Obadiah: The Danger Of Indifference


It seems to be a perennial problem.

Obadiah dealt with it. Obadiah was a prophet. His book is the shortest in the Old Testament. If you can quote a verse from it without looking it up, you’ll have earned my undying respect.

We just don’t seem to pay much attention to Obadiah.

I think the reason is that it’s short.

What could such a short book possibly have to say that would matter?

I had a professor when I was in college, though, who was fond of saying that “in order to be immortal, a message need not be eternal.”

Sometimes it’s the short messages that hit the hardest and linger the longest.

The Danger of Indifference

One thing that should jump off the page of Obadiah is that indifference is dangerous.

Obadiah is a really interesting book not just because it’s the shortest one in the Old Testament. No, it’s interesting too because Obadiah has a focus that’s a little different than most of the rest of the Bible. Obadiah focuses his message, not on Israel, not on Judah, but on the nation of Edom.

Edom is not a nation that we think about much. They’ve been one of history’s casualties. So, a little bit of background might help us as we walk through the text. Edom is comprised of the descendants Esau. Now that name ring a bell. Who is Esau? He’s Jacob’s brother. Jacob, the father of the nation of Israel. Esau was actually the firstborn, the oldest son. He was the one who should have been the most prominent, according to tradition. Instead, Jacob gets that honor and is the one who becomes the carrier of God’s promise. Jacob is the one who inherits the blessings. It’s through Jacob’s line that we have the nation of Israel. And Esau is jealous, not entirely without cause, of Jacob.

The seed of jealousy planted by Jacob’s usurpation of Esau carries over into the relationship between the two nations that sprang from them. And that’s what Obadiah addresses.

God’s Judgment On Edom

But Obadiah doesn’t give us this background in his message. Instead, he just launches into God’s judgment against the nation of Edom. Verses 1-9 say:

The vision of Obadiah.

Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom:
We have heard a report from the Lord,
    and a messenger has been sent among the nations:
“Rise up! Let us rise against her for battle!”
Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
    you shall be utterly despised.
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 down to the ground?”
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
    though your nest is set among the stars,
    from there I will bring you down,
declares the Lord.

If thieves came to you,
    if plunderers came by night—
    how you have been destroyed!
    would they not steal only enough for themselves?
If grape gatherers came to you,
    would they not leave gleanings?
How Esau has been pillaged,
    his treasures sought out!
All your allies have driven you to your border;
    those at peace with you have deceived you;
they have prevailed against you;
    those who eat your bread have set a trap beneath you—
    you have no understanding.

Will I not on that day, declares the Lord,
    destroy the wise men out of Edom,
    and understanding out of Mount Esau?
And your mighty men shall be dismayed, O Teman,
    so that every man from Mount Esau will be cut off by slaughter.

Apparently, Obadiah missed the memo on how to be an effective public speaker. He just jumps right into it: “you’re going to be judged Edom. You’re going to be destroyed now.”

Not A Unique Message

A message of judgment and destruction is not a novelty amongst prophets. Why is that? Because God is a holy God, he is a righteous God, and he has established the world expecting certain things from his creation. God judges sin and destroys sinners because things go really horribly terribly wrong when we don’t do what God has said to do. Sin itself is the cause of God’s judgment. Humanity is frequently in need of judgment, that message is not unique, because we frequently do the things that God says not to.

But we’ve got the idea wrong when we think that God says don’t do that because he’s just some sort of cosmic killjoy. God’s commands and God’s judgments are not pettily motivated. God knows that if we function as He created us to function, things will go better for us. And he knows that by judging our sin and calling us back to repentance (kind of smacking us upside the head) he can get our attention. He knows that things will go better for us if we will turn from our rebellion and do things his way. So, God’s judgment is ultimately an act of grace in calling people back to wholeness and fulfillment.

If God is gracious in judgment, we are infinitely creative in requiring it. And almost everyone would agree that there are things that need to be judged. Murder. Rape. Theft. And more. Most everyone recognizes that there is a reason why we have police officers and courts and judges and jails.

A Surprising Cause

But sometimes we’re surprised by what God says requires judgment. Because Obadiah, after telling Edom they will be judged, turns to tell them why. And it’s for something that you and I probably wouldn’t worry about that much. Verses 10-11 say:

Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,
    shame shall cover you,
    and you shall be cut off forever.
On the day that you stood aloof,
    on the day that strangers carried off his wealth
and foreigners entered his gates
    and cast lots for Jerusalem,
    you were like one of them.

Edom, you’re being judged for violence done to Jacob. You did perpetrate the violence though: you just stood there and watched.

You’re being judged because you were indifferent.

We think, “What’s the big deal?”

And God says, “That’s the big deal: that you stood there and did nothing.”

Indifference is dangerous.

It’s dangerous because it invites God’s judgment, but it’s dangerous because of where it leads people. Verses 13-14:

But do not gloat over the day of your brother
    in the day of his misfortune;
do not rejoice over the people of Judah
    in the day of their ruin;
do not boast
    in the day of distress.
Do not enter the gate of my people
    in the day of their calamity;
do not gloat over his disaster
    in the day of his calamity;
do not loot his wealth
    in the day of his calamity.
Do not stand at the crossroads
    to cut off his fugitives;
do not hand over his survivors
    in the day of distress.

The Edomites indifference leads them to the next step: rejoicing at Israel’s misfortune. The German term that we’ve co-opted to describe this is “schadenfreude” – pleasure at another’s problems. The Edomites were indifferent as they stood and watched, but that indifference infected them and led to schadenfreude.

And then they take it a step further: they profit from Israel’s problems. They looted the homes and farms the Israelites had been driven from. They didn’t drive them out, but they certainly gained from someone else doing it.

And, to add insult to injury, they wouldn’t let Israel escape their enemies. They cut off and turned back anyone fleeing.

They were indifferent.

They rejoiced.

They profited.

They participated.

Edom is being judged for good cause.

Not Just Edom’s Problem

But just in case we think Obadiah’s message is for Edom only, it’s not. This is a God’s message for each of us. Obadiah broadens the spectrum in verses 15-16

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.
For as you have drunk on my holy mountain,
    so all the nations shall drink continually;
they shall drink and swallow,
    and shall be as though they had never been.

All the nations. Edom. Israel. America. Kenya. Australia. Romania. Britain.

Nothing’s exempted here.

All the nations are going to experience the judgment of God for this very same: indifference, schadenfreude, profiting off the misfortune of others, participating in injustice.

It’s interesting that Obadiah says “as you have drunk on my holy mountain so all the nations will drink continually.” To drink in the hall of your vanquished enemy was the sign of victory. God says, “look all the nations do this. All of them think they won, whether through conquest or through indifferent profiteering. And in the very act of enjoying their victory, I will destroy them. They’re going to drink and they’re going to gulp down and they’re going to disappear.

The very instance of their success is the very thing that condemns them.

God’s Message of Hope

But Obadiah’s not done – verses 17-21:

But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape,
    and it shall be holy,
and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions.
The house of Jacob shall be a fire,
    and the house of Joseph a flame,
    and the house of Esau stubble;
they shall burn them and consume them,
    and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau,
for the Lord has spoken.

Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau,
    and those of the Shephelah shall possess the land of the Philistines;
they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria,
    and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.
The exiles of this host of the people of Israel
    shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath,
and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad
    shall possess the cities of the Negeb.
Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion
    to rule Mount Esau,
    and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.

God’s judgment is going to come against all those who oppose God’s kingdom but there will be a deliverance on Mount Zion. God’s kingdom will be established. Everyone who opposes the sovereign King and Creator of the universe will be judged. But those who submit to the King will reign with him. How is that going to take place?

Jesus Christ the King

In the mysterious providence of God, it’s going to take place because of Jesus Christ. It is going to take place through this Jewish Messiah, dying. This is Jewish King being mocked by an occupying army. It’s going to take place by this King being so poor he can’t even afford to bury himself, someone else has to foot that bill.

And then he rises from the dead. And he establishes himself and demonstrates his authority in that act. He sets himself up as the King, the one on the throne, the one who will produce the Kingdom of God.

Where You and I Fit In

Here’s how he’s going to do it: he’s going to take normal, everyday people. Like you and like me. And he’s going to change them and transform them from the inside out. He’s going to take the heart inside of them that is indifferent to the sufferings of others and he’s going to replace it with a heart that bleeds for the sake of others. He’s going to take their selfish will out of their mind and he’s going to put in instead a desire to do God’s will. He’s going to create this people from every tribe and every tongue and every language. These people are going to want nothing more than to see his kingdom established and they’re going to start now. They’re going to try to make a difference in the lives of the people around them. They’re going to meet problems and they’re going to fix them. And they’re going to come face to face with depravity and sin and all of the mess of humanity and they’re going to speak life into it through the words of the gospel of the kingdom.

That’s the plan.

The Danger of Indifference For Those Who Should Make a Difference

But what happens what happens when the people who are supposed to be bringing it about, lose the plot?

That’s the danger of indifference.

If you’re going through your day and you’re scrolling through Facebook and you see the funny video of the guy falling flat on his face. What happens if you’re indifferent to that? You’re being conditioned.

Maybe then you’re driving down the street and you see a homeless guy, maybe indifference is your reaction. Why? Because you’ve conditioned yourself to be indifferent to the suffering of others.

And then maybe you’re at work and you’ve got a coworker who just got promoted. They’re in a little over their heads and instead of offering to help, you just sit there and watch them flounder.

It’s true for all of us: if we miss the danger of indifference, we’re going to sit there and watch. And then a little later on maybe we move to the next step too.

Maybe instead of just watching the video, we share the video. Why? Because we get “likes.” We get joy out of it.

The homeless guy: instead of just being indifferent, we start thinking, “man I’m glad I’m not such a mess. I’m glad I’ve got things together.”

We get to work. And we realize, “hey, if this coworker keeps floundering, maybe that opens a door for me once they finally get rid of him.”

The danger of indifference.

We begin to see profit in indifference.

“I get my rush from the Facebook likes.”

“I get this feeling of smug superiority from judging the homeless guy.”

“I might get a raise or a promotion if this guy gets fired.”

And it’s not so far from there to begin participating, just like Edom did standing at the crossroads.

Indifference is dangerous.

The Image of God Is Marred By Indifference

Indifference is a sin. It’s not just an affront to God: it destroys us. It takes everything it means to be human and it turns it around. God created us in His image. The very first thing we see God doing is seeing a problem and fixing it. And he says to us, “you’re just like me! I made you to see problems and fix problems!”

Indifference is the precise opposite of that. If we’re not doing the things God created us to do, we aren’t experiencing the life he meant for us to live, we’re not being what he made us to be. Indifference is the gateway drug to a life that is less than human. From not caring about others to taking pleasure at the misfortunes of others, to profiting from the loss of others.

God made us to be problem-solvers, world-changers, difference-makers.

Indifference makes us people who just sit back and consume instead of create. People who are constantly looking to be entertained instead of looking to engage their culture.

Indifference In The American Church

Indifference is dangerous and it seems to have overcome the American church.

I used to worry about the American church. I used to worry that we were a lot like Israel. We were aware of the things that were wrong, we knew that that we were kind of idolatrous, and we knew that we had placed the American Dream ahead of following Christ. We knew that but we were kind of OK with it.

I used to worry about that. But the past couple weeks, as I’ve been reading Obadiah, I’ve started worrying that maybe we’re not like Israel: maybe we’re more like Edom.

Maybe we are completely indifferent to the problems of others.

Maybe we are willing to rejoice at the problems of others.

Maybe we are willing to profit off of the problems of others.

Maybe we are willing to participate in a system of injustice.

Because what’s the church designed for?

The church is, by nature, designed to be unable to be indifferent. We are given the life-changing message of the gospel of the Kingdom. We are the ones who can go to a world that is broken and say, “here is a solution!” We can go to people who are drowning in despair and who are turning to alcohol and pornography and drugs and success and money and all of these things that will ultimately be empty and we can say, “Look! That’s not going to do it for you.” And we could run headlong into the darkest places and say, “here’s Jesus.”

But are we?

Not hardly.

No church in history has ever had the resources that the American church has. No national group of believers has ever had the sheer numbers, the sheer technological ability, and the sheer financial resources of the American church.

And yet, no church has ever spent more money, more time, or more effort on itself. The church was never designed to be a country club that we pay our dues to and we show up once a week or twice a week for our own benefit.

And yet the American church has devoted itself to creating a culture centered around sitting under preachers that we like, singing music that we like, and building buildings we like. All the while indifferent to the fact that too much of the world’s population has zero access to the Gospel of Jesus Christ. All the while indifferent to the fact that there are people who are waiting for the door to burst open and shots to be fired. We are indifferent to the fact that there are people who will go to bed tonight not having eaten last week and not sure if they’re going to get to eat this week.

Do you see the danger of indifference in Obadiah?

What if we are Edom?

What if we are the ones watching indifferently, rejoicing indecently, profiting obscenely, and participating blindly?

Then we better fix it.

The Solution to Indifference: Engage

If the problem starts with indifference then the opposite of that is how you fix it. And it’s really only that first step that needs fixed – instead of just sitting there and watching and being indifferent when you see a problem – engage.

Engage with your heart: feel it.

Engage with your head: think about it.

Engage with your mouth: speak boldly about it.

Engage with your hands & your feet: go do something about it.

This holistic engagement is the what’s at stake here. Engage. It’s the opposite of indifference and it makes a difference.

Everything changes when you engage. So, next time you’re scrolling through Facebook ask yourself, “am I being conditioned for indifference or am I being conditioned to make a difference?” Ask, “as I’m having a conversation at work, am I being conditioned to indifference or am I going to make a difference?”

The danger of indifference is that you would waste the life God has given you and be worthy of his judgment, just like Edom.

The beauty of engagement is that God says, “Come on in. Join me in changing the world.”

saviors vs. The Savior

Finally, there’s something interesting about how Obadiah ends his message:

Saviors will ascend Mount Zion to rule over the hill country of Esau, but the kingdom will be the Lord’s.

God calls us to join him in changing the world, but we need to recognize that it’s still, ultimately, his work: when we engage instead of watching indifferently, we are saviors with a small “s”. It’s essential that we know and proclaim the Savior with a big “S”. We don’t get the glory, we don’t engage for praise. The praise and the glory go to Jesus: Jesus, whose kingdom it is that is being established. Jesus, who shows us what it means to be human as God intended. Jesus, who dies on the cross to pay the penalty for our sin. Jesus, whose resurrection from the grave conquers the God’s enemies.

Reject indifference.

Embrace Jesus.

Change the world.


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