10 Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. 11 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. (Obadiah 1:10-11)
Through the Bible: Obadiah 1, Psalm 82-83
First things first: I do think that this reading of Obadiah is in the wrong place in our reading plan. I think the “violence done to your brother Jacob… on the day strangers carried off his wealth, and foreigners entered his gates” (verses 10-11) probably refers to the destruction of Jerusalem in 586 BC, an event which we won’t get to for another two hundred years or so of Judah’s history.
That being said, I love where it is placed in our reading plan for two reasons, which I’ll get to in a minute.
But before we get to that, let’s review the relationship between Edom and Jacob, the brothers; and Edom and Israel, the nations.
Edom was the nickname of Esau, the firstborn of Isaac’s sons. He was favored by his Isaac, while Jacob was a mama’s boy, the favorite of Rebekah. There was bad blood between them from the start, as Jacob tricked Esau out of his birthright and then his father’s blessing.
- Day 021: Where’s Dr. Phil When You Need Him? (Genesis 27-29)
- Day 021: The Error of Esau (Genesis 27:38)
As a result of this ancient sibling rivalry, the nation of Edom and the nation of Israel had always had a contentious relationship at best, if not outright hostility. The people of Edom were not slaves in Egypt. We know this because when Moses was leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land, the king of Edom refused their passage (Numbers 20:14-21).
One of the reasons I personally believe Obadiah was written after the destruction of Jerusalem is because of how closely Obadiah’s description of Edom “standing aloof” while foreigners entered the gates of Jerusalem tracks with Psalm 137’s description of Edom cheering at the sacking of Jerusalem:
Remember, O Lord, against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem, how they said, “Lay it bare, lay it bare, down to its foundations!” (Psalm 137:7)
On the other hand, God commanded that the people of Israel live in peace with the Edomites:
7 “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother. You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land. Deuteronomy 23:7
So the judgment against Edom in Obadiah was because they did not come to the aid of their kinsman when Israel was threatened by a foreign enemy. God expected more of them. Regardless of their history; regardless of their differences, they were kinsmen, and they had more in common with each other than they did with enemy nations.
And this is what brings me to the two reasons I love that Obadiah falls here in our reading plan:
- It could explain Jehoshaphat.
We talked in yesterday’s reading about how Jehoshaphat was rebuked for giving aid to the evil king Ahab in his battle with the Syrians (see 2 Chronicles 19:1-3); and how, even after that rebuke, he did the same thing near the end of his reign when he made an alliance with another wicked king of Israel, Amaziah (2 Chtonicles 20:35-37). The text doesn’t say why he made the alliances. But we know he was a good king who instituted a lot of reforms. It’s possible that he saw Israel as his brother, and believed that the enemy of his brother was his enemy as well. Remember what he said to Ahab when he asked for help?
3 Ahab king of Israel asked Jehoshaphat king of Judah, “Will you go with me against Ramoth Gilead?” Jehoshaphat replied, “I am as you are, and my people as your people; we will join you in the war.” (2 Chronicles 18:3-4)
It might have been wrongheaded to come alongside such a wicked king, but maybe Jehoshaphat’s heart was in the right place in seeking to build a bridge between the two halves of what was once a united kingdom. Which leads me to the second reason I’m glad we read Obadiah today.
2. It totally explains our country right now.
Today is the start of the July 4th weekend. And as I write this, I don’t know if our country has ever been more divided. At least, not since last year. Or the year before. Come to think of it, we’ve been bitterly divided for awhile now. We absolutely do not think the best of our fellow Americans. Especially those who vote differently than we do. I don’t know that we have been more bitter and hostile to one another, at least not in my lifetime.
This was the kind of bitter division that grieved the heart of God, as expressed in Obadiah. Edom had more shared DNA with the people of Judah than with the armies of Babylon. Yet when Jerusalem fell, the Edomites joined in the taunts against the captured exiles.
And in my most cynical and fearful, I wonder if we are coming to the point in our own country where we check the politics of a city or a state before we lift up our prayers for them.
A hurricane strikes the coast. Well, is it a red state or a blue state?
There’s a mass shooting in a city. Do they have a mayor that’s spoken out against gun rights, or for defunding the police? Then maybe they deserve it.
There are wildfires out west. Do we argue about climate change, or do we grab a water bucket?
Oh God, on this weekend when we celebrate who we are as Americans, help us remember who we are as Americans. For just a few hours, can we eat a hot dog and spit watermelon seeds and enjoy fireworks with our neighbors without worrying about who they are going to vote for in the midterms?
Can we remember that we really are our brother’s keeper, and that before we are Republicans or Democrats, we are Americans?
Or even better: before we are Americans, we are Christians.