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God’s Word for You

Obadiah 2

by Pastor Timothy Smith on Saturday, February 3, 2018

2 “Look how small I have made you among the nations!
    How despised, so despised, you are.

When I was a boy, my friends Scott, Pat and Peter and I would go to a big field on the north end of town called the Industrial Park. It’s full of businesses today, but then it just had a name, and otherwise it was empty. There wasn’t even a fence. But there was tall grass, and some tree stumps, and quite a few tall piles of dirt from where the bulldozers had smoothed over the field to make it more welcoming to the businesses that took ten more years to move in. Pat, Scott, Peter and I played army there. We would wander in, divide up into our usual teams (the other two against Peter and me) and we would find spots to hide and pretend to shoot each other up with sticks or our fingers. Those towers of dirt, taller than we were, were our whole defense, and our whole strategy was to be above our attackers to surprise them and have some kind of safety. That was also the strategy of the Edomites. There are amazing, towering rock formations in Edom, and the Edomites used these for their whole defense. Their main strategy was to be above their attackers to surprise them and to have some kind of safety. It is to these Edomites that God speaks.

God is preaching the Law to Edom through his prophet. The Law—God’s Law—has three functions. It is there as a boundary in society, a curb, to draw lines between acceptable and unacceptable behavior. This is its usual function of God’s Law in the minds of most people, but there are two more uses. The Law is also there for us to see our own errors, like a mirror. Even if a man isn’t accused by another person, he stands accused by the Law itself. This is the role of the conscience. Thirdly, the Law is also a guide for God’s people. Anyone with faith in Christ is able to use the Law as a guide for a life that pleases God. “I run in the path of your commands, for you have set my heart free” (Psalm 119:32).

When God uses his Law to reduce us to tears and terror, it is a blessing, because he has not yet destroyed us or sent us screaming and helpless into the lake of fire. When God reduces our pride so that there is nothing left for us but his proffered hand, he is loving us, wooing us into his love and forgiveness. He is like a carpenter, shaving away all of the needless extra material that keeps the peg from its hole, so that the peg will fit exactly where he has planned for it to go.

When God reduced Edom to powerlessness, he was inviting the Edomites—distant descendants of Isaac—to turn from their arrogant idolatry and beg him for forgiveness. When God reduces us to powerlessness, he is inviting us to do the same thing. What a merciful, loving, and gracious God he is for doing this! What a Master of Salvation he is! He lets us fall down, down, to the very bottom of the empty container of our own righteousness in order that we can discover for ourselves how helpless we are. He let Edom see for themselves just how very small they were in the scheme of things, a tiny country so small that the combined legions of the Roman Empire probably couldn’t have all fit standing up shoulder to shoulder within its borders. They were a nation so small—we all are, in the end—that God could have stepped on them with his foot and squashed them like a bug. But God’s mercy shows up here in Obadiah’s message: he sent his prophet to warn them about wrath, first. Israel wasn’t going to rise up against Edom. Judah wasn’t going to rise up against Edom. The Transjordan tribes weren’t going to rise up against Edom. God was. But by telling them first, he was giving them the second greatest gift he sent through his prophets: the Law, and a chance to repent. By the end of this little book, he would also send his greatest gift, the gospel.

Edom can never complain that God didn’t warn them. It might be that this shortest book of the Old Testament doesn’t seem like much in the scheme of things, but it’s a lot more than the Germans ever got, or the English, or the Chinese, or the Americans, or the Russians, or hundreds of other nations. The rest of us get lumped in with the Gentiles every once in a while. But Edom? Like bookends, the Edomites are the whole subject of the Old Testament’s shortest book, Obadiah, and they are one of many subjects in the Bible’s longest book, Jeremiah. God cared about them, and he told them so. And he has told you, too.

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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