Short Book, Big Message: Obadiah

Short Book, Big Message: Obadiah

A Message on Obadiah 17-21

For Jacksonville First United Methodist Church

Feb. 10, 2019

By Doug Wintermute


Obadiah 17-21 (NRSV)


But on Mount Zion there shall be those that escape,

   and it shall be holy;

and the house of Jacob shall take possession of those who dispossessed them.

18 The house of Jacob shall be a fire,

   the house of Joseph a flame,

   and the house of Esau stubble;

they shall burn them and consume them,

   and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau;

for the Lord has spoken.

19 Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau,

   and those of the Shephelah the land of the Philistines;

they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria,

   and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.

20 The exiles of the Israelites who are in Halah

   shall possess Phoenicia as far as Zarephath;

and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad

   shall possess the towns of the Negeb.

21 Those who have been saved shall go up to Mount Zion

   to rule Mount Esau;

   and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.


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Today we are beginning a sermon series that is based on the shortest books of the Bible. This 4-week series will take us right up to the beginning of Lent.


Now I’ve had more than one person ask me that if the series is on the shortest books of the Bible if that means the sermons will be short as well. Well, I don’t know about that. We’ll have to wait and see.


There are some books of the Bible that are very long, with Jeremiah topping the list with about 33,000 words (in the original language).


But there are also some books of the Bible that are short. Very short. Today we are going to start with the fourth shortest book of the Bible, Obadiah, with only around 440 words.


Obadiah is the only one of the four shortest books of the Bible that is in the Old Testament. The rest are in the New Testament.


So, let’s start with where Obadiah is located in the Bible. At only 440 words divided into only 21 verses it is easy to miss, especially if you are just flipping through. Obadiah is considered to be one of what are called the “12 Prophets,” also sometimes called the minor prophets.


When I was a kid I thought the minor prophets were prophets that worked underground in mines. I kept seeing them as being similar to the Seven Dwarfs except that there were 12 of them and they were prophets. And miners. Thus the 12 miner prophets. Sigh.


The 12 “minor” prophets are Hosea, Joel, Amos, Obadiah, Jonah, Micah, Nahum, Habakkuk, Zephaniah, Haggai, Zechariah, and Malachi. In your Bible they are located at the very end of the Old Testament, with Obadiah being the 8th from the end of the Old Testament, and located between Amos and Jonah.


It’s easy to miss. It’s only two pages. And it is so short that it doesn’t even have chapter numbers. It’s just one chapter, so in Biblical notation you don’t even put a “1” as a chapter number. For example, the scripture I just read is simply just Obadiah 17-20.


So, who was this Obadiah and why in the world is his 400 word prophecy included in the Bible?


Let’s start with the name. Believe it or not Obadiah was a pretty common name back in Old Testament times. We find the name “Obadiah” several times in 1 Kings as well as 1 and 2 Chronicles, and also once in Ezra and twice in Nehemiah.


Most scholars believe that these were different Obadiahs and that the Obadiah credited with writing the prophetic message that we find named after him is a different person than the others named.


We really don’t know much about the prophet Obadiah. Not only is his writing short, but he simply doesn’t tell us anything about himself. The name itself means “Worshiper of Yahweh” although the Latin Vulgate version of the Bible lists the name as Abdias, which means “Servant of Yahweh.”


Obadiah lived probably somewhere around 687-586 BC. Compared with other prophets this puts him after Isaiah, toward the end of the time of Jeremiah, and about the same time as Daniel.


So, basically still hundreds of years before Jesus came to earth.


So, what is the big deal about the small book of Obadiah?


It had a lot to do with geography and sibling rivalry, believe it or not. It was the time of the divided kingdom, with the kingdom of Israel in the north with its capital of Samaria, and the kingdom of Judah in the south with its capital of Jerusalem. Just south of Judah was Edom. Even though they were neighbors, Edom and Judah Israel didn’t get along. At all.


The fact the two countries didn’t get along goes all the way back to Isaac and Rebecca. If you remember Isaac and Rebecca were married, and when Rebecca became pregnant she had twins. Jacob and Esau. Esau was the first born with Jacob holding on to his heel. As the first-born son Esau had the right of primogeniture which meant he should inherit most of the wealth and property of the family upon the passing of his father, Isaac.


Esau grew to be a hunter and outdoorsman, while Jacob was more of an inside, academic type. Isaac showed favor to Esau while Rebecca showed favor to Jacob. One day Esau came in from hunting and was super hungry. Jacob had made some lentil stew (lentils are tiny beans, by the way) and Esau wanted some. Jacob said he would give him some in return for his birthright, the  right to inherit most of the wealth and property of the family. Esau agreed and received the stew. (I figure that must have been some really, really good stew.)


Then, when Isaac was dying, Jacob, with the propting of his mother, tricked his dad Isaac into blessing him by making him think he was Esau. After pulling the switch-a-roo Jacob took off, afraid that Esau would kill him.


Well the two brothers went their separate ways and basically started two different countries. God changes Jacob’s name to Israel and he goes on to form Israel, while Esau goes on to form the country of Edom. The name Edom means red, and Esau, when he was born, was red, and the stew that he swapped his birthright for was red as well.


And the two countries don’t get along very well. In the book of numbers we find that as the Israelites travel on their journey from Egypt to the promised land they request permission from the King of Edom to pass through his country. The king refuses, which really angers the Israelites.


So the bad blood between the two countries comes to a head around 587-586 BC when the Babylonians attack the country of Israel and captures and plunders Jerusalem. As if that wasn’t bad enough, some of the Edomites (those living in Edom) may have joined in the plundering. In addition, they helped capture the people of Judah trying to flee the destruction and turned them back over to the Babylonians.


So, there is really bad blood between the two countries.


Obadiah, being a prophet, prophesizes against Edom. He tells Edom basically that they are going to pay the consequences for their evil actions. God is going to punish them, and punish them harshly.


Now we need to remember that when it comes to Old Testament prophets there were certain rules that were followed. If a prophet made a prophecy and it came true, great. It meant he or she was a true prophet. But if a prophet made a prophecy and it did NOT come true, then the punishment was death.


Being a prophet in Old Testament times was tough! The punishment was meant to weed out the false prophets, those who would lead the people astray.


Obadiah takes that chance, though, and issues a prophecy against Edom. In that prophecy he comes down hard on the people of Edom for not helping the people of Judah when they were attacked and for helping plunder the country. He tells them, “As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.”


He concludes with what we read today, that God will save God’s people, who will actually rule in Edom. “Those who have been saved shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.”


So what can we learn from this succinct Old Testament prophet named Obadiah?


I think we can learn to trust in God. No matter how bad things get, God is still sovereign and in control. God is still on the throne.


Obadiah could have felt like God had abandoned his people completely. He could have moaned and lamented and complained and whined, “It’s not fair!”


It wasn’t. It isn’t. Life isn’t fair. People get cancer. Children get sick. People who lie and cheat and are unscrupulous in their business practices seem to get away with it an prosper. We age and our bodies no longer function properly. Those that yell the loudest get the most attention.


But as Christians we have to realize that Jesus never said life would be fair. Actually just the opposite. He said in this world we will have trouble. But he also said he would always be with us.


Obadiah doesn’t whine about fairness. Instead he points out that  God is still in control, even when bad things happen.


God is still in control even when bad things happen in our lives. It may not seem like it. It might be hard to believe it. But it is true. God IS in control.


I think another think we can learn from Obadiah is about leaving revenge up to God.


When bad things happen to us, especially at the hands of other people, one of our emotional reactions is to get even, to get revenge. “I’ll get you. I’ll show you. I’ll get even with you.”


Obadiah tells Edom that their punishment will come from God. It reminds me of Paul’s writing in Romans 12:19 where he quotes Deuteronomy 32:35, “Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, ‘Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.’”


Revenge is never the way for Christians. There’s a saying that implementing “an eye for an eye” results in making everyone blind.


Jesus didn’t seek revenge. Just the opposite. Even as he was being crucified on the cross by the Roman soldiers, the same ones who had mocked him, beat him, and spit in his face, he asked God to forgive them. Why? Because of love. Love is a much more powerful force than revenge. Much, much more powerful.


Revenge is the Lord’s. Leave it up to him.


The third thing I think we can learn from Obadiah is not to kick people when they are down. He is prophesying that God will punish Edom because the people of Edom did not help out the people of Judah. Not only did they not help out their neighbors, but they actually made things worse by participating in the pillaging and by capturing those fleeing the destruction.


So many in our society today love kicking others when they are down. The smell of blood in the water brings metaphorical sharks from all over to participate in the feeding frenzy. There is no worse example of this than the national media.


Years ago Don Henley, a native Texan and member of The Eagles, wrote a song called Dirty Laundry. Here are some of the lyrics:


Dirty little secrets

Dirty little lies

We got our dirty little fingers in everybody’s pie

We love to cut you down to size

We love dirty laundry


Kick ’em when they’re up

Kick ’em when they’re down

Kick ’em when they’re up

Kick ’em when they’re down


That’s not the Christian way. We should comfort people when they are down, not kick them. We should help, not hurt. We should be like Jesus, not like Edom.


So my challenge to you this week is to learn from Obadiah. Trust that God is in control. Turn away from revenge. And help people when they are down, not kick them.


And if you see any of the minor prophets dressed up like the seven dwarfs, please let me know.


In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, Amen.

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