Obadiah • The Classic Struggle


What began as a personal struggle between brothers has been handed down from Jacob and Esau to their descendants to this very day. Although it originated with literal issues among literal people, it has escalated to many different issues both physical and spiritual, and extending to people and groups beyond the local neighborhood, so to speak. The lesson here is not just what God has, is, and will do historically, but what is going on and applicable spiritually to each of us personally. Obadiah isn’t the only Scripture devoted exclusively to Edom. God has spoken extensively in Isaiah 34:5-15, Ezekiel 25:12-14 and 35:1-15, and Amos 1:11-12 as well. What God once communicated through His prophets to a now-extinct people still resonates with lessons applicable for every generation through this present one, with an eye toward an ultimate, final fulfillment yet to come.

Read verses 1-4

Q: What is Edom’s root problem?

A: Pride: “The arrogance of your heart has deceived you”. (v.3)

Q: Are the descriptions of Edom living “in the clefts of the rock”, or that their dwelling place is “in loftiness”, or that they “build high like the eagle” a series of metaphors about them?

A: Edom’s cities were literally carved out of rock in mountains, a kind of literal description that lets us know that this Scripture is historically accurate. It could also supplement the description of their root problem of pride, but they are all literally valid descriptions of the original people.

Point: One of the problems with pride is that it deceives to the point of making one believe they are untouchable, even invincible. They think they’re above God’s Word, will, and ways.

Application: How does this describe someone different from a Believer who’s merely struggling with sin or backsliding? How are people infected with pride different than others?

Read verses 5-6

Q: What is God teaching about the kind of judgment caused by sin rooted in pride?

A: Discipline won’t do. The very definition of someone given over to pride means that they’re unresponsive to discipline. It is so destructive that it can’t be allowed to go on and must be completely destroyed.

Point: Pride is the source of Satan’s character, an example showing that destruction is the inevitable response of God to take care of it.

Read verses 7-9

Q: To whom and what is God referring to by “the men allied with you” and “the men at peace with you”?

A: Edom made alliances with the other nations against their brother Israel instead of supporting them. Historically what is stated here is exactly what happened to Edom: the nations they joined with to persecute Israel turned on Edom.

Q: How does God identify Edom’s root problem that causes them to enter into such ultimately destructive relationships?

A: He declares it is because they have no spiritual “wise men” or “understanding”. They lack the spiritual discernment necessary to see where such bad relationships will eventually lead, as failure to being able to see the benefits that would come from supporting their brothers.

Application: How many times have you NOT been surprised by the results of someone’s bad choices and relationships? How well do you consider the spiritual relationship between victory and obedience to God’s Word?

Read verses 10-14

Q: How did Edom act towards Israel? What is the nature of their actions for which God is holding them accountable?

A: Although they rarely participated directly, they regularly stood by and not only allowed Israel’s destruction to occur, and even encouraged it to happen, but rejoiced at their downfall. Just as our legal system holds someone accountable for being an accessory to murder for not doing anything to stop the crime, so God holds Edom responsible in the same manner.

Observation: This is the exact sin of the priest and the Levite in the Parable of the Good Samaritan. (Luke 10:31-33) They didn’t cause the initial crime, but neither did they pause to help.

Q: What specifically did they do?

Point: Just like Satan, the chief tactic of the prideful is to let others do as much of the work as possible beforehand and to pounce when you’re the most vulnerable and weakest.

Read verses 15-18

Q: What is the well-established biblical principle here invoked by God?

A: You will reap what you have sown. Jesus will state it, “Treat others the same way you want others to treat you.” (Luke 6:31)

Q: What is God referring to in v.16 regarding drinking?

A: A common biblical symbol is “the cup of God’s wrath”. In this case, whereas Israel will drink of it temporarily as a consequence of their own sin, Edom and the others gathered against Israel will drink permanently to the point of experiencing total destruction for their own sins. It contrasts the sins of Israel with those of Edom. This is confirmed in v.17 in describing Israel’s escape and re-establishment.

Q: Why might the phrase in v.17 that “Jacob will possess their possessions” sound a little odd? What is the meaning being conveyed?

A: Even in exile, the physical things of the land of Israel belong to God’s people Israel. The meaning is that God does not simply intend a spiritual restoration alone, but that everything originally intended for them – the land, Jerusalem, the temple, the priesthood, etc. – will be physically restored to them.

Observation: Although a return to the land has begun and continues, the Jews today still find themselves in the position described by Hosea as without a king, priest, sacrifice, or the priesthood. This will not happen until their spiritual revival centered on the acceptance of Jesus as Messiah.

For the sons of Israel will remain for many days without king or prince, without sacrifice or sacred pillar and without ephod or household idols. Afterward the sons of Israel will return and seek the Lord their God and David their king; and they will come trembling to the Lord and to His goodness in the last days.

— Hosea 3:4-5

Q: Which present-day country or people are descended from Edom?

A: It’s a trick question. They became extinct in the wake of the Roman destruction of Israel in 70 ad. What God stated in v.18 has literally come true, “there will be no survivor of the house of Esau”.

Read verses 19-21

Q: How would you summarize the reason for these geographical descriptions?

A: They describe the original length and breadth of the land God originally intended for Israel to possess. The point is that God will complete that work and, in the end, they will take possession of everything God originally intended.

Q: What is important about closing these remarks with the statement, “And the kingdom will be the Lord's”?

A: Not only will Israel ultimately possess physically everything God originally intended from an earthly point of view, but they will receive everything spiritually as well

Point: The final fulfillment of all of God’s promises have a dual fulfillment in that one day Israel will be both physically and spiritually restored.

For Your Consideration

God decreed that certain, specific persons, groups, and/or nations would be entirely destroyed, never to be heard from again. This is true not only for Edom, but others such as Babylon, Nineveh, Jezebel, and so forth. Every one of them were literal people or groups who came to a literal end just as God declared. However, they are mentioned again throughout the Bible. They existed and were dealt with literally, but they also continue to exist as what we call “biblical types”, spiritual examples used to teach greater spiritual truths and even foreshadowing or prefiguring greater, like events or people to come. Babylon was gone for many centuries when Peter referred to Rome as “Babylon”, and has been extinct another couple of thousand years on top of that even though Babylon is prominent in the book of Revelation for us this very day.

Q: What is the biblical typology of Jacob and Esau? What greater teaching do they represent?

A: It’s the struggle of the “flesh” (Esau) versus the “Spirit” (Jacob). [Note: If you have time, re-read Obadiah in this light.]

Q: How might Esau typify the “flesh”?

A: Esau was the handsome, athletic, outgoing man who had everything going for him from man’s typically shallow point of view. Spiritually, however, he proved himself not very deep in his renouncement of his birthright in exchange for a bowl of soup. His behavior was to live according to the flesh – man’s ways – as opposed to God’s.

Q: How might Jacob typify the “Spirit”?

A: Although he was basically a selfish homebody who had none of the appealing physical characteristics of his brother, what Jacob DID have was God’s grace. Everything ultimately came through Jacob – God’s people, God’s Word, God’s salvation – as a teaching that it is not the result of merit, but God’s grace or choice of US. Whereas Esau gave up spiritual fights fairly easily as in the example of selling his birthright, Jacob actually wrestled with God, attempting to resolve such issues.

Q: Are there other biblical examples of this struggle of Esau vs. Jacob, the flesh vs. the Spirit?

A: The Herods were all Edomites.

Q: How does this continue to this very day?

A: The Jews and Arabs (other descendants of Esau) are locked in both physical and spiritual battle – as they have throughout all of history – until the return of Christ.

Overall Application