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We Need Obadiah

The opening chapter of J. L. Myres’s 1923 classic The Dawn of History reminds us that millions have lived without a sense of history. Many people think things are what they are and that they’ll never change. In their view, there’s no arc of history bending in any direction. To believe otherwise, they say, is delusion and breeds false hope. We only imagine differently because our society remains ingrained in Christianity.

But is belief in progress naive, held only because the alternative is too frightening to contemplate? Is there an end, a telos, toward which we’re carried? The short, unfamiliar book of Obadiah shows us how to develop a greater consciousness about God’s purposes in the world.

This strange little book about Edom appears dark, nationalistic, even vengeful. But it has great relevance for Christians today. Obadiah gives us several gifts. It shows us our need for history, eschatology, and Jesus.

Why We Need History

Obadiah receives not a word but a “vision” (v. 1), inspired insight into God’s purposes in history. Ostensibly addressing Edom, Obadiah encourages Judah with this insight.

The nation had just suffered an enormous blow, likely the sack of Jerusalem and subsequent exile. God’s people are reeling physically and spiritually. Did God fail? Is Baal stronger than Yahweh? Neighboring Edom gloats, loots, and participates in his brother’s doom (vv. 10–14). He seems to get away with it, and this is why Judah needs Obadiah’s message.

Does history have a purpose? Will there be justice at last? Obadiah answers with a resounding yes.

Does history have a purpose? Will there be justice at last? Obadiah answers with a resounding yes.

Speaking to a defeated nation, the prophet has the audacity to proclaim God’s universal reign (v. 15). Judah’s defeat looked like Yahweh’s defeat, but it wasn’t. When a coalition of enemy tribes approached Edom, Obadiah could see God’s hand at work. As Richard Lints suggests,

In the hands of the Old Testament prophets, history was instruction in the ways of God. . . . History was recorded because history could be repeated—not in detail, of course, but according to the principle that the past acts of God provided the hope that he would continue to be faithful to his people and his promises.

Obadiah teaches us to read history—and our own stories—with redemptive-historical goggles. We know who God is and what he’s doing in the world, not in abstraction but in his mighty historical acts.

Why We Need Eschatology

Hitler’s propagandist Joseph Goebbels declared, “Whoever says the first word to the world is always right.” History’s judgment of the Nazi regime shows us he was wrong. It’s the last word that matters most. As Christians, we have the last word. We know how the story ends. At its core, our faith is eschatological. We live in certain hope of a glorious future. There are a great many grim realities we couldn’t endure without this hope.

What hope does Obadiah offer to people in a grim reality?

The phrase “the day” appears eight times in verses 11–14, always with a negative connotation—the day of trouble, disaster, or misfortune. But in verse 15, eschatological hope breaks through: “The day of the LORD is near” (NIV). That’s the day when every “not yet” becomes “now” and “at last.” Every promise fulfilled. Every wrong set right.

Because God’s people have suffered great injustice, Obadiah wants to encourage them with God’s coming justice. As Edom has done, so it will be done to Edom (v. 15). Every debt will be paid, every account settled. We can have no hope without God’s justice. Unless God deals with human sin, heaven would quickly become hell. We long for justice today just as Judah did in the past. Every time we cry out, “Where was God when . . . ,” we’re asking for his final judgment. It’s necessary and right, an act of love that protects all who turn from evil and seek him.

But Obadiah doesn’t only promise God’s retributive justice. He foretells restoration. In the book’s last three verses, God promises to enlarge Israel’s territory until it reaches its historic borders. (What a sweet message for refugees in exile!) The land is part of God’s covenant promise to Abraham, so here God promises to restore his covenant. This side of Golgotha, we understand this restoration is about more than just acreage. God’s coming kingdom will cover the whole earth as the waters cover the sea (Hab. 2:14). God’s reign will expand. May his kingdom come (Obad. 1:21).

God’s reign is what we all desire. Then, justice will be done. Every wrong will be set right. There will be peace on earth—a final end to human trafficking, racism, and murder—because God will bring history to its purposed end.

Why We Need Jesus

We want justice. We want God to set things right. But we also know we’ve committed injustices. We need our own hearts to be set right. A facile reading of Obadiah divides the world into good and bad people, and this makes the prophetic message sound more like karma than grace. But there’s more to the story.

Edom’s sin was drinking on God’s holy hill, desecrating the temple mount like when Belshazzar drank from the temple’s holy vessels (Dan. 5:3). In consequence, they—and the nations—will go on drinking continually (Obad. 1:16). Drinking what? “The wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger” (Rev. 14:10). But all of us, by nature, deserve God’s wrath (Eph. 2:3). Judah’s sins were so great that God justly sent Babylon to sack them. As a result, one Israelite lamented, “You have given us wine to drink that made us stagger” (Ps. 60:3).

God’s reign is what we all desire. Then, justice will be done. Every wrong will be set right.

But a new day is coming for Israel—and all God’s people. “Behold, I have taken from your hand the cup of staggering; the bowl of my wrath you shall drink no more” (Isa. 51:22). How can that be? God would be unjust, and his kingdom imperfect, if he simply let his people slide.

Yet Obadiah says, “On Mount Zion will be deliverance” (v. 17, NIV), not just judgment (v. 16). How can this be? God’s righteous anger and unfailing love met at the cross of Jesus Christ. God took the cup of his wrath out of our hands and gave it to his Son to drink (Mark 14:36). So when we turn from our wicked ways to Jesus, no cup of wrath remains for us.

If God is bringing history to its purposed end, if we want the hope eschatology offers, then we need Jesus. A just God must punish our sins. A loving God sent his Son to drink our cup so we could serve as priests forever in the Lord’s kingdom.


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