We often avoid the topic of judgement when we sit down in the pew and nod at the church member to our right. We do not like to talk about how much God hates sin. We do not like to think about the fact that God might hate us so deeply and so thoroughly that he will utterly destroy us, our families, and everything about us. We prefer the white, long haired Jesus of love over the God of justice.
But for the sake of our souls and for the sake of our churches, we must once again talk of God’s wrath. We must once again enter into conversations about God’s justice. If we do approach these frightening subjects, we are almost sure to suffer them.
Does God hate us?
Often we tend to measure God’s favor and anger by our worldly success. Those who have God’s favor get land, money, and big families. Those whom God hates earn poverty, sickness, and death.
The people of Edom, the descendants of Esau, had this mindset. In 586, they watched with glee as their neighbors to the north got mercilessly destroyed by King Nebuchadnezzar and his cruelly efficient Babylonian army. Edom essentially bated the Jews into revolting against the Babylonians. Then the Edomites backed out of the treaty and watched their brothers get robbed, raped, and murdered. The great judgements foretold by Jeremiah and the others prophets came true. All-the-while, the Edomites sat back in their fortress cities and gained wealth, power, and influence at the expense of their brothers.
Because of their success, the people of Edom where quite prideful. They imagined themselves as eagles who nested in the stars. They were untouchable (2-3).
We often think we are favored by God because we have not experienced any sickness in our family. We assume that God approves of our lifestyle because we were able to buy a second home and the third family car. We are certain that God loves us because our kids got into medical school and because we had the good sense to switch mutual funds before the market crashed.
If God hated us, if God was upset with us, he would have afflicted us with cancer, he would have burned our home down, and he would have taken our life savings. But these things did not happen. We have navigated life with the skill of a master oarsman. Who can destroy us?
God can. Though no man could destroy Edom, God could. And, he does in 553. The people of Edom are destroyed even more thoroughly than the people of Judah. “How has Esau been pillaged, his treasures sought out!”
We must not mistake God’s delayed justice for his favor.
But how do we know if we are quickly approaching judgement? How do we know if our pride has blinded us from the reality of our impending judgment? The author of Obadiah gives us several things to watch for.
First, do not rejoice at the downfall of others, because God is the ultimate judge. The people of Edom rejoiced in the downfall of their brother. Instead of rushing to his recuse, they gloated over his destruction. Wicked people who sit under God’s judgement are quick to rejoice at the down fall of their brothers. They are quick to mock the preacher they disliked when the preacher gets fired by his church. They give no thought to interceding on his behalf or to helping the church reconcile with its leader. The wicked mock the poor family who cannot afford to fix their mini-van without a second thought of offering to pay for the mechanic bill. The wicked mock the parents of the prodigal son, remarking on how the grieving couple should have parented better. But no thought is giving to having ministering to the parents. All these people have “stood aloof, on the day that the strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and casts lots for Jerusalem.” (10b-11).
The wicked are those who mock their hurting and broken brothers and sisters in their day of trouble. And instead of remembering that God is the perfect judge of all, they condemn all who do not attain their level of success and mock their suffering. They see the suffering of others as vindication of their wisdom and ability.
But that is not all, the wicked go a step forward and actively profit over those who are suffering. The people of Edom actually go into Jerusalem and to enslave people and to steal their possessions. The people of Edom actively oppressed those in their struggles. The wicked take advantage of the poor. The wicked care little that children sleep by the one working vent in their rental home to keep warm. After all if their parents were not so foolish, they could afford a better place. The wicked refuse to let the single Dad have time off so that he can care for his son. After all if he had married better, he would not be in this predicament. The wicked see broke women and impoverished kids and exploit them sexual for gain. After all if they were good and wholesome, they would not be open to sexual advances. The wicked take advantage of their brothers and sisters in the moment of their need and affliction. The wicked justify their actions because they have made themselves the judge. If someone does not have what we have, then surely we are just in taking advantage of them.
And to be clear, the drug addict does face consequences for his sin. The daughter who runs away from her parents will face a hard life. The Israelites were punished for the disobeying God. But the God’s punishment of others does not justify our sins.
We are still accountable for our sin, even when we do not suffer in this world. God tells us in Obadiah that, “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” (15).
God is the ultimate judge; God is the standard of righteousness. And he declares that he hates all people who take advantage of their brothers and sisters in their time of need. I fear that tons of the wealthy, nice people who fill up America’s churches are actively sitting under God’s judgement. Resting on self-righteous assessment based on their possessions, they have given millions of dollars to missions trips, building campaigns, and pastoral salaries that they extracted from the poor in their day of need. They think they are doing the Lord’s work. They think God’s favor rests upon them and all-the-while a swift and terrible judgement is approaching.
Let’s talk about this judgement. We need to examine our hearts, our business practices, and our homes to make sure we are not profiting off of our brother’s misfortune. For if we abuse our brother and never repent, we will face a far worse judgement than those whom we have condemned.
Justice is coming; are we ready?