By J. Vernon McGee
(or Why God Hated Esau)
The vision of Obadiah. Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom: We have heard a rumor from the LORD, and an ambassador is sent among the nations, Arise, and let us rise up against her in battle. (Obadiah 1)
Who was Obadiah? He was one of four prophets about whom we know absolutely nothing, except that he wrote prophecy. The other three prophets are Habakkuk, Haggai, and Malachi. All were great prophets, yet we know nothing concerning them. Therefore, when we ask, "Who is Obadiah?" I have to answer truthfully, "I do not know." Yet his name was as common in Israel as Abdullah is among the Arabs today. Both mean the same thing: Servant of Jehovah.
Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament - only twenty-one verses. But the brevity of the message does not render it less important or less significant for us today. Like the other Minor Prophets, the message is primary, pertinent, practical, and poignant. It is a message that can be geared into this day in which we are living. None of these so-called Minor Prophets are extinct volcanoes; rather, they are distinct action. There is no cold ash in any of them; they are spewing hot lava. Each prophet has a particular point to make, and he makes it definitely and emphatically.
Obadiah tells us immediately, bluntly, and to the point: "Thus saith the Lord GOD concerning Edom...." Now wait a moment - not only must we ask about the identity of Obadiah, but who is Edom? Edom is the key to the little book, and so we shall have to go back to Genesis to determine the identity of Edom. In Genesis, where we have the record of the generations of Esau, notice this comment:
Now these are the generations of Esau, who is Edom.... Thus dwelt Esau in Mount Seir: Esau is Edom. And these are the generations of Esau, the father of the Edomites in Mount Seir. (Genesis 36:1, 8, 9)
That is the record that is given, and it is repeated three times. Although I am sure Moses did not know, the Spirit of God knew that this would need to be emphasized: Esau is Edom and Edom is Esau. The Edomites were those who were descended from Esau, just as the Israelites are those who are descended from Jacob.
The story of Esau and Jacob is that of twin brothers, sons of Isaac and Rebekah. The boys were not identical twins; actually, they were opposites. The record given back in Genesis 25 begins as Rebekah is about to give birth to these twins:
And the children struggled together within her; and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the LORD. And the LORD said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be born of thee; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger. (Genesis 25:22, 23)
From the very beginning, these two brothers were struggling against each other. Esau was an outdoor fellow who loved to hunt. Jacob would rather stay in the house and learn to cook. He was tied to his mama's apron strings. However, Jacob had a spiritual discernment that Esau did not have. Esau was a man of the flesh and did not care for spiritual things. In fact, he so discounted his birthright that he traded it to Jacob for a bowl of soup!
And Esau said to Jacob, Feed me, I pray thee, with that same red pottage; for I am faint: therefore was his name called Edom. And Jacob said, Sell me this day thy birthright. And Esau said, Behold, I am at the point to die: and what profit shall this birthright do to me? And Jacob said, Swear to me this day; and he swore unto him: and he sold his birthright unto Jacob. Then Jacob gave Esau bread and pottage of lentils; and he did eat and drink, and rose up, and went his way: thus Esau despised his birthright. (Genesis 25:30-34)
He didn't sell his birthright because he was so hungry that he was about to perish, nor because there wasn't anything else to eat in the home of Isaac, but because his was a desire of the flesh and he was willing to trade all of his spiritual heritage for a whim of the moment. The man who had the birthright was in contact with God, and he was the priest of his family. He was the man who had a covenant from God. He was the man who had a relationship with God. In effect Esau said, "I would rather have a bowl of soup than have a relationship with God."
This is an illustration of a great truth for believers today. It is a picture of Christians. A believer has two natures within him, and they are struggling with each other and against each other. In Galatians 5:17 Paul says, "For the flesh lusteth [wars] against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." These are the two natures of the believer - the new nature and the old nature - and they are opposed to each other. Esau pictures the flesh (the old nature) and Jacob pictures the spirit (the new nature).
The name Edom means "red or sunburned." A sunburn occurs when the skin is able to absorb all the rays of light except those that make it red. It is quite interesting to see that the sunburned man in Scripture is the man who could not absorb the light of heaven, and it burned him. My friend, the light of heaven will either save you or burn you; you will either absorb it or be burned by it. That is always true, my beloved. Esau represents the flesh, and he became Edom. Jacob, who became Israel and a prince with God, represents the spirit.
Having seen Esau in the first book of the Old Testament, we look now at the last book of the Old Testament and read this strange language:
I have loved you, saith the LORD. Yet ye say, In what way hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the LORD; yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau.... (Malachi 1:2, 3)
That is a strange thing for God to say, is it not? "I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau." It immediately presents a problem. A student once approached Dr. Griffith Thomas and said, "I am having a problem with this statement in Malachi. I cannot understand why God said He hated Esau." Dr. Thomas replied, "Young man, I am having a problem with that verse, also, but my problem is different from yours. I can understand why he hated Esau, but I cannot understand why He loved Jacob."
The thing that lends importance to the little Book of Obadiah is that it is the only place in the Word of God where we find the explanation of why God hated Esau.
How are the things of Esau searched out! How are his hidden things sought out! (Obadiah 6)
Louis Ginsburg, the great Hebrew scholar, translated Obadiah 6 like this: "How are the things of Esau stripped bare!" They are laid out in the open for you to look at for the first time. Obadiah puts a microscope down on Esau, and when you look through the eyepiece you see Edom.
Not only did Obadiah focus the microscope on Esau, but Obadiah is God's microscope! Look! Oh, he is magnified. One Esau is now 250,000 little Esaus, and that is Edom. The photographer takes a miniature and makes a great enlarged picture. Obadiah gives the "blown up" picture of Esau. You inflate a tire tube to find a tiny leak in it. You could not find that leak until you inflated it. Just so, Obadiah presents Esau inflated so that you can see where the flaw is in his life, and you can see why God said He hated him. What at the beginning was a little pimple under the skin is now a raging and angry cancer. What was small in Esau is now magnified 100,000 times in the nation. God did not say at the beginning that He hated Esau; He had to wait until he became a nation and revealed the thing that caused God to hate him.
God never said that He hated Esau or loved Jacob until He came to the last book in the Old Testament. By that time, both men had become nations: Edom and Israel. Israel has been mightily used of God through the centuries. Israel produced men like Moses, Joshua, Samuel, David, Hezekiah, Nehemiah, Ezra, and on down the line. But the nation that came from Esau became a godless nation. Edom turned its back upon God.
Behold, I have made thee small among the nations; thou art greatly despised. (Obadiah 2)
This great people - they were a great people, as we are going to see in this book - are now going to be brought down. Obadiah gives this as a prophecy which looks to the future, but from where we stand today, we see that it has been fulfilled.
What was the great sin of Edom which brought about God's judgment upon her?
The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou who dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high, who saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground? (Obadiah 3)
"The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee." Esau despised his birthright. The man who had the birthright was in contact with God, was the priest of his family, had a covenant from God, and had a relationship with God. Esau said, "I would rather have a bowl of soup than have a relationship with God." Now we see that enlarged in the nation.
What was it for which God hated Edom? It was pride. I am confident that, the minute I say this, the wind is taken out of the sails of many of my readers. They are going to say, "Is that all? Pride is bad, but it's not that bad, is it?" Actually it makes very little impression on us today, for we have lost our sense of the proportion of sin.
Suppose that I knew of a certain Christian who was drinking very heavily and that I came to ask your advice as to what his church should do with him. I am sure that you would say that he ought to be put out of the membership of the church, and I would agree with you. Now suppose that I told you of an officer in a church who was caught by the police the other night in a supermarket as he was breaking into the safe. I'm sure that you would say he ought to be put out of the church and that he ought to be disciplined. I'd agree with you on that. Suppose, though, that I told you that I knew of a certain church member who was filled with pride, who was one of the proudest individuals I had ever met. I dare say that you would not suggest that he be put out of the church. Many who have a very tender heart would say, "I think the pastor should talk to him and tell him that it's wrong to have pride. But it's not such a bad sin after all. At least, it's one that doesn't show. It's not like getting drunk; it's not like stealing; it's not like lying."
You see, we have lost our sense of the proportion of sin. We think that pride is a nice, polite sin. Good people indulge in this. You do not have to get down in the gutter to be filled with pride. Or do you?
I say to you that pride is the sin of sins! Pride of heart is deeper and darker than any other sin you can mention. We do not condemn it, but God does! God says that He resists the proud, but He is always on the side of the humble. "The fear of the LORD is to hate evil; pride, and arrogance, and the evil way, and the perverse mouth, do I hate" (Proverbs 8:13). John tells us that "the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 John 2:16). Where does the pride of life come from? If there is anything that comes from the devil, that is it.
A great many saints today have pride of race, pride of face, and pride of grace - they are even proud they have been saved by grace! My friend, your salvation ought not to make you proud; it is not even something to brag about. It is something about which to glorify God, and it is something that should humble you. Aren't you ashamed of yourself that you have to be saved by grace because you are such a miserable sinner? I wish I had something to offer God for salvation, but I have nothing. Therefore, I must be saved by grace, and I cannot even boast of that. There are too many folk boasting of the fact that they have been sinners. God gives grace to the humble. Paul writes, "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). What kind of mind did He have? Lowliness of mind. He said, "Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart..." (Matthew 11:29). Pride is that which is destroying the testimony of many Christians and has made them very ineffective for God. They go in for show, but the thing they are building is a big haystack. They are not building on the foundation of Christ with gold and silver and precious stones. Pride has a great many saints down for the count of ten; it has pinned the shoulders of many to the mat today.
Pride, after all, was the sin of Satan. He said, "I will exalt my throne above the stars of God...I will be like the Most High" (Isaiah 14:13, 14). Pride was also actually the root of Nebuchadnezzar's insanity. He strutted like a peacock in the palace of his kingdom of Babylon. "The king spoke, and said, Is not this great Babylon, that I have built for the house of the kingdom by the might of my power, and for the honor of my majesty?" (Daniel 4:30). And what happened to Nebuchadnezzar? "While the word was in the king's mouth, there fell a voice from heaven saying, O king Nebuchadnezzar, to thee it is spoken, The kingdom is departed from thee. And they shall drive thee from men, and thy dwelling shall be with the beasts of the field..." (Daniel 4:31, 32). That was no accident, my friend. The psychologists today would call Nebuchadnezzar's condition hysteria which leads to a form of amnesia. This man did not know who he was, and he went out and acted like an animal of the field. Why? Because when a man is lifted up with pride, he's not lifted up but has come down to the level of beasts. God debased Nebuchadnezzar and brought him down to the level of the beasts of the field.
What is pride? Let me give you a definition of it: Pride of heart is the attitude of a life that declares its ability to live without God.
The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee, thou who dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high, who saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground? (Obadiah 3)
We find here in the Book of Obadiah that pride of heart had lifted up this nation of Edom just like Esau who had despised his birthright. Even in the home of Isaac, where there was plenty to eat, he liked that bowl of soup more than he liked his birthright. He didn't care for God at all. In despising that birthright, he despised God. And now Esau had become a great nation that had declared its ability to live without God.
Esau lived in a very unique place. He lived in the rocky mountain fastness of the rock-hewn city of Petra. It is still in existence today and can be viewed. Many who see it are overwhelmed by the size of the city. It is a ready-made city hewn out of the rock. It is protected by the entryway, which is very narrow in places. A horse and rider can get through but with just a bit of twisting and turning. It was, therefore, a city that could easily be defended. Everything was secure. It was like the First National Bank in that many of the nations of the world deposited vast sums of gold and silver there because they felt that the city could never be taken.
But the Edomites were living in a false security, and in their pride they declared, "We don't need God." They signed a declaration of independence; they seceded from the government of God; they revolted and rebelled against Him. They bowed Him out of their civilization and said, "We do not want You anymore." When a mere man, a little creature down here, gets to the place where he says, "I don't need God," God says, "That's what I hate."
The New Testament throws some light on this man Esau:
Lest there be any fornicator, or profane person, like Esau, who for one morsel of food sold his birthright. (Hebrews 12:16)
We understand "profane" to mean a fellow who cusses, but that is not what the word means. It comes from a Latin word - pro means either "before" or "against" and fanum is "temple." "Profane," therefore, means "against the temple." Esau was a profane person in that he was against God. We do not see that in the Book of Genesis, but when we look under the microscope Esau is 100,000 times bigger. Now we can see it: Pride! "Goodbye, God, we do not need You. We would not hesitate trading a relationship with You for a bowl of soup - You are not worth that much to us. We do not need You; we do not want You." What does God do in a case like this?
Though thou exalt thyself like the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, from there will I bring thee down, saith the LORD. (Obadiah 4)
The eagle is used in Scripture as a symbol of God's care. In fact, it was used of God when He called His people out of Egypt and brought them to Mount Sinai, saying to them, "Ye have seen...how I bore you on eagles' wings and brought you unto myself" (Exodus 19:4). The eagle is also used in Scripture as a symbol of deity. The Edomites were going to overthrow God, as Satan had attempted to do, and they were going to become deity. They were going to handle the business that God was supposed to handle. The Supreme Court of Edom had ruled Him out, and it was illegal to have Him anywhere.
How many people today are attempting to run their lives as if they were God? They feel that they don't need God, and they live without Him. The interesting thing is that when God made us He did not put a steering wheel on any of us. Why? Because He wants to guide our lives. He wants us to come to Him for salvation first, and then He wants to take charge of our lives. When you and I run our lives, we are in the place of God. We are in the driver's seat. We are the ones who are the captains of our own little ships or our own little planes, and we are going through the water or the air just to suit ourselves. That is pride, and anyone who reaches that position, if he continues in it, is committing a fatal sin because it means he will go into a lost eternity.
Will you come now and look down into the microscope again? Edom is the incarnation of Esau. There stands Esau. What do you see? You see a human animal; you see animalism in the raw. Oh, the terrifying ugliness of it all! At this point you may say to me, "I thought we descended from animals, but here you are saying that men act like animals." That is exactly what I am saying, my friend. We didn't descend up, we descended down. There has been no ascension, there has been a descension.
The teaching of evolution as a fact of science is the greatest delusion of the twentieth century. When we do come out of the fog, the unbeliever will move to another explanation for the origin of things. Actually, evolution does not give the origin of things at all. It has been accepted by the average man as gospel truth because he has been brainwashed through radio, television, our schools, and our publications to believe that evolution is a proven fact - and it absolutely is not. The strong and intelligent objections that have been given by reliable scientists are entirely ignored today. I am not going to discuss the pros and cons of evolution - that is not my point - but it is something that I became interested in even before I was sixteen years of age. I had a great desire to read and study, and I appealed to the wrong man, a minister who was a liberal, and he urged me to read Darwin. I read The Origin of Species, The Descent of Man, and other miscellaneous papers. I studied it, of course, later in college and again in a denominational seminary. At the seminary they taught theistic evolution, which is probably the most absurd of all interpretations of the origin of things. I want to say to you that I totally reject the godless propaganda of evolution - this idea that it is from mud to man, from protoplasm to personality, from amoeba to animation! I would like to dismiss the argument with a quotation from Dr. Edwin Conklin, the biologist, who said:
The probability of life originating from accident is comparable to the probability of the unabridged dictionary resulting from an explosion in a printing shop.
That is good enough for me.
The chief difficulty with the theory of evolution is its end results. Evolution leads to an awful, fatal pessimism. It leads man to believe that he has arrived, that he is something, that he is actually up at the top. And that belief has led to a fatal pessimism. That pessimism is seen in our colleges and in the alarming rate of suicide among young people. I attribute it to the teaching of evolution. It was Dr. Albert Einstein who made this statement:
The man who regards his own life and that of his fellow creatures as meaningless is not merely unfortunate but almost disqualified for life.
That is a good statement.
If you want to see how this teaching has affected men, listen to the poetry of the late W. H. Auden:
Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell....
Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky
And feel its total dark sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.
- "The More Loving One" from Homage to Clio
May I say to you, that is pessimism, and that is the thinking to which evolution has led.
But wait just a minute! The startling and amazing thing is that the little Book of Obadiah is God's trenchant answer to evolution, and this is the reason He said what He did about Edom. On Wilshire Boulevard in Los Angeles are the La Brea Tar Pits, where they have also now built a great museum. The tar pits and this museum are a tourist attraction in Southern California. When I first came to California as a tourist, I went there when it was just a small museum. The museum showed, according to the scientists, how man lived 100,000 to 200,000 years ago in California. They showed that he lived and looked like an animal, according to the drawing of him that they displayed.
God has something to say to us, my friend. Will you hear me carefully? Why go back 100,000 years? Right this moment, if you were to ride down that same Wilshire Boulevard, you would see men and women who are living like animals. They don't look like animals - some of them are called "the beautiful people" - but they are living like animals. The fact is that they have come down from the high plane where God had created them to the plane where they do not depend on God. Not only do they live like animals, they live lower than animals. No animal gets drunk or beats his wife or shoots his children or murders or practices homosexuality. Only mankind does that. Man lives in our day lower than animals, and they were living like that yonder in Edom in Obadiah's day.
You may have heard the story of the pig in Kentucky that got out of its pen, wandered out in the woods, and found a still. Mash had leaked out of this still, and the pig began to eat it and also to drink the liquid leaking out with it. The pig got drunk, and I mean drunk. He couldn't walk, and he sprawled right down in the mud. He stayed there for twenty-four hours until he sobered up. Then as he started off grunting, he was heard to say, "I'll never play the man again."
Man has not evolved from the animal world. May I say to you, friend, the horrible truth is that when man attempts to live without God, he is lower than animals. Tremendous though his achievements are, man can sink lower than an animal when he determines that he is going to live without God. Therefore Obadiah is God's devastating answer to evolution. What consummate conceit for a man who is living apart from God to think that he has evolved from an animal when he lives like one!
A little boy had been invited by the neighbors to have dinner with them. Over there he found many things different. His home was a Christian home; the neighbor's home was not, but the little fellow did not know it. When he sat down at the table with the others, he bowed his head from force of habit. Then, when he heard no thanks being returned, he looked up and saw the food being passed. He didn't want to miss anything, so he looked around and started reaching. But since he had no inhibitions, he said to them, "Don't you all thank God for your food?" They were embarrassed for a moment but then said, "No." The little fellow thought a minute and then said, "Why, you are just like my dog. You just start in!"
There are multiplied numbers of people who live like animals in our day, my friend. Obadiah is God's withering answer to man, who in his conceit boasts, "I have come from an animal, and look at me today!" God says in effect, "Where have you been? I created you in My image and you fell so low that you are below the animal world." When your heart is filled with pride and you walk on the top side of this earth declaring your ability to live without God, you are an animal. That is Edom, and God says He hates it.
How are the things of Esau searched out! How are his hidden things sought out! (Obadiah 6)
As I've said, this is the key verse to the Book of Obadiah. "How are the things of Esau searched out!" Remember, God has put Esau under a microscope, and He says, "Come, look. Look through the Word of God, and look at this man. I hate him. Why do I hate him? It is because of his pride of life. He has turned his back on Me and has declared his ability to live without Me." That is the pride of life, my friend.
Frankly, when I read the story of Esau back in the Book of Genesis, I don't quite understand it. But although I missed it in Genesis, I sure don't miss it here. I can now take the microscope and go back and look at Esau and see why he wanted to trade in his birthright for a bowl of soup. It was for the very simple reason that the birthright meant that he would be the priest in the family, have a relationship to God, and frankly, Esau would rather have had a bowl of soup than a relationship with God. When you reach that place, my friend, you have sunk to the level of the pig that got down in the gutter.
I call your attention now to the conflict:
And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it. (Obadiah 18)
Conflict! The Spirit warreth against the flesh and the flesh against the Spirit, and these are contrary to each other. There will be ultimate, final judgment of Esau. I believe that "the house of Esau" is a kingdom that will not enter into the eternal kingdoms of this earth which will become the kingdoms of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. What is it that keeps them from being there? Pride of heart - that attitude of a life that declares its ability to live without God. Friend, if it is your decision to live without God, you are going to live without Him not only now but throughout eternity.
Let us look back to Palestine nearly 2000 years ago. I see a Man walking by the Sea of Galilee, over the dusty roads of Samaria, and through the narrow streets of Jerusalem. His name is Jesus. He is in the line of Jacob. I also see a man on the throne during those years. His name is Herod, and the Scriptures are very careful to identify him - Herod, the Edomite, in the line of Esau. These two men represent the conflict. But when the warning came to the Lord Jesus to flee or else Herod would kill Him, our Lord said, "Go, and tell that fox, Behold, I cast out demons, and I do cures today and tomorrow, and the third day I shall have finished" (Luke 13:32). He was going forward in His plan, and no son of Esau could deter Him.
They finally arrested the Lord Jesus. Pilate, wanting to wash his hands of Him, sent Him to Herod. The amazing thing, as He stood before Herod, is that He had no word for him. He did not open His mouth in Herod's presence. Why? I say it reverently, but our Lord did not talk "fox" language. He did not come to save animals, He came to save sinners. This proud king was no sinner according to his own estimate, but by God's standard he was an animal. Jesus said, "Go tell that fox...." The Lord Jesus had no word for him. That is judgment. "Esau have I hated."
Let us look at the words that conclude God's message through
And saviors [deliverers] shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the LORD'S. (Obadiah 21)
God is moving forward today undeviatingly, unhesitatingly toward the accomplishment of His purpose; that is, of putting His King on Mount Zion. He says that He will turn and turn and overturn the nations until He comes whose right it is to rule (see Ezekiel 21:27). Nothing can deter or detour or defer God in His plan and in His program. No son of Esau, no animal, can stop Him. No proud man walking this earth can cause God to relinquish or retreat one inch. He is moving today to victory. The kingdom is the Lord's!
There is only One who can lift the heads of men and women walking through life with their heads down like animals (only humans look up as they walk; animals look down). Evolution has not lifted mankind one inch. Look at our world that has been schooled in this godless philosophy. The deadly poison of godless materialism and humanism will bring upon us the judgment of God! God says, "Though you be lifted up, little man, I'll bring you down."
But He also says, through the lips of His Son, our Savior:
And I, if I be lifted up from the earth, will draw all men unto me. (John 12:32)
Which way are you going, my friend? Down the way of pride, pessimism, unbelief, and rebellion - down, down, down? You, who were made in the likeness of God, can be restored. You will have to lay aside your pride and come in helplessness to this Savior. He can lift you up.
Published and distributed by Thru the Bible Radio Network www.ttb.org