Tales of the Nevi'im - Obadiah
Tales of the Nevi'im
The Tales of the Nevi’im are the Stories of the Prophets. In Hebrew navi (nah-vee') means prophet and the plural, prophets, is nevi'im (neh-vee-eem'). Israel had many prophets, some of whom we know from the Old Testament, others are lost to us in history. Many of Israel's prophets spoke to the people but didn't write anything down, likely because their message was meant for a specific people and time. Others proclaimed a message meant to instruct us as well. God spoke his word through these men for all people for all times, and we read them today as the books of the prophets in our Bibles. This series will explore their stories and message.
The Story of Obadiah
As the 7th century BC ended so did the Assyrian empire. In 605 BC a bold Babylonian king named Nebuchadnezzar (pronounced Neb-you-kad-nez’-er) defeated a combined Assyrian and Egyptian army. With this victory the Babylonians claimed dominance over the middle east and began to demand tribute from the various kingdoms. In 601 BC the Israelite king Jehoiakim (pronounced Jah-hoy’-a-kim) decided, against the warnings of the prophet Jeremiah, to test the strength of the new Babylonian kingdom and he refused to pay tribute. This was what you might call a serious miscalculation! Nebuchadnezzar responded quickly and forcefully. He brought his army to Jerusalem in 597 BC and besieged the city. The city quickly surrendered and Nebuchadnezzar imposed harsh terms.
In addition to increased taxes, Nebuchadnezzar deported some of the best and brightest of the Israelite society to Babylon. This tactic served two purposes: first, it made it harder for the people to rebel without leaders, and second, he trained the young men to serve as bureaucrats in the Babylonian government. It was during this time that the young man Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego were taken to Babylon. The book of Daniel details his adventures and God’s work in his life in Babylon.
Eleven years later, in 586 BC, the Egyptians began to move north to challenge the Babylonians. The Israelite king Zedekiah decided to defy the Babylonians and ally himself with the Egyptians. Would the Israelite kings never learn? Jehoiakim’s decision to rebel had cost Israel dearly – Zedekiah’s decision would be fatal. Nebuchadnezzar, now out of patience, showed up with an army and laid siege to Jerusalem. Zedekiah’s appeals to Egypt for help went unanswered, again just as the prophet Jeremiah predicted. This time, Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the city, demolishing the walls and the Temple itself. He took everything of value and left it desolate. He killed Zedekiah’s family in front of him, then gouged out his eyes and took him to Babylon to be put on display as a warning to other nations.
Nebuchadnezzar put down an Israelite rebellion and destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC
The Jewish people were scattered; many exiles lived in Babylon (near modern-day Baghdad), some were left poor and desolate in the region of Jerusalem, a handful of others had fled to neighboring kingdoms. History posed the very legitimate question: Would the Jews survive as a people?
The prophet Obadiah (pronounced Oh-buh-die’-uh) enters our story at this sad time in Israel’s history. The book of Obadiah was likely written shortly after 586 BC. It is the shortest book in the Old Testament, a mere twenty-one verses, and it’s topic is a very unique. Obadiah doesn’t speak about Babylon, instead he prophesies against the neighboring nation of Edom.
In order to understand Obadiah, we need to go back in history more than a thousand years (approximately 1800 BC) to Genesis chapter 25. We recall that Isaac had two sons, Jacob and Esau. Jacob was renamed Israel and Esau was renamed Edom. Jacob deceived his brother Esau and his father Isaac and despite being the younger brother, received the blessing and the inheritance of the promises that God had made to his grandfather Abraham. Jacob/Israel had twelve sons whose descendants became the twelve tribes of Israel and inherited the promised land. Esau/Edom also had descendants who became the nation of Edom. Echoing the family strife between Jacob and Esau, the kingdoms of Israel and Edom had a history of conflict.
When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, many Israelites fled. Apparently, the Edomites blocked the roads and either killed or captured and returned their fleeing Israelite kinsmen to the Babylonians. After the conquest, the Edomites came and took over many Israelite towns. This act of betrayal of ‘brother’ against ‘brother’ led to God’s anger toward Edom. Obadiah’s short message is God’s message to Edom. Obadiah lays out God’s accusation against Edom in verses 11-14:
“On the day that you stood aloof,
on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you were like one of them.
But do not gloat over the day of your brother
in the day of his misfortune;
do not rejoice over the people of Judah
in the day of their ruin;
do not boast in the day of distress.
Do not enter the gate of my people
in the day of their calamity;
do not gloat over his disaster
in the day of his calamity;
do not loot his wealth
in the day of his calamity.
Do not stand at the crossroads
to cut off his fugitives;
do not hand over his survivors
in the day of distress.”
And in verses 4 and 15, we read God’s judgment on Edom:
“Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.”
“For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.
As you have done, it shall be done to you;
Your deeds shall return on your own head.”
Lessons and Themes
We are our brother’s keeper. In Genesis 4, we read the story of Cain and Abel. Cain’s well-known response to God, after murdering his brother Abel and being questioned by God, was, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” God replied, “What have you done? Your brother’s blood cries to me from the ground.” It is a theme that runs throughout the Bible that we are indeed our brother’s keeper, certainly in the sense that we are called to look to the welfare of all people. Jesus teaches this lesson repeatedly and perhaps most powerfully when he says in Matthew 25:40, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
The Day of the Lord will set things right. The Day of the Lord is a day of
judgment –but in a larger sense it’s a day of ‘setting things right’. This includes
providing for justice to those who have been oppressed or betrayed. It’s a day of
providing comfort for the downtrodden, the grieving, and healing for the broken. Of course, it is a day of dread and doom for the oppressor, for those who exploit their ‘brothers’. I’ve always thought Proverbs 14:31 puts it so well when it says,“Whoever oppresses a poor man insults his Maker, but he who is generous to the needy honors him.”
Questions for Further Reflection/Discussion:
Read Jesus’ statement in Matthew 7:1. This is a difficult saying for many Christians because it’s sometimes understood to mean that we cannot judge any behavior as wrong. Do you struggle with this passage? It seems unlikely that Obadiah would agree with this interpretation! How does Obadiah 15 help us make sense of Matthew 7:1-2?
We have read quite a bit about the Day of the Lord in the prophets (as well as the New Testament). How would you summarize the meaning of the Day of the Lord? What implications does this have for us as we interact with injustice in our world today?
Terry Feix is the Executive Pastor at Crossings Community Church in Oklahoma City and a regular writer at So We Speak. Follow him @TerryFeix on Twitter.
Like the content? Support the site and get more at patreon.com/sowespeak!