Interestingly coincidental, but more than that providential, are when words and events come together at the same time. This chapter was scheduled in series release to be next only to end up coinciding with the sad human event of tragic racist violence in a protest in Charlottesville, VA. It comes from not so minor prophetic book Obadiah.
There is this rift not unlike the legendary feud of the Hatfield and McCoy families that holds nothing comparable to this quarrel of biblical proportions that is brought to the theme of Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament. The Israelites had a long-standing angst with Edomites as they refused them passage through their territory during the exodus. And then, the Edomites joined in with the Babylonians on the assault on Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple.
The theme of the book pronounces judgment on the foreign nation of Edom, making Obadiah one of three prophets (along with Nahum and Habakkuk) who speaks specifically to one nation. The book contains both curses and blessings. While in other prophetic books, messages contain the judgment against Edom, Obadiah’s focuses on when people remove from or place themselves in opposition to God’s people; they can expect adjudication rather than restoration.
Obadiah is one of the most common names in the Old Testament. Due to this and the scant historical clues in the book by this name, the date and identity of who the exact Obadiah is inspired by God to write this book isn’t agreed upon by commentators. Theologian’s best guess places the writing around 840 BC, making him an earlier writing prophet and a contemporary of Elisha.
The Edomites, descendants of Esau (from the Genesis era), is this books the main audience. The Israelites are descendants of his twin brother, Jacob, so they are relatives. God’s long suffering and patience, not to forget his grace, is apparent here. King Herod of the New Testament was an Edomite. After his reign, the Edomites disappeared from history. It shows how an example of evil attached to something good (from God’s people the Israelites, Jesus) and how God used evil as for a greater good.
It is something to think about in how far reaching a quarrel can be when not resolved, in this case between brothers, and its effects on their descendants for over thousands of years. God fulfills his prophecy to Rebekah that her older child would serve the younger, and the Israelites proved stronger than Edom. There are other biblical brothers whose actions have had historical consequences: Cain and Abel, Ishmael and Isaac, Joseph and his brothers, and Moses (by informal adoption) and Pharaoh.
Obadiah’s prophecy focuses on the destructive power found in pride gone wrong. It is about the consequences of living in a self-serving manner, of following only our desires without consideration of the impact on those around us. Pride has been part of the lives of human beings since the beginning of time at the tragedy of the fall in Eden. Obadiah offers the reminder to place ourselves under God’s authority. This book is the only one in the Old Testament composed of one single chapter. Full of messianic facts, this story prefigures Jesus as the salvation and deliverance to come (verse 17), the kingdom of the Lord (verse 21) and the presence of holiness (verse 22). When news of my impending split-up was made known to the children, one bemoaned the scriptural reference about the sins of the father that would continue to the third and fourth generation and how now our family is doomed to repeat. That stung me.
In Deuteronomy (5:8-10) and Exodus (34:6-7), it says the iniquity of the fathers fall onto the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation. It could happen because after all modern human beings currently living are said to be the descendants of Cain.
Bob Dylan wrote during what is called his “born again” Christian song “Every Grain of Sand”:
“Don’t have the inclination to look back on any mistake
Like Cain, I now behold this chain of events that I must break
In the fury of the moment, I can see the Master’s hand
In every leaf that trembles, in every grain of sand.”
John Piper clarifies confusion about Deuteronomy 5:9, on punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation. The sentence doesn’t end there but often readers stop there. It ends with the words “of those who hate me.” Judgment and chastisements are reserved for the person who does the wrongdoing (cf. Ex. 18:20; Jer. 31:30). Jesus is asked in the Gospels: “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents that he would be born blind?” He answers, “Neither that this man nor his parents sinned, but this happened so that the works of God might be displayed in him.” (Jn. 9:2-3).
The dread of thinking about the burden that sin is congenital, and not realizing God’s final redemption for sin is covered by the cross through the sacrificial death of Jesus. “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death” (Rom. 8:1-2). It’s the difference between old and new covenant thinking.
Through God’s grace, secured by Christ, we can confess their sins and the sins of our fathers, and be forgiven and accepted by God.
Proverbs 6:16 says, “There are six things which the Lord hates, seven which are an abomination to him.” First listed is “a proud look,” otherwise known as vanity. And everything else that follows is a variation of pride. Pride can appear in our lives in ten thousand ways, and it is what deceives us (Ob. 1:3).
The spirit of self-sufficiency is a slippery slope. I distinctly lost some of my pride when I gave birth and became a mother. It was overwhelming for me to consider the responsibility of parenthood, of doing the right thing with confidence that it was in the right direction.
After coming out of hard seasons, the lessons tend to slip from our memory as we try to ease the pain. Elie Wiesel said in his Nobel Laureate speech:
“Of course, we could try to forget the past. Why not? Is it not natural for a human being to repress what causes him pain, what causes him shame. Like the body, memory protects its wounds. When day breaks after a sleepless night, one’s ghosts must withdraw. The dead are ordered back to their graves. But for the first time in history, we could not bury our dead. We bear their graves within ourselves. For us, forgetting was never an option. Remembering is a noble and necessary act. The call of memory, the call to memory, reaches us from the dawn of history. No commandment figures so frequently, so insistently, in the Bible. It is incumbent upon us to remember the good we have received and the evil we have suffered.”