A Lesson from Obadiah: Why You Don’t Want to Celebrate in the Suffering of Your Enemy

Obad. 15                For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations.

                 As you have done, it shall be done to you;

                                your deeds shall return on your own head.

Have you ever smiled on the inside when someone you don’t like suffers harm from their decisions? Have you ever found yourself rooting against your rival? Have you ever personally retaliated against a family member who has hurt you?

Sadly, many of us from time to time can be wounded by others. When that happens, instead of addressing problems head on, we might find ourselves plotting against the very person we should be caring for and pursuing in Christ’s love.

We can try to ignore the problem in a broken relationship and we might think to ourselves that it will eventually go away. But the truth is that it doesn’t. Unresolved bitterness continues to be a toxin that, when it continues to control us, will result in our own harm. Our sins always follow us (Num. 32:23). It is like self-ingesting a poison pill and hoping your enemy dies.

We can distance ourselves from those who have offended us, even when we are related to them in a familial relationship or spiritual relationship in Christ. We can think to ourselves, “Well, they brought that upon themselves.” And we silently wait at a distance for that person who hurt us to fail. We might yearn for them to falter. We might justify our stance by citing the offense of the other person and think, “I am not responsible for that person anymore.”

This attitude is a common attitude that oozes from beneath broken relationships. It is nothing new— as we will discover in just a moment. But did you know that there are deep consequences beyond the division that is seen on the surface?

That’s what one small book back in the sticky pages of your Bible teaches us. Have you heard of Obadiah? Yeah, you’ve probably heard of him. You memorized his name in AWANA. You might have heard a pastor reference his name a long time ago! Maybe you were lucky and landed in Obadiah when you were flipping through those sticky pages in your bible (you know, those short short books we don’t really read toward the end of the Old Testament?).

Obadiah means “Servant of Yahweh.” Nobody really knows who this servant was. The message of Obadiah was to serve the people of Edom and Israel. The message of Obadiah was one of warning to Edom.

Edomites were descendants of Esau. They lived in the clefts of the rocky sandstone south of the Dead Sea. Over the centuries between Jacob and Esau’s quarrel and the time of this oracle, the Edomites and Israelites developed quite a rivalry rooted in bitterness. Just search “Edom” in Scripture and you will find the many times they tormented each other over the years.

As you read this short oracle, you will find the answer to a question presented in Scripture from the very beginning of the Bible, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” As it turns out, Obadiah is really answering the same question that Cain asked God when God asked Cain about Able way back in Genesis 4 (Did you follow all that?). We know the answer to that question was “Yes.” AND, as it turns out, in Obadiah, you will also find an illustration of the consequences to continued neglect of broken relationships as they spin out of control when left unattended.

To Edom’s surprise, what they learned is that their circumstance was far worse than they thought. They must have been shocked to learn that they were coming under the judgment of Yahweh for crimes against his people.

The problem is plainly stated in Obadiah 1:10. Edom was accused of violently slaughtering God’s people, but they didn’t actually wield a sword against Israel. How, then could they be accused of this crime? Well, check this out:

Edom stood aloof and pretended not to know anything when their brother Israel was getting slaughtered by Babylon (vs. 11). There was a sign where I once worked that basically said if you witnessed an event but did not report it then you are guilty in committing it. Yeah, Edom in particular was happy to watch Israel suffer in this case. Edom believed Israel had what was coming! But there was going to be a turn of the table for Edom in the near future.

Edom rejoiced in the suffering of Israel (vs. 12). One of my favorite things to see in sports rivalry is for a rivaled team to lose, especially if they have beat my team. It is extremely gratifying. But rejoicing in evil against another human is intolerable in God’s eyes. We are all made in His image. This can be a challenge, especially in our view of our political counterparts. And sometimes when people we love hurt us.

Edom exploited Israel’s injury by taking spoils of war (vs. 13). They kicked someone who was already down. They robbed someone who had been pillaged. Edom should have responded with remorse and compassion, but her pride took her another direction.

Edom played passive aggressive (vs 14). Edom blockaded roads to the south of Israel and prevented refugees from entering their land, thereby sealing off Israel’s doom. Sometimes we can play passive aggressive in our relationships. It is a form of manipulation and control. Not healthy at all. We seal off roadways to healing when we stonewall others.

What is ironic in all of Edom’s behavior and attitude towards Israel is that on the surface, Edom appeared to have the upper hand. We can imagine the relief Edom must have felt when she saw her perceived problem— Israel— appearing to be removed by God.

But the tables turned because what we learn in Obadiah is that God’s justice will finally fall against those who rebel against Him and His people (vss. 15-21). Obadiah brings an edict against Edom because of her passiveness when Israel suffered. We can imagine the facial expressions that changed. A grin toward Israel turning to a gasp of fear. God was going to bring justice to Edom.

The truth is that there is great relief when justice is executed. When a referee throws a flag against a player whose penalty hurt your team, there is great relief— especially if it is a game changer. Even more so, if your human rights have been violated, there is satisfaction and relief when a judge and jury arrive at the correct verdict and apply the appropriate sentence.

How much more so is the satisfaction that comes when God executes evil! Justice is part of the hope of Christianity. When the wrath of God was poured out on Jesus Christ, God executed his justice against sin for the sake of believers who would come to faith in him. Our hope today is to look forward to when the Lord Jesus Christ will reign as King here on earth (vs. 21).

So how do we take something so far away and bring it near? What does this mean for us? One of the primary lessons of Obadiah is to pursue reconciliation with those whom we are at odds. What we learn is the same as what God inferred to Cain. We are our brother’s keeper. We should not wish our enemies away. We should not rejoice when they suffer.

God will hold us to account for our relationships with others. For our actions and for our inactions. If we are honest, most of us can admit guilt in all or some of these offenses in some sort of way. When we are hurt by another, our most natural response is to retaliate against our wrongdoer. But God is calling us to do something different.

God wants us to do what is supernatural. Natural is retaliation. Natural is indifference. Natural is manipulation and control. Natural is anger.

Supernatural is grace. Supernatural is compassion toward those who hurt us. Supernatural is radical forgiveness. Supernatural is love for our enemies.

Jesus made clear that we are to love our enemies and to pray for those who mistreat us (Matt. 5:44). Even God, in reference to the time when he will one day execute his justices in totality against all sin, is willing that none should perish but that all should come to repentance.

In the world that we live, our greatest enemy is the sin and pride within ourselves and our failure to do what God is calling us to do—to make peace with our enemies.

Is there someone in your life you have burned a bridge with? Have you deliberately turned away from someone who frustrated you? Are you actively plotting against someone you don’t like? Are you willing to be judged by God because of your actions or inactions? How does God want you to respond to those who have brought pain into your life?

Let us learn from the lessons of Obadiah. Have grace and compassion toward others who have failed us. Let’s become people who build bridges through conflict instead of erecting walls.