Christ in the Minor Prophets: Introduction

Obadiah  •  16 min. read  •  grade level: 9
H. P. Barker
Somewhere in America there exists a copy of the famous “Declaration of Independence,” in which the words appear to be flung down upon the parchment in the most haphazard fashion. No order is at first discernible, and one gets the impression, upon viewing the document, that some accident must have happened to the printing-machine that produced it. Instead of running on smoothly in straight lines, the sentences seem to be thrown about anyhow, and the result is most perplexing.
On further inspection, however, it begins to dawn upon one that underlying all the apparent disorder, there is some design. And suddenly that design stands out before the eye with startling clearness, and one sees that one is looking at a portrait of George Washington. The words and sentences serve to form the familiar lineaments of his face. The arrangement, at first so mystifying, is now seen to have been adopted in order that Washington himself might appear in the midst of the historic “Declaration” with which his name is so closely connected.
In reading the Minor Prophets one often finds similar cause for perplexity in the way that narrative, appeal, promise, and threat are often thrown together without any apparent order.
Yet, on closer examination, one is convinced that there is a line running through each prophecy. Indeed it must be so, for these testimonies are Divine. Where then shall we find a clue to the maze?
The object of these papers is to answer this question by showing that Christ is the theme of these twelve wonderful books. “To Him give all the prophets witness.” Just as the face of Washington looks out from the old document which we have described, so the face of Christ looks out at us from the chapters of these old-time prophecies. He is to be found in the little read pages of Joel and Zephaniah, as well as in the better known passages of Isaiah and Daniel. It should be our constant object, in reading the Scriptures, to see how Christ is presented in its different parts.
I cannot forbear to transcribe here the glowing words of one who not long ago finished his course of service on earth. Says he:
“The truth is that the Lord Jesus, the Messiah, is the constant object of the Holy Spirit where He speaks of any object or office supremely excellent, no matter what its shape or nature. If it be a great priest, prophet, or king; if it be a savior, conqueror, or judge, always the One whom the Holy Spirit contemplates from beginning to end is Christ; and it will be the same with our interpretation, where the Holy Spirit identifies our spiritual affections with Christ, and forms our minds according to God’s purposes and ways. Thus, in fact, the Spirit of Christ is characteristic of the Christian. Surely he of all men ought to be the first to see this running through the written word. So, among the apostles, we find constantly in Paul — but, indeed, it belongs to the New Testament generally — this quickness of scent in the fear of the Lord, which sees Christ everywhere.”
We do not, of course, find Christianity in the prophets, but we find Christ there. And we need this “quickness of scent” which perceives Him everywhere. We shall then delight to trace Him in His past humiliation and His coming glory, and to study Him, though in other connections than those in which we know Him. With that which belongs to His present session at the right hand of God, with the Church, His Body, and the heavenly relationships in which we are set as members thereof, prophecy has nothing to do. But its central object is that same blessed One, who has endeared Himself to us, and who has unveiled to us the heart of God.
The reader, then, will not expect to find, in the papers that follow, any detailed exposition of the minor prophets. Able pens have already made such available.
On the other hand, to show how Christ is presented in the various prophecies, will surely be no small help in the exegesis of these twelve books. And it is this which the writer has in view, and for which he seeks grace and help from God.
The vision of Obadiah. Thus said the Lord God concerning Edom;.... The pride of thine heart deceived thee, thou that dwellest in the clefts of the rock, whose habitation is high; that saith in his heart, Who shall bring me down to the ground?
Though thou exalt thyself as the eagle, and though thou set thy nest among the stars, thence will I bring thee down, saith the Lord.... All the men of thy confederacy have brought thee even to the border: the men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee, and prevailed against thee. Obadiah 11The 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 heathen, Arise ye, and let us rise up against her in battle. (Obadiah 1), 3, 4, 7.
What leads up to the special presentation of Christ which Obadiah has been inspired to give us, is the fact that God’s unsparing judgment had been declared against Edom. Jeremiah had already announced this, and from the 49th chapter of the book which bears his name the first half-dozen verses of our prophet are quoted.
Edom, with all its pride, was to be brought low. Though exalted as the eagle, and dwelling among the stars, God Himself would abase that boastful nation; He would destroy its wise men, and shatter to atoms the confederacy, by means of which it hoped to secure prominence and permanence in the earth.
All this had been foretold by Jeremiah, and is now re-iterated and emphasized by Obadiah.
Has this old-time message no voice for the men of today? After all, Edom is but a sample of the world at large, just as a block of coal taken at random from the pit, shows the quality of all that remains in the mine.
Did human pride ever reach a higher level than in this twentieth century? Has confederacy ever been more sought after than today? Think for a moment of the world as it lies around us. Think of the onward march of civilization; of the achievements of science; of the spread of knowledge. How men boast of all this! Of a truth they say in their hearts, “Who shall bring me down to the ground?” Do they not exalt themselves as the eagle, and set their nest among the stars?
Consider, too, how the principle of confederacy is emphasized in the world today. There are treaties and alliances binding the nations together. There are trusts and combines amongst capitalists and manufacturers, unions and associations among their workmen. There are societies for this object and for that.
All this was found, in germ, amongst the Edomites. They had their men of learning, their doughty warriors, their fortified cities. They had adopted also the principle of confederacy, and had allied themselves with other nations, to make common cause against God and His people.
No doubt the prophecy looks on to the last days, when Edom shall re-appear and shall have a leading place in the great confederacy of nations, which, in alliance with the resuscitated Assyrian, will come up against Jerusalem.
Some of the nations which form this great hostile alliance are mentioned in Psalm 83, and Edom is given the first place in the list. “They have said, Come, and let us cut them off from being a nation, that the name of Israel may be no more in remembrance. For they have consulted together with one consent: they are confederate against Thee; the tabernacles of Edom, and the Ishmaelites,” etc.
Now read verses 10 to 14: —
For thy violence against thy brother Jacob sorrow shall cover thee, and thou shalt be cut off forever. vs. 10.
In the day that thou stoodest on the other side ... .and foreigners entered into his gates and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them... thou shouldst not have looked on their affliction in the day of their calamity... vss. 11, 13.
... Neither shouldst thou have stood in the crossway to out off those of his that did escape; neither shouldest thou have delivered up those of his that did remain in the day of distress. vs. 14.
Here Obadiah brings forward another trait which marked Edom, and he does so, it appears, in order to introduce the testimony of Christ. This trait, already hinted at in the quotation from Psalm 83, was a rancorous hatred against the people of God. “Thy violence against thy brother Jacob” is declared to be the special reason why Edom should be covered with shame and be cut off forever. A remnant from Egypt, Assyria and other nations will be spared to enjoy the blessing of Christ’s supremacy, but none from Edom. “There shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau” (ver. 18).
Edom, or Esau, it must be remembered was Jacob’s brother. For this reason the Edomite was to be treated with special regard by the Israelite, and was to have certain privileges in connection with “the congregation of Jehovah,” which were not accorded to other Gentiles. “Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother. The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of Jehovah in their third generation” (Deut. 23:7, 87Thou shalt not abhor an Edomite; for he is thy brother: thou shalt not abhor an Egyptian; because thou wast a stranger in his land. 8The children that are begotten of them shall enter into the congregation of the Lord in their third generation. (Deuteronomy 23:7‑8)).
Another instance of this perpetual hatred is seen in the conduct of Doeg, an Edomite in the service of Saul. David, the Lord’s anointed, had not yet come to the throne. Hunted and threatened, he fled to Ahimelech the priest, who treated him kindly and supplied him with bread. But the treacherous eyes of the Edomite witnessed the transaction, and he lost no time in informing Saul, and thus procuring the death of eighty-five men of the priestly family.
“I knew it!” cried David, when he was told of the cruel deed, “I knew it that day when Doeg the Edomite was there, that he would surely tell Saul” (1 Samuel, 22:22).
Obadiah mentions yet another instance of this unbrotherly hate on the part of Edom. He refers to the day of Jerusalem’s capture, when the children of Judah were carried off into Babylonian bondage. “In the day that thou stoodest on the other side,” he says,... “foreigners entered into his gates and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou wast as one of them” (verse 11). Then comes a terrible exposure of the Edomites’ conduct. They had rejoiced over the downfall of the children of Judah, had laid hands on their substance, had stood in the crossway to cut off any straggling fugitives, and had actually given up to the cruel Babylonians those that had escaped.
It is in this connection that we find the footsteps of Christ, as we read between the lines of Obadiah’s solemn charge. We see, in studying Hosea, how Christ took the place of the true Israel before God. He was the Son, called out of Egypt. And in grace He identified Himself with the remnant that feared God, entering into their sorrows, feeling the bitter smart of all their woes, suffering because of their afflictions, groaning under the burdens which weighed so heavily upon them. This is quite a different thought from that of His atoning sufferings. No doubt He made atonement for Israel as well as for us. But we do not get His atoning sufferings in Obadiah. Nor is it merely His suffering for righteousness’ sake. In a very real way (and after a manner that endears Him to our hearts as we trace Him there), He took upon Himself the afflictions and oppressions under which His people groaned, and felt the cruel pangs thereof in His own spirit.
And so, if we compare Obadiah with the close of Luke’s gospel (Luke 23) we have no difficulty in finding Christ in the narration of His people’s sufferings at the Edomites’ hand. Herod was the cruel prince of Edomite blood, whose hatred flamed up against the One who had in grace come to His people as their deliverer. From the hour of His birth the Edomite had sought to slay Him, and when the final scenes were enacted, so soon to reach their culminating point upon Calvary, the Edomite was there to add fresh pangs to the sufferings of that Holy One.
Edom, according to Obadiah’s prophecy, made himself one with the Gentile oppressors. So, we read, Herod and Pilate, the Edomite and the Roman, were made friends together in their enmity to Christ.
Edom “rejoiced over the children of Judah,” and “spoke proudly in the day of distress.” And Herod, when he saw Jesus, and felt that He was in his power, “was exceeding glad,” and, with his men of war, “set Him at naught, and mocked Him.”
Edom stood in the gate of Jerusalem in the day of Judah’s affliction, to look on their calamity with triumph. Even so it is significantly stated of Herod the Edomite in the day of Christ’s affliction: “himself also was at Jerusalem at that time.” He was upon the scene, to add gall and wormwood to the already full cup of the afflicted Sufferer.
Worst of all, Edom “delivered up those of his that did remain.” And the evangelist narrates of Jesus, how Herod sent Him again to Pilate.” There you read the malice of the Edomite In the last days, when Edom and the confederate nations come up against the, chosen people, it will be a comfort indeed to those that are godly, to have the sympathy and support of Him, who has Himself felt the bitterness of the Edomite’s hatred. They will have Him as the support and stay of their troubled hearts, and He who knows so well what every phase of their affliction means, having gone through it all Himself in grace, will be able in a wonderful way to minister solace and strength to them.
“For the day of the Lord is near upon all the heathen; as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee...” (vs. 15).
Not only Edom, however, but all the nations are guilty of enmity to Christ; all have arrayed themselves against Him, whether personally, in the days of His flesh, or as represented by Israel. And, therefore, in verses 15-16, all the nations come into view for judgment, not so much for their sins, but for the way they have acted towards Christ — Christ in His Jewish brethren. The whole of the great world system is going to come under judgment, with its pride, its confederacies, and its hatred of Christ.
“But upon Mount Zion there shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness...” (vs. 17).
“And saviors shall come up on Mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s” (vs. 21).
But there is salvation and blessing in store for the house of Jacob, and God will make it evident in that day that it is all connected with Mount Zion. “Upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance.” Besides this, rule will be established over the world, and this too, in connection with the mountain that God has been pleased to choose, for “saviors shall come up on Mount Zion to judge1 the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be Jehovah’s.”
Mount Zion brings before us the great principle upon which God will act in blessing for the earth when the day for it arrives. It is the spot upon which He set His choice (Psa. 132:1313For the Lord hath chosen Zion; he hath desired it for his habitation. (Psalm 132:13)) when everything committed to the hands of men had broken down. It speaks of Christ, risen from among the dead, the One in whom all God’s purposes of blessing for men, are made good. We Christians are already come to Mount Zion in a spiritual sense, as we are told in Hebrews 12, and we get the benefit of the two things connected, in Obadiah, with the literal Mount Zion, namely, deliverance and rule.
Deliverance from the power of the world and earthly things, is enjoyed as the soul is established in that which Zion typifies. It is realized when we get consciously on to the ground of God’s purpose, and see how everything finds its foundation and center in Christ.
We come under His blessed rule, too. He brings the light of God’s world to bear upon us, and that light governs us as we see it shining in His face. The glory that is to irradiate the universe, beams already in the face of Christ; the blessing that is going to be shed abroad through the whole scene, is even now brought to light in Him, for the present joy of those who are His.
The “saviors” of verse 21 are doubtless those who will carry the influences of Zion far and wide. Raised up for the purpose, they will be appointed in connection with the administration of Jehovah’s kingdom to go north, south, east and west, and spread abroad the beneficence that abounds in that holy mountain.
The prophecy belongs to a future time, but, thank God, there are those who answer to these “saviors” in our day. There are those whose eyes have been opened to see the glories that shine in the face of Christ. And as these glories are written in their hearts by the Spirit, they are able to preach Christ Jesus for the enlightening of others, that thither other hearts too may turn. Their ministry ever draws to Christ Himself, and tends to move our souls off the line of human responsibility, and establish them on the line of God’s purpose. No small service this, to render to the saints of God. Would that we could help one another more in this way.
Obadiah’s object was akin to this. His name means “servant of the Lord,” and it was his privilege to render a very real service to those who lived in his day, by exposing the true character of man’s world as represented by Edom, and by leading the hearts of God’s people, to that bright world which He will yet bring in, of which Zion will be the center, where Edom will have no place, but where Christ will be supreme.
Obadiah, it is true, deals with the earthly part of that world of blessing. We Christians, have our portion in the heavenly part thereof, and enjoy a relationship, and a knowledge of God, that far transcends that of Israel. But the earthly side is in great measure typical of the heavenly side, and though we must not look in Obadiah for Christianity, we can find in his short prophecy that which brings Christ before our hearts, first in His sorrow and humiliation, then in His glory, as the true Zion, in whom all God’s blessing is made secure according to His eternal purpose.
1. This word is not to “judge” in the sense of pronouncing sentence, or punishing, but in the sense of ruling, governing.