Obadiah 1:3-4—The Pride of Edom

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The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.
(Obadiah 1:3-4 ESV)

            G.K. Chesterton once said, “If I had only one sermon to preach it would be a sermon against pride.”[1] Indeed pride is at the root of many, and arguably, all of our struggles with sin. Obadiah is the shortest of the OT books and speaks of the danger of the great sin of pride and arrogance, the feeling of superiority that often results from taking advantage of others.” The OT mentions judgment against Edom more than any other nation.[2] Its pronouncement of judgment against them fulfilling Proverbs 16:18, “Pride goes before destruction, a haughty spirit before a fall.” However, Charles Simeon observed that in the prophetic writings, the riches promised to the Christian Church often follow and arise out of the denunciations of vengeance against God’s enemies—“the design of God being to display thereby, in a more abundant measure, the riches of his grace towards his chosen people.”[3]


Between a rock and a proud place

            Edom was set in the east of the Jordan among the rocky crags which towered above the Dead Sea which provided natural defences to the city of Edom. They are said to have lived in rock-hewn dwellings which are found everywhere in those hills. They would have been a rough, hardy, mountaineering people—strong and capable. Because of the inaccessibility of their location, they became self-assured of their own invulnerability and this arrogance led ultimately to their downfall.[4] C.S. Lewis wrote that, “Prostitutes are in no danger of finding their present life so satisfactory that they cannot turn to God: the proud, the avaricious, the self-righteous, are in that danger.”[5] It is so easy for us to become so satisfied in our comfortable life. Our security—whether it be found in the things we possess, or the country we live in—may cause us to think we’re impervious to attack, and hidden in the crags of a stony heart we cannot see the need to turn to God. Proverbs 16:5 says that, “Everyone who is arrogant in heart is an abomination to the Lord; be assured, he will not go unpunished.” Edom’s judgment was to be a confirmation of this. However, pride is seldom such a simple deceiver, nor are its symptoms so singularly diagnosed.

            The animosity between Israel and Edom had a long history back to a time when their names were a bit different—Jacob and Esau. From the womb these two brothers were struggling with each other (Gen. 25:21-26). Esau sold his birthright to his scheming brother Jacob and eventually this sibling rivalry would spiral into all out enmity between the two nations these brothers birthed. Jacob was chosen as the one through whom God’s promise would continue, Esau was not. However, Jacob was not a picture perfect poster boy either. He too had his own pride issues—relying on his cunning and scheming. Esau’s line eventually became Edom, Jacob became Israel, and the squabble continued. Perhaps the pride in both brothers hindering a genuine lasting reconciliation between the blood lines?

            In Numbers 20:14-21, Edom didn’t allow Israel to pass through their territory on the way to the Promised Land. However, God told Israel not to hate their brothers (Deut. 23:7). The hostilities still continued for centuries and Israel’s kings had many problems with Edom. They even joined the Ammonites and Moabites to attack Judah (2 Chron. 20:1-26). They revolted against Judah in 2 Kings 8 and attacked Judah again in 2 Chron. 28. They also encouraged Babylon to destroy Jerusalem in 586BCE (Ps. 137:7).[6] And according to 1 Esdras 4:45, the Edomites also joined in the destruction and even helped to catch Judean fugitives (Obadiah 1:14).[7] This was no small family feud. What started off coming out of the womb grasping at the other’s heel, grew to trickery over a bowl of soup and eventually boiled over into a caldron of hate between brothers.

“The consciousness that the Israelites were their brethren, ought to have impelled the Edomites to render helpful support to the oppressed Judaeans. Instead of this, they not only revelled with scornful and malignant pleasure in the misfortune of the brother nation, but endeavored to increase it still further by rendering active support to the enemy. This hostile behaviour of Edom arose from envy at the election of Israel, like the hatred of Esau towards Jacob (Gen. 27:41), which was transmitted to his descendants.”[8]


Pride among brothers

            This sort of pride and envy can creep up subtly on us. In Obadiah 1:10, the prophet identifies Jacob as their brother not for honour’s sake, but for the purpose of showing more clearly the cruelty of the Edomites.[9] The fact that they were brothers reminds me of how this can happen even among brothers in Christ. John Newton said, Self-righteousness can feed upon doctrines, as well as upon works; and a man may have the heart of a Pharisee, while his head is stored with orthodox notions of the unworthiness of the creature and the riches of free grace.”[10] Or alternatively, how easily can we ironically pray, “Thank God I’m not like that Pharisee?” Do we, fed fat on doctrine in our rock hewn towers of one-up-man-ship, scoff and hinder our brothers from passing over into the promise land?

            Consider how easy is it for us to look at those whom the Lord has favoured, either in possession or talents or positions—even within the church—and feel our hearts pulled towards envy? How are we holding on to grudges, opportunities robbed, or family feuds? Unforgiveness is itself rooted in pride—especially for the ones claiming the name Christian—for are we to say that we would hold a Christian brother to sins that God himself forgave? These past grudges we refuse to let go of are like anchored hooks in our flesh, and as we try to move forward they rip away at us leaving scars which are too sensitive to live comfortably among the salt of the earth. Commenting on this passage, John Calvin said:

“. . .the calamity would not be only for a time as in the case of Israel, but that the Lord would execute such a punishment as would prove that the [Edomites] were aliens to him; for God in chastising his Church ever observes certain limits, as he never forgets his covenant. He proves indeed that the [Edomites] were not his people, however much they might falsely boast that they were the children of Abraham, and make claim to the sign of circumcision. . .”[11]

            There is a danger in unrepentant pride—it can expose the heart of one never truly converted. Apart from the grace of God, we’re all a pride-filled mess of deluded self-sufficiency. Pride exalts itself over others. Exalting in another’s failure or misfortunes soothes our inadequacies and magnifies our successes. However, by displaying this sort of unrelenting hatred of their brother, the Edomites showed that they were not true children of the covenant. Everyone who hates his brother is a murderer, and you know that no murderer has eternal life abiding in him.” (1 John 3:15 ESV) Let us not be like this, but rather make our calling and election sure. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ and hates his brother, he is a liar; for he who does not love his brother whom he has seen cannot love God whom he has not seen.” (1 John 4:20 ESV) For those who have been shown such love as is in Christ, we cannot claim to be truly changed by that love if it does not also flow out of us, especially to those fellow heirs redeemed in Christ. So how do we deal with pride? We fix our eyes on Christ’s example:

“Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others. Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.” (Phil. 2:3-8 ESV)


Pride—the antithesis of faith

“For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.” (Oba. 1:15 ESV)

            In verse 15 we see that as they have done, so will it be done to them. The Edomites, rejoicing in the misfortunes of their brothers’ punishment abused the forbearance shown to them and they became insolent even though the Lord spared them. However, the Lord has a reward prepared for everyone for the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.” (Oba. 1:15a ESV)[12] The hooks were already in—Edom trusted in their own fortifications, hating their brother, not fearing the Lord—and it would end up ripping them up. If it is this God who brings nations to naught that opposes the proud (James 4:6), what a fearful thing it indeed is to fall into His hands (Hebrews 10:31)! However, as true as this is, fear should not be the only motivating factor for obedience and humility.

            God’s requirements of us are predicated on His show of goodness, grace and faithfulness to those undeserving. A true life of faith realizes our past proven track record of failure to live according to what we are called and rests thankfully in the grace of God’s patience with us. Such reflection should inspire great humility in the believer. Andrew Murray once said, we see how in their very nature pride and faith are irreconcilably at variance, we shall learn that faith and humility are at root one, and that we never can have more of true faith than we have of true humility.”[13] We must rightly see ourselves and see God, “for if anyone thinks he is something, when he is nothing, he deceives himself.” (Gal. 6:3)


Pride goes before destruction

            The final destruction of the Edomites was started by the Maccabees and John Hyrcanus subdued them entirely around 129 BCE. According to Josephus, they were further subjugated by Alexander Jannaeus and then utterly destroyed at the hands of the Romans.[14] The lesson from Edom to us is one we must keep in mind—pride will ultimately lead to our demise. “It is much more beneficial for us and for God’s kingdom to assist someone when they are down rather than mocking or attacking them in their infirmity. Such scorn is contrary to God’s desire that we care for the downtrodden.”[15] In fact, it may just be that those who are downtrodden today may yet arise to have the final word as in the case of Judah. Furthermore, let us learn from the lessons of history the dangers that unresolved pride can cause for future generations. Let us not forget that we as Christians today have been shown great grace to be grafted in to the covenant.

“But if some of the branches were broken off, and you, although a wild olive shoot, were grafted in among the others and now share in the nourishing root of the olive tree, do not be arrogant toward the branches. If you are, remember it is not you who support the root, but the root that supports you. Then you will say, “Branches were broken off so that I might be grafted in.” That is true. They were broken off because of their unbelief, but you stand fast through faith. So do not become proud, but fear. For if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will he spare you.” (Rom 11:17-21)

            As we struggle to live at peace with one another as God’s covenant community of faith, let us continually put to death pride and remove all its sharp hooks which dig ruts of unforgiveness and bitterness. Perhaps Calvin’s prayer is fitting as our prayer as we aim to live Christ-like, humble and merciful lives endeavouring to grow in love and unity together.

“Grant, Almighty God, that as we are so scattered in our pilgrimage in this world, that even a dreadful spectacle is presented to our eyes, when we see thy Church so miserably rent asunder,—O grant, that being endued with the real power of thy Spirit, and gathered into one, we may so cultivate brotherly kindness among ourselves, that each may strive to help another, and at the same time keep our eyes fixed on Christ Jesus; and though hard contests may await us, may we yet be under his care and protection, and so exercise patience, that having finished our warfare, we may at last enjoy that blessed rest, which thou hast promised to us, and which is laid up for us in heaven, and which has also been purchased for us by the blood of Christ thy Son, our Lord. Amen.”[16]


ENDNOTES

[1] Chesterton, “If I Had Only One Sermon” in On Lying in Bed, 507
[2] Baker, “Obadiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1453
[3] Simeon, Horae Homileticae, 246
[4] Carson, New Bible Commentary, 809. See also Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, 237.
[5] Lewis, The Problem of Pain, 79
[6] Baker, “Obadiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary, 1454–1455
[7] Clark, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Obadiah, 6
[8] Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, 241
[9] Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 438
[10] Ritzema, 300 Quotations for Preachers, no pages
[11] Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 439
[12] Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 446
[13] Ritzema, 300 Quotations for Preachers, no pages
[14] Keil, Commentary on the Old Testament, 251–252
[15] Carson, New Bible Commentary, 811
[16] Calvin, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets, 456


BIBLIOGRAPHY

Baker, Walter L. “Obadiah,” in The Bible Knowledge Commentary: An Exposition of the Scriptures. ed. J. F. Walvoord and R. B. Zuck, Vol. 1. Wheaton, IL: Victor Books, 1985.

Calvin, John and John Owen, Commentaries on the Twelve Minor Prophets. Vol. 2. Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software, 2010.

Carson D. A. et al., eds., New Bible Commentary: 21st Century Edition. 4th ed. Leicester, England; Downers Grove, IL: Inter-Varsity Press, 1994.

Chesterton, G.K. “If I Had Only One Sermon” in On Lying in Bed & Other Essays. ed. Alberto Manguel. Calgary, AB: Bayeux Arts: 2004.

Clark, David J. and Norm Mundhenk, A Translator’s Handbook on the Book of Obadiah. UBS Handbook Series London; New York: United Bible Societies, 1982.

Keil, Carl Friedrich and Franz Delitzsch, Commentary on the Old Testament. Vol. 10 Peabody, MA: Hendrickson, 1996.

Lewis, C.S. The Problem of Pain. New York, NT: Harper Collins, 2009.

Ritzema, Elliot. 300 Quotations for Preachers. Logos Bible Software. Bellingham, WA: Lexham Press, 2012.

Simeon, Charles. Horae Homileticae: Hosea to Malachi. Vol. 10. London: Holdsworth and Ball, 1832.

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