Is Strength Our Downfall?

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“The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling, who say in your heart, ‘Who will bring me to the ground?’” (Obadiah 1:3)

One book, one chapter, one vision, that’s all.  So who cares about Edom?  What does it matter?  Edom was destroyed way back when, right?  So let’s move on.  But the truth is, though the “nation” of Edom was destroyed, all the people of Edom haven’t been.  The thinking of Edom still goes on.  Oh, the people of Edom may not be natural offspring of Edom, but if we really look around, it’s not too hard to spot the Edomites in the world today, and if I’m not careful with my thinking, I could become one myself.

Biblically, the Edomites are the descendants of Esau, the twin brother of Jacob.  Remember that whole story where the baby Jacob in the womb on his way out grabs his brother’s heal and comes out first instead?  Well, You God have said, “Two nations are in your womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from your bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” (Genesis 25:23)  So maybe this story is more than about two brothers.  Maybe this story was always meant as a picture and a lesson.  Maybe these two nations were all about two kinds of people.  Is that such a far stretch?  And maybe each of us is one of these or the other.  And maybe we can choose which we will be.

I wondered about that statement which we think of in reference to Jacob, “the one people shall be stronger than the other people.”  And I wonder if Jacob was stronger as we think of it?  Well, according to what Scripture says about the two brothers, Jacob certainly wasn’t the more physically buff or athletic one.  That would be Esau.  So what does it mean to be stronger than the other here?  The Hebrew word amats, stronger, is about being alert either physically or mentally.  Listen to the words in Strong’s associated with this root, “confirm, be courageous (of good courage, steadfastly minded, strong, stronger), establish, fortify, harden, increase, prevail, strengthen (self, make strong (obstinate, speed).”  So we see alertness both physically and mentally used for good and characterized by positive strengths and then we see what this looks like if centered on itself leading to negative character traits.  But what if this still is giving us a picture?  One person, here, Jacob or Esau, can decide whether he will be amats by being alert to the Lord and strong in the Lord, or that same person can decide whether he will be amats by being alert to himself and strong in his own sufficiency. 

So what about the elder serving the younger?  The Hebrew word for elder is rab.  It’s about the thing that is greater in quantity, size, age, number, rank, quality, whatever.  It can be the elder, the captain, the master, the mighty, and more.  What if it means more than just the older twin serving the younger?  What if it means that whoever is more shall serve the less?  After all, that word for younger in Hebrew is tsaor, which means little as in few, young in age, little in value, ignoble, the least, or a little or small one.  Hm.  Sounds like something Jesus said, doesn’t it.  In Mark 9:35, Jesus said, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.”  And in Mark 10:42-45, we are told, “You know that those who are considered rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them.  But it shall not be so among you.  But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be slave of all.  For even the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.”  Maybe this story about Jacob and Esau and all the hard learning they had to go through, is to help us to learn the same truth.  And maybe we have to go through such tough situations too before we can ever hope to really learn this in the depths of our being.  But if we refuse to surrender and learn, that’s where the warning of Obadiah comes in.

Now let’s jump back to Obadiah.  He was over the household of Ahab (you remember Ahab and wicked Jezebel?)  So here was Obadiah working for this evil king,  only Obadiah “feared the LORD greatly.”  As a matter of fact, according to 1 Kings 18:4, we know that Obadiah loved and feared You so much, Lord, that he didn’t even fear his own life.  Because when Jezebel was killing the prophets of the Lord, Obadiah rescued 100 prophets, hiding them by fifties in caves and bringing them bread and water.  Do you know what the Jews believe about him?  In the Talmud: b.Sanhedrin 39b, it’s believed that Obadiah was an Edomite convert to Judaism!  If that were to be true, that adds an even more amazing feature to God’s prophecy through him.

Why do I say that?  Because Obadiah is a book about the terrible hatred and treatment of the Edomites against the children of Israel.  And what makes the treatment so terrible above normal is that Edom and Israel are brothers.  Remember, they were twins, Jacob and Esau.  It’s like the story of Cain and Abel all over again.  How can one sibling kill or wish such evil on the other sibling?  It goes against our design as human beings.  What brings a brother or sister to this point?

Deception brought about by pride brings us there.  “The pride of your heart has deceived you.”  Like Esau who told his brother he didn’t need his gifts.  Why not?  He had already made himself sufficient.  That deception had already set in when he was young.  “I can get along fine without my birthright as long as I have what I want to make me strong.”  So Esau built Edom, that red stronghold called Petra, that cleft in the rock, and thought no one would come and bring them down.  But the Romans came and all that is left of Petra is the empty great ruins that speak of a great people defeated and lost.

Why did it have to happen?  Because Edom believed in a deception.  They trusted in their pride.  They trusted in their own wisdom.  Their choices were better than God’s choices.  If they didn’t like the way something was supposed to be handled according to God, they would just do it their way.  They trusted in their strength, their alertness according to their thinking, and not alertness to You.  They chose the way of violence against their brother instead of Your way of mercy and forgiveness and love and compassion.  They ignored their brother’s cries for help and went beyond that to help others carry them off and pillage them.  They gloated over their mistreatment.  They looted them.  They handed them over to the enemies.

That’s all the pride of the heart and it’s reaction, opposing You and Your heart, Lord.  According to EB Meyers, “Malice harbored in any form contains the seed of (our own) future suffering.”  It’s so against Your heart and Your way.  And it would go right along with Your heart to chose a redeemed Edomite to follow Your heart and set an example for rejecting the traditions of our fathers for the heart of God instead.  And Your heart shouts out, “Rescue those who are being taken away to death; hold back those who are stumbling to the slaughter.  If you say, ‘Behold, we did not know this,’ does not He who weighs the heart perceive it?  Does not He who keeps watch over your soul know it, and will He not repay man according to his work?” (Proverbs 24:11-12)  Do I think it’s good enough to just want to do something good for someone?  According to You, Lord, it’s not good enough unless I follow it through with action like You. 

So, what is good?  “What good is it, my brothers, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can that faith save him?  If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?  So also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.  Not only does our own wisdom not suffice, but God’s wisdom not applied in life will not carry us either.  Why?  Because You are a living God and You not only ARE but because You ARE You Do because to BE- IS.  That’s what the I AM is all about.  You can’t separate Your character from Your actions because they are one in the same.  And so it is with us also.  And we need to realize that.  But whose character dwells in me?  Is it You, in Christ, or do I cling to my own?

You already knew the problems of man before they started.  So you warned those who would choose Your way.  You shared of Yourself and Your heart.  “You shall not abhor an Edomite, for he is your brother.  You shall not abhor an Egyptian, because you were a sojourner in his land.” (Deuteronomy 23:7)  “It doesn’t matter if Edom or Egypt hates You.  If you want to belong to God, if You want a relationship with Me, be merciful like I am merciful to you.”  Deception will tell us otherwise.  Jealousy will tell us there’s a better way than God’s way, just like it told Cain and Esau. “Now Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father had blessed him…” (Genesis 25:23)  But You had already given him the way out, just as you had given Cain the way out.  “Stop allowing yourself to be deceived.  Follow and do the truth.  Know Me.  Keep your eyes on me and care for your brother like I care for you.”

Paul continues God’s warning.  “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elementary principles of the world, and not according to Messiah.  For in Him bodily lives the fullness of all that God is, and you have been filled in Him, who is the head of all rule and authority.”  How we think will determine which side of the fence we really are on.  Do I have the mind of Edom or the mind of one set apart for You and by You?  I think of You passing before Moses and proclaiming Yourself by these truths, “The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, but who will by no means clear the guilty, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children and the children’s children, to the third and fourth generation.”  That visiting the iniquity on all those generations, is it about You holding following generations guilty for their parent’s sins?  If so, how could You say You are forgiving of our iniquity and transgression and sin?  But what if every generation has the same choice as Cain and Edom and me?  What if any of us, regardless of the traditions and choices of our parents or our people or our nation or our religion, can choose to see You for who You really are and surrender to Your way?  What if that is what God wants us to see in Obadiah’s prophecy besides the historical downfall?  What if there is a deeper truth that You want us to understand and a choice You want us to make for our own good?  What if all the Edomites wherever we might be in the world, being controlled by our own wisdom or our culture or some false religion or ideas, can let go of those lies and walk in the truth instead?  What if we don’t have to be captives of our own pride, self-sufficiency, and apathy?  What if the Truth, who is a person and God at the same time, can set us free, and only He can?  And what if He is not just a choice we believe but a life we live?  And what if His name, is Jesus, Yeshua, the Messiah?

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