Obadiah: What Goes Around…

“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.”

At only 21 verses, Obadiah is the shortest book in the  Hebrew Bible. It concerns the Edomites, who were distant cousins of the Israelites. Both nations claimed Abraham and Isaac as ancestors, but the Edomite line came through Esau and the Israelite line through Jacob.

Although distant cousins, the Edomites and the Israelites did not get along much better than their ancestors Esau and Jacob. Edom was usually treated as a kind of vassal state by Israel, and a case could be made that Israel took advantage of Edom in much the same way as Jacob took advantage of Esau. When the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem in 586 BC, the tables were turned, and Edomites joined in the looting of the captured city. Obadiah condemns Edom for taking advantage of Israel’s situation instead of helping them, and predicts their destruction as a consequence. Unlike Israel, Edom is beyond redemption. God will eventually restore Israel, but Edom’s destruction will be complete and permanent.

Many commentators see Edom as an archetype of any nation or people opposed to God. Later Jewish theologians identified Rome with Edom, and interestingly/sadly enough, also with Christendom. Most Christian theologians agree with their Jewish brethren than Edom should be seen as a symbol for those “powers and principalities” that are against God and his people.

Obadiah is a sobering reminder that “what goes around comes around”. Actions have consequences which can be permanent and serious. That’s the bad news. For the good news, one has to read between the lines of this short book and imagine the converse of the karmic storm Edom faced. If Edom had not gloated over Jerusalem’s destruction, but instead had helped its refugees, how might their story have been different? Would they have been included in the restored kingdom Obadiah envisioned? Centuries later, Paul writes to the Galatians: “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please their flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers.

God has built justice into the moral fabric of the universe, and I think that’s good news. It is morally wrong to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune to enrich oneself. It is morally right to help others whenever we can in whatever ways we can. “What goes around comes around” can be bad news or good news, depending on the choices we make. Choose wisely.

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