1 Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom: We have heard a report from the Lord, and a messenger has been sent among the nations: “Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!” 2 Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be utterly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?” 4 Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.
I think the strongest lyric that Bob Dylan ever wrote can be found in his 1965 song, “Desolation Row.” The song is about the current and coming demise of Western culture and the line that I am referencing goes like this: “The Titanic sails at dawn.”
It is a short line, “The Titanic sails at dawn,” but we immediately know what it means because we are all familiar with the tragedy of the Titanic. The Titanic was the supposedly unsinkable ship that sank on April 15, 1912. Over 1500 people died in that tragedy.
Some people allege that nobody actually spoke of the Titanic as unsinkable, but the Snopes website, after investigating the matter, concluded that they did.
…in mid-1911, nearly a year before the Titanic‘s maiden voyage, publications such as the Irish News and Belfast Morning News and Shipbuilder printed detailed articles about the ship’s construction and noted that “The Captain may, by simply moving an electric switch, instantly close the doors throughout and make the vessel practically unsinkable.” And of course the Titanic‘s Captain, Edward J. Smith, had said of the Adriatic several years earlier: “I cannot imagine any condition which would cause a ship to founder. I cannot conceive of any vital disaster happening to this vessel. Modern shipbuilding has gone beyond that.”
Walter Lord wrote, “the ‘unsinkability’ of the Titanic was not the product of some slick advertising copywriter, nor was it a myth later invented to improve the story. It was the considered opinion of experts at the time.” “[E]ven as reports of the Titanic disaster began to reach America early in the morning of 15 April 1912,” Snopes continues, “the Vice-President of the White Star Line in New York stated, without qualification, ‘We place absolute confidence in the Titanic. We believe that the boat is unsinkable.’”
When Dylan sang, “The Titanic sails at dawn,” what he was saying is that those who feel most invincible and most secure are actually nearest to destruction, be it a large boat or a large country or an individual! Dylan was saying that about us, but, in the little book of Obadiah, the Lord was saying that about Edom. For Edom, the Titanic sailed at dawn.
Simply put, the little book of Obadiah contains a warning of impending doom against Edom, a nation to the southeast of Judah that did not assist Judah when Babylon attacked and sacked her in the 580’s B.C. In fact, Edom seems to have actually assisted Babylon in doing so. Thus, when God spoke through the prophet Obadiah, Judah was in ruins and Edom was staring at them with taunting derision and cold indifference. The book foretells Edom’s demise and concludes with a promise of blessing for Judah.
The ESV Study Bible has offered a succinct summary of the issues surrounding the dating of the book of Obadiah.
Suggested dates range from very early (c. 850 B.C.) to very late (c. 400). Since the book presents the fall of Jerusalem as a past event (v. 11) and the fall of Edom as a future event, a probable date would be after 586 B.C. (the destruction of Jerusalem by Babylon) and before 553 (Babylon’s campaign against Edom). Therefore, the most likely situation is the first half of the Babylonian exile. The place of writing is Jerusalem.
We cannot glean much information concerning Obadiah as a person. “We don’t even know that Obadiah was an Israelite,” writes Mark Dever, “we don’t know anything about him, really.” Dever goes on to point out that while “twelve different people in the Old Testament bear his name…’Obadiah’ means ‘servant of Yahweh,’ so perhaps the name was simply a descriptive title for this messenger who wrote it.”
Whoever Obadiah was, he was faithful to the task to which God had called him. We begin with chilling words of coming doom upon haughty Edom.
We are never so big that we cannot be made small.
The phrase, “You’re getting too big for your britches,” is a phrase that most of us know and that many of us have been told over the years! I recall being the recipient of these words more than a few times as a boy. What it means is a person’s cocky attitude has officially outgrown their capacity to back up said attitude. Put another way, it means that we have come to think too highly of ourselves.
In the first two verses of Obadiah, God tells Edom that they are getting too big for their britches. He is reminding them that they are not so big that they cannot be made small.
1 Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom: We have heard a report from the Lord, and a messenger has been sent among the nations: “Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!”
We first note a divine call to “the nations” to muster for war. War against whom? Against Edom. Cocksure Edom’s time for gloating was reaching an end and God was preparing to cut them down to size.
2 Behold, I will make you small among the nations; you shall be utterly despised.
The “Behold” that begins verse 2 is called a “deictic-exclamatory particle” and signifies “an unexpected turn of events by introducing…‘surprise clauses.” Paul Raabe says that the word is specifically trying to point us to the “surprising adjective” “small” or “insignificant.” Meaning, the Lord signals that He is going to say something that many people will find most surprising. Specifically, He is going to make Edom “small” and “utterly despised.”
Edom, in its haughtiness, would have found such an idea absurd. Their neighbors to the northwest, Judah, had been laid low and, as far as they knew, Babylon had no beef with them per se, so they were safe. These were big times for Edom! They luxuriated in their confidence and they soaked in their certainty.
It is amazing how obscene human beings can become when we have too high an opinion of ourselves. David McCullough has written, for instance, of the absurdly arrogant Prosper Enfantin.
Prosper Enfantin had taken up the banner after the death of the Master, calling himself Le Père [“The Father”], “one half of the Couple of Revelation.” The other half, he said, was a divine female who had still to make herself recognized. A “church” was established on the Rue Monsigny in Paris; lavish receptions were staged to welcome the female messiah, candidates for the honor being received in Father Enfantin’s ornate bedchamber. Further, at a private estate near Paris, he founded an all-male colony for the faithful, where the prescribed habit, an outfit designed by the artist Raymond Bonheur, was a long, flowing tunic, blue-violet in color, tight-fitting white trousers, scarlet vest, and an enormous sash of richly embroidered silk. Enfantin, a big, bearded man, had the words “Le Père” embroidered across the front of his blouse. When he was taken to court for his advocacy of free love, he appeared in Hessian boots and a velvet cloak trimmed with ermine. Asked to defend his behavior, he stood motionless and silent, then explained that he wished the court to have a quiet moment to reflect on his beauty.
Edom was as a nation what Enfantin was as an individual: preening, narcissistic, and decadent. Because of this, the Lord God said that He would reduce them to the status of “insignificant” and “despised.”
Do you remember what happened to Herod when he strutted in his pomp and sought the glory of man? Acts 12 tells the shocking story.
21 On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. 22 And the people were shouting, “The voice of a god, and not of a man!” 23 Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last.
Beware of thinking that you are bigger and grander than you are! Beware of glorying in yourself! You are not so big that you cannot be made small.
We are never so secure that we cannot be reached.
Edom also gloried in its security.
3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?”
David Baker says this of Edom’s natural fortifications:
Land passage through this territory is often through narrow passages between towering rocks, a way that is easily blocked by a few well-placed soldiers…Geographically, therefore, Edom is impregnable to outside military forces. This is in contrast to neighboring Judah to the west. She has the disadvantage of lying athwart a coastal plain along major trade routes.
It will help you to envision what Baker is talking about to note that the famous rock fortress of Petra is in Edom. That is how secure and safe much of this land was. Edom felt that it was holed up in an impenetrable fortress of rock. My wife has been there and has shared with me of the desolate, rocky, and imposing nature of ancient Edom.
So they felt safe! Who could touch them! “Who will bring me down to the ground?” But they were about to learn something very important: we are never so secure than we cannot be reached by the just hand of a living God.
In 1 Thessalonians 5, Paul writes that this will be the attitude of many when the Lord returns, but that they too will have to learn the hard lesson of Edom.
2 For you yourselves are fully aware that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 While people are saying, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and they will not escape.
Beware of thinking yourself more secure than you really are! In The Divine Symphony, Calvin Miller wrote:
A solitary soldier believed himself a regiment
And so he died, as he saw it,
A whole army felled with a single ball.
Fools are made secure by egotism
But the wise, knowing all their weaknesses
Gather into troops
To walk through Dante’s mind.
We are not so secure that we cannot be reached. There is, in fact, no place of perfect safety and security outside of the loving and strong hand of God. In Luke 13, Jesus gave us an image of just this kind of security.
34 O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often would I have gathered your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing!
That is true security! That is true safety! Under the wings of Christ is the only place where we cannot be reached by destructive forces!
I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. (John 10:28)
My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. (John 10:29)
Do not seek ultimate security anywhere but in the strong hand of God!
We are never so high that we cannot be brought low.
The big can be made small. The secure can be reached. And the high can be brought low. Once again, David Baker points to the topographical background of this imagery.
A topographical map indicates that the land of Canaan steadily rises going eastward from the Mediterranean Sea. Jerusalem is situated in the central highlands in Judah, but after the steep descent toward the Dead Sea and the Arabah to its south, the land rises precipitously to the even higher plateau (up to 5,500 feet), on which Edom is situated.
So Edom was secure and Edom was high. It had the high ground. The high ground is always the advantageous ground. And, in their hubris, they came to see themselves as something like a great eagle “soaring aloft” with its nest among the stars. “You cannot touch us! You cannot get to us! We are too strong! We are too high!”
4 Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.
We are never so high that we cannot be brought low. Interestingly, this image of being brought low surrounded the birth of Jesus. In Luke 2:34, Simeon took and blessed the baby Jesus saying, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed.”
Because of Jesus, some will rise and others will fall. The proud will fall from their lofty places and the humble will rise from their lowly places. Jesus is the deciding factor in our ultimate destiny: if we seek to save our lives we will lose them but if we lose our lives and fall at the feet of Christ as Savior and Lord, we will save it.
Mary sang the very same in her song, “The Magnicat.” We find this in Luke 1.
46 And Mary said, “My soul magnifies the Lord, 47 and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, 48 for he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed; 49 for he who is mighty has done great things for me, and holy is his name. 50 And his mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation. 51 He has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts; 52 he has brought down the mighty from their thrones and exalted those of humble estate; 53 he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty. 54 He has helped his servant Israel, in remembrance of his mercy, 55 as he spoke to our fathers, to Abraham and to his offspring forever.”
Sometimes will feel like Edom (sure of ourselves, proud and confident and cocky) and sometimes we feel like Judah (broken and humbled and face-down in the dirt). The warning of God through Obadiah to Edom must be considered by us all! When we are tempted to be haughty we must remember the trump of doom sounded forth in this obscure prophet’s brief words.
But when we are broken like sacked Judah we must remember the words of hope concerning Jesus. “He has looked on the humble estate of his servant,” sang Mary. When I was low, He saw me! When I was broken, He remembered me! When I was nothing, He made me something!
And what of the proud and the haughty? “He has brought down the mighty from their thrones…and the rich he has sent away empty.”
Are you Edom? Then repent and run to Jesus! He is merciful and quick to forgive…but He will not share His glory!
Are you Judah? Then run likewise to Jesus! He sees you and He loves you! He will lift you up and give you a name!
Beware, oh Edom! The proud and exalted will fall to ruin!
Rejoice, oh Judah! The lowly and despised will be lifted up out of their mourning and given great joy!
 Crossway Bibles (2009-04-09). ESV Study Bible (Kindle Locations 109394-109398). Good News Publishers/Crossway Books. Kindle Edition.
 Paul R. Raabe, Obadiah. The Anchor Bible. Eds., William Foxwell Albright and David Noel Freedman. Vol. 24D (New York, NY: Doubleday, 1996), p.119.
 McCullough, David (2001-10-27). The Path Between the Seas: The Creation of the Panama Canal, 1870-1914 (p. 48-49). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.
 David W. Baker, Joel, Obadiah, Malachi. The NIV Application Commentary. (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006), p.164.
 Calvin Miller, The Divine Symphony ((Minneapolis, MN: Bethany House Publishers, 2000)), p.90.
 David W. Baker, p.164.