Bible History Shows...God Hates Cruelty!

By Neil Earle

STRATEGIC SPOT: Edomites controlled the trade routes that flowed through Petra (lower right). Click map to enlarge.

Obadiah is the shortest book in the Bible. Thus “Obadiah is of little theological interest,” writes one OT scholar. Millions would agree.

But hold on. What about Romans 15:4 – “For whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction.” Obadiah, says OT experts Lasor, Hubbard and Bush, “became a warning of the dangers of national arrogance. What the prophets said about Edom was heard by Israel, evaluated, cherished, safeguarded, and canonized as the Word of God” (Old Testament Survey, page 373).

Old Hurts Die Hard

Obadiah prophesies the destruction of Edom, the nation named after Esau, Jacob’s brother, whom Jaocb stole out of his birthright. The tension between Jacob and Esau was passed on to their descendants. Edom would not let Moses pass through their territory during the Exodus (Numbers 20:14-21), even though Esau generously forgave brother Jacob (Gen. 33).

Interestingly, Esau’s full genealogy is listed in Genesis 36 after their move to Mount Seir in the hilly area south of the Dead Sea. So God had his eye on Edom. Was Eliphaz, Esau’s firstborn and the father of Teman – was he the wise, respected Eliphaz the Temanite in the Book of Job (Genesis 36:10-11; Job 2:11)? Was Job himself an Edomite? Edomites were famous for wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7; Job 5:17). They lodged in the area around Petra and controlled the trading routes of the rich overland caravans.

Edomite/Israelite conflict was incessant. In the 900s BCE David was betrayed by Doeg, an Edomite (1 Samuel 21-22). David later garrisoned Edom (2 Samuel 8:13-14) and may have inflicted his own brand of cruelty on them (v. 1-2). It gets worse:

Jehoram of Judah (848-841) put down revolts in Edom but the Philistines and Arabs may have helped them (2 Chronicles 21:8117). Power politics and shifting alliances are nothing new.

Later, Judah’s King Amaziah (796-767) inflicted cruel vengeance on Edom in the Valley of Salt – dashing 10,000 captives to pieces (2 Chronicles 25:11-13). Edom’s hate simmered. King Ahaz (732-715) had to bring in the mighty Assyrians to retaliate for an Edomite threat (2 Chronicles 28: 16-21). The prophet Isaiah protested such incredible politicking instead of relying on God’s offer of protection. Judah would pay for this folly (Isaiah 7:1-9).

PETRA: Major tourist attraction was Edom's point of reference as rugged cliff dwellers (Obadiah 3).

Lessons for Us!

In Zedekiah’s day (597-587) the Edomites rejoiced at the destruction of the Jewish Temple (2 Chronicles 36:11-21). Psalm 137 with its vengeful note is in emotional synch with Obadiah.

Obadiah is important as God has it copied almost verbatim in Jeremiah 49. It breaks into two neat parts, Edom’s destruction and the Day of the Lord (verses 15-21). The curse that Edom would be completely destroyed disturbs some commentators. So Obadiah is a tough challenging little book. Extinction? Is this God’s decree for Edom?

We should remember the near-punishment took 500 years to carry out (the Herods were Edomites) and the message that “the Kingdom will be the Lord’s” ends the book on a much more hopeful note. This prophecy is interpreted by the NT church as the expansion of the Christian Gospel even towards “the remnant of Edom” (Amos 9:11-12 with Acts 15:13-18). This may show they were excluded from the worst effects of the curse. After all, the curses in the Law fell on Jesus, everyone’s ultimate Savior, including the Edomites (Oba. 21; Galatians 3:13).

Once again we get inklings of God’s mercy triumphing over judgment. The past is not over, it isn’t even past. Are you listening Taliban and ISIS? This is for you. Be very careful indisriminate bombers among the Great Powers – God’s eye is on the innocent and He is watching. So let all the nations beware – God hates cruelty and it would be good for them to blow the dust off Obadiah and learn that lesson. Be warned: This little book has been around longer than any of you and will be for some time yet!