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 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) 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. While some scholars connect Obadiah to the invasion of Jerusalem in 1 Kings 14, that passage never refers to the Edomites. Psalm 137, however; which mourns Jerusalem’s destruction by the Babylonians, does:
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)
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.
It’s been awhile since Genesis, so 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 (see Day 021: Where’s Dr. Phil When You Need Him? and Day 021: The Error of Esau
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. For example, when Moses was leading the people of Israel to the Promised Land, the king of Edom refused their passage (Numbers 20:14-21).
During Saul’s reign, an Edomite named Doeg aligned himself with Saul, ratted out David (1Samuel 22:9), and killed 85 of the Lord’s priests (1Sam. 22:18).
When David was king, he defeated the Edomite army, killing 18,000 soldiers. He then stationed military garrisons in Edom and subjected the Edomites to forced labor (1 Chronicles 18:12-14). At some point, his top general Joab went rogue killed every male in Edom (1 Kings 11:15-16).
Because of this, Hadad king of Edom opposed Solomon for his entire reign (1 Kings 11:14-25).
After the exile, Edom became known as Idumea when the region was controlled by the Seleucid empire. In 167 BC, the Jews, led by Judas Maccabaeus, revolted against the Seleucids, recaptured Jerusalem, and forced the Idumeans (Edomites) to convert to Judaism. A century later, an Edomite with a Jewish father became king of Judea. His name was Herod the Great. He was king at the time of Jesus’ birth, and in an echo of Joab’s actions in 1 Kings 11, ordered the slaughter of every baby boy in Bethlehem (see Matthew 2:16-18). His son, Herod Antipas, would sign off on the execution of Jesus (Luke 23:6-12).
Thus, two thousand years of sibling rivalry came to an end. All of this despite God’s command in Deuteronomy 23: 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
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.
As I write this, we are beginning the July 4 weekend, in which we celebrate the United States of America. But are we United? 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 at 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.