This week’s Haftarah[i] consists of the shortest book in the canon of scripture, one chapter, twenty-one verses. The actual identity of the prophet who authored this book is lost to us. The name of the author of this vision is Obadiah, (עֹבַדְיָה), “servant of the LORD.” Obadiah being a somewhat common name, was the name of at least twelve individuals in the Tanakh. David Baker in his commentary on Obadiah suggests, “[t]he name “Obadiah” could simply be a title, indicating the writer’s subservient position to his Lord.”[ii] Would is be that we could all be counted worthy of this name or title.
The primary focus of Obadiah’s vision is ADONAI’s pronouncement of coming judgment on Edom, the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s elder brother. This judgment is seen as not only being upon physical Edom (southeastern neighbor of Israel on the eastern side of the Salt Sea), but metaphorically as being against Rome as well as any other of Israel’s future enemies. The promise, “The victorious (saviors) will go up on Mount Zion to judge the hill country of Esau. Then the kingdom shall be Adonai’s,” (:21)[iii] is seen as a promise for all time and in the daily prayers, (Barekhu), is linked with the prophetic verse from Zechariah, “ADONAI will then be King over all the earth. In that day ADONAI will be Echad (One) and His name Echad,” (14:9). One further note on Obadiah himself; it is suggested that he might well be an Edomite convert to Judaism that the LORD used specifically to speak judgment to his former nation, similar to Hosea speaking specifically to the Northern Kingdom. These were not outsiders bring messages of gloom and doom but insiders, speaking the painful truth of the coming judgment of Hashem.
Of the various lessons we could and should learn from this prophecy, one most assuredly is in whom we should place our trust. Along with the word of impending judgment, ADONAI notes,
“The arrogance of your heart has deceived you—living in the clefts of the rock—his dwelling place is lofty, saying in his heart: ‘Who shall bring me down to the earth?’ Even if you soar like the eagle, and even if you set your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down.” declares Adonai. (Obadiah :3-4)
This is an echo from the Proverbs, “Pride goes before destruction and a haughty spirit before a fall,” (Proverbs 16:18). Possibly Shaul had both of these passages in mind when he wrote to the believers at Corinth, “Therefore let the one who thinks he (or she) stands watch out that he doesn’t fall,” (1 Corinthians 10:12). This warning is especially true as it related to the Church and Israel. To the believers in Rome, Shaul wrote concerning their position in the commonwealth of Israel, “… They (non-Yeshua believing Jews) were broken off because of unbelief, and you (non-Jews) stand by faith. Do not be arrogant, but fear—for if God did not spare the natural branches, neither will He spare you,” (Romans 11:20-21). The non-Jewish believers entered into commonwealth (Ephesians 2:12), not on their own merits, but by the blood of Messiah, (Ephesians 2:13); just as Israel was not chosen on her merits but, “… because of His love for you and His keeping the oath He swore to your fathers,” (Deuteronomy 7:8a). The key to remember, to hold very fast to, is that we literally have nothing to boast about, to take pride in or even to trust in except in the grace and mercy of our LORD. If we ever think anything else, we set ourselves up for a fall.
A second lesson we should take to heart is found in verses 10-14, where the LORD accuses Edom of standing by while Israel is plundered, razed, and taken into captivity; not only standing by and watching but actually assisting the enemy. “You should not look down on your brother on the day of his disaster, nor should you rejoice over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction. You should not speak proudly in the day of their distress,” (:12). The last line of verse twelve returns us to the pride issue again, this time not pride in one’s ability of self protection as the Edomites in their cliffs but pride in the very fact that we are standing while others are being punished. (Reread 1 Corinthians 10:12 and consider Luke 18:10-14). In their pride, Edom looked down on their cousins when judgment came. Because of this action, Rashi notes, “‘you, too, are like one of them’: I account it for you as though you were one of their attackers.”[iv] In other words, since you (Edom) stood by, watched and did nothing, you are as guilty as those who pillaged and razed. Decades ago there was a song, made popular by Chuck Girard entitled “Don’t Shoot the Wounded.” The chorus is;
Don’t shoot the wounded, they need us more than ever
They need our love no matter what it is they’ve done
Sometimes we just condemn them,
And don’t take time to hear their story
Don’t shoot the wounded, someday you might be one.[v]
It has been said that one of Christianity’s most damaging characteristics is the fact that they so often “shoot their wounded” instead of helping them back onto the path. We need to take special care, not to fall into the trap of the Edomites or the believers that Chuck Girard reference, that of trusting in ourselves and not assisting others whrn they fall. Instead let us be there, like the so called “good Samaritan,” ready to help a fallen brother or sister or even stranger in their time of need or distress.
[i] Torah Portion: Genesis 32:4(3) – 36:43; Haftarah: Obadiah 1:1-21
[ii] Baker, David W. The NIV application commentary Joel, Obadiah, Malachi. Zondervan, 2005. p 146