The Sin of Arrogance
A Study in the Minor Prophets: Obadiah
April 1, 2002 - This continues our Bible study on the Minor Prophets. Top Bible scholars explain the major themes of these books—and show how the prophets’ messages affect us today.
by Thomas Finley
Like most other people in the United States, I was stunned last September as I watched the horrible TV images of the attacks on the World Trade Center and on the Pentagon. My pain and fear, and even the feeling that the terrorists must be brought to justice, only increased as the magnitude of the tragedy became obvious in the days that followed. Then, with the bombing of Afghanistan and growing concern of additional terrorist attacks, I felt a fear that was new for me personally.
But fear of attack by a foreign country always has been part of the history of the world.
In the days of ancient Israel the Israelites, even though they were God’s chosen people, still had to endure wars and enemy invasions. Relations between their country and Edom, their neighbor to the south, were especially bitter through much of their history. Yet, Edom and Israel joined as allies against their common enemy, the Babylonians, not long before the feared Babylonians invaded and burned to the ground Jerusalem and the Temple.
The book of Obadiah deals with what happened next. It is perhaps easier for some of us to ignore the Prophet Obadiah’s writings rather than to try to understand them. Short though the book is, it has some important lessons for today.
This shortest book in the Old Testament (only one chapter) has three parts. In the first section God tells the nation of Edom that its allies will betray the people and will destroy them. This will be God’s way of judging Edom for its arrogance.
In the middle section of the book God tells Edom not to betray its sister nation Israel when the Babylonians destroy Jerusalem (587 B.C.). This was either a prophecy that the Edomites would double-cross Israel, or it is a poetic way of stating that the Edomites should not have done this. Either way, Edom clearly abandoned Israel in her hour of need.(1)
In the third segment God decrees that in the future "day of the Lord"(2) Edom, along with all the other nations hostile to Him, will be destroyed. Edom’s judgment will come at the hands of the Israelites, and the Lord God has the last word: "The kingdom will be the Lord’s."(3)
The book of Obadiah was written first for Israel’s benefit but also ultimately for the benefit of all believers in Jesus Christ.(4) As Obadiah so vividly contrasts the destiny of the people of God and of the enemies of God, he reminds us of the severe consequences of sin.
The sin of the Edomites was arrogance and pride. They thought that the rugged terrain of their country would prevent any foreign invaders from conquering them. Any enemy warriors would have to be exposed to defenders perched atop great heights that were extremely difficult to scale.
Thinking themselves thus invincible, the Edomites were not afraid to betray their allies on occasions that would work to their own advantage. They were quite willing, in fact, to profit from the misfortunes of any of their neighbors, including Israel—this even though the two nations were related through the twin brothers Jacob and Esau.(5)
Yet, as God warned Edom: "The arrogance of your heart has deceived you."(6) As history proved, the nation was not invincible against enemy attack.
The sin of arrogance is always deceptive. People do things that they know are wrong, but they think that the rules don’t apply to them and that they can get away with it. Or perhaps they think that they are above God’s standards or even that they can change God’s standards to suit themselves.
In many circles of society pornography, infidelity and killing the unborn are socially acceptable sins. Like the Edomites of old, those who practice such things think that they can defend themselves against the consequences that naturally follow such behavior. Or perhaps they think that there won’t be any consequences. Yet they find themselves enslaved to practices that damage their relationships and destroy their souls. Even though they may deny it, they will die someday and face God’s judgment.(7)
The Edomites betrayed their friends. Betrayal seems almost like a normal pattern of life in Western society today. Husbands betray their wives; workers betray their fellow employees; politicians betray their constituents. Even pastors betray their congregations. Still, there is a sense of fairness in us that cries out that deceiving someone else for one’s own gain is wrong.
According to Obadiah, Edom’s punishment for double-crossing Israel would be that their own allies would desert them in a time of great need. Just as violence begets violence, so betrayal begets betrayal.
The Edomites themselves did not attack Israel. They stepped aside and let the Babylonians do their violent work, and then the Edomites plundered Jerusalem. As if that was not enough, the Edomites also captured fleeing Israelites and turned them over to the Babylonians. When I see a person hurt someone else and I am in a position to do something about it, I know that it would be wrong not to get involved. It would be even worse if I profited in some way from what was done. Could it be that, as a Christian, I need to warn others about the consequences of their sin?
God told the Prophet Ezekiel as much,(8) and the Apostle Paul often warned others of sin.(9) If I don’t warn others, perhaps it is because I am more concerned about my own comfort and reputation than about the salvation of others.
Is there any good news in Obadiah? Any Gospel message? The Edomites betrayed Israel, the people of God. Even though the Israelites had to go through much suffering, they had God’s promise of victory over their enemies in the end. As the prophet declares, "On Mount Zion there will be those who escape."(10) These will have a key part in God’s Kingdom that He will establish on Mount Zion.(11)
The simple fact that God has His own people in this world is great news. In addition, the promise that good will triumph over evil is seen in the contrast between "those who escape"(10) and those (including Edom) who are destroyed in the "day of the Lord."(2) It is God’s goodness that triumphs, though, not humankind’s goodness.
Throughout the book of Obadiah God is the central figure. He summons other nations to come against Edom(12); He informs Edom of its arrogance(13); He chastens Edom for its treatment of Israel(14); He carries out the judgment of "the day of the Lord"(2); He decrees that Israel will reoccupy her land(15); and He reigns supreme over everything.(16)
God defines the rules, chooses His own people and dispenses judgment. He is in control of history. Surely the One who rules the nations is able to care for us.
The important thing for each of us, then, is to be part of God’s people. That is the winning side. As the New Testament makes clear, God joins us to His family when we put away our arrogant pride and receive Jesus Christ, God’s Son, through simple faith in His name.(17)
While we may have a destiny that is different in the details from that of the tribes of Israel, as described in Obadiah 17-20, yet we will still be a part of the Kingdom that is the Lord’s.(11)