With just 21 verses, Obadiah is the Old Testament’s shortest book. It can be read in minutes. And at first glance it appears to be nothing but a prophecy of doom against Edom – an ancient nation buried in the dust of antiquity.
Yet this slender prophecy finds its place in the Book of God, and that fact alone tells us that its message is for us today (Romans 15:4).
There are thirteen men in the Old Testament named Obadiah, but there is no suggestion that this Obadiah is the same as any of the others.
His name means ‘servant [or worshipper] of the Lord’. Like a true servant and worshipper of God, Obadiah keeps himself in the background!
He tells us nothing about himself. He simply steps onto the stage of history, delivers God’s message, and steps down again. In fact, ‘Obadiah’ might simply be a penname, used deliberately to conceal anything about himself.
His only purpose and intent as God’s prophet was to deliver God’s message. What a noble example to all who speak to eternity-bound sinners as God’s messengers!
The outline of these 23 verses is easy to follow. In verses 1-9 Obadiah declares God’s judgement upon Edom. Proud and arrogant, they thought themselves secure and invincible. But Edom was the object of God’s determined wrath and would be destroyed.
Verses 10-14 display the justice of that judgement. Edom brought destruction on themselves because they cruelly treated God’s people, Israel.
In verses 15-16 we see the result of God’s judgement upon this proud nation — the Edomites were crushed by Nebuchadnezzar — and later by Cyrus who slaughtered them by their thousands. They were finally sent into oblivion by the Maccabees. By the time the Romans conquered Jerusalem, Edom was nothing but a name in history.
Finally, in verses 17-21, the prophet of God speaks to Edom (the house of Esau) of the sure and certain salvation of Israel (‘the house of Jacob’) — those whom Edom had once persecuted.
But what is Obadiah’s message to us? What is the meaning of this prophecy? What does the Spirit of God here teach us? Read a few passages from the inspired volume, and it becomes clear (Genesis 3:15; Malachi 1:2-5; Romans 9:11-18).
Remember, Edom is the whole house of Esau while Israel is the whole house of Esau’s younger brother Jacob — the object of God’s everlasting love, mercy and grace. Here, then, is Obadiah’s message. May God give us grace to learn it, rely upon it, and expect its fulfilment.
The seed of the serpent hates, persecutes, and constantly bruises the heel of the woman’s Seed. But the Seed of the woman (Christ and his body, the church of God’s elect) shall ultimately crush the serpent’s head and his seed.
Let me show you seven things clearly set before us in this magnificent prophecy.
God cannot be thwarted
First, learn this and rejoice — the purpose of our God cannot be hindered, thwarted, or frustrated. Before ever they were born, the Lord God declared that Esau must serve Jacob — that the elder must serve the younger. And so it shall be until time is no more.
God’s Word regarding Jacob and Esau is but a declaration of his purpose to assure the hearts of his elect that the reprobate of this world can do us no harm. They can only serve the interests of our souls.
Jannes and Jambres gave Moses a fit, withstanding him to the face; but they could proceed no further (Exodus 7:11; 2 Timothy 3:8-9). And those who oppose God’s people in this world — who ridicule, abuse, mistreat and persecute — cannot hurt them. ‘The Lord is my helper; I will not fear. What can man do to me?’ (Psalm 118:6; Hebrews 13:6).
Second, the history of Edom shows that the enmity of the serpent’s seed toward the Seed of the woman will never cease.
It is an enmity manifest throughout history — the enmity of Cain towards Abel; of Babylon against Israel; of Herod against the incarnate Son of God. It is the enmity of the Judaisers towards Paul, of the religious world against the Kingdom of God.
It is a never-ceasing, unabated, ever-increasing enmity. It is the enmity of the dragon of hell against the church of Christ, the ‘woman’ of God’s choice (Revelation 12).
What is the substance of that enmity? It is the base, deep-seated hatred felt by all who proudly presume that they can be saved by their own works and apart from Christ. It hates those who are saved by free grace, and who trust Christ alone and look to him alone for redemption, righteousness and everlasting salvation.
If anyone thinks this enmity is imaginary, let him read a page or two of history, or of the morning newspaper!
High hill of experience
Third, learn this — that it is the self-deceiving pride of their own hearts that destroys all who perish under the wrath of God. ‘The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9).
Obadiah declares, ‘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’ (1:3-4).
Edom represents all who, like Esau, despise Christ and presume that they can ‘go it alone’. They imagine they can ascend to heaven by their own will, their own works, and their own goodness.
They hide themselves in what they think is the impregnable rock of morality — on a high hill of experience — and say, ‘All is well. I am secure. Who shall bring me down?’
Fourth, let us be reminded of the far-reaching influence of evil. The whole nation of Edom followed the example of their father Esau — and followed him straight to hell!
Multitudes perish for ever by following the example of others. What a horrible scene I have in my mind’s eye as, in hell, the lost child looks into the eyes of his lost parents, and lost congregations look into the eyes of lost preachers — and curse them for their false gospels and evil influence!
Fifth, Obadiah goes to great lengths to demonstrate that all who suffer the wrath and just judgement of God perish because of their own sins (vv.10-17).
I cannot state emphatically enough that all things are exactly according to God’s purpose. The whole world is ruled and disposed of according to God’s everlasting love for Jacob and hatred of Esau (Romans 9:11-24).
Vessels of mercy are vessels of mercy and shall never be vessels of wrath. Vessels of wrath are vessels of wrath and shall never be vessels of mercy. Is that clear enough?
But I state this with equal force — no one goes to hell because of God’s purpose. Vessels of wrath fit themselves for destruction. Men and women go to hell because of their own obstinate, wilful rebellion and unbelief.
Esau is in hell today because he despised Christ, preferring the world to the Son of God — because he desired a bowl of beans to gratify his flesh, instead of valuing God’s eternal heritage of grace.
Sixth, let us read verses 17-21 and rejoice once more that the everlasting salvation of God’s elect is a matter of absolute certainty. ‘But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions … And they of the south shall possess the mount of Esau; and they of the plain the Philistines: and they shall possess the fields of Ephraim, and the fields of Samaria: and Benjamin shall possess Gilead … And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.’
Here, by the Spirit of prophecy, Obadiah looks beyond the range of time to that last great day when Christ shall come again in his glory. In that day holiness shall be seen everywhere. The whole house of Jacob — the spiritual Israel — shall possess their God-given, divinely purchased, rightful possessions — ‘the kingdom prepared for [them] from the foundation of the world’ (Matthew 25:34).
Jacob shall be a fire and Esau shall be stubble before him (v.18; Psalm 137). The kingdoms of this world shall become the kingdoms of our God (Revelation 11:15).
Seventh and last, the only hope for proud sinners is he who is Jacob’s Portion for ever, the Lord Jesus Christ. What is your choice? Will you follow Esau to hell, choosing that which gratifies the flesh? Or will you follow Jacob and choose Christ for your everlasting portion?