10 Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. 11 On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. 12 But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress. 13 Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; do not gloat over his disaster in the day of his calamity; do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity. 14 Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives; do not hand over his survivors in the day of distress. 15 For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. 16 For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, so all the nations shall drink continually; they shall drink and swallow, and shall be as though they had never been.
Hillaire Belloc once made an astonishingly chilling statement that tends to stay with one. Richard John Neuhaus observed that Belloc made the statement “from the Sahara as he pondered the ruins of Timgad.” Here is what Belloc said:
We sit by and watch the barbarian. We tolerate him in the long stretches of peace, we are not afraid. We are tickled by his irreverence; his comic inversion of our old certitudes and our fixed creed refreshes us; we laugh. But as we laugh we are watched by large and awful faces from beyond, and on these faces there are no smiles.
It is a chilling statement, and a necessary one. It reminds us that the barbarians we wink and giggle at are as dangerous to us as they are to the direct objects of their wrath. When we consider the book of Obadiah, we might say that Edom was tickled by the Babylonian barbarians and particularly by their attack upon Judah. Edom was not afraid…but there were large and awful faces from beyond watching them. These were the faces of the children of God who had received the full brunt of Babylon’s wrath. Moreso, the face of God Himself was watching Edom, and He was not amused.
Inactivity in the face of evil is itself evil activity.
We now see God censuring Edom for their sinful inactivity.
10 Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. 11 On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.
It is interesting to observe that God condemns Edom’s “violence” against Judah in verse 10 then condemns their aloofness, their distance inactivity in the face of Babylon’s violence against Judah, in verse 11. Edom stood haughtily by while “strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem.” Then we find the bridging thought: “you were like one of them.”
Obadiah 10-11 establishes a vital principle: to stand idly by while evil deeds are done is to be guilty of the evil deeds that have been done! That has been said in many ways over the years, perhaps most famously (and, for the sake of accuracy, allegedly) by Edmund Burke who is supposed to have said, “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
Edom stood by while Babylon sacked Jerusalem. More than that, they gloated. More than that, they picked the carcass of Judah after the attack. For this, God condemned their evil deeds.
We read about this time and time again: crowds of people standing by watching while a person stabs another person to death in the street. We wonder, “Why did not somebody intervene?” We judge, but, in truth, we suspect that we too might be similarly inactive. This was the crime of Edom, Judah’s neighbor.
If you have been to the National Holocaust museum you will likely have seen Martin Niemoller’s powerful little poem, “First they came…” on one of the walls. If you have not, it is most possible that you have heard it in some other context. Niemoller was a pastor who bravely opposed Hitler’s reign of terror. He understood that silence in the face of evil was not an option. He wrote:
First they came for the Socialists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Socialist.
Then they came for the Trade Unionists, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Trade Unionist.
Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—
Because I was not a Jew.
Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.
Yes, if we do not aid the victims of evil then who will aid us when the evil turns our way? This was Edom: they said nothing and they did nothing. But God saw and God is not mocked even by the insolent pride of a haughty nation.
A person is never nearer destruction than when that person grows comfortable with his or her sins.
God next turns to Edom’s inner disposition over the fall of Judah and condemns their pride.
12 But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress. 13 Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; do not gloat over his disaster in the day of his calamity; do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity. 14 Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives; do not hand over his survivors in the day of distress.
Do not gloat.
Do not rejoice.
Do not boast.
It is true that Judah had fallen as a result of her own sinfulness but Edom was likewise sinning to rejoice over Judah’s judgment. The great ancient preacher Ambrose of Milan saw in this a warning that we should not rejoice when others receive judgment for their sins. Here is what Ambrose prayed:
Preserve, O Lord, your work, guard the gift which you have given even to him who shrank from it. For I knew that I was not worthy to be called a bishop, because I had devoted myself to this world, but by your grace I am what I am. And I am indeed the least of all bishops, and the lowest in merit. Yet since I too have undertaken some labor for your holy church, watch over this fruit. Do not let the one who was lost before you called him to the priesthood be lost when he becomes a priest. And first grant that I may know how with inmost affection to mourn with those who sin; for this is a very great virtue, since it is written, “And you shall not rejoice over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction, and speak not proudly in the day of their trouble.” Grant that so often as the sin of anyone who has fallen is made known to me I may suffer with him and not chide him proudly but mourn and weep, so that weeping over another I may mourn for myself, saying, “Tamar has been more righteous than I.”
What should Edom’s reaction to Judah’s judgment have been? Grief and mourning over their own sinfulness! They should have turned to the one true God and cried out for mercy, for if God will discipline his own people how much more the proud and pagan Edomites who have rejected Him outright?
Beware the temptation to exult over the judgment of the fallen! The judgment of God comes upon all wickedness. The Lord communicates this truth in the next verse.
We will drink judgment unless we are saved by the one Who drank our judgment.
In John Donne’s 17th Meditation, he famously wrote:
No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.
Edom failed to remember that they were part and parcel of the human race alongside the Jews. They failed to understand that they stood under the judgment of God for their wickedness just like every other person on the earth. They failed to understand that the bell that tolled for Judah likewise tolled for Babylon and for them!
15 For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. 16 For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, so all the nations shall drink continually; they shall drink and swallow, and shall be as though they had never been.
“All nations” stand under the balanced scales of justice and judgment: “As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.” In verse 16, there is a powerful turn of phrase. Edom had drunk gluttonously on the ruin of Judah, but Edom, and all wicked peoples, would be given the cup of judgment to drink in due time. Whereas the debauchery of their own arrogance led them to blinding drunkenness, the cup of the wrath of God would have quite an opposite effect: “they shall drink and swallow, and shall be as though they had never been.”
This image of drinking the judgment of God to destruction is fascinating, for it is the same image that Jesus drew on in Gethsemane in Matthew 26.
36 Then Jesus went with them to a place called Gethsemane, and he said to his disciples, “Sit here, while I go over there and pray.” 37 And taking with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, he began to be sorrowful and troubled. 38 Then he said to them, “My soul is very sorrowful, even to death; remain here, and watch with me.” 39 And going a little farther he fell on his face and prayed, saying, “My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me; nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will.” 40 And he came to the disciples and found them sleeping. And he said to Peter, “So, could you not watch with me one hour? 41 Watch and pray that you may not enter into temptation. The spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.” 42 Again, for the second time, he went away and prayed, “My Father, if this cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.” 43 And again he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. 44 So, leaving them again, he went away and prayed for the third time, saying the same words again. 45 Then he came to the disciples and said to them, “Sleep and take your rest later on. See, the hour is at hand, and the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 46 Rise, let us be going; see, my betrayer is at hand.”
See and understand the difference between preening Edom and the humble Christ. Edom sees the fall of Judah and rejoices! Jesus sees the fall of the world and weeps. Edom stands at a distance and taunts. Jesus enters into the world’s pain and brings forgiveness and restoration. Edom took advantage of calamity for its own gain. Jesus set aside all gain and entered our calamity.
Edom drank the cup of wickedness and it led to their judgment. Jesus drank the cup of judgment and it led to our salvation!
We will drink judgment unless we are saved by the one Who drank our judgment.
Jesus drank the cup of the wrath of God so that we would never have to! We come to Jesus, Edomites all, and throw ourselves at His feet…and there we find mercy! For Christ has drunk the cup that I should have drunk and Christ and paid the price that I should have paid!
See wretched Edom there and tremble! You too might fall under the judgment as they did!
But see our merciful Jesus here and rejoice! He took the judgment so that all who will call on His name can be saved!
 Richard John Neuhaus, The Best of the Public Square. Book Three. (Grand Rapids, MI: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Co., 2007), p.92.
 Alberto Ferreiro, The Twelve Prophets. Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture. Gen. Ed. Thomas C. Oden. Old Testament XIV (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2003), p.122.
 John Donne, John Donne: Selections from Divine Poems, Sermons, Devotions, and Prayers. The Classics of Western Spirituality. (New York, NY: Paulist Press, 1990), p.58.