Family Feud is one of the longest-running and most popular game shows on television. Created by Mark Goodson in 1976, the Hollywood hit premiered with legendary host Richard Dawson. While the game show is fun and lighthearted, real family feuds are serious business, especially when the conflict happens between two members of the same family.
In Bible times, a conflict between twin brothers named Esau and Jacob began in their mother’s womb (Genesis 25:19-26). Esau (meaning “red”) was the firstborn, but Jacob entered this world as the second child born to Isaac and Rebekah while grabbing his older brother’s heel with his hand. When the boys were much older, Jacob, the heel-grabber, deceived Esau into giving up his natural birthright and the paternal blessings that came with it. Weary from hunting all day, Esau returned home famished and was willing to trade anything to satisfy his hungry flesh, including his inheritance for a pot of red stew prepared by his brother.[i]
Isaac favored Esau, his firstborn son, but Rebekah preferred Jacob. However, to everyone’s surprise, God had chosen Jacob to inherit the blessings of the Abrahamic covenant, although in Judaism, the firstborn son always carried significance (Genesis 12:1-3, Romans 9:10-12). With this Old Testament story certainly in His memory, Jesus taught about the kingdom of God by saying, “So the last will be first, and the first last” (Matthew 20:16). Only a sovereign God could make Jacob first.
Esau and Jacob spent most of their lives not speaking to each other, with only a few exceptions. Esau was red-hot angry at Jacob, and Jacob feared that his brother would seek revenge (Genesis 32-33). The family feud ran so deep that even the twin’s descendants did not get along for centuries afterward.
For example, the Edomites, Esau’s descendants, refused Moses’s request to pass through their land on the way to Canaan, even though Moses appealed to the king as “your brother Israel” (Numbers 20:14-20). Later, the Edomites also opposed Israel’s kings, including Saul (1 Samuel 14:47), Solomon (1 Kings 11:14-25), and Jehoshaphat (2 Chronicles 20:22). They took up arms, fought against King David (1 Kings 11:14-17), and rebelled against Jehoram (2 Chronicles 21:8). Esau always held his hand against Jacob.
The Rose City
The Edomites settled in a mountainous region south of the Dead Sea called Mount Seir, of which Petra (Sela) was the capital, also known as the “Rose City” for the beautiful red-colored rock from which the builders carved the ancient city.[ii] Petra is nearly impregnable by enemy armies because of the single entrance to the city, a narrow crevice called the Siq that meanders for nearly one mile through towering mountain walls.[iii]
About five hundred years before the birth of Jesus, the Nabateans, a Bedouin tribe, overtook the Edomites who withdrew to Idumea in southern Palestine. Afterward, Petra grew and became a glorious Arab capital. In time, the Romans overtook the region, followed by the Byzantines.[iv] Edom disappeared as a nation around 150 B.C. However, a small number of Esau’s descendants remained, including an Edomite who rose to power in 37 B.C. named Herod the Great. The enmity between Esau and Jacob continued when Herod tried to murder Jesus (Matthew 2:1-12).
That background helps us understand the book of Obadiah, which is our next stop on the ultimate road trip through the Bible. Obadiah is the smallest book in the Old Testament, with only twenty-one verses. However, the prophet Obadiah, which we know little about historically, delivered an important prophecy about the Edomites.[v] He also gave the descendants of Jacob hope that God would eventually pour out His sovereign justice upon any nation that harmed Israel, including the descendants of Esau, Jacob’s older brother.
Obadiah begins with these stunning words: “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!’” (1:1). In the verses that follow (1:2-9), the Lord takes direct aim at Edom’s pride.
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. 1:2-4
The certainty of Edom’s doom is stated very clearly in 1:2-4.[vi] Edom’s pride soared as high as eagles fly because they lived in a lofty place, “in the clefts of the rock,” in a place they thought was fortified against their enemies. Esau’s descendants believed they were incapable of being conquered. Their national slogan could have been, “We are strong! We are invincible! We are Edom! However, they met their match in the Lord, who despises pride and brings low those who think too highly of themselves. First Corinthians 10:12 warns, “Therefore let anyone who thinks that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
Through Obadiah, the Lord continues to describe Edom’s sure fate.
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. 1:5-9
Unlike other prophets, Obadiah offers no hope for the Edomites. Absent are any pleas to return to God or promises for a faithful remnant. If Edom was in a court of law, this is like the final sentencing after a lengthy trial. But why? Let’s read on.
Edom’s Violence Against His Brother
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. 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. 1:10-14
When other nations attacked Israel, Jacob’s brother did nothing! The Edomites stood at a distance and watched as foreigners brought disaster upon God’s people and plundered them. By not getting involved and defending their own family, the Edomites “were like one of them,” practically gloating over Israel’s misfortune. Their smug and malicious satisfaction over Israel’s affliction angered the Lord and sealed their fate. Today, a similar attitude toward Israel called antisemitism still angers the Lord.
Obadiah links Edom’s pride to the impending day of the Lord, about which most Old Testament prophets speak.
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. 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. 1:15-18
On the day of the Lord, Edom will experience the principle of reciprocity. Obadiah says, “As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head.”
In 586 B.C., the Edomites cheered from afar when King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon invaded Jerusalem and razed the city. Much later, in the first century A.D., the Idumeans participated in the rebellion against Rome. Ironically, their day of the Lord came when Jerusalem fell to Titus in 70 A.D., and Esau’s descendants died trying to defend the holy city. Since that time, there has been “no survivor for the house of Esau” (1:18).
The point of Obadiah’s prophecy is that God’s sovereign justice will ultimately prevail. Israel will get back all that her enemies have stolen from her, included the land God promised. Furthermore, the nations who hate and harm Jacob and his descendants will pay an eternal price. Wiped off the face of the earth, the Edomites, the descendants of Esau, are a poignant example of this.
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. 1:19-21
In the end, Israel wins, and she will possess all the land God promised her. The last six words of Obadiah’s brief prophecy say it all, “The kingdom shall be the Lord’s.” This will happen at the end of the age when Jesus Messiah returns and establishes His millennial kingdom. In the meantime, He builds His kingdom in the hearts of true believers.
I can think of at least three ways to apply Obadiah’s ancient prophecy to our lives today. First, resolve your family feuds. It is always better to resolve a conflict than dissolve a relationship. Before you decide you will never talk to your brother or sister ever again, take a deep breath and reattempt reconciliation. Be the peacemaker in your family (Matthew 5:9). Before you call a divorce lawyer, think twice about the long-term, generational implications of your decision, and do your part to forgive and reconcile.
The second way to apply Obadiah’s prophecy to our lives today is to love and defend Israel. Woe to the person or nation that hates and hurts Israel and the Jewish people. Woe to Hitler! Woe to Hamas! Woe to Hezbollah! Woe to any anti-Semite! A sure way to get on my bad side is to do harm to one of my children. Likewise, Obadiah reminds us that anyone will land on God’s bad side if we inflict or wish harm on His children of Israel, the chosen descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.
The third way to apply the book of Obadiah is to understand that Bible prophecy is one hundred percent trustworthy. God wiped Esau and his descendants off the face of the earth, as He said He would. The Edomites have been gone since 70 A.D. In case there are any doubts about their final extinction, the Lord made it clear that He would tear down anything they build (Malachi 1:2-4).
This blog submission is from Route 66: The Ultimate Road Trip Through the Bible, an eBook written by Dr. Ron Jones. Download the complete eBook based on Road Trip 5, the Minor Prophets (Hosea through Malachi) in our Store.
[i] Esau is an example of someone who walked by the flesh not by the Spirit (Galatians 5:16).
[ii] Petra, also called Sela in the Bible, is Bozrah in the Hebrew language. Bozrah is located about 150 miles south
[iii] The film Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade features the Siq and Petra’s treasury building. Smithsonian Magazine lists Petra—one of the “Seven Wonders of the World”—as one of twenty-eight places you should visit before you die.
[iv] In 1812, a Swiss explorer named Johann Ludwig Burckhardt rediscovered the beautiful red-rock city and introduced it to the world.
[v] When Obadiah lived and ministered as a prophet to Judah is debated. It depends on which battle against Jerusalem to which he is referring in 1:11-14. Four possibilities exist, of which