Obadiah, the Day of the Lord, and Juneteenth

[A Version of What was Delivered at Woodmont Hills Church of Christ, Nashville, TN, on June 19, 2020.]

Continuing a series on the “Day of the Lord” in the Hebrew prophets, the text selected for this morning is Obadiah, and today is June 19, historically regarded as Jubilee Day or Emancipation Day in African American communities for over a century. To my mind, there is a connection. But first, we turn to Obadiah.

It is only a single chapter, twenty-one verses. It is the shortest book in the Hebrew Bible. It is often forgotten, and it doesn’t even appear in the lectionary cycle of the liturgical churches. It is, to say the least, a neglected book.

However, it is not only its brevity that accounts for this. It is also its topic. It has been received as a word of judgment against the nation of Edom, the nation who descended from Esau. As a word of judgment against a specific nation that had a specific history with the nation of Israel, it might seem a bit irrelevant to us. What does contemporary life have to do with the destruction of Edom over 2500 years ago?

This is where the theme of the Day of the Lord becomes important because that theme establishes contemporary relevance. The Day of the Lord does not only come to Edom, but the prophet Obadiah also tells us it comes for “all nations.” What happened to Edom—and the reasons it happened to Edom—lies in store for “all nations” (v. 15).

So, what happened to Edom? What happened to Edom is what happened to Judah at the hands of Edom. The rivalry between the nations of Israel and Edom go back to their ancestors Jacob and Esau. Though those two reconciled, the rivalry deepened and turned to hostility. When Israel wanted to pass through the land of Edom on the way to the promised land, Edom refused. Even when Israel promised to pay for any water or food they used along the way, Edom refused. At times, the nations warred with each other. Israel subjugated Edom during the reign of David, and Edom invaded Judah at other times. Sometimes they were allies but never friends. Finally, when the Babylonian empire invaded Judah three times over a period of 20 years and laid siege to Jerusalem three times, finally destroying the city in 586 BCE, Edom joined forces with Babylon to humiliate Judah.

Edom cooperated with Babylon, assisted them, and took advantage of Judah’s subjugation. As a consequence, on “that day”—the day of the Lord—the wise in Edom were destroyed, her warriors shattered, and everyone was cut off from Mount Esau (vv. 8-9). The day of the Lord came to Edom as judgment, destruction, and exclusion from God’s future story.

Why did it happen to Edom? Fundamentally, Edom mistreated his brother (vv. 10-14).

  • Edom stood aside and watched Jerusalem robbed and subjugated without helping or showing pity.
  • Edom gloated over the misfortune of Judah and rejoiced over their ruin.
  • Edom boasted about their own security and power on the day of Judah’s distress.
  • Edom participated in the calamity of Judah by entering its cities, including Jerusalem, and violently subduing the city and its land.
  • Edom prevented the escape of refugees and handed over survivors to the ruling power, the Babylonians.

In other words, Edom used their secure position in relation to Babylonian power to pillage, seize, and abuse their brothers in Judah. Rather than using it to show mercy, assist, and welcome their brothers, they used it to inflict power for their own benefit. Fundamentally, they failed to love their neighbors and honor the common brotherhood of Jacob and Esau as children of Abraham and Isaac.

They used their power—the privilege afforded to them as Babylonian allies—to enrich themselves, secure their own position in relation to that power, and take revenge against Judah for past offenses. And what drove this was a “proud heart” (v. 3). Their arrogance—their seeming invincibility (“who will bring me down to the ground?” in v. 4)—emboldened them, and they stole from and murdered their own brothers as a tool of Babylonian power.

For this reason, the Day of the Lord came upon Edom, and it meany their destruction. God judges the nations for their violence, arrogance, and cruelty. God sent out a messenger among the nations, the prophet Obadiah, to announce that the Lord will do battle against Edom for his sins. The Day of the Lod comes as judgment against Edom.

But not just Edom, and this is how Obadiah’s message about Edom is also relevant for us. Obadiah 15 says, “For the day of the Lord is near against all nations.” The standard of measurement for all nations is their own actions. Just as they have done, it will be done to them, and their “deeds shall return on” their “own head” (v. 15). What nations do to other nations, the Day of the Lord will bring to those nations.

This is a message not only about Edom, but it is a warning and a promise to all nations. When nations do what Edom did, when they gloat over the ruin of others, boast of their own power and standing in the world, mistreat others through violence and enslavement, punish refugees rather than help them, and participate in the calamity of other peoples, then the Day of the Lord will come for them as it did for Edom.

Obadiah’s message, though specifically targeting Edom, also speaks to all nations throughout all history. It speaks to our own nation. Juneteenth reminds us one of our nation’s original sins, the enslavement of people for the enrichment of plantations and the nation. Juneteenth celebrates the moment on June 19, 1865 when Union General Gordon Granger posted and publicly read throughout Galveston, Texas, General Order No. 3 which freed the remaining enslaved people and granted them the rights of a free people.

But before Juneteenth was a version of the Day of the Lord. The Civil War cost this nation over 625,000 lives, one out of every 50 people alive in 1860 died in that war. Abraham Lincoln recognized a divine judgment in his Second Inaugural Address.  It was a nineteenth century “Day of the Lord” for the United States.

“The Almighty has His own purposes. ‘Woe unto the world because of offenses; for it must needs be that offenses come, but woe to that man by whom the offense cometh.’ If we shall suppose that American slavery is one of those offenses which, in the providence of God, must needs come, but which, having continued through His appointed time, H now wills to remove, and that He gives to both North and South this terrible war as the woe due to those by whom the offense came, shall we discern therein any departure from those divine attributes which the believers in a living God always ascribe to Him? Fondly do we hope, fervently do we pray, that this mighty scourge of war may speedily pass away. Yet, if God wills that it continue until all the wealth piled by the bondsman’s two hundred and fifty years of unrequited toil shall be sunk, and until every drop of blood drawn with the lash shall be paid by another drawn with the sword, as was said three thousand years ago, so still it must be said ‘the judgments of the Lord are true and righteous altogether’.”

American slavery did to Africans what Edom did to Judah. When the Day of the Lord comes, it liberates the oppressed and judges the evil that oppressed them.

The Day of the Lord is a recurring event throughout history. It is not simply one day, but many days where the righteous judgment of God moves in history to deliver the oppressed, judge the wicked, and renew the hope of the righteous. Those days are part of history, both biblical and subsequent to the Biblical history. We don’t often see them clearly as we are so bound up in the wickedness and the wounds of this world that we are blinded by our own power and privilege.

I am no prophet, and I cannot discern the movement of God in the world to identify this is that, and that is this. However, we are all called to pay attention to the righteousness, justice, and mercy (e.g., Micah 6:8; Matthew 23:23). We are called to seek the kingdom of God first and God’s righteousness (Matthew 6:33). We pray, “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” We judge the nations in the light of the kingdom of God, a kingdom where power humbles itself and privilege serves the other; a kingdom that advocates mercy over sacrifice, love of neighbor over ambition, and empowerment of the power over the enrichment of the wealthy. We seek first the kingdom of God and God’s righteousness–is is our allegiance as disciples of Jesus.

And that day—the day when the kingdom of God comes—is coming and is already here though it has not fully arrived. A day is coming when Mount Edom will belong to the Lord, and all the kingdoms of the earth will become the kingdom of our Lord (v 21).

The Day of the Lord has two edges to it. It will judge the nations for their violence, exploitation, and self-enrichment, and that day will also fill the earth with the righteousness, justice, mercy, and peace. On that day, the eschatological Day of the Lord, the earth will belong the Lord, the meek will inherit the earth, and the glory of God will fill and renew all things as an inheritance for God’s people. Until that day comes when God will set everything right, we continue to pray “Your kingdom come,” and we give ourselves to God as disciples of Jesus who pursue God’s kingdom and become instruments of that kingdom life in the present.

Until that day, perhaps that call of Lincoln in his second inaugural still rings true: “With malice toward none, with charity for all, with firmness in the right as God gives us to see the right,” let us pursue righteousness, justice, mercy, and compassion as we bind up the wounds, care for the poor, and seek the kingdom of God above all else.

One Response to “Obadiah, the Day of the Lord, and Juneteenth”

  1.   Bruce Bates Says:

    So good brother, thank you. We have been trained out of looking for the justice of God. Someone says “well how do you know God intended this or that?” And we confess we can’t know for sure. And this has left the justice of God voiceless in our churches. Of course we will be wrong in ascertaining God’s justice and judgment in our life. Oddly, our similar lack of knowledge has not prevented us from weighing in on difficult theological texts. We don’t mind being wrong there. The ancients looked for the hand of God; so should we. And may we be active in true repentance to avoid such judgments in our lifetime and in the Eschaton.

Leave a Reply