6 Reasons You Should Preach through Obadiah
“Please turn in your Bibles to the table of contents.”
This is how I spared my congregation from embarrassment when I preached my first sermon from the obscure book of Obadiah. Nestled in the uncharted backwaters of the Minor Prophets, Obadiah’s missive to Edom is like a rare bird—experts can be expected to appreciate it, but most folks are barely aware of its existence.
Many Christians, even in Bible-saturated churches, may recognize the name of this book but would shuffle their feet if questioned about its theme, content, or application to the 21st Century. Obadiah is the spleen of the Old Testament; we know it’s there, but most of us are hazy about its role in the body.
And yet, anyone who knows about terrorism should know about Obadiah. As should anyone who feels frustrated that injustice sometimes goes unpunished. Obadiah teaches us about God’s long-term plan to bring closure to issues that military and judicial action struggles to accomplish. It’s a comforting book to read after hearing an unsettling news report of terrorism, racial injustice, genocide, or ethnic cleansing. Anytime the innocent are targeted en masse and we’re left waiting for justice to be done, the book of Obadiah reassures us that God never relegates unresolved injustices to a shelf of cold cases. He never forgets.
Here are six reasons to preach through the Book of Obadiah:
1. Obadiah’s brevity makes for a powerful preaching series.
The fact that the book is short—as they say in the tech industry—is not a bug, it’s a feature.
The brevity of Obadiah means you can notch up an advanced knowledge of the whole book after a mere four to six weeks. We all have our favorite genres to preach—most commonly, epistles or narrative. But an occasional prophetic breath of fresh air will break up the thematic monotony. For example, after six years in Luke, and before three years in 1 Corinthians, you may want to get a few more books under your belt. Obadiah helps give a sense of making progress at a steady clip, rather than always wading laboriously through the canon.
2. Obadiah’s obscurity piques curiosity.
When I announced that I would be preaching through the book of Obadiah in our evening service, the universal response was curiosity and intrigue. Our attendance increased for the length of the series because people realized that this was a convenient opportunity to gain in-depth familiarity with a whole book of the Bible in just a few weeks.
3. Obadiah’s context supplies a chance to teach history in an engaging way.
To understand who the Edomites were and why God wanted them gone, one needs to know the story of Jacob and Esau, their ongoing and fraught relationship, and the hang-ups their descendants felt toward one another for generations, manifesting in several incidents over the ages. We framed the story as an ancient version of the famous feud between the Hatfields vs the McCoys.
4. Obadiah’s fulfillment vindicates our faith in the Bible.
The message of Obadiah is that the Edomites would be inescapably and irrevocably exterminated. Because of their unrepentant, remorseless stubbornness about their terrorism against Israel’s non-combatants, God would wipe the globe clean of all Edomites and every trace of their bloodthirsty legacy. Have you eaten at any Edomite restaurants lately? Have you toured any holy sites in Edom? Are there any religious holidays observed by an Edomite remnant anywhere on the planet? The conspicuous absence of all things Edomite is passive but potent proof that God’s prophecy has been fulfilled literally.
It isn’t difficult to connect the dots for our people from that historical reality to warnings about the world today. As sure as the Word of God was about the judgment on Edom, so certain is the doom that awaits all who reject the forgiveness and mercy to be found only in Jesus Christ. The same Bible that predicted the devastation of Edom, who rejected Yahweh’s offer of forgiveness, is the same Bible that promises the destruction of those who reject Jesus as their Lord and Savior. That’ll preach.
5. Obadiah’s recipient reminds us that there is no forgiveness outside the means God supplies by his covenants.
The Edomites were descendants of Esau, the rejected twin of the chosen Jacob. The only way to have access to forgiveness is through the covenant God made to Abraham, through Isaac, through Jacob, to the whole world. As Rahab, Ruth, the Ninevites in Jonah’s day, and other Gentiles were covered by the covenant if they were willing to join God’s chosen people, the only refuge from God’s wrath today is joining the covenant community of believers.
6. Obadiah’s subject provides an example of God’s means of comfort.
This is the only prophetic book in the Bible addressed specifically to a Gentile nation. The fact that God revealed his plans to the Edomites, through an Israelite prophet, is both intriguing and effective. It’s like asking the victim of a crime to deliver the jury’s verdict and the judge’s sentence to the guilty culprit. There is comfort in being chosen to convey the message of justice to one’s oppressors.
Why preach Obadiah? Because your people need to bask in the comfort that God will bring justice to those who target the innocent. Abortion, genocide, racial injustice, acts of terrorism, and many other species of violence make us cry out for justice. But God will bring closure and comfort in his time. And that is a message most clearly preached from the book of Obadiah.
The Minor Prophets by Charles Fienberg (Moody, 1948)
Joel and Obadiah by Irvin A. Busenitz (Mentor, 2003)
Exploring Obadiah: A practical Commentary by David Field (DayOne, 2008)
Feel free to plunder my own audio series from BaptistChurchHillcrest.com/sermons
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You can read the rest of the articles in this series here.