April 3, 2020

Obadiah: The grim side of evil

One of the features of the Bible is that it does not spare us the ugly side of humanity, the grim side of evil. Having exposed us to the folly of pride in the Edomites, Obadiah goes on to paint a picture of the darker side of the human heart. This is revealed when he indicates to them the reason for the impending judgement and why it is so intense and final. In each of the indictments brought against the Edomites we must pause to confess that the very evil they espoused lies embedded in us and the words of the great hymn “the vilest offender” fits us like a glove fits the hand. Obadiah speaks like a prosecution lawyer reading out the charges against Edom at verses 11 – 14: 11On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. 12You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. 13You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor gloat over them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster. 14You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.

Here is the evidence that the prosecution would likely place before the Court in their opening arguments: Exhibit A: When Israel came out of Egypt and wanted to pass through the land of the Edomites to enter into the Promised Land, the Edomites wouldn’t let them (Numbers 20:14-21). The court would then hear evidence taken from the record of the Kings in 1st and 2nd Samuel, The Kings and The Chronicles of various attacks that the Edomites led or participated in against Jacob’s descendants.

Obadiah builds on the case of God against the nation of Edom. What follows is a chilling progressive manifestation of evil spurred by a hatred that seemed to know no end. Bible commentator Guzik cites Trapp as saying “Sin proceeds by degrees; neither is any man at his worst at first.” I am sure you can easily identify one person in your circle that typifies this. I am also doubly sure that if you look in the mirror you will find a second person of which this is true.

The first indictment is found in v. 11. Passive hatred: They watched as enemies plundered their blood relatives. The gall of such conduct is aggravated by the fact that the victim was the very “brother Jacob,” who was commanded not to hate the Edomites in Deuteronomy 23:7. This friendship was not reciprocated by the descendants of Esau. Whatever the reason, the Edomites, from the time of Moses, had always been actively hostile to the Israelites and seemed to live with a lingering desire for vengeance. They welcomed and seized the opportunity “In the day of Israel’s calamity”, a phrase repeated to show the greatness of it; and as an aggravation of the sin of the Edomites, in behaving and doing as they did at such a time. When filial kindness or at the very least basic human concern ought to have kicked in the stood by and watched. When we look at actions of the Edomites as presented by the prophet we certainly see passive but hostile opposition. Edmund Burke’s statement that the only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing is absolutely correct. There is so much in our society that cries out for the voice and the activism of those who are on the side of law and order and decency yet many languish in the sea of apathy.

By our silence, by our see and blind hear and deaf attitude we become complicit with those who are responsible for the calamities of the oppressed. Sometimes doing nothing is a great sin. How many of us have solid, verifiable information that can help solve some of the heinous crimes that remain unsolved? Does it bother us that gunmen act with impunity in broad daylight because they have good enough reason to believe that the average citizen will see and do nothing? Narrow self interest, personal gain, upward mobility, fear and plain callousness are just some of the reasons why we stand by and watch the plunder. Could it be the we avoid reading, studying, teaching and preaching the so called minor prophets because they are too plain in the call for us to do more than observe?

As we explore this indictment further we realize that Edom actually did worse than nothing; they rejoiced over another’s misfortune and suffering and used it as an occasion to exalt themselves. They gloated over the pain of their brethren – (nor should you have spoken proudly in the day of distress). Obadiah qualifies the nature of the aloofness with which the Edomites watched the calamity of their brethren. It was with pleasure and complacency, having had a good will to have destroyed them themselves, and now that it was being done by a foreign enemy, they could not hold back expressing their joy on that occasion. I have listened with great pain the gloating that members of the religious community have spouted at the news that alleged homosexuals were beaten or killed in this country. Many within and outside of the church all too easily fall into the temptation of rejoicing over news that some prominent figure in the church has been exposed in sin publicly. The wise man cautioned against this in Prv. 24:17 “Do not gloat when your enemy falls; when they stumble, do not let your heart rejoice”. The malice and hatred that we have for others that is not surrendered to the power of love will always find self expression. My challenge to us today is to let it go, bury the hatchet, release yourself from the burden of prolonged hatred. Let love fill your heart, let peace reign. Avoid perpetrating the grim side of evil.

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