God Charges Edom

Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever” (v. 10).

- Obadiah 10–14

Located on the borders of Judah in a region to the southeast of the Dead Sea, Edom was in an ideal position to help the Judahites when Nebuchadnezzar captured Jerusalem in 586 BC. Even if the Edomites did not give military assistance to their Judahite brothers in the fight against Babylon, they still could have sheltered the Judahites who were fleeing Jerusalem and Judah in order to escape the Babylonian onslaught. As we read in today’s passage, however, Edom could not be troubled to offer Judah even the slightest assistance in the day of its great need.

Obadiah 10–14 speaks of the violence that Edom committed against Judah at the time of the fall of Jerusalem. We see in these verses a progress from Edom standing as an aloof, disinterested observer of Judah’s fate to one who gloated over Judah’s trouble, to an invader of Jerusalem, and finally to an enemy that plucked off desperate fugitives as they tried to escape certain death. The picture is one of Edom hovering about like a vulture, waiting for Babylon to do its worst to Judah so that it can swoop in and pick through the leftovers. How far Edom actually went is not crystal clear from the text of Obadiah itself, although it is notable that some later Jewish traditions indicate that Edom helped the Babylonians burn the temple in Jerusalem to the ground. In any case, the text plainly indicates that the Edomites profited in many ways from the collapse of Judah, and for that God held them accountable.

Today’s passage is important for our hamartiology (theology of sin), particularly the sin of omission. Answer 14 of the Westminster Shorter Catechism tells us that “sin is any want of conformity to, or transgression of, the law of God.” This comprehensive definition of sin indicates that we have not kept the Lord’s commands if all we have done is not actively break them. That is to say, it is not enough simply to refrain from acts of evil; rather, we must also do good whenever we see that good needs to be done and it is in our power to do it. Scripture teaches this in many places, including James 4:17: “Whoever knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, for him it is sin.” Edom knew that Judah needed help, but refused to give it; thus, the Edomites were guilty of great sin. The same is true of us when we fail to do what is right. Matthew Henry comments, “Those have a great deal to answer for who are idle spectators, when they are capable of being their active helpers.”

Coram Deo

God’s law covers every aspect of life, telling us that we sin both in breaking God’s commands willfully and in showing apathy when we see that there is something good and holy to be done. In ourselves, we cannot hope to meet this high standard of serving the Lord unwaveringly—and so we trust in Christ and His righteousness alone for our justification. But having trusted Christ, He empowers us by His Spirit to do His will. What good must you do this day in order to obey our Creator?

Passages for Further Study

Exodus 23:4–5
Matthew 25:31–46
Luke 10:25–37
Romans 12:13

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