"ONLY GOD IS GREAT !"

OBADIAH 1:1-4 

 

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            We continue our series on the Minor Prophets and turn to the fourth in our study, but first a quick review.  I’ll describe one of the three we have studied thus far, and you tell me the Minor Prophet.  Here’s the first.  He was the Minor Prophet the Apostle Peter quoted in his Pentecost sermon.  You are correct.  Joel predicted the coming of the Holy Spirit centuries before it happened.  Here’s another.  This Minor Prophet was utterly lacking in tact and was a breeder of sheep prior to his becoming a prophet.  Yes, Amos.  Now for the last one.  God told this Minor Prophet to marry a prostitute as a living symbol of God’s relationship with Israel.  Again, correct.  Hosea.  

            Now, you may remember that the minor prophets got their name from the length of their prophecy, that is to say, they had the gift of brevity as compared to the Major Prophets, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Ezekiel, who were rather verbose.  And the briefest of them all was Obadiah.  His prophecy is only one chapter long, and he has another distinction as well.  His prophecy is the only one whose entire message is directed to a foreign nation.  That foreign nation was Edom, located just south of Judah, but Judah and Edom were more than neighbors.  They were also related by birth.

            A couple of years ago we worked our way through the book of Genesis, and we met Rebekah, Isaac’s wife, who gave birth to twin boys, Jacob and Esau.  Jacob went on to father the nation of Israel, in fact God changed his name to Israel after wrestling with him one night, and Esau went on to father the nation of Edom or “Red People,” named after the bowl of red stew Esau ate when Jacob tricked him out of his inheritance. 

            So by ancestry the southern kingdom of Israel, Judah and Edom were related, and just as Jacob and Esau fought as children, so did the nations they fathered.  Border raids, water disputes, ambushed caravans, even whole-scale invasions characterized their history, and with that in mind let’s read a portion of Obadiah’s prophecy.  As we read through Obadiah’s prophecy I want us to note three things.  First, I want us to note that God, and only God is King of the Mountain.  Turn with me to chapter one, verse one, on page 750 of your pew bible.

 

            The vision of Obadiah.  Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom: We have heard a report from the Lord, and a messenger has been sent among the nations: “Rise up!  Let us rise against it for battle!”  I will surely make you least among the nations; you shall be utterly despised.  Your proud heart has deceived you, you that live in the cleft of the rock, whose dwelling is in the heights.  You say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?”  Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, says the Lord.

 

            Let me say a little about Edom.  It was indeed a nation high in the mountains.  It’s capital, Petra, was hewn out of red rock similar to that found in the mountain ranges of southern Utah.  And Petra was a fortress.  It’s only access was through a narrow passageway walled by sheer cliffs.  In that terrain a handful of fighters could hold off an entire army.  As a result, the Edomites took great security in their geography.  They thought the were impregnable.  They thought they were king of the mountain, but they were not.  God was king of the mountain and their proud heart deceived them.

            I’m reminded of King Louis XIV of France.  He referred to himself as King Louis the Great, and he often asserted, “I am the state!”   His court was the most magnificent in Europe and when he died his funeral was spectacular.  For his funeral he had left behind orders to dramatize his greatness.  He was placed in a gold coffin.  The cathedral was dimly lit, with only one candle above his casket.  Hundreds waited in hushed silence for Bishop Massilon’s eulogy.  In place of a eulogy, the Bishop slowly reached down, snuffed out the candle and said, “Only God is great!”

            Like Edom thought they were great, beyond touch, tucked away in mountain clefts, and they were not.  They were not king of the mountain.  God was.

            Second, in Obadiah’s prophecy, I also want us to note how the Lord moves slowly.  Let me give some historical context.  In 586 B.C. Nebuchadnezzar invaded Jerusalem and destroyed the palace and the Temple and razed the walls.  If that wasn’t bad enough the Edomites aided the Babylonians in the destruction and they delighted in Judah’s defeat.  Listen to how they acted.  Verse 12. Listen to how they acted when Nebuchadnezzar conquered Jerusalem.

 

            You should not have gloated over your brother on the day of his misfortune; you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah on the day of their ruin; you should not have boasted on the day of distress.  You should not have entered the gate of my people on the day of their calamity; you should not have joined in the gloating over Judah’s disaster on the day of his calamity; you should not have looted his goods on the day of his calamity.  You should not have stood at the crossings to cut off his fugitives; you should not have handed over his survivors on the day of distress.

 

            The Edomites took advantage of defenseless Judah. The proud, arrogant nation became a cruel nation, preying on God’s people.  As a result, God said to them, verse 15,

 

            For the day of the Lord is near against all nations.  As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.  For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, all the nations around you shall drink; they shall drink and gulp down, and shall be as though they had never been. 

 

            Do you have any idea how long it took for that to happen?  It took two hundred years.  In 312 B.C. Alexander the Great conquered the Edomites, displaced them and scattered them throughout southern Palestine.  What God told Obadiah in Obadiah’s vision of words came to pass.  But it took two hundred years.

            A number of years ago I bought a watch for Trudy.  It had a picture of Albert Einstein on it and the numbers read “1sh, 2sh, 3sh,” and so forth.  It was a perfect watch for my wife because it recorded relative time, in the ballpark time, and she is more a relative time person than an exact time person.  Now, here’s the point.  I’m not sure what kind of watch I would buy God.  Trudy may run in relative time, but she is nothing compared to God.

            Imagine Obadiah preaching these words and the Israelites listening to them.  They have just returned to Jerusalem after fifty years of exile in Babylon, and it’s been fifty years since Edom did these horrible things to them, and they hear God say, “The time is near.”  And if it were me, and I heard the words “the time is near,” I’m thinking July or August or December at the latest.  But God says, “the time is near,” and God means 312 B.C. some two hundred years in the future. 

            God does not move as quickly as we want God to move, and as a result we can become disappointed.  We say to ourselves, “How long, God, how long must we wait for you to balance the scales, to set things right?”  We may even be tempted to think God doesn’t care.  Sartre called it “the silence of God.”  Jaspars called it “the absence of God.”  Buber called it “the eclipse of God.”  Hamilton called it “the death of God.”  But God does care.  God cares deeply about what it happening in the world, the only thing is, God’s timing is different from our timing.

            Of all generations in history, we may have the toughest time understanding what seems to be God’s leisurely stroll through our lives.  We don’t suffer well.  If we suffer, we take a pill.  Headache?  Take a pill.  Backache?  Take a pill.  Stressed?  Take a pill.  Furthermore, we are not real good about waiting.  In a world of e-mails and cell phones and texting we are accustomed to instant access, instant results, and when God says “the time is near” God’s not speaking our language.  God’s “near” is two hundred years down the road.

            A young child was explaining to her family how well she was doing learning to tell time.  She said, “I know my o’clocks now, but I’m still having trouble with my ‘tills’ and ‘afters.’”

            We may have a similar struggle.  We may wonder how long “till” God does something.  And you might be one of the fortunate ones who has your prayers answered immediately.  God may provide over night delivery.  But for most of us, our prayers won’t be answered for years.  It won’t come “till” the time is right.  In fact, like the Israelites who heard God say “the time is near,” it may may not come “till” after we have left the earth. 

            But while we wait, let’s note one more thing: Let’s note the flower in the manure.  Obadiah.  Verse 17.

 

            But on Mount Zion there shall be those that escape, and it shall be holy; and the house of Jacob shall take possession of those who dispossessed them.  The house of Jacob shall be fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau; for the Lord has spoken.

 

            Note the flower.  Note the promise.  The promise would not be fulfilled for two hundred years, but the people of Judah held on to that promise.  They did not miss the flower in the manure.

            Leith Anderson, a pastor in Minnesota, was an avid fan of the Brooklyn Dodgers baseball team as a boy.  And when he was a boy his father took him to a World Series game between the Dodgers and the Yankees.  He was so excited about getting to see his beloved Dodgers defeat the evil empire also known as the New York Yankees.  Leith’s hopes, however, were dashed as he watched the game.  The Dodgers never even reached base, let alone get a base hit.

            As an adult Leith was conversing one day with a man who was a walking sports encyclopedia.  Leith shared with the man about his boyhood disappointment of going to that World Series game when no one on the Dodgers even reached base.  The man looked incredulously at Leith.  He said, “You were at THAT game?  That was the game Don Larsen pitched the only perfect game in all of World Series history.” 

            Leith missed the flower in the manure.  He had been so focused on his own disappointment that he failed to realize the significance of what he had witnessed in person.  He had attended the most famous game in all of World Series history.  He had missed the flower in the manure.

            Let me leave you with this.  Someone suggested that our reaction to difficulty indicates our spiritual maturity.  The person measures spiritual maturity this way.  In the midst of a difficult situation if it takes a matter of minutes before we begin praising God, we are spiritual giants.  If it takes an hour before we praise God, we are spiritually mature.  If it takes several days before we praise God in the midst of adversity, we are growing.  If it takes weeks or months, we are spiritual babes, and if we never praise God in the midst of adversity, we are stuck in the manure!