If you have a new Bible where the pages still stick together a little, you might have missed that there is even a book called Obadiah in your Bible. It’s short, only 21 verses. And those 21 verses don’t seem to have much to do with the biblical narrative. It appears to be a book that belongs in a library about Edom instead of in Holy Scripture. But this little book does pack a punch — and if we look carefully, we can see the gospel here.
How Do You Find the Gospel in the Old Testament?
I suppose before understanding how to find the gospel in the OT, it’d be helpful for us to define the gospel. The simplest definition is one given by JI Packer: God saves sinners. If you’d like to put a bit more meat on your gospel presentation, I use two different frameworks with four points each. The first is God—Man—Christ—Response. The second is more of a story: Creation—Fall—Redemption—Glory.
The first presentation centers upon God’s character and how humanity fails to meet God’s holy standard, as such the judgment of God is upon us. But the good news is that Jesus Christ fixes this by fulfilling what is required through his life, death and resurrection. Our only fitting response, then, is to respond to Him in repentance and faith. When this happens, we are united to Christ and his record becomes our record.
The second presentation centers upon the overarching story of the Bible. God lovingly created us to love Him and enjoy Him forever. We were made for rest, rule, and relationship. But we made shipwreck of this, and so rather than having the blessings of obedience we are under the curse of disobedience. Rather than having peace (rest), purpose (ruling), and healthy relationship we often experience the opposite. Ultimately, we are alienated from God. But thankfully God sent His Son, Jesus Christ, to bear our curse and to fulfill what God intended for humanity. As such we now experience the blessings of Jesus’ obedience in our place. He restores the rest, rule, and relationship we were created to enjoy. Someday everything will be ultimately restored, and we will live in a new heaven and a new earth.
We could write entire books focusing on these various themes of the gospel. But every gospel story follows this basic skeleton. No matter where you find yourself in the Old Testament (or the New Testament) you can find one of these various threads. Every place in Scripture is either telling you something about God, something about our rebellion, something about His rescue, or something about our future restoration. If you can spot this, then you can fill out the rest of the story.
How Do We Find the Gospel in Obadiah?
God is so powerful that He can create simply by speaking. The God who has unlimited power created humanity, breathed life into them, and planted them in a beautiful garden. Take note: God used his power, his rule, to create flourishing for others. God uses His power to give life.
In Genesis 1:28 God commanded the man and woman to not only “be fruitful and multiply” but also to “rule” over God’s good creation as vice regents. Their rule was to be a reflection of God’s glory. They too were to use this God-given power to create flourishing for others. As they spread throughout the earth, God’s glory would spread with them. They were to rule kindly and lovingly and justly.
But we all know how the story progressed. The first couple was not content with God’s provision, but wanted to know “good and evil” for themselves. They listened to the serpent and believed that God was holding out on them. As soon as this happened sin entered the world. And ruling and reigning was turned on its head. Now, instead of spreading God’s glory, humanity would spread out its own shattered images. Rather than ruling as the Father, we now rule with our own twisted motives at the helm.
It's not shocking to read of humanity digressing into a downward spiral of rebellion. The more people rebel from God, the more twisted their ruling will be. But sin would not have the last word. God graciously set apart a people for himself. He began the work of redemption through the Israelites as he called Abraham out of Ur, and later he would call his people out of Egyptian slavery. Upon their rescue, God recast the vision for humanity enjoying the rest, rule, and relationship which we were created for.
But humanity, through the Israelites, once again failed in our high calling. Rather than ruling as God called them to rule, the Israelites continued to do evil in the sight of the Lord. Anytime the Israelites found themselves with just a little bit of power, they squandered it on themselves instead of creating flourishing for others. As a result, God once again judged the people and brought them into exile.
This brings us to the Edomites and Obadiah. The Edomites hated the Jewish people. And the Jews hated the Edomites. The feud went back as far as Jacob and Esau. It was almost like an older brother who is jealous because their parents seem to give favor upon the younger brother. And in this case, the younger brother uses mom and dad’s blessings to bring the whole family into shame. Finally, mom and dad get fed up with the younger brother’s antics and decide to put the older brother in charge. So, how will he rule? What will he do if he becomes the favored brother?
If you’re the Edomites, you rule with an iron fist, you gloat, and you punish the younger brother. Rather than ruling with humility, they were overcome with pride. And they were cruel in how they treated the Israelites. Obadiah verse 11-12 paints the picture:
“On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like on of them. But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress…”
The message of Obadiah, then, is a message of judgment against those who rule poorly. It’s a message about those who gloat and celebrate the destruction of God’s people. It’s a picture of what happens when humanity rules by their own heart. None of us are immune from this. We seem to perpetuate Proverbs 26:27. When a stone rolls back upon our enemies we tend to pick up the same stone and roll it up a hill. Malice always backfires, but we seem addicted to it. This is the human condition. We will never break the cycle of violence.
But Jesus did. Jesus used His power and authority in the way that humanity was intended to use power and authority. Jesus used His rule to create flourishing for others. And when we are drawn into union with Him, all those blessings which He bought for us are His.
The book of Obadiah ends on a bit of a high note. But it’s not a high note that will be fulfilled by obedient Israelites. It is a high note that will be fulfilled by the true Israel, Jesus Christ. I appreciate Eugene Peterson’s words here:
“But the last line of the prophecy takes a giant step out of the centuries of hate and rivalry and invective. Israel, so often a victim of Edomite aggression through the centuries, is suddenly revealed to be saved from the injustices of the past and taking up a position of rule over their ancient enemies the Edomites. But instead of doing to others what had been done to them and continuing the cycle of violence that they had been caught in, they are presented as taking over the reins of government and administering God's justice justly. They find themselves in a new context — God's kingdom — and realize that they have a new vocation: to represent God's rule. It is not much (one verse out of twenty-one!), but it is a glimmer (it is the final verse!).”
Christ has accomplished this for us. We’re now called to extend His rule in His way.
Where Is the Gospel in Obadiah 1:1-4?
I have tried to show not only how to preach the gospel through the overall message of Obadiah, but how we see a particular passage of Scripture point to Jesus. In Obadiah 1:1-4 the theme is pride. The Edomites are filled with pride — and likely because they are comparing themselves to Judah, who at present is an object of God’s wrath.
To share the gospel from Obadiah 1:1-4, it might be helpful to use God-Man-Christ-Response as our grid, and particularly focusing upon pride.
God created us and as such He is the one who defines the standard. He gets to tell us what is holy. He tells us what is required. He defines whether or not we are successful. Sin mangles things up. Because we’ve bought into the lie of sin, we tend to pridefully believe that we are the ones who set the standard. That is what was happening with Edom. They were comparing themselves by themselves. As such they believed themselves to be righteous and successful.
I remember once in middle school being invited to bowling under a black light. I’d never really been under black lights before. I wore my best pair of jeans and a new blacker shirt. I left the house thinking I looked pretty well put together. But once I was under the black light every single flaw was exposed. And where did I even get that weird looking stain on my somewhat new shirt?
When we compare ourselves by ourselves, we end up like the Edomites. They looked at their defensive position and thought there was no way that anybody could bring them low. They believed themselves to be in a place of power and their enemies — God’s people — were now in a place of vulnerability. But just like I thought I looked pretty good before going under that black light “the pride of their heart had deceived them” (v3).
Christ is the only one who is perfect. He is the standard. He never failed. He can “go under the black light” and not a single blemish is revealed. Thankfully, Christ is not only our standard, He is also our refuge. When we place ourselves under the black light of God’s Word and find that we have stains all over us — we find refuge in the perfect unblemished record of Christ. The good news of the gospel is that His record becomes our record.
Will we follow the Edomites in their pride? Or will we humbly confess our need for a Savior. Will we come down from the heights and find rescue — or will we, like the Edomites, be knocked from our perch by reality? Our only refuge is in the perfection of Christ.
Photo credit: ©SparrowStock