by Interim Pastor Doug Marshall
Thought for Meditation:
“I have been in the revenge business so long. Now that it’s over, I do not know what to do with the rest of my life.” Inigo Montoya in The Princess Bride.
“The purpose of revenge, in my personal opinion, is completely worthless and pointless.” Mandy Patinkin, who played Inigo Montoya.
Today I want us to look at a story that most of us are probably not familiar with. It is from the book of Obadiah. If you are a trivia person you probably know that it is the only book in the Old Testament with only one chapter. My guess is that most of us don’t know anything else about Obadiah. I didn’t until Monday morning.
Another unusual thing about Obadiah is that it is not written to the people of Israel. It is written about and to the nation of Edom. The Edomites, or the Idumeans as they are sometimes called, were the descendants of Esau. The Israelites were the descendants of Esau’s twin brother, Jacob. Their story is back in Genesis. They are both the sons of Isaac and Abraham. They are brothers, so they should be on the same side, but instead they are enemies. They started fighting in their mother’s womb and all the way through their lives they fought. That includes Jacob stealing the birthright from Esau, who tried to kill him in retaliation. Their descendants settled in areas that were right next to each other and they continued to fight. The people of Israel lived on the west side of the Jordan River. The Idumeans lived on the east side of the Jordan, and south a little bit, east of the Dead Sea. Listen as I read to you portions of Obadiah.
One of the reasons that Edom was condemned is pride. They have an attitude of being invincible. As we will learn in a few minutes, they watched as Israel was attacked and destroyed by other nations but Edom wasn’t conquered. They didn’t think that anyone could ever hurt them. But God has other plans. “I will bring you down, says the Lord” (v4).
Verses 5-9 talk about how Edom will be pillaged, plundered and destroyed. Even their friends and allies will turn against them. Their leaders and warriors will be wiped out. Then in verses 10-11 we learn a second reason God punished Edom.
Throughout its history Israel was attacked by other countries. There isn’t enough information in Obadiah to know which time he was talking about. Most scholars think that Obadiah was referring to Israel being attacked and conquered by Babylon, in the 6th century BC.
Whenever it was, while Israel was being attacked, Edom did nothing to help. They just watched and celebrated.
In verses 12-14 Edom is condemned for eight different actions. The verbs are in the imperfect tense, which in Hebrew means that they haven’t finished doing it. They are still doing these terrible things to Israel.
In verse 15 there is a shift. Obadiah talks about “The day of the Lord.” It is a day of judgment and punishment against all the nations. It is a day when the world will be turned upside down. Those who have good things now, because that have turned away from God and attacked God’s people, will finally get what they deserve. And God’s people, Israel, will again be blessed. This is the good news for Israel.
“Obadiah 15-21” This is the word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.
Obadiah has at least two lessons for our lives. The first is to avoid pride. C.S. Lewis wrote the book “Mere Christianity.” In it he has a chapter called “The Great Sin,” which is pride. He describes pride as the utmost evil that leads to every other vice. The first sin, when Adam and Eve were tempted to eat the fruit, was pride. The serpent told them that if they ate this fruit they would “be like God” (Genesis 3:5). The book of Proverbs says that there are six things that God hates. The first sin listed is “haughty eyes” – looking down at others in pride.
Through Obadiah God condemns the pride of Edom. They have a proud heart. They lived in fortresses that were way up in the rocks. Because they lived in these rock fortresses they thought that no one could capture them. They saw themselves as eagles soaring over everyone else, looking down their noses at them. But God promised that he would bring them down. Their pride would be their downfall.
There is a story of a radio conversation that took place between a US naval ship and Canadian authorities off the coast of Newfoundland, up in the north Atlantic.
Americans: "Please divert your course 15 degrees to the North to avoid a collision."
Canadians: "Recommend you divert YOUR course 15 degrees to the South to avoid a collision."
Americans: "This is the Captain of a US Navy ship. I say again, divert YOUR course."
Canadians: "No. I say again, you divert YOUR course."
Americans: "THIS IS THE AIRCRAFT CARRIER USS ABRAHAM LINCOLN, THE SECOND LARGEST SHIP IN THE UNITED STATES' ATLANTIC FLEET. WE ARE ACCOMPANIED BY THREE DESTROYERS, THREE CRUISERS AND NUMEROUS SUPPORT VESSELS. I DEMAND THAT YOU CHANGE YOUR COURSE 15 DEGREES NORTH, THAT'S ONE-FIVE DEGREES NORTH, OR COUNTER-MEASURES WILL BE UNDERTAKEN TO ENSURE THE SAFETY OF THIS SHIP."
Canadians: "This is a lighthouse. Your call."
The pride that caused Edom problems was sinful, and led to their downfall. Pride, on any level, whether national, international level, or personal, is wrong. I’m not talking about healthy pride that comes from knowing we are God’s beloved children and knowing that God created us good. Sinful pride doesn’t acknowledge its own weakness. Sinful pride won’t admit that we need God. Sinful pride puts ourselves at the center of the world, and thinks we are better than anyone else.
As God’s people there is no room for pride. We have many wonderful gifts and incredible blessings but we don’t deserve any of it. Everything we have has been given to us as a gift. And when sinful pride fills our lives God will inevitably say to us as he said to the Idumeans. “I will bring you down” (Obadiah 4).
There is a second lesson I’d like to share with you from Obadiah. To introduce it I want to tell you a story. Do remember Amos and Andy? It used to be a radio show. It started back in 1928. It was a TV show from 1951-1953. In one of the routines Andy was wearing a little bottle tied around his neck. Amos asked him what it was. Andy said “It is nitroglycerine!” That didn’t make any sense to Amos so he asked for an explanation. Andy said that there was another man who had a bad habit of poking people in the chest. It drove Andy crazy so he said “I put this on so that the next time he pokes me he’ll blow his finger off.”
We all know that the desire for revenge is wrong and that carrying resentment hurts us at least as much as it hurts anyone else. I’m sure you’ve heard the passage from Romans before, “Don’t repay evil for evil… Leave vengeance to God.” However, it is easy to say that we should forgive and let go of our resentment, but it is hard to do it. Our hurt and our anger is part of who we are and we want to get even. We want to retaliate. We want revenge.
I’m sure that Israel struggled with the desire for revenge. They still do. They were abused and attacked for so long. The suffering of the holocaust is beyond imagination. It is understandable that they have a desire to get even. I think God is aware of the desire for revenge and in Obadiah there is one little glimpse of God talking about that.
The last section of Obadiah, verses 15-21, point to the promise that the Israelites will be restored to their position of power and prestige. There are images of Israel escaping the tragedy and surviving their struggles. The people of Israel will be saved and rule over Edom. The last verse points to this most clearly. “Those who have been saved shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau” (Obadiah 21). Israel will rule over Edom, but notice the last line. “The kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (Obadiah 21). The rule of Israel over Edom must be, and will be, in God’s kingdom, following God’s laws. That would include forgiving their enemies and treating them with respect and justice.
It wasn’t too long ago that there was a significant conflict here at Sharon Church. I imagine that people were hurt, that people said things that were not nice, that people did things that they shouldn’t have done. If you were not involved in that I’m sure it has happened to you someplace else. Who are the people that you need to forgive? Some of you probably need to forgive Roger. Others probably need to forgive those who were against Roger.
You’ve probably been hurt by family members, or friends, and countless other people. Refusing to forgive and holding on to that resentment and anger is not what God wants. It is not how God’s children are intended to live in God’s kingdom, and the one it hurts more than anyone else is you.
Clench your fists. When you hold on tightly to your hurt and anger and the desire for revenge, it is going to be very difficult to receive God’s love and the forgiveness that you need. How easy would it be to catch something with your hands in a fist?
Open your hands. When you let go of that anger and the desire for revenge you are open to receive God’s love and forgiveness, and will live joyfully and peaceably in the kingdom that is the Lord’s.
Does anyone here know any Idumeans? How about people from Edom? They are not around anymore. Thankfully, Obadiah is still in our Bible. I doubt that it will ever be your favorite book of the Bible. That’s okay. It’s an obscure little book written to people who don’t even exist anymore. However, the message of Obadiah is one that we all need to hear. Sinful pride is not what God wants and will lead to our downfall. And we need to forgive those who have hurt us and leave revenge to God. Instead, we are called to live as God’s beloved children following God’s laws and plans.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.