Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament, and so far the most difficult for me to write about. When I started reading through and studying the minor prophets, I figured I should be able to come up with at least one blog post on each, since “All Scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness” (2 Tim. 3:16).
About 300 years ago, Matthew Henry’s verse-by-verse commentary covered Obadiah in humbling detail. Reading it made me marvel at the depth of his appreciation for God’s word (he wouldn’t have any trouble coming up with 3 or 4 posts on Obadiah). Where I saw a prophecy against Edom, he saw (among other things) a record of God’s motivation for vengeance, promises of a bright future for God’s people, and some warnings for us as well.
“Vengeance is Mine”
The “vision of Obadiah” is about what the Lord God has to say “concerning Edom,” and none of it’s good.
Though you ascend as high as the eagle, and though you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” says the Lord. (Oba. 1:4)
All their allies will turn against them (verse 7), all their wisdom be destroyed (verse 8), and their warriors slaughtered (verse 9). Why such a strong condemnation from our loving God?
For violence against your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. (Oba. 1:10)
God does not look kindly on those who persecute the people He loves, or on those who betray and do violence against family on an individual or national scale. Matthew Henry has this to say:
that one single crime which is laid to their charge, as filling their measure and bringing this ruin upon them, that for which they here stand indicted, of which they are convicted, and for which they are condemned, is the injury they had done to the people of God …. Note, Injuries to men are affronts to God, the righteous God, that loveth righteousness and hateth wickedness; and, as the Judge of all the earth, he will give redress to those that suffer wrong and take vengeance on those that do wrong. (Matthew Henry, notes on Obadiah 1:10-16)
In Luke 18, Christ gives a parable about how even an unjust judge will seek justice on behalf of persistent petitioners. How much more will the just God “speedily” “avenge His own elect who cry out day and night to Him” (Luke 18:7-8)? Even with these reassurances, though, it can be hard to wait on God. If someone hurt us, we want to hurt them back (or at least see them get their just desserts), and we wonder why it seems like God is taking so long to fulfill His promises. I’m sure that’s how the Israelites felt when they were attacked by enemies then looted and captured by Edom after thinking they’d escaped (Oba. 1:12-14).
Beloved, do not avenge yourselves, but rather give place to wrath; for it is written, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. (Rom. 12:19)
When we are struggling to believe that God is there for us, we can look to past examples of God’s deliverance and avenging role for comfort. He does not abandon, and He does not forget.
The righteous God will render both to nations and to particular persons according to their works; and the punishment is often made exactly to answer to the sin, and those that have abused others come to be themselves abused in like manner. The just and jealous God will find out a time and way to avenge the wrongs done to his people on those that have been injurious to them. (Matthew Henry, notes on Obadiah 1:10-16)
Be A Savior
Of course, this has a warning side as well: don’t be the person who God has to seek vengeance against. If we believe God will avenge His people, then we also should believe that there will be consequences if we go around hurting our brethren.
Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he were drowned in the depth of the sea. (Matt. 18:6)
This is a serious warning. Yet how many times are children scolded in churches for minor transgressions that really boil down to the fact that they’re not adults? How many new converts are made to feel insignificant, unwelcome and devalued because they don’t already know something about our church? How often do supposedly mature Christians squabble, back-bite and spread division?
For all the law is fulfilled in one word, even in this: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But if you bite and devour one another, beware lest you be consumed by one another! (Gal. 5:14-15)
Matthew Henry follows this principle of “being aware” when discussing the Edomites’ transgressions listed in Obadiah. When reading the things God told the Edomites they “should not” have done, Henry turns it around on us.
Note, In reflecting upon ourselves it is good to compare what we have done with what we should have done, our practice with the rule, that we may discover wherein we have done amiss, have done those things which we ought not to have done. We should not have been where we were at such a time, should not have been in such and such company, should not have said what we said, nor have taken the liberty that we took. Sin thus looked upon, in the glass of the commandment, will appear exceedingly sinful. (Matthew Henry, notes on Obadiah 1:10-16)
We want the whole “vengeance is Mine” thing to work on our behalf, but we dare not forget that it can be directed against us as well. If we love God, we will keep His commandments and need not fear Him, but we must always have a healthy respect for Him and His immutable laws.
For we know Him who said, “Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,” says the Lord. And again, “The Lord will judge His people.” It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God. (Heb. 10:30-31)
We don’t often like to think of this side of God, but He can be really scary. Christ is the Lion of the tribe of Judah, not a housecat. That’s Someone you want fighting for you, not against you — and that’s what He wants as well.
Then saviors shall come to Mount Zion to judge the mountains of Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s. (Oba. 1:21)
The mountain of Zion shall be saved; on it saviours shall come, the preachers of the gospel, who are called saviours, because their business is to save themselves and those that hear them; and in this they are workers together with Christ, but to little purpose if he by his grace did not work together with them. (Matthew Henry, notes on Obadiah 1:17-21)
That’s what we want — to be saved and to have the privilege of serving alongside Christ to save others. Let’s not endanger that by seeking vengeance for ourselves, attacking our brethren, or drifting away from God’s laws. Rather, let’s trust in God and strive to work alongside Jesus to help others.