Tuesday, February 12, 2013

Sermon: Obadiah 1: 1-21 Edom's Judgement


A few weeks back, you might have noticed the news that Willie Frazer was going to lead a delegation to Dublin as part of the flag protests. He wanted to protest about the flying of the Irish flag over the Irish Parliament (if the Union Flag has been mostly removed from Belfast City Hall), except, the flag doesn’t fly over the Oireachtas when it’s not in session, so the flag wouldn’t even have been flying on the Saturday.

It was a political stunt that backfired, and yet it might help us to see, in part, what the book of Obadiah is all about. This year in the Brooke Hall we’ve been looking at some of the smaller books of the Bible, Philemon, 3 John, and tonight we come to Obadiah. Imagine how terrible it would be to bump into Obadiah in heaven and for him to ask what we thought of his book, only to have to admit that we hadn’t read it! Now we’ll be ready for his question!

Willie Frazer was a political spokesman, going from one country to another, trying to speak to the country. Now, Willie would have been speaking on behalf of the Ulster People’s Forum, but Obadiah, is speaking to another country, to Edom, on behalf of God. Right there in verse 1, we have the charge: ‘The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom...’

Now who was Edom? It’s not Edam - the cheese. If you remember back to Abraham’s family, his son was Isaac, and he had two sons, twins, Esau and Jacob. Jacob became Israel, the chosen line. Esau is also known as Edom. The land of Edom lay to the south of Israel, a mountainous region, from which they became very proud. You see, they thought they were secure.

When we were young, there was a big climbing frame like a boat in the park up the road from our house. It was always great fun to climb on, but sometimes if there were lots of friends, you would see who was in charge of the ship. You had to try to throw everyone else off (onto the grass, I hasten to add), and the last one standing was the winner. Of course there was a rhyme to go with it: ‘I’m the king of the castle, you’re the dirty rascal’. Lots of fun...

But this is how Edom thought of itself. Verse 3: ‘The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?”’ The capital of Edom was Petra, a city built into the rock, it was thought to be impenetrable. You can almost hear Edom singing ‘I’m the king of the castle...’

God’s verdict, though, is one of judgement: ‘Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.’ Human power is no match for God’s power. When God’s judgement comes, it’s not just knocking down a peg or two - it’s total destruction. Look at verse 5. God says through Obadiah that if thieves were to break in, they might just take some of your belongings. Maybe what they could carry. Or if grape gatherers were to strike your field, they would leave gleanings. They’re not going to strip the vines bare. Yet Edom’s destruction is total. Their loss is complete. Total wipeout.

Now you might be asking, why is this happening? What could they possibly have done? Look at verse 10. ‘Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.’

The setting is the fall of Jerusalem, when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon came against Jerusalem and carried off the treasures of the city. Did Edom help those in need? Not at all, instead, the Edomites were helping Babylon, first by standing aloof, pretending not to hear the cry for help, and then by joining in the assault, even catching and handing over some survivors who were trying to escape (14).

Edom seems to be profiting from the fall of Jerusalem. The enemies of God’s people are taking delight and pleasure in the misery of God’s people. They’re riding high on the downfall of Jerusalem. But that situation will not last forever. Now, they may celebrate, but judgement is coming. Verse 15: ‘For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.’

The day of the Lord is a coming judgement, a reversal, where they are repaid for what they have done. What has gone up will certainly come down - with a bang. Pride and pleasure now, but then suffering.

The surprising thing, though, is that there isn’t much said about it all here. Rather, what is mentioned and majored on is the fate of Jerusalem. Here, in this word to Edom, is an extended promise of restoration and rescue for fallen Jerusalem. It’s a remarkable word, given the circumstances of the time.

Jerusalem has been conquered. Most of the people of the city and area have been taken away to Babylon. The city lies in ruins. It looks as if Judah and Israel and Jerusalem are finished. Babylon and Edom are flourishing, prospering. Yet Obadiah declares that Edom will fall, while Jerusalem will be restored and rise again.

‘But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape, and it shall be holy, and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions.’ I don’t know if you’ve ever had your house burgled. When I was young, I remember our granny’s house being robbed - she was hoovering upstairs and always left the front door open (but with the inside door closed). Someone took the opportunity to nip in, grab her purse, and make off. She never saw it again. The treasures of Jerusalem were carried off (wealth v 11). The gold vessels from the temple went to Babylon. But they will come back (and indeed, did - see Ezra and Nehemiah).

Further, there’s the promise that Israel’s borders will extend to take in the whole region. That’s the message of 19-21. The exiles will return and the nation will expand, and, closing words: ‘the kingdom shall be the Lord’s’.

In this very week when Parliament was debating same-sex marriage, it can look as if the kingdoms of the world are very powerful and proud. They chart their own course and go their own way. And we wonder, does God see, does God care?

The message of Obadiah is that God stands in judgement against the proud - whether nations (like Edom), or individuals. Who will bring me to the ground? I will bring you down, declares the Lord. Jerusalem, the people of God - the church, may appear to be losing, weak, powerless, and facing days of distress. But hang in there. It’s not over yet. Just as God restored the fortunes of Zion; just as Jesus was raised from death; so too he has made the promise to us that we will reign with him.

To stand in pride against God is utter foolishness. To think that we’re incapable of falling is folly. The only safe place is not in the clefts of the rock at Petra, but in the rock of ages, cleft for me, as we take refuge in the God of our salvation who exalts the meek and scatters the proud...

This sermon was preached in the Brooke Memorial Hall, Brookeborough on Sunday 10th February 2013.

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