Violence Against Your Brother

Sermon preached on Obadiah 1:10-15 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/12/2019 in Novato, CA.

Sermon manuscript

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Obadiah 1:10-15

Violence Against Your Brother

Et tu, Brute?  That’s the classic line from Shakespeare’s play Julius Caesar when Caesar is assassinated by a group of senators.  One of the senators included Caesar’s friend Brutus.  Caesar had been like a father to Brutus.  And so, Shakespeare’s play captures the sense of betrayal that Caesar must have felt when he saw that Brutus was one of his assassins.  Well, I bring that up as an illustration for our topic for today.  Today, as we continue this judgment oracle against the nation of Edom, we see why Edom was under judgment.  It was especially because of their heinous betrayal against their brother-nation Israel.  This is how our passage starts out in verse 10.  It says Edom is under judgment for the violence they did to their brother Jacob.  By referring to Israel as Jacob it clearly reminds us of the family connection between these two nations.  These two nations were the descendants of the twins Jacob and Esau, who had been born to Isaac.  So, Israel and Edom were literally brother-nations.  Yet, as verse 10 says, Edom had acted in violence against their brother Israel.  This has in mind a specific incident or time period because there are 10 references to a “day” in this passage – surely not a single 24-hour period but a specific time period when Israel experienced this great calamity and distress.  Likely this “day” referred to the destruction of Jerusalem in 587 BC at the hand of the Babylonians.  But we see here today Edom’s involvement in Jerusalem’s downfall.  And so, while last week’s verses declared how horrible the judgment would be against Edom, today’s verses, 10-15, explain the sin that prompted this divine wrath.  Actually, we’ll see multiple sins of Edom against Israel as this passage walks us through each. So then, we’ll have a chance to consider today this violence Edom did against their brother.  

The first sin of Edom against God’s people is in verse 11.  Speaking of this day of calamity for Israel, Obadiah charges Edom with standing “on the other side.”  In other words, when strangers and foreigners, likely Babylon, came attacking Jerusalem, they didn’t come to the aid of Israel.  They instead stood aloof.  They could have shown brotherly-love to come to help.  Instead, they are pictured in verse 11 as watching from the sidelines as Babylon came and destroyed Jerusalem.  Verse 11 says how the enemy captured the Jewish forces.  It also says how the enemy cast lots for Jerusalem, likely a reference to a practice sometimes done by invading armies where the victors cast lots to divide up the captured people as spoil to be their slaves (c.f. passages like Joel 3:2 and Nahum 3:10).  

So then, verse 11 says that while this was going on, Edom stood on the side lines.  It would be poetic justice then when the judgment God said in verse 7 comes upon them – when all their “friends” turn against them and won’t help them.  Don’t get me wrong, we can appreciate why from the history between Israel and Edom that they might not have rushed to the aid of Israel.  As we said in previous weeks, Israel and Edom had quite a lot of conflict over the years.  Despite the fact that God had told Israel not to abhor Edom because they were brothers (Deut 23:7), Edom had set itself as an enemy against Israel.  Many conflicts ensued over the years.  As a result, for a lot of their history, Israel had subdued Edom and made them a subject nation.  So, from Edom’s standpoint this might have been an opportunistic time for them.  They probably figured that if Babylon conquered and destroyed Jerusalem, then they’d not have to answer to Israel anymore.  So, we could appreciate why they might think that.  But God still says that was wrong thinking.  That was not how a brother should treat a brother.  The Bible speaks a lot about the kind of love a brother is supposed to have for each other.  In this sin of omission, Edom did not show this brotherly love to Israel.

And so, look at the conclusion in verse 11.  “Even you were as one of them.”  Edom might have thought they could let Babylon do the dirty work, and they could get what they wanted without the guilt of their brother’s blood on their hands.  But that was not God’s assessment.  By standing by and doing nothing, God says they were just like those who conquered Jerusalem.  They were guilty by their inaction.  

There is an application here for what brotherly love should look like.  Brotherly love comes to their aid of the brothers in need.  Remember how later Joseph’s brothers lamented and recognized their guilt for how they turned a deaf ear to Joseph’s pleadings when they sold him into slavery (Gen 42:21).  The opposite is supposed to be true about brothers. Proverbs 17:17 (NLT) says that “a brother is born to help in time of need.”  May we be reminded of the positive duty here.  Brotherly love is to come to the help our brothers in times of trouble.

The rest of Edom’s sins against God’s people are in verses 12-14 and there is a shift from simply not helping their brother to explicitly doing evil against their them.  It’s a shift from a sin of omission to sins of commission.  Let’s walk through the progression of these sins.  By the way, the Hebrew puts these verses in the present tense, even though it’s recalling their past sins, surely as a poetic way to vividly bring us back into the original conflict.  

So, verse 12 lists three sins that are fairly closely related here: gazing, rejoicing, and boasting.  In the context, we should mentally picture Edom still on the sidelines in this conflict.  The enemy army on the warpath is flooding into Jerusalem with the sword.  But it’s not that Edom is just sitting back as an impartial third party with no interest in the outcome.  No, verse 12 shows us what is going on while they are there on the sidelines.  First, they are gazing.  This is a word about the eyes.  They are intently watching the enemy capture and afflict their Judean brothers.  I’m sure if you are Israel experiencing such suffering and humiliation, then the last thing you want is your estranged brother Edom sitting there just watching you suffer like that. You’d probably want to cover up and shout at them, “Stop looking at me!”  Second, Edom is rejoicing at all this.  This shows that their watching was especially in the gloating sense.  They aren’t watching and lamenting over Israel’s destruction.  They are watching and rejoicing with smug satisfaction.  They are glad this is happening.  We are reminded of Psalm 137:7 that records Edom rooting for Babylon to utterly destroy Jerusalem, saying “Raze, it raze it!”  Third, Edom is boasting, speaking proudly.  The Hebrew here is about pride expressed through their mouths.  In other words, their pride spoke in arrogance here, surely against God’s people in Jerusalem.  It’s easy to imagine the taunting and mocking that someone might do to their enemy who is suffering defeat.  That’s what the passersby did at Jesus as he hung there on the cross.  Of course, such passersby were fools because they didn’t understand that the cross was actually Jesus’ victory, but I digress.  The point in all this in verse 12 is that it was wrong for Edom to just stand back and relish in the defeat of Israel.

The next three sins of Edom against Israel are listed in verse 13.  There’s a big shift here.  Verse 12 thought of the sins they did against Israel from their position of the sidelines.  Verse 13 remembers how they moved from the sidelines into the thick of things, but not to help but to harm Israel.  Verse 13 first sees them trespassing, entering the gates of God’s people.  Surely this was after Babylon first came in and razed the city, though it’s not sure how quickly they came in afterwards.  It was soon enough that it could be described as happening “in day of their calamity,” that that doesn’t likely mean calendar day but time period.  Then verse 13 again describes Edom gazing, same word as in verse 12.  But, again, here the proximity has changed.  It was one thing to stare at all this from the sidelines – that that was bad enough.  It’s even worse to walk into the city and go around in your arrogant joy mocking, gawking and gloating at everyone’s misfortune.  Lastly, verse 13 says that they took it even further.  Edom “laid hands on their substance.”  Likely this refers to the plundering Israel.  They stretched out their hands and stole from them.  They likely came in like gleaners after Babylon had already taken what they wanted, and Edom then went through and picked out whatever they missed or didn’t want.  We can appreciate here how the “punishment fits the crime” when last week’s passage in verses 5-6 spoke how thoroughly and completely Edom would be plundered when God’s judgment fell upon them.

The last two sins of Edom against God’s people are listed in verse 14.  Here the scene changes back outside the city again.  It remembers in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction that some of God’s people tried to flee the destruction.  That seems like an obvious thing to do – when the city is breached you flee to the hills!  In fact, 2 Kings 25 records that during the siege of Jerusalem by Babylon, that Babylon finally made a breach in the wall, and so King Zedekiah and his army fled at night outside the city and made a run for it.  Unfortunately for them, the Babylonians pursued them and overtook them.  But the point is that it would obviously be the case that some of the Judeans would have managed to escape the Babylonians by fleeing Jerusalem.  So then, verse 14 remembers how Edom responded to that.  They again stood by, this time not on the sidelines, but now at the crossroads.  They stationed themselves at the key routes of retreat for fleeing Israelites.  They then either “cut off” or “delivered up” the refugees.  The language of cutting off likely refers to killing them.  The language of delivering up refers to handing someone over to someone else.  Here it would mean they captured them either to hand them over to Babylon or to their own slave traders to be sold as slaves.  And so, this basically describes the final height of their sin against Israel.  Not only did they plunder from them, but then they even tried to round up any fleeing survivors to either kill or enslave.  Again, all this would have been evil enough on its own.  But this was against their brother!

So then, with this review of today’s passage, I’d like to remind us of an important teaching here that we see reiterated by Jesus in the New Testament.  Namely, true religion can bring a sword of division within families.  In Matthew 10:34, Jesus said, “Do not think that I came to bring peace on earth. I did not come to bring peace but a sword.”  Jesus then went on to describe the conflict from within families that he would bring. He says that a man’s enemies will be those of his own household!  Certainly, that truth Jesus would later state so clearly is found even here in Obadiah.  The conflict between Jacob and Esau, carried on into their descendants, was ultimately a conflict of religion.  If as Paul later said in Romans 9:6, “They are not all Israel who are of Israel,”, we could say that they are not all Isaac who are of Isaac.  Jacob was of the promise of Isaac and Abraham, Esau was not.  We must be prepared for this sobering reality in our own families.

So then, we point out the obvious here.  In such a conflict between brothers, it was wrong for Edom to do what they did here.  By application, like we said in our first sermon from Obadiah, it would be wrong for someone who leaves the church to then begin persecuting the church.  Likewise, in a similar vein of application, it would be wrong for an unbeliever to persecute a family member who becomes a Christian.  Obadiah clearly calls out such persecution of brothers as evil.  Obadiah’s announcement of judgment brings great warning to all such similar circumstances that exist today.

And so, if you were Israel back then, and you were hearing this oracle of judgment against Edom in the aftermath of Jerusalem’s destruction, you can find encouragement to know that God has seen your afflictions and will take action.  Yet, I want us to think further about the kind of attitude I hope God’s people would have had when they heard this oracle.  I want us to think further about the kind of attitude we should have when any sort of brother sins against us and we remember the book of Obadiah.  You see, remember why this all happened.  Remember why Israel found themselves in a place that Babylon could conquer them and thus Edom could further take advantage of the situation.  The Bible is clear.  It was because of Israel’s sin.  Yes, it was evil what Babylon and Edom did.  But the reason God allowed this all to happen, was in part to chasten Israel.  Israel had not been living the way they were supposed to as God’s people.  God sent them prophet after prophet to warn them.  But they would not listen.  2 Chronicles 2:16 says Israel “mocked the messengers of God, despised his words, and scoffed at his prophets until the wrath of the LORD arose against His people, till there was no remedy.”  Edom’s actions against Israel sound like some “punishment fits the crime” for Israel when we remember how they treated the LORD and his prophets.  And so that’s when God used the Babylonians against them and all this with Edom happened.  

So then, hopefully, by the time Obadiah preached, God’s people had finally been humbled to a point of repentance.  If that was the case, then Israel would recognize that they themselves need forgiveness and grace from God.  In fact, Obadiah at the end speaks of this fact in verse 21 and promises that God would yet send them, Israel, salvation.  That is fulfilled ultimately in the Jesus Christ, the ultimate savior of God’s people.  God saw his people afflicted with the greatest enemy of sin and death.  God didn’t sit on the sidelines to watch his chosen ones suffer eternal damnation.  No, he came in the person of Jesus Christ to bring us aid.  But he did this by Jesus coming to God’s people and bearing their afflictions and their sufferings and their sorrows on the cross.  There, Jesus was handed over to be cut off from the land of the living.  There, Jesus suffered the wrath of God to pay for the guilt of his people’s sins.  Jesus, calling his people brothers, gave up his life to save them.  Yet, we rejoice that he did not stay dead, but rose in glory, showing that all who trust in him have the hope of eternal life.

What’s my point?  God’s people of Israel needed much grace and mercy from God.  And we as Christians need much grace and mercy of God.  So, my point is that I sure hope that when Israel heard the message of Obadiah that they didn’t respond like Edom did to them.  I hope they didn’t rejoice and boast against Edom.  Don’t get me wrong.  I’ve read Psalm 137:7 which is a biblical prayer by God’s people that he would remember Edom for what they did against Israel.  Yet, as much as that is a legitimate prayer, we also have to remember other teachings of Scripture about how to think about such enemies.  Remember the attitude Jesus taught in Luke 15 about the parable of the Prodigal Son.  Jesus condemned the sort of attitude that the old brother had against the wayward, prodigal brother.  Jesus spoke that against the Pharisees to say that we need to see the wayward brother as one to seek out to save.  Jesus said in Luke 19:10 that he came to seek and save the lost!  Jesus is the older brother we all need, the righteous brother who seeks and saves us wayward ones.  That’s the kind of brotherly love we’ve needed! That’s the kind of brotherly love we have found in Christ.  And so, though we can appreciate the desire for justice when someone sins against us, may we first and foremost by hearts humbled by grace.  When a brother sins against us, may we remember that point of parable of the unmerciful servant.  May we remember how much we’ve been forgiven by Christ and desire that for those various brothers who have sinned against us.

And so, when we consider a judgment oracle like Obadiah, I hope we receive its teachings with great sobriety.  When we see various judgments of God fall upon the Edoms of this world, I hope we don’t gloat or mock.  Instead, I hope we remember that but for the grace of God we would face such judgment.  I hope Israel had such a humble attitude when they heard this prophecy.  I hope we all can have much humility in the face of such things.

So then, if we’ve considered today a failing in brother lovely, I would exhort you all by the grace of God to seek to excel in brotherly love.  Surely that applies to your earthly families, your family members according to blood.  And it certainly is a command we see repeatedly to Christians, for our family according to the Spirit.  In other words, we are to show brotherly love to our fellow Christians.  Hebrews 13:1 commanded us, “Let brotherly love continue.” And Romans 12:10 commands us, “Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another.”  Let us then support and encourage our brothers and sisters in Christ, not standing aloof but invested in mercy and charity toward each other.  Amen.

Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.