Judgement in the book of Obadiah

In the short, poetic prophecy of Obadiah violent language is employed:

Obadiah (8) “In that day,” declares the Lord, “will I not destroy the wise men of Edom, those of understanding in the mountains of Esau? (9) Your warriors, Teman, will be terrified, and everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter. (10) Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever.”

Then we have a clear statement of judgement:

Obadiah (15) “The day of the Lord is near for all nations. As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head.

Followed by this prophecy:

Obadiah (17) But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance. (18) Jacob will be a fire and Joseph a flame; Esau will be stubble and they will set him on fire and destroy him. There will be no survivors in Esau.” The Lord has spoken. (19) People from the Negev will occupy the mountains of Esau … (21) Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the Lord’s.

Judgement in Obadiah is focused on the descendants of Jacob and Esau. Jacob and Esau were twin brothers who parted ways in Genesis and Esau’s family are not included in the genealogy of the Israelites. This prophecy mentions violence that has been committed against the tribe of Jacob by the tribe of Esau. The result of violence is judgement! In this case the judgement sounds an awful lot like the crime. “Eye for eye, tooth for tooth” (Exodus 21:24) type judgment. Jacob will set fire to Esau and there will be no survivors.

The judgement on Jacob is one of deliverance! He is set free from the violence of his brother. And the judgement on Esau is to experience the consequences of his actions: wrath. Eye for an eye. Or as we would say today, “what goes around comes around.”

Yet the last part of the prophecy says that there will be deliverers ruling Esau and the kingdom of Esau will be the Lord’s. This sounds like a victory for God and alludes to something more than the literal destruction of Esau. Keep in mind that the prophecy was written in poetic language and that it is not literal. Jacob is not literally a fire. Esau is not literally stubble. These descriptions tell us that Jacob will overpower Esau as fire overpowers stubble. What if the phrase “destroyed forever” refers to the violence of Esau being destroyed? Then God–who is love and not violence–becomes the ruler of the kingdom of Esau. So judgement results in the cessation of violence and the deliverance of those who are being violated!

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