Abraham had two sons: Ishmael and Isaac. Isaac had two sons: Jacob and Esau. Jacob became the father of the Israelite nation. Esau became the father of the Edomite nation. Jacob, the younger of the two, stole his brother’s inheritance. Years later, when all seemed forgiven, Jacob lied to his brother. No matter what the reasons or whose fault the feud was, God forbade Jacob’s descendants, Israel, to mistreat her brethren the Edomites.
When Israel left Egypt during the Exodus, the old animosity between the two families arose. Israel asked to pass through Edomite territory on the King’s highway, promising not to “go through any field or vineyard, or drink water from any well. We will travel along the king’s highway and not turn to the right or to the left until we have passed through your territory. If we or our livestock drink any of your water, we will pay for it. We only want to pass through on foot – nothing else.” Edom replied, “You may not pass through here; if you try, we will march out and attack you with the sword.”
Edom never forgave Israel. She remembered every perceived slight, and never forgot an insult. Amos wrote: Edom “pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion, because his anger raged continually, and his fury flamed unchecked.”
When Israel was conquered and Jerusalem burned by the Babylonians, the Edomites surveyed the situation from a distance, celebrating the defeat of her brethren. Obadiah recounts this scene in the book that bears his name, and delivers God’s promise of destruction for Edom’s treatment of Israel.
Two points should not be lost on the people of God: First, we must be forgiving. We are not allowed to hold a grudge and the severest punishment awaits those who do. Second, it is important to remember that God has not ordained any particular government, or any system of government, as his anointed on the earth. Nor are God’s people defined by particular political boundaries or philosophies. No government or system of government on the earth is eternal. They are all temporary, subject to the sovereignty of God. Obadiah reminds us however that the longevity of every nation is dependent on the attitudes and actions of its people, and those nations whose citizens find it hard to forgive and who rejoice in the misfortunes of others, are nations destined to be short-lived.