Purification or Punishment

  • Text: Obadiah 10-16, CSB
  • Series: Obadiah (2019), Pt. 2
  • Date: Sunday, September 22, 2019 – PM service
  • Venue: Trinity Baptist Church – Seminole, Oklahoma
  • Speaker: Jared Byrns
  • Download Audio: mp3

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If you’ll turn with me tonight to the book of Obadiah, we’re going to continue our study of God’s message to the people of Edom. There’s one chapter in the book of Obadiah, and tonight we’re going to look at verses 10-16 of that chapter.

Last week, we spent some time digging into the first nine verses of the chapter as God warned the Edomites of His coming judgment. God used the prophet Obadiah to explain some of the ways that they would pay for their years of sin against Him and their years of violence against His people. In this second section of the text, God explained the reasons for His judgment against the Edomites. He laid out the consequences before going back and explaining the reasons for them. It’s like when a child’s behavior is out of control at the dinner table. We might first make them leave the table and go to their room. Eventually, we’ll go talk about why their behavior was so problematic, but in some cases, the consequences have to be outlined first.

In His patience, God had given the Edomites opportunities to repent for over a thousand years. But when that patience ran out, He was going to bring things to a quick conclusion. The consequence was announced first, but then He gave the reasons.

What had the Edomites done to earn the destruction of their nation? God began to reveal His thinking in verse 10, and we’ll see that the destruction suffered by Edom was a direct consequence of the role the Edomites played in the suffering of Israel. Anything the Edomites had done to Israel—or anything the Edomites had encouraged others to do to Israel—they would suffer the same things, only to a greater degree.

Where the first section of the text in verses 1-9 has been called God’s declaration of war against Edom, verses 10-16 read like God’s indictment against Edom. But it isn’t an exhaustive list of every sin they’d ever committed. If we let ourselves think that these were the only things Edom ever did wrong, we’ll lose sight of how incredibly patient God is. Though God will judge every sin, He didn’t swoop in to destroy Edom the first time they messed up. Their wickedness had gone on for a thousand years, and the actions He outlined in verses 10-16 are the final straw. To understand this, think about how the prosecutors handled the case against Timothy McVeigh for the Oklahoma City bombing. He murdered 168 innocent people and committed a host of other crimes all the way down to driving a vehicle without a tag. But he wasn’t tried for every crime he committed. In fact, in terms of the murders, he was only charged with the murders of eight federal agents in the Murrah Building. Once a federal court sentenced him to death for those murders, the State of Oklahoma declined to charge him with the other 160. It’s certainly not because they were any less important; it’s because those eight murders had already earned him the maximum penalty. So God didn’t list every sin that the Edomites committed, because the few sins He listed were already egregious enough to earn the maximum penalty.

The sins that God pointed out were the culmination of a thousand years of Edom’s wickedness, and God had had enough. So let’s look at what Edom had done to earn such a spectacular outpouring of God’s wrath.

In verse 10, God said to the Edomites, “You will be covered with shame and destroyed forever because of violence done to your brother Jacob.” God’s anger with Edom centered around their long history of mistreatment of Israel. These two countries should have been friends, or they at least should have found a way to work together and coexist. The Israelites and Edomites were related countries. Last week, I referred to them as cousins. Speaking to the Edomites, God mentioned their brother Jacob. He was reminding them that they were the offspring of two brothers: Jacob and Esau. They should have had each other’s backs. God even commanded the Israelites not to mistreat their Edomite cousins. The Old Testament Law says, “Do not despise an Edomite, because he is your brother” (Deuteronomy 23:7, CSB). As far as we can tell, the Israelites did a decent job of this—not perfect, but decent. They had gone to war against the Edomites at times, but they didn’t seem to return the Edomites’ pathological hatred of them. When an Edomite sought refuge within Israel’s borders, God’s Word said he was supposed to be treated with kindness. That’s more than the Edomites ever did in return. The Israelites appear to have tried to keep the peace, but Edom wouldn’t go for it. They despised Israel and actively cheered for any enemy of Israel.

Our church is divided between our state’s two football teams, but some of you have a better attitude about it than I do. I hear some of you cheer for both the OU Sooners and the OSU Cowboys. You have a preference for one or the other when they play each other, but they’re both Oklahoma schools, so you’re okay with cheering for both. I’m not quite as open-minded. Some of you may hate me for saying this, but I went to OU, and I often say that my three favorite football teams, in order, are the Oklahoma Sooners, the Arkansas Razorbacks, and whoever’s playing against OSU this week. It’s just a joke; hopefully, I don’t lose my pulpit for that. But, the Edomites had that kind of attitude; their two favorite countries were Edom and whoever hated Israel the most that week. Their dream was to see Israel brought to ruin.

And that placed them on a collision course with the God of Israel, Who had not only made a covenant with Israel promising to protect them, but had also promised that He would repay the nations for their treatment of Israel. God sent Balaam to tell Israel, “Those who bless you will be blessed, and those who curse you will be cursed” (Numbers 24:9, CSB). So when the Edomites routinely sided against the good of Israel, they were actively working against the will of God. To stop their mistreatment of Israel, Edom would be cut off forever. 

At this point, I have to stop and tell you I think I may have been wrong about something—as hard as that may be to believe. Last week I mentioned that I’ve long believed Obadiah wrote in the 840s BC, which would make him the earliest of the Minor Prophets. But I also told you that some conservative scholars make good arguments that he wrote in the 580s BC. The more I’ve read and studied this week, the more I think the later date might fit better with the text. If Obadiah wrote later, he would be describing the Edomites’ indirect role in the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC. The Edomites’ mistreatment of Israel in the next few verses seems to fit with those events. There were four significant things they did to Israel that angered God.

Look at verse 11; here, we see that God was upset with Edom for refusing to help God’s people. It says, “On the day you stood aloof, on the day strangers captured his wealth, while foreigners entered his city gate and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were just like one of them.” God told these two related nations to be good neighbors. You can be good neighbors, even without being best friends. When good neighbors see your house on fire, they call the fire department whether they like you or not. But the Edomites were the kind of neighbors who saw the Israelites’ house on fire, threw gasoline on the roof, and got out the sticks and marshmallows so they could make S’mores over the smoldering embers.

When the Babylonians were wrecking Jerusalem, the Edomites didn’t lift a finger to help their neighbors. They were glad about the calamity that was happening to the Israelites. God was angry with them for standing idly by, smirking over the destruction of Jerusalem. The Babylonians were tearing down the walls and gates of Jerusalem, they were pillaging the city, they were slaughtering the people, and they were casting lots like it was all a game. It was a scene that would’ve elicited sympathy from any observer who had even a shred of human decency. And it would’ve broken the heart of anyone who loved God and His people. So the ability of the Edomites to stand by in aloof amusement showed just how hostile they were toward the things of God. Edom earned God’s judgment, first of all, because they refused to help God’s people.

The second point of God’s indictment against Edom—the second reason why they earned the judgment of God was that they rejoiced in the suffering of God’s people. Verse 12 says, “Do not gloat over your brother in the day of his calamity; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction; do not boastfully mock, in the day of distress.” In this verse, we see the same point made in three slightly different ways. Israel suffered, and Edom liked it. When God said the Edomites shouldn’t gloat over Israel in their day of calamity, He meant that they shouldn’t find delight in the hardships being faced by the people. When He told them not to rejoice over their day of destruction, He meant that they shouldn’t outwardly celebrate over the destruction of the city. And when He told them not to boastfully mock in their day of distress, He was telling them not to look at Israel’s pain and rub it in that they were now better off than the Israelites. All of these things were hateful. They saw Israel’s suffering, and they were inwardly happy, outwardly celebratory, and ready to make things worse.

If this refers to the event when the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar broke down the walls and captured the city of Jerusalem in 586 BC, then it was one of the darkest days in the history of Israel. Now, the reason God referred to Judah is that this was technically the Kingdom of Judah that was captured by the Babylonians. The original Kingdom of Israel had split nearly 500 years earlier into the Northern Kingdom (called Israel), based in Samaria and the Southern Kingdom (called Judah), based in Jerusalem. But by this time, the Northern Kingdom had already been destroyed by the Assyrian Empire. The Kingdom of Judah was all that was left of Israel. So, for this message, I’ve been using the terms Israel and Judah interchangeably. The final conquest of Judah was one of the darkest days in the history of the Israelites, and the Edomites were thrilled to see God’s people suffering.

To be clear, God allowed them to suffer this invasion, but He didn’t allow them to be wiped out. God still loved them, He still had plans for them, and He still intended to keep the promises that He had made to them. He would restore them one day. But to get them where they needed to be, He had to allow them to go through a time of discipline and purification from the sin of idolatry. So, God allowed them to suffer for their eventual good. But it didn’t bring God joy to watch them suffer, and it didn’t make God happy to see others rejoicing in their suffering.

Now, there was a third reason God was upset with the Edomites. God was upset because they had robbed His people at their weakest point. Look at verse 13. It says, “Do not enter my people’s city gate in the day of their disaster. Yes, you—do not gloat over their misery in the day of their disaster, and do not appropriate their possessions in the day of their disaster.” Last week, I talked about the strength of Edom. What I should’ve emphasized was that the Edomites’ power was mostly defensive. Under normal circumstances, other countries would have had a tough time invading Edom, and Edom would’ve had a tough time invading anyone else. They weren’t strong enough to invade Israel, but once the invasion occurred, they were just strong enough to join in on the humiliation of the newly-weakened Israelites. This meant that God held them just as guilty as the Babylonians for what was done to Jerusalem.

The Babylonians tore down the gates of Jerusalem, but once they were down, the Edomites came in and helped themselves to the spoils of war. They were looters. They added insult to injury, and it infuriated God to see them take advantage of His people while they were down. Last week, we saw that the Edomites were going to lose everything they owned to foreign armies. This was why: they had robbed God’s people at their weakest point.

But there was a fourth thing the Edomites did that upset God and earned them His judgment. They resisted God’s people as they were trying to escape. What does that mean? It was probably the worst thing of all of these. Look with me at verse 14. It says, “Do not stand at the crossroads, to cut off their fugitives, and do not hand over their survivors in the day of distress.” You see, when Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians, there were a relative few who were fortunate enough to escape the devastation. They thought they were safe, but then they met the Edomites.

These crossroads were places in the hills where multiple trails or roads met, where the Edomites could confront people coming from all directions. And as the Israelite refugees fled into the mountains of Edom, hoping to escape the Babylonians and make it to safety—perhaps in Egypt or Arabia—the Edomites would ambush them. They were too weak and cowardly to attack Jerusalem, but they had no problem attacking refugees. Think about how disgusting this was. Two thousand years later, some Jews were able to flee to countries like Switzerland or Sweden to escape destruction at the hands of the Nazis. What if the Swiss or the Swedes had ambushed them just inside the border? What if they had robbed everyone, killed some, and sent some back? That would be an outrage, wouldn’t it? That’s what the Edomites did. The Babylonians weren’t quite Nazis, but these Israelites had managed to escape the terror being unleashed on their city. And as they were fleeing through the mountains to freedom and safety, the Edomites took advantage of their weakness. They killed some Israelites, and perhaps more terrifying, they handed some of them over to the Babylonians.

There was no reason for the Edomites to do that other than pure, undiluted hatred of God’s people. And their cruelty made God angry. So as we look at the final two verses of this passage tonight, we’ll see that God promised to pay them back for what they’d done to Israel. 

He said in verse 15, “For the day of the LORD is near, against all the nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; what you deserve will return on your own head.” The things that had happened to Israel, either directly through the actions of the Edomites or indirectly through Edomite influence, were going to be dropped on the Edomites’ doorstep. Because Israel was in a covenant relationship with God, how other nations treated them influenced how God treated those countries. They would receive all the consequences they had earned.

And verse 16 emphasizes the same point. God said, “As you have drunk on my holy mountain, so all the nations will drink continually. They will drink and gulp down and be as though they had never been.” All the nations that stood in Jerusalem and celebrated its downfall—all the nations that toasted the devastation of God’s people were really drinking from the cup of God’s wrath. God used their celebrations as a picture of this. They were feasting and enjoying the spoils of war. But in drinking the cup of celebration over Jerusalem’s destruction, God said they were really partaking of the cup of His wrath, and that they would never be able to stop drinking it. God said these nations would continue to gulp down His wrath until they disappeared from the Earth altogether. Edom, and countries like them, tried their best to wipe Israel off the map, but Israel outlasted them all because God had made a covenant to be with them.

And this covenant is key to understanding what was going on in the book of Obadiah. The word “covenant” is never used in the book of Obadiah—at least in the Christian Standard Bible—but we can see its impact. God dealt differently with Israel than He did with Edom. The Edomites had sinned against God and were about to receive the outpouring of His righteous wrath that they deserved. But Israel had sinned too. Israel had committed idolatry over and over. They also deserved God’s wrath. But their consequences weren’t the same as Edom’s.

Now, make no mistake, God takes sin seriously, and He will always deal seriously with it. But Edom was doomed to destruction for their sin and Israel wasn’t. The difference was the covenant. Edom rejected God and remained outside of His covenant, and they received judgment designed to punish them. Israel was the recipient of God’s covenant, and they received discipline intended to purify them and accompanied by the promise of restoration—which we’ll learn more about next week.

The difference was the covenant. Inside the covenant, God deals with sin by purifying us; outside the covenant, God deals with sin by punishing us. Again, Israel fell short of the covenant constantly, and they needed constant purification, but God was always faithful to keep His covenant with them.

God works the same way today. He is still faithful to those who are inside the covenant, even when they fall short of the covenant. He still deals with sin by purifying those who enter into His covenant and punishing those who reject His covenant and remain outside of it. But today there’s a new covenant. Hebrews calls Jesus “the mediator of a better covenant, which has been established on better promises” (Hebrews 8:6, CSB). Under the old covenant, we had to enter in by birth and be confirmed by circumcision. But in the new covenant, we enter in by faith in Jesus Christ, and our place in the new covenant is confirmed by the presence and work of the Holy Spirit within us.God’s indictment of Edom stands as a stark reminder of how seriously God takes sin. And it reminds us of just how dire the consequences are of continuing to reject His mercy and refusing to repent. We can reject God’s mercy and remain outside His covenant, like Edom. And if we do that, God will deal with our sin by punishing it. Or, by faith in Jesus Christ, we can enter into God’s covenant like Israel did. If we do that, God will deal with our sin by purifying us by the blood of Jesus Christ. Jesus said that His “blood of the covenant” was “poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins” (Matthew 26:28, CSB). The only way to enter into this new covenant is by trusting in Jesus Christ—who died on the cross for our sins and rose again—as our one and only Savior. And, as Edom learned, only God’s covenant makes the difference between purification and punishment.

Sermon audio and text, © 2019, Jared Byrns. All rights reserved.

Unless otherwise indicated, Biblical references are taken from The Christian Standard Bible. Copyright © 2017 by Holman Bible Publishers. Used by permission. Christian Standard Bible®, and CSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers, all rights reserved.