7/11/2022 9:28:30 AM
Rivalry and Redemption
Pastor Eric Schroeder - The Fifth Sunday After Pentecost - Sunday, July 10, 2022
We don’t have to think too hard to come up with an example of a historic rivalry. Maybe where you grew up, if you played sports at all, you always had those one or two games every season that meant just a little bit more than the rest. Why? Because they were against your rival, that school or that team you faced that for some reason—whether you knew the history or not—you just didn’t like to lose to, so they were the games you really wanted to win. And now, whether you watch sports at all, you can’t help but notice that certain games seem to mean more if they are played against a division rival. Think the Packers and the Bears, or the Badgers and the Gophers, whose football teams play every year in a rivalry game and the winner gets to hold on to the trophy, called Paul Bunyan’s Axe, until they meet again. Historic rivalries…
But of course, border battles can be far more serious than just sporting events. You know about Russia and Ukraine fighting over disputed territory, but that’s just one example of an ongoing conflict between bordering nations: Yemen and Saudi Arabia, and Kenya, Ethiopia, Sudan, and other African countries. Fighting is still going on between groups of people in Afghanistan and Iraq; you don’t hear about it much anymore, but it’s still happening. Maybe you have heard about the drug cartels and the violence in certain parts of Mexico. Some of these fights started fairly recently; others have been going on for generations.
Throughout much of the Old Testament, one of the most historic rivalries we hear about again and again is the ongoing conflict between Israel and Edom, their neighbor to the South. By the time Obadiah writes his short book of prophecy, the two sides could trace their tension back for more than a thousand years. It all started with the birth of twin brothers, who happened to be the grandsons of Abraham. We heard both of their names in our reading: Jacob and Esau. Esau was the older of the two—by a matter of minutes—but God had promised that the older would serve the younger, that Jacob would be the one to carry the promise of the Savior to the next generation. They fought like brothers often do…(you can read all about it in Genesis). God later gave Jacob the name Israel, and he would go on to have twelve sons that became the twelve tribes of Israel. Esau had his own sons, and his descendants would become the nation of Edom. So that’s the origin of this sibling rivalry that continued throughout the generations.
But now, through Obadiah, God declares that this rivalry is going to come to an end. Let’s hear how and why: 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. 11 On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them. 12 You should not gloat over your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble. 13 You should not march through the gates of my people in the day of their disaster, nor gloat over them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor seize their wealth in the day of their disaster. 14 You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble.
What had the Edomites done wrong? Once more, the tension had existed for centuries, but the final straw was the attitude of the Edomites as they watched the Babylonians conquer Jerusalem. Instead of offering help to their relatives or even feeling sympathetic over the destruction of their nation, the Edomites cheered on the Babylonian armies as they ransacked Jerusalem. Obadiah makes it sound like after the Babylonian raiders were finished, the Edomites swept in to see if there was anything else worth taking. Not only that, but it seems that the Edomites actively participated in the oppression of the Jews; apprehending Jews who were fleeing and handing them over to be exiled to Babylon. It was as if they had been waiting for the day of Judah’s defeat, just so they could rejoice at what their distant cousins had suffered.
And God judges them harshly for it. He prophesies shame, destruction, and judgment for Edom because of their heartless response to these events, and their participation in the looting and subjugation of their rivals. It could also be a warning for us, because sometimes we are tempted to develop a similar attitude against our own “rivals,” whether they hold different opinions, or differing political views, or they were brought up differently than we were. Maybe even within our own extended families, we have disputes that go back for years, and even though it’s hard to put into words exactly why we have trouble getting along with our relatives, there’s a part of us that rejoices a little bit whenever life doesn’t go their way. We’re tempted to talk behind people’s backs and pile on when they make mistakes and spread any gossip that might turn people against them at work or at school. And all the while, we try to justify our own unloving behavior because after all, they deserve all the trouble they get.
So if we take a moment to look closely at Obadiah’s short book, we soon realize that it isn’t just for the people of Edom. It’s for us, too. God says so in the next few verses.
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. 16 Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been. 17 But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance.
In all of our earthly disputes, none of us have the right to judge others and call ourselves completely innocent. Yes, others might be guilty of sin, but so are we…and God reminds us here that he is the one who will judge us all. When the day of the LORD [comes] for all nations, neither borders nor citizenship, neither political views or even church membership are going to be the deciding factor between those who go to heaven and those who go to hell. The only thing that will matter then is where we stand with God.
And thankfully, he is a God who calls people to repentance instead of treating us as his rivals. It might seem like Obadiah is pointing out which nation is his favorite, as if the Edomites make him angry but the Jews were the good ones. But what does he really mean when he says, ”On Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance”? What is he promising at the end of the book when he says, “21 Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the Lord’s”?
God is promising that he will make everything right. But he has so much more in mind than picking sides in an earthly battle. God is promising that He will carry out his divine justice and divine redemption as he sends a divine deliverer…we know him as Jesus. And all who repent of their sins, (whether Jew or Edomite or from any nation on earth) all of us who confess our lack of love for our neighbor and our failure to follow God’s will, and turn instead to God’s promise of salvation and forgiveness through Christ, now have a spot among God’s people. God warns the Edomites and calls them to repentance because he wants to save them, too.
We saw God’s desire to save in our earlier readings, didn’t we? How God used a famine to bring Ruth into his family, and she left her home in Moab only to become part of the line of the Savior. We see God’s love for all people in the fact that Jesus used a Samaritan who showed love in a time of need as the example of how to love our neighbor, something the judgmental Jews had a hard time wrapping their mind around. And now, as God’s forgiven children, cleansed of our guilt for all our judgment and rivalry, we are called to follow the Spirit’s lead and live lives of what? Of love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. And why? So that God will love us? No, not at all…It’s because in Christ he already does. Jesus loved us perfectly and gave himself as payment for our every sin. He was crucified for us, now we daily crucify our sinful nature in repentance and live for him, just as he was raised to life for us.
Obadiah’s short letter ends up serving as one more reminder of God’s faithfulness to his promise. He points out the spiritual harm that comes from seeing people as our rivals instead of those whom He wants to redeem. He points out the importance of repentance in our lives, as we turn away from our natural desires and trust God to do what is right. And he assures us of God’s refusal to let anyone stand in the way of his plan to save. Let’s all rejoice at the eternal kingdom that we are so blessed to be a part of through the working of God’s Holy Spirit in us, and let’s all keep growing in our faith and reaching out to people near and far with his message of salvation in Christ alone. AMEN.