Obadiah – “Servant of God”

I. Background

Prophet Obadiah is the author of one of the Minor Prophets in the Bible. Very little is found in the Bible about prophet Obadiah himself, except for the prophetic book “Obadiah” that is named after him. Usually, individuals in the Bible are identified by their genealogy such as a phrase “the son of someone,” but the Bible contains no reference of this type to prophet Obadiah. It is as if the prophet himself had been hidden. But as we will see, the word of God spoke through prophet Obadiah isn’t. On the contrary, the word is brightly manifested.

The name Obadiah means “servant of God” or “worshiper of God” (literally “one who serves or worships God.”) This name was probably very common among Israelites in the time of Old Testament, because there are more than 10 different individuals mentioned in the Old Testament had this name. Well-known among these different “Obadiahs” is the chief steward to King Ahab’s household (1 Kings 18:3). Obadiah the chief steward was a highly respected and honored figure among the Israelites and he was also known to be able to maintain his faithfulness to God in the midst of spiritual degeneration. Prophet Obadiah probably was of a later date, some think contemporary with Hosea, Joel, and Amos; some think contemporary with Jeremiah and Ezekiel; others think he lived about the time of the destruction of Jerusalem, when the Edomites so barbarously revenged the holy city in that destruction.

However, who prophet Obadiah is and when he wrote the book of Obadiah are not as important as what he wrote. What he wrote was what he saw; it is a vision given to him by the Holy Spirit.

The book Obadiah has the distinction of being the shortest book in the Bible. The entire book has only one chapter and 21 versus. However, the value of the book is not to be measured by its length. The book of Obadiah is the word of the same Holy Spirit who authored the other books of the Bible, and is therefore stamped with the divine authority.

This book is entitled “The Vision of Obadiah”. This book is wholly concerning Edom. Probably there was much more which prophet Obadiah was divinely inspired to speak to Israelites in his time, but this is all he was inspired to write; and all he writes is concerning Edom. The name Edom is familiar to all who study the word of God, but the fact that an entire prophetic book in the Bible concerns Edom is still quite remarkable. Much can be learned, and should be learned, about Edom and Edomites from the word of God.

II. That which is born of flesh is flesh, and that which is born of spirit is spirit

Edom is a nation adjoining to Israel, and yet an enemy to Israelites, the seed of Jacob. The Edomites, the people of Edom, are offspring of Esau who is the twin brother of Jacob. The story of the struggles between the twin brothers since they were in the womb of their mother is one of the most significant types (the Old Testament “parables”) recorded in the Old Testament. The word of God contains subsequent explanations to the typological story. In Malachi 1:3, God declared “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? … Yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.” The Holy Spirit repeated that declaration in the New Testament in Romans 9-13: Esau is the older brother of Jacob and came before Jacob. While Jacob represents us, the redeemed, Esau represents the flesh, our old unsaved life. The old life came before the new life. And there is a constant struggle between our new life and the old life.

The enmity between Esau and Jacob (and Edomites and Israelites) is by no means a mere unfortunate accident, but an unavoidable conflict rooted in the inherent differences of two different types of lives. This may sound strange to many, particularly to those who are still young, but we have an enemy in us. This enemy is not the same as all other enemies such as Canaanites who are opposing us as an external enemy. This enemy is our own flesh, who will sooner or later prove it the worst enemy. If you are a child of God, regardless of your age, you will experience the battle in yourself between the flesh and the spirit.

The flesh represents your old life and should not be confused with your physical body merely. Our physical body is made to be a subordinate servant. When it is an obedient servant to the spirit, it is not only a useful vessel but in fact an indispensable one. So in this sense we should treat our physical body well and with respect. The same is true with our mind. The problem is that our physical body and our mind in their fallen nature are more inclined to, or more used to, serving their old master which is the flesh. We therefore must be very careful in using our body and mind because they can easily become powerful agents of the flesh to take advantage of our spiritual life.

The flesh works on a principle of deception. The deception is the strongest when influenced through the lust of our eyes and our pride. That is why God teaches us not to love the world and not to lust after the things in the world. It is not that God does not like us to enjoy things in this world (which was originally created by God for our enjoyment), but that God does not want us to be taken advantage of by Satan through the weakness of our body and mind. The battle between the flesh and the spirit is an ongoing battle and must not be treated marginally. On an individual basis, the outcome of this battle determines the spiritual growth of a child of God.

III. What is temporarily prosperous isn’t necessarily a right thing to pursue

Outwardly speaking, Edomites, the offspring of Esau, are much more prosperous and stronger than Israelites. We learn from the Bible that while the Israelites went through 400 years of slavery in Egypt, Edomites developed independently into a very civilized society and a strong nation. Being brothers, the prosperity of Edomites may be a rich source of jealousy for Israelites. An Israelite might ask, “look at what God has done to us! We are much worse off than our siblings who did not follow God. While they progressed and prospered, we have been humiliated and become poor in every aspect, and besides had to go through all this trials and dangers.” But God brought Israelites to Egypt with a purpose and He eventually brought his children out of slavery into a glorious end. It is because Israelites are God’s children that God had these special dealings with them. For 400 years, Edomites was left alone to grow externally prosperous and strong, but all their prosperity mounted to nothing because they aren’t the children of God and will have no part in God’s glorious plan.

IV. God hates prideful people

One quite unique thing about Edomites is that, unlike Canaanites who are idle Worshipers, Edomites are such an independent and self-sufficient people that they did not even worship any external idols. The Edomites had become wise in their own eyes. They had all the answers; had need of nothing; God had been left out of the picture. In the Old Testament there is no mention of any Edomite religion or any Edomite gods. The Edomites had no allegiance to a god. They are an unusual people were so self-sufficient, arrogant, and self-satisfied that they wouldn’t even call upon the name of any kind of god. They believed they had all the answers themselves.

Edomites is a vivid representation of modern humanism that does not believe in anything but man himself. God hated that. God hates idle worshipers, but God also hates self-believers. You might ask why God is bothered by people’s arrogance. There could be many fundamental answers to this question, but one of the practical reasons is vividly illustrated by the relationship between Edomites and Israelites.

The pride of Edomites does not exist by and for itself. It inevitably harms its neighbor (or better put, its “twin brother”) Israelites. So God, who is the God of Israelites, hated that.

People, especially young people, are often offended by the notion that God does not like pride. They often harbor a rebellious thought that God is just mean and jealousy when a person feels good about himself. But pride is a deception of Satan. Viewed as an individual, the pride of Edomites deprives him of a relationship with God. Viewed as the twin brother of Israelites, the pride of Edomites persecutes and harms the Israelites.

In other words, if you are a child of God, God hates your prideful behavior because of (not in spite of) Him love for you. God loves you so much that He treasures your close relationship with Him and does not want your spiritual life to be taken advantage of by your flesh the pride.

“The arrogance of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in the loftiness of your dwelling place, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me down to earth?'” (Obadiah 3). The answer is clear — “‘From there I will bring you down,’ declares the Lord.”

V. Don’t live in false security

Obadiah makes it clear that the idea of a nation or individual being invulnerable is an illusion. Edom felt so secure that they believed no one could destroy them. They built entire cities which were hidden within cliffs, and which could only be reached by narrow passes — the famous city of Petra, which was carved from a mountainside, was in Edom. Their security, however, was misplaced. God said He would destroy them, and history demonstrates how this occurred.

VI. As a person sow, so will he reap

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap!” (Gal. 6:7). The Edomites inherited a long-lasting hatred toward Israelites and sought to destroy the Israelites. They had always looked for a good opportunity to do that, and they did just that many times. But to the end, they themselves were destroyed.

VII. The Kingdom of the Lord will always ultimately prevail

“And the kingdom will be the Lord’s” (Obadiah 21 —). As children of God, many find it easy to at least nominally agree that God will always prevail. But Obadiah delivers a message of a victory that is not only very broad but also very specific. Broad because the Holy Spirit categorically declares that the people of God will overcome its enemy. Specific because in Obadiah God lets us know that even though we face a terrible enemy in our flesh, in the end it is the Lord Himself who declares war against the enemy and the enemy will be overcome.

Sometimes we may be so weak that we feel even though God can change the world but He can’t change me. He can, and we will be victorious, not by the virtue of our own efforts, but by the virtue of our being faithful children of God.

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