Search through the Bible. Hunt into every last corner, every nook, every cranny. You might, perhaps, stumble across Obadiah.
Obadiah is a small book- a minor prophet- only 21 verses long.
If required to expound upon the main points of Obadiah, what would you say? What illustrations might you use? What would be your findings?
At our Church’s Bible Class, we have been teaching through the minor prophets. Each Sunday we look at a different prophet and see who they were, what they taught and how it applies to us. It’s been a rollercoaster of a ride: Gomer ran away from her husband, Jonah ran away from God, Amos measured Israel with a plumb line, Nahum prophesied Ninevah’s flooding, Joel promised the Holy Spirit and Micah vowed to trust God even while starving.
Last Sunday, it was Obadiah’s turn.
Anyone know anything about the man himself? Who was Obadiah?
There isn’t actually much to know. His name means ‘Servant of Yahweh’ (Yahweh is the Hebrew name for the Lord God, or Jehovah as translated in English). Apart from that, the history books are surprisingly empty about Obadiah (suggesting that he was a good servant indeed!).
Obadiah was prophesying to the Edomites (the descendants of Esau, and thus distant relatives of Israel who descended from Esau’s younger brother- Jacob).
“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,
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.”
Obadiah verses 3 and 4
Why does the prophet describe the Edomites as living in clefts of the rock? Why are they in lofty dwellings? How do they soar aloft like the eagle?
Petra is a city truly built into the ‘cleft of a rock’. Archaeologists think that is was constructed around 400BC and have suggested that they have only uncovered 15% of the total city, the remainder still being hidden deep underground.
Although Petra wouldn’t have been the capital city of Edom when Obadiah was writing, it still shows just how mountainous and rocky a civilisation Edom really was.
It is no wonder then that Obadiah calls the Edomites a lofty people: they literally lived really really high up!
In fact, the prophet describes the nation as ‘Mount Esau.’
As we read through the book, we quickly discover that the Edomites had betrayed their brothers and sisters in Israel and Judah. The Babylonians had invaded Palestine and captured the Israelites, taking them into exile across the far reaches of their new empire.
As their relatives were being murdered and captured, the Edomites stayed up in their mountains sarcastically boasting ‘Who will bring me down to the ground?’
In fact, once the Babylonian army had left, they came down from their mountains and plundered the remains of Israel, hunting down any survivors and selling them into captivity. They even gloated over the wreck of Israel.
The Lord, quite rightly and justly, tells the Edomites (through Obadiah) that judgment will be made on them for their crimes. He condemns ‘Mount Esau’ to invasion and destruction.
Interestingly the prophet goes on to mention another Mount- this time it is Mount Zion.
“But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape, and it shall be holy…”
“Saviours shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau,
and the kingdom shall be the Lord's.”
Obadiah verses 17a and 21
Where is Mount Zion and why is it so special?
Zion is the special name given to describe Jerusalem (capital of Israel) in the Old Testament. But Zion doesn’t speak purely about bricks and mortar- the name Zion refers specifically to the place where the Lord God dwells with His people. Psalm 48 says,
“Great is the Lord and greatly to be praised in the city of our God!
His holy mountain, beautiful in elevation, is the joy of all the earth,
Mount Zion, in the far north, the city of the great King.
Within her citadels God has made himself known as a fortress.”
Psalm 48 verses 1, 2 and 3
The great King is God himself. If Jerusalem is His palace, then the Temple is His throne room, where he meets and talks with His subjects. Zion refers to the City and Temple where God dwells.
But Jerusalem and the Temple were both destroyed in the first century AD. Where does God dwell now?
Shortly before the destruction of Jerusalem, Jesus claimed to be the new temple (place where God lives and communicates with us from). Now that Jesus had come, the old bricks of the Temple building were no longer required.
We find out in the New Testament- in the book of Hebrews- that the final ‘Mount Zion’ will be Heaven- that is where God will live with mankind,
“…you have come to Mount Zion and to the city of the living God, the heavenly Jerusalem…”
Hebrews 12 v 22 (pt)
Having explained what and where Zion is, lets come back to Obadiah. How does Obadiah compare these two mountains- Esau and Zion?
Mount Esau is the place where men and women trust in their own strength and power for safety. Mount Zion is where men and women trust in the Lord God for their safety.
The Israelites may have lost their homes and possessions to the Babylonians, but their eternal souls and their new bodies (God promises all believers transformed perfect bodies) were safe. The Edomites thought their bodies were safe (although they would soon be found wrong), however their eternal souls were not.
Did you notice verse 21 which I quoted earlier? “Saviours shall go up to Mount Zion…” That verse is talking about Jesus Christ who died on the side of the Mount of Zion- besides the city of Jerusalem. It was because Jesus died to pay the penalty for my sins that I can now live and communicate with God. I am one of those people who ‘escaped’ judgment for my wrongdoings, because Jesus was punished on my behalf.
The wonderful thing is that Obadiah’s prophesy still stands- Jesus’s offer of free forgiveness and a home in the Heavenly Mount Zion still stands.
Which Mountain do you choose?