God’s Side is Always the Right Side (Obadiah 1–21)

As has always been the case, our culture today demands people be on “the right side of history” regarding any number of issues. The implication is, you don’t want to get left behind clinging to archaic, outdated ways of thinking. “The world is progressing,” they say. “Keep pace, keep quiet, and make sure you align yourself, your mind, and your actions with our demands.”

Today we’re going to be reminded from the book of Obadiah that the only right side of any issue is God’s side and that any time we oppose to him, his people, his work, or his word we are putting ourselves in the crosshairs of his perfect and pending justice.

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A 2013 study revealed that when entering a movie theatre, people are more likely to pick a seat on the right side of the room than on the left. Interestingly, when selecting a seat on an airplane, the opposite was the case, the left side was favoured. According to the researchers, the reason for such asymmetry has mostly to do with human’s subconscious spatial biases. 

You may ask, Who cares? My seat choice in a theatre or on an airplane is what we might call a “low-impact decision.” It doesn’t really matter.

But not all choices are that trivial, are they? There are times we must look down the middle aisle of an issue and decide on which side we’re going sit, which team we’re going to join, which vote we’re going to cast.

This is the choice being demanded when our culture declares the importance of being on the “right side of history” on a number of issues today. The implication is, you don’t want to get left behind clinging to archaic, outdated ideologies. The world is progressing! Keep pace, keep quiet, and make sure you choose the correct side of the aisle to sit down on.

Today we’re going to be reminded, as God’s people, that the only correct side of any issue is God’s side. And that any time we make the decision to sit opposed to him, his people, his work, and his word—consciously or subconsciously, intentionally or ignorantly—we are putting ourselves in the crosshairs of his perfect and pending justice.

If you have a Bible with you, turn with me to the one-chapter book of Obadiah. This short prophetic book highlights a nation who chose to sit on the wrong side of the aisle—they opposed God by opposing God’s people. And it doesn’t end well for them.

As we begin reading Obadiah’s prophecy, we find ourselves in the middle of a disciplinary session in which this nation is being harshly rebuked by the Almighty himself. In fact, most of this book has to do with the fate of the oppressors—what was to come for those who sat on the wrong side of the room.

The vision of Obadiah. This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom—

Edom is the nation that descended from Esau. You’ll remember God promised Abraham a nation from his progeny that would bless the world. He and Sarah were given a miracle son—Isaac. When Isaac grew-up he had twin boys, Esau and Jacob. 

God chose Jacob, not Esau, to carry the promised line. Through Jacob came Israel and through Esau came the Edom. Throughout the Bible, those nations are often referred to by the names of their patriarchs. That’s what we find in Obadiah.

The vision of Obadiah. This is what the Sovereign Lord says about Edom—We have heard a message from the Lord: An envoy was sent to the nations to say, “Rise, let us go against her for battle”—“See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised. 

The “Sovereign Lord” has issued a verdict, a verdict declaring Edom “guilty,” a verdict made known to all the nations who are now readying their armies to cut down this now-hated people.

The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’ 

The Edomites lived literally and figuratively above the other nations. They inhabited an elevated region that gave them great advantages militaristically: They could see enemies coming from miles away. And, in addition to their natural, rocky fortifications, Edom had constructed great fortresses as well. 

This nation felt impregnable, invulnerable, unbeatable, and untouchable. The Lord, knowing the hearts and minds of all people, quotes them to themselves: “Who can bring us down to the ground? Nothing can touch us!” 

But God then answers their rhetorical and arrogant question:

Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the Lord. 

The greatness of Edom doesn’t impress nor intimidate God. Rather, the heights to which they’ve ascended will only serve to emphasize their inevitable fall.

A similar arrogance coursed through the veins of the post-flood people in Genesis 11. While God told them to multiply and fill the earth, mankind instead decided to congregate and build a brick-and-morter tower reaching into heaven as a monument to their cleverness and ingenuity. But, when all was said and done, the heights that tower reached would serve as a memorial to God’s limitless power and humanities sinful pride.

Similarly in Obadiah, God promises to bring Edom down from their self-aggrandizing heights and that, when he does, their destruction will be total.

If thieves came to you, if robbers in the night—oh, what a disaster awaits you!—would they not steal only as much as they wanted? If grape pickers came to you, would they not leave a few grapes? But how Esau will be ransacked, his hidden treasures pillaged! 

When a robber comes into a house, they grab what they can and bolt, inevitably leaving something behind. The same with grape-gatherers: They’re bound to miss some fruit as they pass through the vines. It will not be so with Edom’s destruction. Nothing will be left. Nothing will be passed over. Even Edom’s hidden treasures will be found and plundered. 

It’s total destruction, a destruction that will reach beyond material possessions into the immaterial as well.

All your allies will force you to the border; your friends will deceive and overpower you; those who eat your bread will set a trap for you, but you will not detect it. 

“In that day,” declares the Lord, “will I not destroy the wise men of Edom, those of understanding in the mountains of Esau? Your warriors, Teman, will be terrified, and everyone in Esau’s mountains will be cut down in the slaughter. 

Edom’s allies and friends will become nemeses. Those with whom they had broken bread will become their captures and deceivers. All the wise men and the strong men of Edom, those the nation would normally look to in times of trouble for guidance, will be no help. 

The Sovereign Lord is promising, through Obadiah, Edom’s total destruction. 

At this point let’s pause and digest the severity of this punishment. It’s devastating. What could possibly merit such wholesale retribution? What deserves wrath with such finality? We find the answer starting in verse 10.

Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. 

Why is this shame-bringing, destruction-ensuring divine judgement being promised to Edom? 

Because of the pride-soaked violence they demonstrated against their brother nation, Israel, the nation chosen by God through which he would bring his Messiah that would bless the world. That’s the wrong side of the aisle to sit on. More details emerge as we keep reading.

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. 

God’s people were under attack. Jerusalem was being looted by foreigners. Where’s brother Edom? Standing, watching. They apathetically ate popcorn from their high perch and enjoyed the show. And, for that, the Lord says, you may as well have been marching with the enemy: “You were like one of them.” But it gets even worse:

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. 

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. 

You should not wait at the crossroads to cut down their fugitives, nor hand over their survivors in the day of their trouble. 

Not only did the Edomites stand by, watch, and gloat at Israel’s destruction, but they joined the fun. Worse yet, some Edomites stood at exit roads and picked off fleeing Israelites, either killing them or handing them back over to their assailants. 

It’s one thing to witness a violent mugging and do nothing, it’s another to trip the victim as they try and escape the mugger and then participate in the crime. It’s worse when the victim is your sibling. It’s worse still when that sibling is God’s beloved.

Blinded by pride, this is what Edom did. They may as well have spat in the face of God himself. They chose the wrong seat. They chose the wrong side. And, because of that, Edom will be no more.

Now, you may think, “Neat story, but what does a sibling rivalry that reached its apex millennia ago have to do with us today?” Well, not so fast.

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. 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. 

The “day of the Lord” is a common term in biblical prophetic literature and it refers generally to any time when God intervenes in human affairs to accomplish his will, oftentimes dealing with wickedness and bringing judgement. Obadiah is promising the coming of such a day.

The drinking mentioned in verse 16 refers to the drinking of God’s wrath or divinely appointed suffering. 

We read about this in the NT as well. The Lord Jesus asked the mother of James and John the rhetorical question: “Can you drink the cup I am going to drink” (Matt 20:22)? Later, in the Garden of Gethsemane, he would call out “Father, Take this cup from me” (Mark 14:36). Still later, after Peter had tried to defend Christ, Jesus demanded, “Put your sword away! Shall I not drink the cup the Father has given me” (John 18:11). Christ had to drink the cup of God’s wrath, not because of his sin (he was without) but for the sins of the world.

Edom had to drink the cup because of their sinfulness and, so will all nations that oppose God and his people, so will all who make the choice to sit against the Almighty.

On the future day of the Lord Obadiah is speaking of there will be perfect justice doled-out—the wrongs committed will be turned around and done likewise to the perpetrators: “As you have done, it will be done to you.”

God has sovereignly given humanity freewill (we can choose where we sit), but what we do with that freewill is not free from consequences. And, since God knows all and sees all, the justice coming will be perfect and total, fair and right, sweeping and final.

Edom is presented as the paradigm of all the nations, including ours; the Edomites as the paradigm for all people, including you and I.

Are there ways in which we are opposing God, his people, and his work in this world? Could you ever be accused of standing aloof while God’s work, God’s word, God’s reputation are being attacked? Is Christ’s church today complicit in any way to the dampening of the gospel message? Could someone point the finger at me and claim I was participating in attempts to dismantle and de-claw the work of God’s people in this culture?

If the answer is “yes” to any of those questions—even a little bit—Obadiah sends a warning shot over my bow, over your bow, and over our bow. “The day of the Lord is near for all nations.” Justice will be done, as the nation of Edom learned.

But in the five remaining verses, the prophet turns his attention from Edom to Israel, from the villains to the victims. Starting in verse 17, Obadiah shifts focus from the fate of the oppressors to the future of the oppressed.

Notice that, while Edom’s judgement is pronounced, never is Israel’s hardship alleviated. They are suffering. But God is with them in their trouble, promising to punish those who would raise their hand against his people.

Now, what is the future for Israel at this moment? Is this the end of the nation and the end of God’s promise to bless the world with one who would crush the head of the serpent? Was this the end of the hope for humanity?

But on Mount Zion will be deliverance; it will be holy, and Jacob will possess his inheritance. Jacob will be a fire and Joseph a flame; Esau will be stubble, and they will set him on fire and destroy him. There will be no survivors from Esau.” The Lord has spoken. 

People from the Negev will occupy the mountains of Esau, and people from the foothills will possess the land of the Philistines. They will occupy the fields of Ephraim and Samaria, and Benjamin will possess Gilead. This company of Israelite exiles who are in Canaan will possess the land as far as Zarephath; the exiles from Jerusalem who are in Sepharad will possess the towns of the Negev. 

Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the Lord’s.

In this closing section Obadiah gives a series of iron-clad declarations from the Sovereign Lord. These are things he is saying will certainly come to pass.

Mount Zion, that which had been a scene of destruction for God’s people here in the book of Obadiah will become the place of their deliverance. That which was desecrated by evil-doers will be holy once again. That which was lost to other nations will one day be returned to the possession of God’s people according to God’s promise. This is certainly not the end of Israel.

God also promises that his people will judge Edom, destroying the wicked. And, guess what? Today there is no Edom.

And, according to verses 19 to 21, the nation of Israel will not only be restored and returned to their land, but they will expand under the rule of the Lord. He will be their God and they will be his people.

Israel, though being oppressed, will be restored according to God’s promises and God’s kingdom will be established. 

And similar for us. As God’s people today, we will experience varying forms of oppression. Paul wrote that “everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted,while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived” (2 Tim 3:12–13). No doubt he was thinking of Jesus’ warning: “A slave is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will also persecute you” (John 15:20).

And, because of that promised hardship, we may be tempted to chose a seat that most alleviates the discomfort, that which is said to be on the “right side of history.” But, as Obadiah has reminded us today, the only right side is God’s side.

And, like Israel in Obadiah, we have hope-giving, back-strengthening promises to which we can cling. When we understand the reality of who we are in Christ, that we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places in him, and that nothing can separate us from the eternal love of God in Christ Jesus, we can boldly and humbly say with the Apostle Paul: “To live is Christ, to die is gain.” I will sit down with my Lord, my God, my Saviour, his people, his Word, his church, his work, and I will not chose to sit with the world no matter the pressure.

I will stand for objective, external truth. I will stand with the oppressed and the voiceless in the ways God has prescribed. I will stand for the exclusivity of the gospel of Jesus Christ, that no one comes to the Father except through him. I will ask God to kill the pride in my life that may blind me to the deceptive “friends” beckoning me to sit with them on what they claim is the “right side of history” but is actually the side opposite my great God and our great Judge.

It’s often said: “If you’re not with us, you’re against us.” Well, here in the book of Obadiah, the God of the universe is sending a prophetic shot over the bows—a warning shot to the nations—“If you’re not with me, you’re against me.” He wants us with him, no doubt. But if we decide as people, as nations, as communities, as families, as churches to be against God and the work he’s called us to do in the way he’s called us to do it, we are, in fact, against him. And there will be justice.

And so, we Anticipate justice!We know it’s coming and its future certainty should affect our lives today, whether prompting fear or hope. We should ask ourselves, am I sitting on the right side of the room? Am I filled with the anticipation the coming justice provides? Am I responding to the invitation of God to kill the pride in my life and live fearlessly for his glory? Wherever you’re at, anticipate justice!

This week I’ll encourage you to ask yourself a question. In fact, ask it two times with two different emphases.

First, Am I with God? This is a question only you can answer for yourself. Am I with God? There is coming a day in the future when every person who has ever lived will stand before a perfect God and our lives will be judged according to that perfect standard against which we all fall short. And the Bible says that “anyone whose name [is] not found written in the book of life [will be] thrown into the lake of fire.” It will be perfectly just judgement for those who opposed God with their imperfection.

How do we get our names in the “book of life”? Well, as Paul and Silas told a man who asked that same question: “Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and you will be saved” (Acts 16:31).

The gospel of John opens speaking of Jesus: “In him was life, and that life was the light of all mankind” (1:4). And Jesus would later say of himself, “I am the resurrection and the life; he who believes in Me will live even if he dies” (John 11:25). 

So, this week ask yourself the question: Am I with God? Have I believe in the person and work of Jesus for the life only he provides? Have I believed that God sent him to live the life I’m called to live but fail to do, die the death I deserve, and was raised by God from the dead? Friend, if you have not believed that, now’s the time. When you do, your name is written in the book of life, you pass from death to life, and you are truly and eternally with God.

If you are able to answer “yes” to that first question: Yes, I am with God, it’s time to ask the second question: Am I with God?

It’s one thing to be saved, to have believed in the Person and work of Jesus for eternal life, it’s another to live your life consistently aligned with him. Am I with God?

You know, for Christians, there is a different future judgement coming than the one I referenced earlier. Speaking to Christians, Paul wrote: “For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ” (2 Cor 5:10). This future judgement is not to determine eternal life or eternal death because we already have the former, but it’s where our faithfulness is exposed and we are rewarded accordingly. And, I don’t know about you, but I want rewards! I want to be found faithful! I want to be found as servant of God that chose to sit with him, his people, his work, and his word consistently throughout my life.

You see, for all people, we are to anticipate justice! It’s coming. It’s a certainty. We’ve been clearly warned. It’s up to us to ask ourselves the questions, am I with God? and am I with God?

And, depending on how we answer those questions, the promise of coming justice will be anticipated with trepidation or with enthusiasm. 

Friends, God’s side is always the right side. No matter what the world is saying, no matter what’s popular. May we be people, families, and a church committed to aligning ourselves with God, his people, his word, his work, no matter what it costs us and motivated by the fact that, in the end, he wins.

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Josiah has served the Oakridge Bible Chapel family as one of its elders and one of its pastoral staff members since September 2018, before which he ministered as an associate pastor to a local congregation in the Canadian prairies. Josiah's desire is to be used by God to help equip the church for ministry, both while gathered (edification) and while scattered (evangelization). He is married to Patricia, and together they have five children—Jonah, Henry, Nathaniel, Josephine, and Benjamin.

Josiah Boyd

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