The Meek Will Inherit the Earth — the Gospel in Obadiah

For other entries in this series, click here.

I’m a sucker for a challenge. No really. I am. I like writing novels hundreds of pages long—for fun. I like attempting to learn foreign languages (though this would be a challenge that other than Greek i have mostly failed at). And when it comes to picking a preaching topic, i turn to books that people usually overlook. For this reason, i spent the past three Sundays working through the book of Obadiah. (Sermons: Obadiah 1a-bObadiah 1b-15Obadiah 15-21.)

When it comes to the book of Obadiah, it is the shortest book in the Old Testament, nestled squarely within the collection known as the Minor Prophets: Hosea through Malachi. As such, you can completely miss it if two pages are randomly stuck together. And besides, how much can you get out of twenty-one verses?

I would argue that you can get a lot out of twenty-one verses. Just because Obadiah is the third shortest book in the Bible (based on verse count; after 2 John and 3 John) doesn’t mean we can ignore its message. We include it under the cover labeled “God’s Word,” and as such it is just as much God’s message to us as Psalm 23, Isaiah 53, or John 3:16. We must seek to find the beauty of Jesus in these twenty-one verses.

Obadiah is an unknown individual. The only thing we know about him is that he gave the prophecy named after him. His name means “Slave of Yahweh,” and he faithfully spoke the word of God to Judean exiles in Babylon, who had initially escaped Babylon’s violence.

Obadiah’s message seeks to comfort these exiles. It also seeks to indict the Edomites, who had come into Jerusalem after Babylon had finished destroying it. Edom was guilty of burning down the temple (cf. Psalm 137:7), looting its treasures (cf. Obadiah 13), and selling its survivors into exile (cf. Obadiah 14).

The book can be broken down into the following outline:

  • Edom will be judged for its pride (verses 1-4)
  • Edom’s judgment will be thorough (verses 5-9)
  • The sinful actions that resulted from Edom’s pride (verses 10-14)
  • The pride of all humanity will be judged (verses 15-16)
  • Deliverance will be found by humbly submitting to Yahweh’s kingship (verses 17-21)

Obadiah makes it clear that these are the words of God by reminding us that these are “the declaration[s] of God” (cf. Obadiah 1, 4, 8, 18). As such, we must pay close attention to Obadiah’s message.

I believe the thesis statement in this book is found in verse 21, primarily because it makes perfect sense when we connect it to Jesus in a few moments. Besides, the Edomites thought they were merely harming some pesky Israelites; they failed to realize that God identifies with His people. He sees an attack on His people as no different than an attack on Himself (cf. Acts 9:1-5; Matthew 25:31-46). Or, in my own words:

God is a good King who fights for His people.

Judgment falls on Edom because their pride led them to attack a weak, hurting, virtually-exterminated nation. The judgment they receive would match the hatred they dished out on the Jerusalemites (cf. Obadiah 15). But that’s the simple part to understand.

To rightly understand a portion of Scripture, we must understand it within its context. So, to properly understand the message of Obadiah, we can’t end our study with verse 15. We need to study verses 16-21 as well. And, to properly understand verses 16-21, we need to remember the theme of the book before that point. And no, this is not circular. You start with verse 1 in your interpretation, and it all builds from there. But the interpretation of Obadiah is not completed until you finish verse 21.

So, to properly understand verses 16-21, we need to be careful in our understanding of verses 1-15. But if we identify pride—as we should—as the sinful attitude (verses 1-4) that leads to the loveless actions (verses 10-14) that earn judgment (verses 5-9, 15), then pride must also play a role in verses 16-21. Since pride is what God judges in verses 15-16, it follows that pride’s opposite is what survives the judgment. As such, Obadiah 16-21 describes the meek inheriting the earth.

And in case you doubt this interpretation, what does verse 21 say in the final line?

The kingdom will be [Yahweh’s].

What did Jesus say about the Lord’s Kingdom in Matthew 5:3-10?

The poor in spirit are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs. Those who mourn are blessed, for they will be comforted. The gentle are blessed, for they will inherit the earth. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed, for they will be filled. The merciful are blessed, for they will be shown mercy. The pure in heart are blessed, for they will see God. The peacemakers are blessed, for they will be called sons of God. Those who are persecuted for righteousness are blessed, for the kingdom of heaven is theirs.

Emphasis added

Look at it. The first and last beatitudes promise entry into the kingdom of heaven, which means that all of the beatitudes describe the citizens of Yahweh’s kingdom. The third Beatitude states,

The gentle are blessed, for they will inherit the earth.

Other translations translate “gentle” as “humble,” or “meek.” The word translated “inherit” is the Greek word that the Septuagint (the Greek translation of the Old Testament) uses for the Hebrew word translated “possess” in Obadiah 17, 19-20. As such, Obadiah is talking about the meek inheriting the earth. Verse 19 describes the holy land being “possessed” to the south, west, north, and east. In other words, the borders expand in every direction from Mount Zion (Jerusalem).

But why Mount Zion?

Let’s look at verse 16.

As you have drunk on My holy mountain,
so all the nations will drink continually.
They will drink and gulp down
and be as though they had never been.

The word “you” in verse 16 is plural. Previously in Obadiah, all the references to “you” referred to the nation of Edom, and they were singular. Here, in Obadiah 16, it is plural, speaking about the people of Israel, who had received judgment from God for their failure to live up their end of the Mosaic covenant. Leviticus 26:27, 33 promised, “And if in spite of this you do not obey Me but act with hostility toward Me . . . I will scatter you among the nations, and I will draw a sword ⌊to chase⌋ after you. So your land will become desolate, and your cities will become ruins.” So Jerusalem was besieged by Babylon, and the people were taken into exile. They faced the wrath of God. But they faced it. Seventy years later, the exile would be over (cf. Jeremiah 29:10). But for the Edomites who refuse to repent of their pride (cf. Jonah’s preaching to Nineveh in Jonah 3:4), they would drink the wrath of God forever in hell.

But this drinking of the wrath of God points forward to another time God poured out His cup of wrath on someone in Jerusalem.

Six hundred years later, Jesus Christ was praying in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Father, if You are willing, take this cup away from Me—nevertheless, not My will, but Yours, be done” (Luke 22:42). Jesus was praying that there be some other way to redeem humanity than having to face God’s wrath Himself. But Jesus’ prayer concluded with the words, “Not my will, but Yours, be done.” So Jesus went to the cross and faced God’s wrath in utter darkness for three hours (cf. Matthew 27:45-50).

Jesus faced God’s wrath on the cross for the multitude of those who humbly place their faith in Him. This is why the “you” Obadiah 16 is plural. The wrath of God poured out on Jesus on Mount Zion. He faced wrath for many so that they would never need to face wrath again. But if a person pridefully refuses to place his or her faith in Christ, he or she will not be able to escape God’s wrath for eternity.

The author of Hebrews says as much in Hebrews 12:22-24,

Instead, you have come to Mount Zion, to the city of the living God (the heavenly Jerusalem), to myriads of angels in festive gathering, to the assembly of the firstborn whose names have been written in heaven, to God who is the Judge of all, to the spirits of righteous people made perfect, to Jesus (mediator of a new covenant), and to the sprinkled blood, which says better things than the ⌊blood⌋ of Abel.

We come to Mount Zion when we humbly look to Jesus in faith. We come to Mount Zion when we worship God in a Christ-centered church. We come to Mount Zion when we preach Christ and hear Christ preached. Christ was crucified—taking the judgment all of us prideful humans deserve—so that He could transform us into humble lovers of humanity who preach Christ, warning others of the judgment to come. When our good King has judged the prideful, then He will give the earth to those who remain—the humble ones who trusted in Jesus for salvation.

The book of Obadiah is hugely Christ-centered. I pray that you can see it from this brief blog post.

More than that, though, i pray that you are a believer in Christ. If you’ve never trusted Christ, stop pridefully refusing Him. Stop pridefully saying, “I’ll get to that later.” You don’t know how much time you have. Obadiah said, “The day of [Yahweh] is near on all the nations” (15, emphasis added). Jesus could return five minutes from now, or you could die in your sleep tonight and come face-to-face with Him.

Humbly trust Him today!

Stop being prideful!

And check out Obadiah! His prophecy only takes two minutes to read, but it is certainly not a minor message.

In this with you.

Soli Deo Gloria
Solus Christus
Sola Scriptura

Thanks for reading.

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