Whenever I have an opportunity to teach, I gravitate toward passages of lament. Maybe it’s because I spent too much time listening to fashionably sad music in the 1990s.
Whatever the case, it’s the psalms of lament that capture my attention. The cries of “How long, O Lord?” sometimes speak to my heart more deeply than the shouts of “How majestic is your name.” They resonate deeply. They remind me that I’m not the only one who wonders about such things: why can evil appear to be victorious, or when will God act on behalf of His people.
Perhaps this is why Obadiah is so comforting to read (which is ironic, given that it is the least-read book of the entire Bible). This book, a mere 21 verses, speaks to the heart of those who are weak and weary, even as God calls those who oppress them to task.
Judgment and hope
Obadiah’s message came to a broken people. Jerusalem had been sacked. The majority of Judah’s people were living in exile in Babylon with only a remnant remaining in the land. Edom—the descendants of Jacob’s brother, Esau—rejoiced over Judah’s downfall, and in their arrogance were confident they would be spared a similar fate. But God warned against their presumption, telling them, “Though you seem to soar like an eagle and make your nest among the stars, even from there I will bring you down…” (Obadiah 4).
Everyone who has a treaty with you will drive you to the border; everyone at peace with you will deceive and conquer you. Those who eat your bread will set a trap for you…You will be covered with shame and destroyed forever because of violence done to your brother Jacob. (7, 10)
Edom and the nations had sinned against Judah and against God, and the Day of the Lord would come against them. “As you have done, so it will be done to you; what you deserve will return on your own head” (14). But the promise of retribution was not the entirety of Obadiah’s message. God also promised restoration for His people. “But there will be a deliverance on Mount Zion, and it will be holy…the house of Jacob will be a blazing fire, and the house of Joseph, a burning flame…” (17, 18). God would restore the people; He would make them holy. And greater still, He would come and establish His kingdom for all to see (21).
Imagine what it must have been like to first hear these words. God’s people had never had a history of unfailing faithfulness. Throughout the Old Testament, God was continually calling His people to repentance, to turn away from the sin that ensnared them. The situation they found themselves in was the fruit of years of rebellion against God. Yet even as He disciplined them, God had not abandoned them. He would restore His people, and better still, He would ultimately establish His rule over all the nations! How can we, like Obadiah’s original hearers, be anything but encouraged when we consider this message?
The greater restoration to come
And that is what we should see when we come to this great book. As much as it is a book about sin and judgment, it is one of hope. And as readers today, we have an even greater hope reading it because we have seen the promise begin to come to fruition in Jesus.
When Jesus—God Himself—began His earthly ministry, He declared, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe in the good news!” (Mark 1:15, emphasis mine). He came proclaiming “the good news of God” (Mark 1:14), and performing signs and wonders. He went to the cross and died in place of His people, and was raised again from death. And God gave Him power and authority over all creation, and every knee “in heaven and on earth and under the earth” is commanded to bow before Him and “confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Philippians 2:9-11).
So what does that mean for us when we see evil appearing to gain the upper hand? Because Jesus was raised from the dead, and He is in authority, we can know for certain that God will not leave any wrongdoing unpunished. No wrong will be left uncorrected. The proud will fall, and the oppressed will be restored.
But for now, we wait. We pray. We long for His return. But don’t give up hope, because the Kingdom is near, and we know who sits on its throne.
Aaron Armstrong is the Brand Manager of The Gospel Project, and an author, blogger, and speaker based in the Nashville area.