Thursday, June 7, 2012

Obadiah: What's in a name?

Last week (5/28 to 6/2) I was ready to plan a lesson on Isaiah 5:4-7.  We discussed vs. 1-4 (of Isaiah 5) the week before, so the next verses would logically come next.  Right?  We were going to talk about wild grapes, winepresses, hedges, etc.  I sat down for my study time ready and waiting for God to give me this lesson.   Instead He gave me a Scripture; Numbers 9:23, “at the command of the Lord they remained encamped…”  Well, that has absolutely nothing to do with grapes!  Reading the surrounding verses, I was made painfully aware of the Israelites’ dependence upon God’s Spirit to guide them over their 40-year journey from Egypt to Canaan.  In reading these verses, I sensed God saying, “Lori, what is your rush?!”  His Spirit was still encamped on the tower (from Isaiah 5:2), but I was packing up, ready to rush off to the next campsite.  So we stay put for now, looking to the Old Testament towers - specifically the prophets - to see what they have to say to us in 2012.  But even so, where do we start?  I was definitely asking that question.  The answer came quickly - Obadiah.  You know what my next question was ... Who is Obadiah?!

In Sunday's lesson we learned that Obadiah is the shortest book of the Old Testament (only 21 verses).  He was also one of the earliest prophets in the time of the divided kingdom (Israel’s 10 tribes to the North and Judah’s 2 tribes to the South), which is why I think God directed us to look here first.  When you read Obadiah … Oh and you’ll definitely want to use your friend and mine - the Table of Contents - to find it; otherwise, you’ll probably skip right by it, swearing Obadiah was left out of your Bible.  Lol....  When you read Obadiah, you’ll notice that Edom is in the crosshairs of God’s judgment (no pun intended … crosshairs ... I've been feeling punny this week) because of what had been done to Jacob and Edom’s complicity in allowing/agreeing with those things.

God’s judgment on Edom (foretold in the book of Obadiah) is actually the climax of a conflict that had its roots centuries earlier with twin brothers Jacob and Esau - sons of Isaac, grandsons of Abraham.  Like Israel (and the land belonging to it’s tribes - Ephraim, Simeon, Gad, Benjamin, Judah, etc.), Edom represented a land whose name was derived from the people living there.  The Israelites got their name from their common forefather Jacob (whose name was later changed to Israel).  The forefather of the people of Edom was Esau.

In the time of the Old Testament, names were not given on the basis of what sounded good, but because of events surrounding the birth of a child.  Esau was given his name because he was hairy, even from birth.  What a way to get a name?!  Jacob’s name, supplanter, came from his holding Esau’s heel as they were born.  Both men later received new names; both the giving and changing of their names were due to significant events in their lives.  Esau's new name was Edom (red), not because of his reddish complexion (mentioned in the account of his birth), but because ... (insert your best movie revelation voice) duh, duh, duh ... of the color of the stew for which he traded his birthright.

Esau’s anger over the “stolen” birthright and blessing eventually faded, but centuries later you have these two peoples living next to each other.  Nations with common ancestors.  Both knowing the “Jacob and Esau” story as well as the “rightful“ heir to the family blessing.  Edom’s national identity would have been tied, every bit as much, to Esau’s trading of his birthright as it was to Esau himself.  Their own name - the Edomites - must have haunted them with the nagging suggestion of “what might have been …”  Making things worse, generation after generation of Edomites faced the supplanter himself - the tribe of Israel.

God makes it clear through Obadiah that Edom acted as a bystander in the oppresssion of / attacks on Israel and Judah (again, a tribe of Israel).  That being said, the Edomites were anything but innocent.  I can’t help but think the people of Edom must have thought that the descendants of Jacob were getting exactly what they deserved.  God disagreed!

One last thing before I overstay my welcome on today's post…  Sunday some of us admitted to feeling sorry for Esau.  Was it really fair that his birthright and blessing were taken away?  When I find myself asking questions like this of Scripture, I try to dig into the question-behind-the-question.  With this one, I think it's Satan's age-old suggestion, "Is God really just?"

As humans living in a fallen world, we can relate to Esau - maybe a little too well.  We identify with the tendency to exaggerate a present need (hunger in Esau’s case) in order to justify immediate gratification.  Don’t forget that in God’s all-seeing eyes, Esau did much more than buy a bowl of stew; he proved that he despised his blessing (Gen 25:34).  Maybe the question shouldn’t be, “Why did God take Esau’s blessing away?”, but “Why does God still choose to bless me?”  Because let’s face it, if put in the right situation at the right time … for the right bowl of stew, any one of us would trade in our blessing for it.

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