‘As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head’ Obadiah 15b NIV
One of the most neglected books in the Old Testament is the prophecy of Obadiah, yet it has much to teach us today about the way in which God acts in the world around us. The name of the prophet is the only thing that we know about him other than his faithfulness to his commission, cp. 1 Cor. 4. 1, 2.
Whilst the book is the shortest in the Old Testament, it is not the easiest to interpret. But one thing that marks it out is the way in which the writer provides us with a detailed analysis of the sins of Edom. The prophet stirs up the surrounding nations to declare war against Edom because of their mistreatment of God’s people in the southern kingdom of Judah. Edom, a descendant of Esau, had historically been hostile towards the descendants of Jacob, Num. 20. 14, 21.
They not only harassed the people of God, but actively assisted Judah’s enemies in the siege of Jerusalem, Obad. 11-14; Ps. 137. 7. Notice the list of charges against Edom. They were indifferent to Judah’s sufferings, v. 11, they rejoiced and boasted about Judah’s downfall, v. 12, they plundered Judah’s possessions, v. 13, and they blocked Judah’s escape route and handed over captives to their enemies, v. 14. Even though at the time the situation for Judah seemed bleak, almost irredeemable, the promises of God would not be thwarted and eventually the nation would be delivered out of Babylonian captivity. So, what Edom had done to Judah would be done to them, v. 15; Lam. 4. 21, 22.
This principle of retributive justice is evident throughout scripture. For example, the deception of Isaac by Jacob in stealing Esau’s blessing ultimately rebounds on Jacob. Not only does he never see his mother again, but he meets his uncle, Laban, who is even more devious than himself, and suffers the consequences, Gen. 29. 21-30. Later, after having to marry Leah, she would produce sons who deceived him about Joseph’s fate, 37. 31-35; cp. 27. 9, 16. God is never mocked, Gal. 6. 7!
Our Lord laid down the same principle when He told His disciples that they were not to judge other believers, but if they did, they would be judged in exactly the same way, Matt. 7. 1, 2. Similarly, He went on to emphasize the golden rule that doing unto others what we would have them do unto us fulfilled the teaching of the Law and the Prophets, 7. 12; Lev. 19. 18; Matt. 22. 39, 40. Paul affirms this principle in Romans chapter 2 verses 1 to 11.
Sometimes, as believers, we mistreat others or are mistreated ourselves. Obadiah not only spoke to his generation but provides us with a mirror for our own times. Evil practices only flourish if we exploit situations for our own advantage. This was Edom’s downfall and brought condemnation. Before we act, therefore, in future, let us think of the possible consequences of our actions, bearing in mind ‘As you have done, it will be done to you’.
Ministry Articles Editor