The High Cost of Sibling Rivalry
Reflections on Obadiah
During my years in pastoral ministry, I have discovered a strange reality: It seems more conflicts occur within the church than without. This dysfunctional church-family dynamic is a far cry from the Apostle Paul’s admonishments to “Love one another with brotherly affection” (Rom 12:10). Shouldn’t people who have the Holy Spirit living inside them get along better?
The book of Obadiah offers a stark reminder of the rifts that can form when family conflict goes unchecked—and why it is so vital that members of God’s family treat each other with love.
Obadiah, the shortest book in the Old Testament, was written after the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 587 bc. It’s an oracle of doom against the nation of Edom. Judgment will fall upon Edom through a coalition of other nations, but the ultimate indictment will be from God himself (Obad 2; see also Lam 4:21–22). And his punishment will be remarkably severe (Obad 5–6).
Why such harsh judgment? Obadiah 10–14 tells us Edom had not only failed to intervene in the Babylonians’ destruction of Jerusalem—they had encouraged it and rejoiced over it (Psa 137:7; Obad 11–12). Taking advantage of the situation, Edom had looted Judah’s wealth and captured Judaean fugitives (Obad 13–14). On their own, these crimes against God’s chosen people would deserve a curse from God (see Gen 12:3). But Obadiah pinpoints another factor that makes Edom’s transgressions even more intolerable: Edom treated Israel like a stranger even though Israel was Edom’s “brother” (Obad 10, 12).
The nation of Edom was descended from Jacob’s brother, Esau (Gen 25:19–28). Though Edom was not part of God’s covenant people, God nonetheless continued to bless and provide for them (Deut 2:22). Because of their common ancestry, Israel and Edom were like “brothers” (Deut 2:4–5, 8). But the two nations did not act like siblings. They engaged in constant antipathy and war, with Edom revolting against Judah’s rule and each nation hating the other (2 Kgs 8:20–22).
For Obadiah, this “brotherly” relationship between Israel and Edom heightened the wickedness of Edom’s actions. The prophet Amos similarly noted that God judged Edom fiercely “because he [Edom] pursued his brother [Israel] with the sword and cast off all pity” (Amos 1:11, my emphasis). Apart from the superpowers of Egypt, Assyria, and Babylon, Edom is condemned more often in the Bible than any other enemy nation, likely because it broke bonds of brotherhood and kinship.
As Christians, we’ve been adopted into God’s family. If God held Edom responsible for treating Israel with care, how much more are we responsible for loving other members of the body of Christ? The New Testament encourages us to love our brothers and sisters in Christ (1 John 3:16–18) and to do good to everyone—“especially to those who are of the household of faith” (Gal 6:10).
Although we might bicker like siblings, the Bible points us to a better way: family love within God’s family. As brothers and sisters in Christ, we are to be known by our love for one another (John 13:34–35).
ORIGINALLY PUBLISHED IN BIBLE STUDY MAGAZINE MAR–APR ‘14
BIBLICAL REFERENCES FROM ESV