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Sermon preached on Obadiah 1:15-21 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 5/19/2019 in Novato, CA.
Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
And the Kingdom Shall be the LORD’s
In our short series through Obadiah, we’ve zoomed in on thinking about one particular enemy to God’s people in the Old Testament – the nation of Edom. As we’ve reflected on that, maybe you’ve made applications to your own life. Maybe you’ve thought about a particular “enemy” of one sort or another that’s opposed to your Christian faith and has caused you much grief. Well, hopefully our study in Obadiah has encouraged you then. We’ve been reminded that God is not unaware of what you’ve suffered, and in end he will vindicate you. Yet, today’s passage reminds us that we actually have many enemies to our faith. But this passage expands our thinking about such opposition with more comfort and encouragement that the Lord will win the day. Let’s walk through then what this passage says about God’s judgment of our enemies, as well as the way he will lift us up.
In our first point then let’s begin again by thinking of the judgment against Edom. We’ll think in our second point today about the judgment that is also coming to all nations. But this passage also brings to a conclusion the book’s main theme of judgment against Edom, while helping us see the bigger picture. So then, we see Edom still in reference right away in verse 15. Though it begins by talking about the judgment coming on the nations, the second half continues to directly speak to Edom. Verse 15b, “As you have done, it shall be done to you; your reprisal shall return upon your own head.” There we have the important principle of retributive justice. It’s the lex talionis idea, that the punishment must fit the crime: an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. God’s final words of judgment against Edom explicitly state what we had already begun to read between the lines to see. For example, Edom had plundered holy Jerusalem, so God would completely and totally plunder them, verses 6 and 13. Edom had betrayed their brotherhood with Israel, likewise Edom’s allies by covenant would betray them, verses 7 and 10. Edom were lifted up in pride in their lofty mountain fortress; God would bring them low, verses 3-4. And so, what Obadiah already had implied, we see explicitly stated here in verse 15. God’s judgment is such that he would reverse the fortunes of Edom and Israel. He would lift up Israel where Edom had brought them low. And Edom would be brought low where they had been made high at expense of God’s people.
We see this in verse 16 with the metaphor of drinking. God plays with the metaphor here. He first describes the evil of how Edom drunk in Jerusalem. Remember last time we read how Edom’s sins against God’s people included trespassing into Jerusalem after it was conquered. Here, whether this was a reference to Edom literally drinking wine or a figurative statement, it either way describes how Edom celebrated Israel’s defeat from there within fallen Jerusalem. God says this was particularly bad because Jerusalem was his holy place, where the temple on Mt. Zion was. God saw such celebration as desecration. Notice then how God switches the metaphor. He takes it from a drinking in the sense of celebration, to drinking in the sense of judgment. He basically is saying they will drink the cup of God’s wrath. Again, this is the punishment fits the crime in a poetic justice sense.
Next in verse 17-18 we see the contrast between deliverance and destruction. Out of the destruction of Mount Zion will come deliverance. It will again be holy. In turn, the house of Jacob will burn up the house of Esau. Edom will become stubble. So, in Israel’s deliverance out of destruction, they will be the agent for the final destruction of Edom. Edom will go from victory to destruction. Notice the fire language – the imagery of fire is generally used in Scripture to describe God bringing his wrath. Here it equates God’s fire as the remnant of God’s people. It speaks of a time when God’s people will be used as the agent of God’s wrath. Here again the retributive justice of God will show how the punishment fits the crime.
Similarly, verse 18 mentions how Esau would have no survivor when this comes upon them. We remember back in verse 14 how they cut off those survivors from Jerusalem that were trying to flee for safety. We said last week that they killed some and enslaved some of God’s people who had managed to survive Jerusalem’s destruction. In turn, God would cut off and totally destroy their survivors.
Lastly regarding the judgment of Edom, note the comparison between Mt. Zion and the mountains of Esau. Mt. Zion, previously being brought low, will be uplifted. God’s people in turn will possess the mountains of Edom, verse 19. And God’s people will rule and judge the mountains of Edom from the reign of Mt. Zion, verse 21. Again, reversal. Before the mountains of Esau were established while Mt. Zion was destroyed. Now that is reversed. What they had done would be done to them.
Before moving on to our second point, let me give a final reflection on Edom. There is the language here of Israel repossessing its land. But that language also is used to describe how they will possess Edom. That’s interesting because God had previously told them that the land of Edom was not part of the possessions God was giving his people Israel, because he had given it to Edom( Deut 2:4). Now, God changes that position. God is saying that he is taking what he had given to Edom and giving it instead to Israel. I’m remembering the Parable of the Ten Minas in Luke 19, where the bad steward’s one mina was taken from him and given to the good steward that had turned his one mina into ten. Jesus then gave the punchline. Luke 19:26, “I tell you that to everyone who has, more will be given, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away.” Edom would lose what little they had, and it would be given to God’s people instead.
So then, let’s turn now to our second point and see how this passage speaks of the judgment that is also coming upon all the nations. Verse 15 had begun to widen the scope of judgment. Not only that, it said that this judgment was “near!” Edom becomes a picture and a prelude of what will happen to all the nations. Verse 16 makes the shift from Edom to the nations with that drinking imagery. As Edom drank on God’s holy mountain, so all the nations would drink continually. “They shall drink and swallow, and shall be as though they had never been.” The imagery there is that God’s cup of wrath is just being poured continually down and down their throat. It says their destruction will be so full and complete that it will be like they never existed. We can think of how in the new creation we are told elsewhere that God’s enemies will be removed and put into the lake of fire for eternity. They will be eternally removed and separated from the new creation and God’s people.
In the context, we see the principle of retributive justice from verse 15 and understand that this is what is implied here for all the nations. God’s justice will be giving these nations what they justly deserve. As the drinking reference was used in two sense with Edom, likely that’s in mind here too. They will drink in this age; they will drink and drink up in wickedness their evil against others. But ultimately they are drinking in their judgment, which will fall upon them on the last day. So then, we see in verses 19-21 some examples of the nations under judgment: the Philistines, and the Canaanites. We can remember their evil and wickedness mentioned in the Bible. Like Edom, they would lose their lands and be displaced when God’s judgment comes upon them. God’s people would instead possess their lands. But these are just examples of what will happen to all the nations when the coming final day of judgment arrives. When Christ returns, he will destroy all who continue in their insubordination to him. This will be a righteous judgment. Retributive justice will be realized.
This last section then stands as the counterpart to verse 1 which summoned the nations to fight against Edom. Would such nations answer that call out of righteousness to the LORD and looking to stand with God? Or would they in their own wickedness and pride and false religion simply look to do harm to Edom for their own advancement? In other words, we might be able to imply a small glimmer of hope in Obadiah for the nations who would turn and join with the Lord and his people. And yet what at best is implied in Obadiah is made so clearly elsewhere in Scripture. The nations can yet be saved from the coming final day of judgment, if they turn to Jesus Christ in faith and repentance. That’s because on the cross Jesus took such horrible and terrible judgment upon himself in the place of all sinners who look to him for forgiveness and grace. Remember, Jesus spoke in Mark 10:38 of the cup of God’s wrath that he would have to drink in order to bring the promised salvation. Yet, we praise God that as Jesus endured on that cross that fiery wrath of God, he endured it and overcame. He was not destroyed and left as stubble. But by the power of the Spirit, and in vindication as the righteous one of the Lord, he rose in victory on the third day. That’s the only hope for the nations. Judgment is surely coming. May no one delay coming to Jesus to be saved!
Well then, let’s turn now to our third and final point. We shift here from thinking about God’s judgment to what he will be doing simultaneously with his people. He will uplift them and restore them in the kingdom. I love how we see that this restoration goes beyond just the people from the tribe of Judah. Remember that the northern kingdom of Israel had been earlier destroyed by Assyria. Their tribes had come to be known as the lost tribes of Israel in the sense that in exile they have been so scattered and dispersed that they’ve largely lost their tribal identity. But here we see references to the house of Joseph and Ephraim which would include those so-called lost tribes. God would gather up his scattered elect and bring them back to the inheritance he has for them in a restored kingdom.
Obadiah paints this restored kingdom as coming about through a sort of new, better Conquest of the Promised Land. Remember that original Conquest. That’s what we read about in the book of Joshua. It was continued somewhat into the next book of Judges in the sense that after the Conquest we see God’s people hadn’t faithfully finished the job, so they needed more help along the way. Well, we see Obadiah use language here that describes this future restored kingdom in terms of a new Conquest. First off, we see several times here that language of possession, verse 17 as one example. That was the language used repeatedly in the past regarding the Conquest of the Promised Land. God was giving them land to possess. Similarly, we see the reference to the Canaanite here. That was the most common term to describe several peoples in the Promised Land when Israel first conquered it under Joshua. But it wasn’t a term used much any more by the time of Obadiah. Also, when Joshua led the people to take the Promised Land, God then had him divide the land up by tribes; we see some of the tribal divisions of the land here too. And then notice the reference to saviors in verse 21. This word in Hebrew for savior is where Joshua’s name comes from. Joshua basically means the LORD saves. Joshua himself was a savior for the people, in leading them in a victorious conquest of the Promised Land. But that reference to saviors in the plural, along with the Philistine reference, makes us think of that time of the Judges right afterwards. The judges who helped the people continue the Conquest of the Promised Land were also known in the Hebrew as saviors, using this same Hebrew word. The point is that Obadiah paints this future restoration of a kingdom to God’s people in terms that remind us of the first Conquest. There will be a new Conquest where God delivers a wonderful inheritance to God’s people for them to possesses.
There’s a lot of geography listed here in verses 19-21 when it talks about this restored kingdom. The geography serves two main points here. One, there are geographical references to the remnant of God’s people. The pew bible describes some of this remnant as captives, maybe better translated as exiles, like the reference in verse 20 of captives of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad. It means that remnant of exiles who were originally from Jerusalem but ended up in exile in Sepharad will eventually be freed from exile and come back and retake the land in the south. Sepharard is probably a city in Asia Minor, by the way. But the point then is that part of the geographical references here tells us how God would gather up his people from wherever they are scattered among the nations and bring them back together in a restored kingdom. That was God’s promise and prophecy from all the way back in Deuteronomy 30:1-4, long before the exile, and it’s reiterated now after the people have gone into exile.
The other main point about the geographical references here is it shows how far reaching and expansive this restored kingdom will be. The geographical references push every direction of the compass. The south is specifically mentioned and even how they will push to the southeast to the territory of Edom. The lowlands of Philistia are to the southwest. References to Ephraim and Samaria represent the central area of the Promised Land. For Benjamin to possess Gilead is to go Transjordan to the east. And to take the land as far as Zarephath is a reference to the north, just south of Sidon. So, north, south, east, and west, the Promised Land will be retaken. Obadiah pictures a new Conquest when God’s kingdom would be restored to a glorious, expansive extent. And the center of that kingdom will be holy Mt. Zion, such that it declares that the “kingdom shall be the LORD’s.”
So then, when and how does this new Conquest get fulfilled? Though there was an initial return from Babylonian exile among the Jews, such a glorious kingdom was not obtained at that time. Obadiah was not the only prophet to prophesy this, and they all prophesied a very glorious restoration. That’s why when the New Testament begins that’s the question on the Jews’ mind. When will God keep his promise to bring this kingdom? So then, when both John the Baptist and Jesus begin their ministry announcing that the kingdom of God was at hand, many were excited and hopeful. Many thought prophecies like here in Obadiah were about to be fulfilled in an earthly, geo-political sense. They thought the Messiah, a savior would come, that would lead them in a glorious Conquest of the Promised Land.
Well, Jesus was indeed right when he said the kingdom was at hand. Jesus name, like Joshua’s, was based off this Hebrew word for savior. But we remember when the angel said his name would be Jesus, it was because he would save the people from their sins, Matt. 1:21. And Jesus’ teaching shows that these prophecies from Obadiah were only a faint picture of the glorious kingdom God had in store for his people. The restored kingdom that Jesus would reign over would be far more glorious than the prophets ever imagined (cf. 1 Pet 1:10). As the New Testament shows us – as our recent study through Hebrews showed us – the promises of a restored kingdom look beyond this age to the age to come. They look to Christ’s return who will bring the real, heavenly Mt. Zion down out of heaven and establish it upon a new creation where righteousness dwells. That will also be the final day of the Lord when Christ judges all the nations and pours out the cup of wrath upon them. He will cast them into the lake of fire so that, at the end, only God’s saved people will possess the earth. What we see here in Obadiah and other similar prophecies is that he uses old covenant language to describe this far more glorious future kingdom. The ultimate fulfillment will be far more glorious than just ethnic Israel securing a relatively small plot of land in the middle east. It looks to an awesome kingdom made up of both Jews and Gentiles united together through faith and salvation in Jesus Christ. In this kingdom, God’s people will ultimately inherit the whole earth in the new creation, where heaven itself will comes down to this new earth. And the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.
And yet, this promised kingdom is not something just for the future. Jesus inaugurated this kingdom at his first coming – it has already begun to be manifested on earth through Christ’s church. In his decisive victory over sin, death, and Satan at the cross, he purchased all the people who will be a part of this kingdom. As such, he is the ultimate Savior of all the saviors mentioned there in verse 21. And so, realize then that this neo-Conquest of Obadiah is happening right now. Yet, Jesus has surprised us by giving us a different sword. God’s people, those he has already gathered up that had been scattered among the nations, we go forth with the spiritual sword of God’s Word to do spiritual battle among the nations. Our job is to look to conquer by conversion. We go and make disciples among the nations. Yes, when Jesus comes back, he’ll conquer the rest by judgment – that’s when the fire and cup of God’s wrath will be poured out in full measure. But this first phase of the new and final Conquest is to conquer by conversion with the gospel of salvation. That gospel saves people from the wrath of God to come by making them citizens in this glorious prophesied kingdom.
Now, do you finally see why verse 21 here has saviors in the plural? Because it includes us! Surely, we should not be surprised by that thought. If Jesus is pleased to share with us his title of Christ – right, we are called Christians – then he is also pleased to share with us his title of Savior! This is the language we see in the New Testament repeatedly. Apostles and missionaries are described as saving people as they bring the gospel to the world (1 Cor 9:22, 1 Thess 2:16, 1 Tim 4:16, and more). Likewise, the same language gets used even for lay people (James 5:20, Jude 1:23, 1 Cor 7:16). Christians, as agents of the Savior, are used as saviors! Jesus, by his Spirit working through his Word as we share it, uses Christians to save people. Wow! That’s the final Conquest that we are a part of. Let us go forth boldly with the gospel to convert people to Jesus! Amen.
Copyright © 2019 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.