TODAY’S READING: Obadiah; Psalms 82–83
As Old Testament Israel provided a living picture of what it meant for a nation (both ethnic people and geo-political state) to live under God’s blessing when they pursued God’s mission, so Edom provided the foil—the result when one worked against God’s mission. There is debate concerning the date that Obadiah was written, but the resistance of Edom to Israel (both northern kingdom of Israel and southern kingdom of Judah) is consistent. The prophet Obadiah took Edom to task (Obad. 1:10) for acting unbrotherly to Jacob (Edom was a direct descendant of Esau) and pointed out that God will judge all nations who resist His mission and purpose (v. 15). Edom is present day Jordan, likely the area around Petra (v. 3), and Jehovah’s judgment is to make all great powers that resist His people and plan small (v. 2).
The Psalms pick up on God’s resistance against those who resist His mission and His chosen people. Psalm 83 is a prayer against the nations who took crafty counsel against Jehovah’s people and plan, desiring to wipe them out completely (vv. 3–4). Among the hostile nations listed are Edom, Moab, and Ammon (Jordan), the Ishmaelites (Central Arabia), Philistia (Gaza), Tyre (Lebanon), and Assyria (Iraq) (vv. 5–8). Some call the confederacy against Israel an Arabian tribal confederacy that appears centered on Edom and the Ishmaelites (vv. 5–6).
The Ishmaelites were the first known power from the central Arabian desert. An Ishmaelite tribal confederacy reached its greatest power during the Late Assyrian period. The first reference to them comes from the 8th-century records of Tiglath-Pileser III, describing his campaigns in Syria. The Ishmaelites sent tribute of camels to this Assyrian king after his campaign against them in 738 B.C.… Another Assyrian king, Sargon II received tribute from a variety of Ishmaelite tribes in 716 B.C. The Ishmaelite tribes evidently lived along the trade routes used to transport incense and controlled the trade of incense and aromatic goods…the term “Ishmaelite” disappeared at the end of the 7th century B.C. Many of the splinter tribes however, continued to exist, including the Arab tribes in central Arabia.
The point is not political, though the modern parallels are evident; the point is that those who resist Jehovah’s mission as represented in His elect people will face Jehovah’s opposition and that Jehovah’s opposition wonderfully and always has redemptive intention. Jehovah’s mission is to be glorified by all peoples everywhere and He will use every means for this goal: “Fill their faces with shame, that they may seek Your name, O Lord [Jehovah]. Let them be confounded and dismayed forever; yes, let them be put to shame and perish, that they may know that You, whose name alone is the Lord [Jehovah], are the Most High over all the earth” (vv. 16–18).
As we look at the complex world of the Middle East, let us not confuse politics with prophetic prayers. Obadiah prophesied that judgment would come to Esau, with Jacob and Joseph being a flame to Esau’s stubble, and that the kingdom will be the Lord’s (1:18, 21). The psalmist prayed that God would arise to judge the earth and inherit all nations (Psalm 82:8). That judgment is so they may seek Jehovah’s name, so they may know He alone is over all the earth. A missionary understanding of God’s judgment on the nations is centered on His redemptive intentions that they seek and know Him. Thankfully, it is the same way God judges us: He removes what is against His mission so that we can worship, obey, be blessed, and be a blessing. The sons and daughters of Ishmael, the inheritors of these prayers, still walk the desert cities of Arabia. There are over six million Yemeni Arab peoples who still need prayer, who have not yet sought or found Jehovah. What joy to be a part of the answer to the prayers of prophets and psalmists from 2,800 years ago. They prayed, and let us preach that Yemeni might enter into Jehovah’s praise.