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God’s Word for You

Obadiah 1b The word of God to Edom

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, January 20, 2018

This is what the LORD God says to Edom.

These words follow a set formula used by messengers and heralds throughout the Bible and in many other ancient documents. Called the Messenger Formula, it shows a communication between two parties using an intermediary. One commentator has counted 19 instances of this formula in the Bible in which the message has a human origin. For example, Jacob sends word to his brother through a group of servants:

He instructed them: “This is what you are to say to my master Esau: ‘Your servant Jacob says, I have been staying with Laban and have remained here till now….’” (Genesis 32:4).

In the formula, the servants are given the message, but are given a formal introduction stating both the sender and receiver of the message (Jacob to Esau). The details are always the same, although the narrative may give those details from the point of the view of the commissioning (Genesis 45:9; 1 Kings 22:27), the delivery (Exodus 5:10; 2 Kings 1:11; 2 Chronicles 32:10), or in a more general way (Judges 11:15).

Apart from these nineteen instances, there are more than 400 cases of God sending a message through his various messengers, especially the prophets. A prophet could not refuse. Jonah tried, and God sent a storm, stopped the storm, and sent a whale to get his message across (Jonah 1:3-4, 1:15-17). In the New Testament, the Lord works through the prophet Agabus in the same way: “After we had been there a number of days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. Coming over to us, he took Peter’s belt, tied his own hands and feet with it and said, ‘The Holy Spirit says, ‘In this way the Jews of Jerusalem will bind the owner of his belt and will hand him over to the Gentiles’” (Acts 21:10-11). Otherwise, the Messenger Formula gives way to the preaching of the gospel in the New Testament. We have been given the message, the gospel, and we have been commissioned by Jesus to go and proclaim it throughout the world (Mark 16:15).

Most translations do not present le-Edom as “to Edom,” but prefer to say “concerning Edom” (King James Version, NIV, NASB, RSV, etc.). I have translated “to Edom” because in the Messenger Formula, the recipient is stated. He might be omitted because he was already mentioned (Isaiah 7:7; Jeremiah 7:2), or might be part of the address itself (“Hear this, you elders,” Joel 1:2). But the preposition “to” (le-) in this formula always indicates the receiver of the message. Therefore, this prophecy was intended for the people of Edom. It was not just spoken in a general way about them. Although we don’t have a narrative like Jonah’s to talk about the prophet’s adventures heading through the Negev into the stony fortresses of Edom or the shady tents of Kedar, we can read from the words “to Edom” that this is what the prophet did. And since there is no accompanying story, we can infer that the journey was probably not very exciting.

Edom was a region southeast of Judah and Israel, about 110 miles long by 30 miles wide. It was one of the four or five regions on the other side of the Dead Sea from Israel. From the “top” down (that is, running north to south), they were:

1, Hamath to the far northeast, with Gilead next (Gilead was more a geographical region than a nation).

2, From there Ammon lay just across the main length of the Jordan River from Israel.

3, Moab was across the Dead Sea. Naomi and her family probably crossed into Ammon at the ford near Jericho before turning south to Moab, or else they crossed over by boat (which may have been quicker and easier).

4, Edom was south of Moab, with the Dead Sea forming Edom’s northern border. In the empty space west of Edom and south of Judah was the southern wasteland of the Negev. Edom’s southern boundary was the Gulf of Akabah, and to the east, off in the desert, were the nomadic Midianites in the Desert of Arabia.

The most important Edomite cities were Bozrah in the north and Teman in the south. Teman is also sometimes used as another name for all of Edom (Obadiah 9; Jeremiah 49:7). As we will see in verse 3, Teman was protected by the remarkable fortress of Petra. Other cities included Dedan and Buz (Jeremiah 25:23). The people of Dedan were known for making or trading in blankets (Ezekiel 27:19); the Temanites were known both for their wisdom (Jeremiah 49:7) and for supplying caravans (Job 6:19; Isaiah 21:14).

Running right through Edom was a road known as the King’s Highway. Moses once sent a message to the King of Edom asking permission for Israel to travel the King’s Highway through Edom and to pass through the land “without turning to the right or the left” (Numbers 20:17), but the request was refused, so that Israel had to travel deep into the Arabian desert to the east of Edom where they were attacked by serpents, leading to the incident with the Bronze Snake (Numbers 21:9).

The word of God came to the people of Edom, the distant relatives of Israel. May we each have the courage to bring the word of the God to our relatives, both close and distant. It is in the gospel that we find repentance and the forgiveness of sins. It is in the gospel alone that we have the words that well up to eternal life.

In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith

Pastor Tim SmithAbout Pastor Timothy Smith
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul’s Lutheran Church in New Ulm, Minnesota. His wife, Kathryn, attended the Chapel from 1987-1990 while studying Secondary Education (Theater and Math) at UW-Madison. Kathryn’s father, John Meyer, was also the first man to serve as a Vicar at Chapel.

To receive God’s Word for You via e-mail, please contact Pastor Smith.

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