The Unknown Prophet
7 Sep 2007, Dr Barry Wright
(Barry is Thornleigh's Church Pastor)
THE UNKNOWN PROPHET
This morning I want to share with you a prophecy taken from one of the shortest books in the Old Testament Scriptures - a book that, in its entirety, contains only twenty-one verses. The prophecy found within its pages deals with God's ultimate destruction of the proud and rebellious as opposed to His final deliverance of those represented by the meek and the humble (Mears, 1983: 294). In this sense, its message has relevance for all those who, in this present age, are now seeking first the kingdom of God and His righteousness.
The book containing this vision was written by a prophet who remains basically unknown to us today. However, the scholarly evidence would suggest that he was a contemporary of Jeremiah and, if this suggestion were accurate, would place his writings somewhere between the ninth to the sixth century BC (Nichol, 1955: 987).
Obadiah, whose name means 'servant of Jehovah' was to be the fourth of the so-called Minor Prophets in the Old Testament and it was believed that, at the time, he was a member of the southern kingdom of Judah (Ibid).
The vision given him by God describes the punishment that was to come upon the nation of Edom as a result of its cruel attitude towards his own homeland of Judah. However, it also goes on to describe the ultimate triumph, not only of God's people, but also of His kingdom (Ibid).
Ancient Edom was to be found in that area commencing from the borders of Judah and Moab and extending south from the Dead Sea to the Gulf of Aqabah.
The hostility that existed between the two neighbouring nations of Edom and Judah was extremely bitter, as is often the case when family quarrels occur.
Family squabbles are certainly not unknown and can sometimes be so deep seated that healing the rift becomes almost impossible. Some of these feuds can continue for generations and become even more entrenched as the faults of each group become further embellished with the passing of time.
The story of this bitter family feud that existed between these two nations takes us back approx 1400 years to the time of the man called Isaac and his wife Rebekah.
It is here that the Scriptures provide a graphic illustration of this sad family rift by telling the story of twin brothers who had been brought up in a home where both were instructed in the knowledge of God. Both were free to walk in God's commandments and to receive His special favour. However, we see them choosing divergent paths as their differences in regard to religious faith was to widen (White, 1958: 206). Because of their differing lifestyles they ultimately chose to live apart.
We need to remember that the gifts of God's grace were given to both these boys, as the Scriptures continue to make clear that the blessings of salvation are free to all. The conditions by which we receive eternal life are also made clear and revolve around our obedience to God's commandments, through faith in Jesus Christ. However, the ultimate choice belongs to each and everyone. The fact that one of these boys was to be ultimately shut out from the blessings of heaven was no arbitrary act of God, but was a clear response to personal choice (Ibid: 207).
It is interesting to note that the God who can not only see the end from the beginning, was prepared at this time to provide an enquiring mother with the answers to her questions in reference to her boys even before they were born. An angel came to reveal something about the future of her two sons, as already it seemed they were struggling for supremacy while still in the womb.
Genesis 25: 21-23 provides the background to this special request made to the God of heaven. Lets read what it says (NIV).
'Isaac prayed to the Lord on behalf of his wife, because she was barren. The Lord answered his prayer, and his wife Rebekah became pregnant. The babies jostled each other within her, and she said, "Why is this happening to me?" So she went to enquire of the Lord.'
Lets take particular notice of God's answer in verse 23.
'The Lord said to her, 'Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.'
Two nations are in your womb and the older will serve the younger.
It would seem that God's insight into the differing characters of these two boys and His foresight into their future made it possible for Him to select one above the other as the inheritor of the birthright and progenitor of the Messiah to come. He could see the choices that were going to be made.
Genesis 25: 24-28 tells us that: 'When the time came for her to give birth, there were twin boys in her womb. The first to come out was red, and his whole body was like a hairy garment; so they named him Esau.
After this, his brother came out, with his hand grasping Esau's heel; so he was named Jacob. Isaac was sixty years old when Rebekah gave birth to them.'
The boys grew up, and Esau became a skilful hunter, a man of the open country, while Jacob was a quiet man, staying among the tents. Isaac, who had a taste for wild game, loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob.
This blind partiality for each son gives an indicator of the family problems that were to come. As a result, wrongdoing, misery and injustice were to mark the relations between the brothers and were to continue with their descendants for centuries (Nichol, 1953: 370).
In many cultures names are very important and particularly we find this in Old Testament times. The name Jacob in Hebrew means 'he grasps the heel' or 'he deceives' which as we discover later in his life, was deemed most appropriate.
While there is still debate over the name of Esau, the context suggests that it is derived from a word meaning 'to be covered with hair'. This excessive growth of hair at birth, known medically as hypertrichosis, was later to become a significant feature of his physical appearance. The word Edom that, in the Hebrew, means 'red' was also to become part of his name and was to be later seen in the term given to his descendents.
Esau's seed were to become known as the Edomites while the Israelites came from the linage of Israel, the name God later gave to Jacob (Genesis 32: 28). These two brother nations were to remain enemies forever with Israel proving the stronger of the two (Nichol, 1953: 369). This would seem to fulfil God's words to Rebekah that one people will be stronger than the other and the older would serve the younger.
As we read in the Scriptures, Esau's life was to become one that was insensible to spiritual things. All of his decisions were based on his considerations of the moment and the gratification of sensual desire (Ibid: 370). We see this in the trifling way he sold his birthright for a dish of lentils making him unfit to become heir to the gracious promises of God (Ibid: 371). While Jacob's deceitful conduct is also reprehensible, that of Esau is deserving of the most severe condemnation. The difference between the actions of the two boys is that Jacob repented and was forgiven while Esau was found to be above forgiveness because his repentance consisted only of regret for the results of his rash act, not for the act itself (Ibid).
We need to keep in mind that the extent to which a person is willing to sacrifice present desires for future good becomes a measure of emotional and spiritual maturity (ibid: 370).
As we read further in the book of Genesis, Esau's wilful and independent life was to spiral further out of control. Genesis 26: 34, 35 notes that 'When Esau was forty years old, he married Judith daughter of Beeri the Hittite, and also Basemath, daughter of Elon the Hittite. They were a source of grief to Isaac and Rebekah.' It was through their perverse and evil practices, their idolatrous religion and their unspiritual and frivolous disposition that these two women brought much heartache and bitterness of spirit to Isaac and Rebekah (Ibid: 374). Even when Esau later married a girl of the tribe of Ishmael to appease his parents, it only added to the problems created for himself by adding to the wives he already had (Genesis 28: 8, 9).
It has been said many times that this sad world knows no greater grief than that which children can bring (Ibid).
We love our children so much, so when they spurn the God given council and direction for their lives, it would only seem to bring heartache and bitterness of spirit.
South of the Dead Sea on the western border of the Arabian Plateau lies a range of precipitous red sandstone heights known as Mount Seir. Some of these mountains were to rise more than 3,500 feet above the valley floors and apart from the large sandstone deposits they were also made up of limestone and porphyry with veins of copper and iron running through it. In later times King Solomon was to exploit the rich mines of Edom building a huge industrial smelter city at the head of the Gulf of Aqabah.
However, while some areas within this region were used for agricultural purposes, much of the country was to remain barren wasteland. It was here that Esau settled after selling his birthright to his brother Jacob. After driving out the Horites who were the original inhabitants, he came to occupy the whole mountain area. This group of people were first mentioned during the time of Abraham in Gen 14: 5-6 and had been living in this region since approximately 2100 BC, This conquest was described in Deut 2: 12 indicating that the Edomites settled in this place, '…just as Israel did in the land the Lord gave them as their possession.'
The Horite capital was called 'Sela' or 'Petra' the 'Rock' and is known today as 'the silent city of the forgotten past' (Mears, 1983: 293).
Petra is one of the wonders of the world found 275 kms or 170 miles southwest of modern Amman and about 80 kms or 50 miles south of the Dead Sea (Lockyer, 1986: 827). It was a unique city and the only one of its kind among the engineering marvels found throughout the ancient world. Perched like an 'eagles nest' amid inaccessible mountain reaches, it was only to be accessed through a deep rock cleft known as the Siq. It was more than a mile long with massive cliffs more than 700 feet high rising on either side. As a consequence, it was a city that had excellent defence and, as such, was able to withstand any invasion.
Obadiah talks about their feelings of pride and security in verse 3, 4 where he says:
'The pride of your heart is deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, "Who can bring me down to the ground?" Though you soar like an eagle and make your nest among the stars from there I will bring you down declares the Lord.'
History records that, at its peak, this city had a thousand temples that were cut out of the pink rock on the sides of the massive cliff faces. The dwellings of the people were mainly to be found in caves hewn out of the soft red sandstone and placed where it would seem impossible for humans to climb (Mears. 1983: 293).
These descendants of Esau who lived there would often go out on raiding expeditions and then retreat to their impregnable fortress. Here they would continue to foster the enmity and bitterness already found in their hearts towards the people of Judah. It was a hatred that had multiplied with time originally beginning with Jacob and Esau (Ibid).
The Edomites never failed to help any army who wantonly attacked the nation of Judah and the term Jew that was a derivation of the word Judah, was used by them to describe the inhabitants of that hated race.
This hostility came to the surface and was first seen when the descendants of Esau refused to allow the children of Israel to go through their land on the way to the land of Canaan (Numbers 20: 14-21).
Their animosity continued in the wars with King Saul, with David and also during the time of Solomon (1Kings 11: 14-22). The independence they lost under David, they regained under Jehoram (2 Chron 20: 22). Their changing fortunes of war continued through until that fateful day when the Babylonian forces under King Nebuchadnezzar took Jerusalem and reduced it to a smouldering desolate heap (Nichol, 1955: 988).
The book of Obadiah and its prophecy was written because of Edom's confederacy against Jerusalem when they aligned themselves with the enemy. Obadiah 11 says: 'In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast one of them.' (KJV)
The Edomites had helped the marauders by catching the fleeing Israelites, treating them with unspeakable cruelty and selling them as slaves. Because they lived in the area, they knew the escape routes far better than the Babylonians. No doubt this was an awful day for Judah and it was now against this people that this unknown prophet by the name of Obadiah, a 'worshiper of Jehovah', was to direct his prophecy.
Edom had looked on while Jerusalem was being plundered and they seemed to have manifested a fiendish delight in watching the calamity that was overtaking its inhabitants.
Holding the attitude of Esau the Edomites had remained aloof and allowed Jerusalem to be overrun. She had become a party to its destruction and even went in for her share of the spoils (Mears, 1983: 294).
This was the final insult to Israel and as a consequence of Edom's pride and cruel hatred, her utter destruction was decreed. We read this in Obadiah 10.
'Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever.' Nothing could now save this nation that was seen to have blood on its hands.
History records that within five years after the destruction of Jerusalem the Edomites were to be driven from their rocky fortress home by King Nebuchadnezzar himself, their one-time ally. Passing down the valley of Arabah that formed the military road to Egypt, he went in and completely crushed them. They lost their existence as a nation about 150 BC and their name perished with the capture of Jerusalem by the Romans in AD 70.
It is interesting to note that after the Nabataeans overran the region in the third century BC, some of the Edomites eventually settled in parts of southern Judah. Further, it was to be Herod the Great, ruler of the Jews at the time of the birth of Jesus who was recorded as being one of their descendants (Alexander & Alexander, 1999: 495).
This loss of nationhood for the Edomites was to fulfil Obadiah's prophecy outlined in verse 15 that says: '…As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.'
The tables had now been reversed. Edom was to fall before the same Babylon she had previously helped and would now be as though she had never been, swallowed up forever.
However, what was to bring destruction to one nation was to see a promise of deliverance to another. Obadiah's prophecy closes in verses 17 and 18 with the triumphant note giving the assurance that there would be complete redemption for Zion. Let's read:
'But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and the house of Jacob will possess its inheritance.
The House of Jacob will be a fire and the house of Joseph a flame; and the house of Esau will be stubble, and they will set it on fire and consume it. There will be no survivors from the house of Esau. The Lord has spoken.'
Mount Zion representing God's holy mount is contrasted with the Mount of Esau or Mount Seir representing the mountains of human pride. One will receive its inheritance while the other would not survive.
Unfortunately, because of the failure of the Jews to effect the spiritual revival necessary, both in exile and after their return, the promises God had made in Obadiah 17-21 were never completely fulfilled.
However, Israel as a united nation was able to extend her boundaries taking over what had once been the Edomite territories.
In the course of time, hostile nations such as Edom and Babylon come to symbolise all that is opposed to God's will in this world.
Obadiah, the unknown prophet, was to show through his inspired writings that the Edomites were a nation of people whose widespread evils were to involve both pride and arrogance (V3). He was to show their betrayal of treaty and kinship ties (VV.10-14) and their inhuman cruelty (VV.15-16).
When we look at human history we see how much his words can be applied to various situations and events that have taken place, but ultimately the small book of Obadiah takes us beyond the narrow confines of nationalism to encompass the salvation of all who turn to God (Bowker, 1998: 228). It appeals to us all with our two natures. The earthly, so proud and bold, represented by Esau on one side and the spiritual by Jacob on the other who was chosen and set apart by God (Mears, 1983: 294).
The book of Obadiah makes it very clear that the God of Heaven takes His promises seriously. We read in the book of Genesis where He says that He would bless the rest of the world through Abraham and his descendants. He also promised to protect His special people against any who would try to do them harm (Gen 12: 1-3). This promise is affirmed again in the book of Obadiah. God is determined that He would keep faith with His people regardless of their unworthiness and disobedience (Lockyer, 1986: 768). This message is ultimately one of hope rather than one of condemnation.
As expressed in V15, we know that one day all nations will be judged on the Day of the Lord. The promise of this little book, like all the other Prophetic books, is that such evil, whoever commits it, will be rooted out by God and utterly destroyed as was Edom (Bowker, 1998: 229).
It is then that God will take up His rule as a universal King, establishing freedom and justice for all the oppressed (Obadiah 21).
The day is coming when the pronouncement in Revelation 11: 15 will go forth, 'The kingdoms of this world are become the kingdoms of our Lord and of His Christ; and He shall reign for ever and ever.'
My prayer is for that day to come quickly
Bowker, J. 1998 The Complete Bible Handbook. London, UK: Dorling Kindersley Ltd
Lockyer Snr, H. 1986 Nelson's Illustrated Bible Dictionary. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Publishers
Mears, H. C. 1983 What the Bible is all about. California, USA: Regal Books.
Nichol, F. D. 1955 Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol. 4. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association
Nichol, F. D. 1953 Seventh-day Adventist Bible Commentary Vol. 1. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association
Neufeld, D. F. 1960 Seventh-day Adventist Bible Dictionary. Vol 8. Washington DC: Review and Herald Publishing Association
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