ from another star in glory? It is he who also makes one nation small and another great; who makes Edom little among the heathen, and turns on Idumea the scorn of its best allies. Compared with the regal magnificence, the dazzling pomp, the ocean-like force of Assyria, and Egypt, and Chaldea, the Idumeans were small and contemptible; and while they were attempting to account for their position on second causes, God answered their enigma by saying, "I have made thee small among the heathen." Profound and precious is the lesson conveyed by such an utterance. The meaning of it is intended for every man. He is a madman who makes his calculations without God. There is a sense, and a far-reaching one, in which every pauper's rags and every prince's purple are the gifts of God. We should save ourselves many a groan if we pondered this arrangement more.
"The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground? Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord" ( Oba 1:3-4 ).
Here is God hissing scornfully at the false securities of the race. All the southern part of Palestine was full of caverns hewn out of the rocks, and the people hastened for safety to these subterraneous dwellings. As protection against human power, those fastnesses might be considered impenetrable; but as defences against an avenging heaven, what were they but as a trembling coverlet of withered leaves! The Idumeans hastened also to the lofty crags, on which, as on unhewn thrones of granite, the proud eagles paused in their flight towards the sun, and sitting on those giddy heights, they sent forth the challenging cry, "Who shall bring us down to the ground?" Poor insects, on a giant's palm; they knew not that he had but to close that palm, and they would be crushed for ever! "Though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord." In the light of this declaration let us examine our covenants! Let each man look to his own standing-place, let us try our securities as by fire! Fool beyond all fools is he who thinks to clothe himself with iron which the bolts of heaven cannot penetrate. Hear the word of the Lord, ye who dwell in caves of your own digging: "There is no wisdom nor understanding nor counsel against the Lord." "Knowest thou not this of old, since man was placed upon earth, that the triumphing of the wicked is short, and the joy of the hypocrite but for a moment? Though his excellency mount up to the heavens, and his head reach unto the clouds; ... he shall fly away as a dream, and shall not be found: yea, he shall be chased away as a vision of the night." "Though they dig into hell, thence shall mine hand take them; though they climb up to heaven, thence will I bring them down: and though they hide themselves in the top of Carmel, I will search and take them out thence; and though they be hid from my sight in the bottom of the sea, thence will I command the serpent, and he shall bite them: and though they go into captivity before their enemies, thence will I command the sword, and it shall slay them; and I will set mine eyes upon them for evil, and not for good." These are shoutings which make the universe turn pale; the knees of mailed armies smite each other when the Lord dareth them to battle!
"If thieves came to thee, if robbers by night, (how art thou cut off!) would they not have stolen till they had enough? if the grapegatherers came to thee, would they not leave some grapes? How are the things of Esau searched out! how are his hidden things sought up!" ( Oba 1:5-6 ).
These verses show that God works utter destruction: the thief does not take every article of property away, the grape-gleaners leave here and there a bunch behind them; but God, by the Chaldeans, sought out the hidden things, sundered every tie, blighted every flower, extinguished every light, and enthroned Death as the King of the wide desolation. No gleaner need enter a field which God's own sickle has reaped!
"All the men of thy confederacy have brought thee even to the border: the men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee, and prevailed against thee; they that eat thy bread have laid a wound under thee: there is none understanding in him" (Obadiah 1:7 .)
The Idumeans and the Chaldeans were firmly attached; they constituted a powerful confederacy, they had leagues and covenants; but God turned the Chaldeans against their allies, and the very men who had their bread turned the sword against the Idumeans. Thus wonderfully can God interpose among the organisations, relationships, and policies of nations.
"Shall! not in that day, saith the Lord, even destroy the wise men out of Edom, and understanding out of the mount of Esau?" ( Oba 1:8 ).
The Edomites were famed for sagacity, prudence, and general mental skill, but God here comes forth as the Monarch of Mind, and says he will destroy their wisdom and understanding. He not only melts the iron-clad fortress, or shivers the rock, or flings open the gates of the sea, or rifles the depths of hell, but he touches the brain, he shakes the throne of reason, he puts out the eyes of understanding. The high priests of wisdom come together to take counsel against the Lord, and the Lord blows upon their brain, and their counsels are confounded; the Lord touches their tongue, and they babble the jargon of insanity. "He disappointeth the devices of the crafty, so that their hands cannot perform their enterprise. He taketh the wise in their own craftiness: and the counsel of the froward is carried headlong."
In the subsequent portion of this vision God reproves Edom for the wrong done to Jacob, and proclaims the eternal law of righteous retribution. The prophet then dwells upon the restoration of the Jews from the Babylonian captivity, and proclaims their final prevalence over all their enemies, concluding with the triumphant assurance, "And the kingdom shall be the Lord's."
Looking at this vision as affording a glimpse of divine purpose in relation to humanity, we may take our stand on two distinct facts:
(1) Divine superintendence of human history. He is a shallow historian who records only the undulations of the social, political, and ecclesiastical surface. As a student of the universe, I wish to know not only the stupendous, palpable existences, sun, moon, stars, seas, mountains, but I wish to know their birth-forces. I would see them, as it were, while as yet they are but creative syllables rolling from the lips of Omnipotence; nay more, if possible I would see them while they slumber as purposes in the Infinite heart. He who takes me to the earliest germ of national life, is to me the true historian; but he who finds that earliest germ in anything short of divine volition is unfit to guide me through the black ravines, or the temple corridors, or the mountain grandeurs of a world's entrancing story. In all Bible history we find God upon the circle. There is no page dedicated to atheism. God is always there, in shining person, or guiding eye, or directing voice, or celestial effluence; this book is, so far as one world is concerned, the very biography of God! Aye, God himself is the central character, and as he sweeps in majesty across our tiny globe, age by age, we see kings and thrones, and empires and nations attached to his flaming chariot. This sublimest of all historical books is not a mere registry of facts or dates; it is not a mere accumulation of meteorological tables, showing the variations of political or moral climate, or representing the tide-marks of national advancement or recession it is a chronicle of the one heart of God, and the one heart of humanity; it is the blended story of the heavens and the earth.
We have (2) divine sanctification of human history. This vision of Obadiah is summed up in words which might well form the concluding sentence of the history of the whole world; these words are: "And the kingdom shall be the Lord's." As we look at this as the ultimate object of the divine government, we see that a great sanctifying process is in reality continually operating in human history. God is working in the midst of the moral gloom, and he will work until the last shadow has for ever departed: "All the ends of the world shall remember and turn unto the Lord: and all the kindreds of the nations shall worship before thee. For the kingdom is the Lord's: and he is the governor among the nations." "And in the days of these kings shall the God of heaven set up a kingdom, which shall never be destroyed: and the kingdom shall not be left to other people, but it shall break in pieces and consume all these kingdoms, and it shall stand for ever." "And the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High, whose kingdom is an everlasting kingdom, and all dominions shall serve and obey him." "And the Lord shall be king over all the earth: in that day shall there be one Lord, and his name one." All these voices confirm the doctrine that a sanctifying process is underlying all human history. We see but a scattered and struggling light; we hear but a voice here and there; we wonder how the heavens can become flooded with splendour, and how the air can be filled with one glad and undying song; and we should despair could we not lay our trembling hand on the recorded oath of Omnipotence, and see in the van the "dyed garments," and hear at midnight the war-shout of Immanuel.
This leads us to the inspiring truth that all our hopes are founded in Jesus, and all our energies sustained by the mighty power of the Holy Spirit. When "the kingdom shall be the Lord's" every man will have found in Jesus Christ his only Saviour, and received into his alien heart the spirit of adoption. God the Father is working for the Son; God the Holy Spirit is working for the Son all the orders of celestial being are working for the Son in all things he shall have the pre-eminence the kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God and of his Christ, and he shall reign for ever and ever even so, Lord Jesus, come quickly! Blessed day, when Jesus shall have every heart; when the commingling nations shall have one hymn, one tune, one voice; when every man shall be a saint, and every saint an infant angel nestling in the breast of Jesus! To-day, the great transformation may begin; to-day, the poorest may have fine gold; to-day, the captive may throw off his chains and spring into eternal liberty!
This is the confidence that we have in thee, thou Lord of all, that if we ask anything of thee in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, thou wilt do it for us. We have not because we ask not, or because we ask amiss. We are straitened in ourselves, we are not straitened in God; the river of God is full of water. Thou givest grace upon grace, until there is no more room to receive thy blessing; our vessels are too full, the fountains of heaven cannot be exhausted. Grant unto us, then, what is good for us, that we may in the end be pure, wise, true, useful; may we answer the purpose of our creation, which is to do good, and to follow God in all his ways. We have now learned how foolish we are; we are ashamed to go back upon our own record to read it, because the fire of shame burns in our face. We have done the things we ought not to have done, we have left undone the things that we ought to have done; the record is not good, it is bad: but where sin abounds grace doth much more abound; thy love delights to pity, to help, to forgive, and sanctify. That love is made known to us in the Cross as it is revealed nowhere else; there we see it in all its agony and glory and pity and majesty. God is love: may love dwell in our hearts that we may interpret God; only love can know thee, thou God of love. Do thou therefore increase our love, and perfect it, that it may be sincere, without blemish, beautiful in simplicity, unselfish in all its obedience. We bless thee for thy sweet word; we thank thee for a word that is a light and a honeycomb, a word that exhausts all figures that express necessity and need and fulness and adaptation. Oh that the word of Christ might dwell in us richly all the days! then our days shall be beautiful as revelations, fruitful as harvest-fields, and all our time shall be a preparation for the solemn eternity. Help us in Christ Jesus the Lord to do better in the future than we have done in the past; may we renounce ourselves, may we inquire diligently for God and for his will, and with our whole soul may we obey the will of our Father in heaven. Amen.
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Parker, Joseph. "Commentary on Obadiah 1". The People's Bible by Joseph Parker. https://www.studylight.org/
the Week of Proper 24 / Ordinary 29