By Jeffery M. Leonard, Ph.D.
Associate Professor of Biblical & Religious Studies, Samford University
SEEKING JUSTICE IN AN UNJUST WORLD
Obadiah 1–4, 10–17
Though they may not receive as much attention as Genesis, Psalms or Isaiah, the 12 so-called “Minor Prophets” make an important contribution to the Scriptures. The prophet Amos gave us the famous line, “Let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream” (Amos 5:24). His fellow prophet Micah taught, “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, love goodness and walk humbly with your God?” (Mic. 6:8). And Peter turned to the Minor Prophets in his famous Pentecost sermon as he quoted Joel, “I will pour out my spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams and your young men shall see visions” (Joel 2:28; Acts 2:17). The Minor Prophets are called “minor” because they are shorter than the works of prophets like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel. The shortest of all these short books is the one-chapter book of Obadiah.
An arrogant attitude deceives us and keeps us from seeing reality. (1–4)
The message of the prophet Obadiah is focused like a laser beam at Israel’s neighbor Edom. The Edomites were the traditional descendants of Esau and lived in the desert regions to the southeast of Judah. Much like relations between Jacob and Esau, relations between Israel and Edom had always been strained. As we arrive at the first few verses of Obadiah, it would appear the Edomites now have the upper hand over their Israelite cousins. Indeed, the Edomites have become so proud that they are said to think of themselves as eagles soaring in the heights, nesting among the stars, safe in the clefts of the rocks. Obadiah warns that the Lord will soon bring the Edomites down from their lofty perch.
The sin of indifference leads to violence and oppression. (10–14)
Obadiah’s condemnation of the Edomites was rooted in one of the darkest chapters of Israel’s history. After Assyria destroyed the northern kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C., the tribe of Judah was nearly all that remained of God’s chosen people. The Judeans held on for more than a century, but in 605 B.C., the Babylonians conquered them, too. The first two decades of Babylonian rule were dreadful for Judah. Babylon exiled a great many people, especially the upper classes, leaving the poor of the land to fend for themselves. Then in 587 B.C., the worst happened: Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and along with it the great temple of Solomon. It was a devastating blow.
What elicited the prophet’s ire was the fact that Edom cheered the Babylonians on as they ravaged Jerusalem. Obadiah charges the Edomites with standing aloof while Jerusalem was destroyed (v. 11), with gloating over their cousins’ calamity, with rejoicing over their destruction and mocking their distress (v. 12). Obadiah accuses the Edomites of blocking the people’s escape routes as they fled from the Babylonians and handing over the fugitives as prisoners (v. 14).
God will work His justice on behalf of the oppressed. (15–17)
Psalm 137 asks God, “Remember against the Edomites the day of Jerusalem’s fall, how they said, ‘Tear it down, tear it down, down to its foundations!’ ” Both the prophet and the psalmist cry out for justice from God against those who have oppressed them. We shouldn’t think the Edomites alone were capable of inviting God’s wrath by acting unjustly. The Scriptures charge all of God’s people to “Speak up for those who have no voice, for the justice of all who are dispossessed. Speak up, judge righteously and defend the cause of the oppressed and needy” (Prov. 31:8-9). How many times have we been guilty of standing in the role of oppressor rather than liberator when it comes to the weak and vulnerable around us? When we have seen people treated as second-class citizens (or worse) simply because of their skin color, or their sex or because they have not yet emerged from the womb, have we “stood aloof” like the Edomites? Will they one day ask God to remember against us our own injustices?