These devotions were written in the late summer of 2004. Click on a chapter number to jump to the first devotion for that chapter. -- [Devotions Archive]
Little Obadiah, twenty-one verses soaking wet, sits between the powerful words of Amos and the dramatic story of Jonah. Who is Obadiah to come before the land of Edom, blustering and threatening? This so-called prophet doesn’t even write enough to warrant chapter divisions. Scholars don’t write entire commentaries on him, instead combining his words with one or more of the other minor prophets. Little Obadiah—he has a lot of nerve to be shooting off his mouth like this, claiming that the nation of Edom, a mighty nation that could deal Israel a tough time if they so choose, will be brought low and “utterly despised.” Just who does this guy think he is mouthing off in a such an ill-advised way?
In the world of sports today, we find a discouraging amount of trash talking. These are the people who aren’t satisfied playing and winning the game. Instead they have to “get inside the head” of their opponent. “You got nothing,” the trash-talker says. “Your momma could beat you!”
Some of the best trash-talkers are also the best players. These guys are good and they know they’re good. Football players like Ray Lewis and Terrell Owens talk trash. Basketball playing trash talkers include the likes of Allen Iverson and Rasheed Wallace. Iverson likes to refer to himself as “The Answer.” If he’s the answer, I’d like to know what the question is.
This summer, a group of NBA hotshots, Iverson prominent among them, went to Athens as a “Dream Team” to play a little basketball and talk a little trash. And what happened in Athens? While various apologists for the NBA offered their explanations for the performance—not enough all-stars, the difference in the international game, bad goat meat—the team lost to Puerto Rico in route to the worst humiliation USA Basketball had ever suffered, defeating mighty Lithuania for the bronze metal. No matter how much trash you talk, when you lose to the likes of Puerto Rico—Puerto Rico!—you should expect to be taken out with the trash.
Puerto Rico, a tiny little island that isn’t even independent of the United States, reminds me a good deal of Obadiah facing off against a trash-talking Edom. You see, no amount of pride, of contempt, or of hubris can overcome a deficit at the end of the game on the basketball scoreboard. And no amount of national confidence can stand in the face of a prophet of the living God.
Obadiah, although he penned only twenty-one verses, stands as a testament of the power of God. He spoke against Edom, and where is Edom now? Jordan owns the lands that once belonged to Edom, but they are not Edom. Edom is gone, hopelessly erased and absorbed into the surrounding culture, while Israel, the people that Edom had stood against, not only remains as a people but has now been restored as a nation.
We all suffer from the sin of pride at times. We take pride in our own accomplishments, in our church, our nation, our employer, our sports teams, our city, or any of a hundred other entities. But when we feel the twinge of pride in ourselves, we should remember the humbling words of Obadiah, enshrined in a mere twenty-one verses. We have no call for pride, except pride in the Lord our God.
It’s time for a check-in on my work-out regimen. As you may remember, I decided, back in August, that I needed to start exercising. This little revelation came to me as I walked across the JCCC campus with a friend who asked, “Why are you out of breath?” That was all it took to get me up and at ‘em. Since then, most every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday, I’ve been heading across campus to the gym where I mix running and walking as best I can. The idea was that the ratio of run laps to walked laps would gradually increase, and before long I’d be training for my first marathon. One thing that I’ve discovered in the course of this endeavor is that my body doesn’t strengthen quite as quickly today as it did ten or fifteen years ago. But by and large, the project has proceeded according to plan.
Last Friday marked a great accomplishment. Running clockwise on the track, I found myself finishing lap number six—three-quarters of a mile—and thought, I can do two more. Two laps later I had run my first solid mile in at least five years. After walking a lap, I kicked up to a run again and did four straight. Then I walked another followed by running four more. Hot dog! I did my two miles of running in three segments: a mile and two halves. Look out marathon!
There must have been a bit of a swagger in my step as I headed back to my office at 1:00pm. Having reached this milestone, I treated myself to a cheeseburger rather than a salad in the cafeteria. All afternoon, I found myself looking scornfully at the poor slobs who didn’t avail themselves of the wonders of the gym. Yes, in a mere six weeks of exercise, I had transformed myself into a fitness snob. I should have known that it wouldn’t last.
With our bedroom in the basement, Penny and I keep a baby monitor—a little intercom system—so that we can hear whatever is going on upstairs with Olivia and Thomas. At about one in the morning on Saturday, I heard something that no one should ever have to hear amplified and broadcast. Tom had run to the bathroom and was ridding himself of everything he’d eaten that day. The sound was violent and disturbing. I let Penny handle it.
In the course of that night, Tom made five trips to the bathroom, Olivia made one, and Penny wound up feeling worse and worse on the couch. As I watched them moping around, barely alive, Saturday, I suppose there was a part of me that said, “If you went running with me, you could fight this thing off!” I had the sense not to say that, though. By Sunday, they were all feeling better. And then the bug hit me late Sunday afternoon.
As I write this, I’m at school, hoping that the worst is over, praying that I can make it through my ten o’clock class without a catastrophe. I have my running togs in a bag by my desk, but I seriously doubt that I’ll feel like heading to the gym today.
Just as this little bug brushed aside all my pride, Obadiah sought to brush aside the pride of mighty Edom. Like Edom, we all have a tendency to believe that our sins will never be found out, yet God sees them even before we do. He knows their consequences before we’ve recognizing committing them. Thankfully, God deals more mercifully with us than he did with Edom.
A few years back, I stood as witness to a truly ugly family episode. The patriarch of a family that we know died. He left behind two living children. A third had already died. This man, after a long and productive life, left a considerable estate, a worthwhile lump of securities, cash, and property to be split among the kids and grandkids. Of course that inheritance wouldn’t replace dad and granddad, but it could help pay for houses, college, business expansions, and so forth. So is that what happened? I’m afraid not.
This man’s lone son had talked his dad into granting power of attorney. As the assets of the estate were divvied up, this fellow took the lion’s share for himself. He allowed his remaining sister a sizeable, but seriously underweight share. The heirs of his deceased sister received only a scattering of crumbs.
“Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame,” Obadiah says to Edom in today’s reading. God doesn’t excuse violence and injustice against anyone, but he’s especially scornful of violence committed against one’s own family. Assyria or Philistia, God seems to suggest, could be expected to mistreat Israel or Jacob. But Edom? Wasn’t Esau, the patriarch of Edom, the brother of Jacob? The actions of Edom could not be tolerated.
As I look back on this scandalous inheritance affair, I’m inclined to call that lone son a thief, but in fact he was worse than a thief. And though he profited in the short term from cheating his sister and his nephews and nieces, in the long run he’ll be held accountable for his actions just as surely as God held Edom accountable for their abuse of Israel.
But let’s look deeper into this passage. “On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried of his wealth . . . you were like one of them.” Here Obadiah doesn’t criticize the actions of Edom but their inactions. They didn’t have to actually harm Israel to be guilty. All they had to do was to stand by and watch others harm Israel. All they had to do to allow evil to prosper was nothing.
That’s where this warning hits home for me. I’ve never—at least in my adult life—done anything to harm any members of my family. But have I ever sat idly by and watched them hurt by others? Have I allowed them to suffer while I did nothing? Happily, I can’t think of any such cases, but I’m still young and my brothers and sister can currently provide for themselves.
The problem, of course, is that God won’t restrict my sphere of responsibility to simply blood relations. He won’t hold me accountable for the entire world, but he expects me not to stand aloof at the suffering of those I can help. I have far more than two brothers in God’s eyes. That’s a big responsibility, perhaps larger than I can bear perfectly. However, when I consider how large Christ enlarged his sphere of responsibility at the cross, I can do no less than to be my brother’s keeper.
If you read anybody’s words for very long, you come to realize that they have a few themes that they return to time and time again. I have such themes that I continue to revisit, in much the same way that my hands tend to revisit the Twinkie display at the grocery store. Two of these themes—and related ones at that—are sports and arrogant sports figures. Wasn’t it just the other day that I dragged Allen Iverson’s name through the mud? Today, I have another one to add to the Hall of Shame.
On Monday night, my beloved Chiefs played a game against the Baltimore Ravens. Whenever a team plays Baltimore, attention invariably focuses on the Ravens’ number fifty-two, Ray Lewis. While an incredibly talented middle linebacker, Lewis drives me nuts with his mouth and his ego. On Monday night, the ABC team had Lewis “Miked up.” That is, they put a microphone into his helmet to listen to what he had to say during the game. And my, did the man talk! He taunted the Chiefs players who tried to block him. He railed at his defensive coach that he couldn’t do anything while being double-teamed on every play. He bellowed and blared at his teammates. When the guy came into the stadium, he pranced and postured like some sort of deranged ballet dancer. Obviously, Ray Lewis enjoys the sound of his own voice and enjoys being the center of attention.
The problem with talkers, I always tell Thomas, is that their mouths keep working after their bodies give out. Ray Lewis is still at the top of his game, but he got soundly beaten Monday night. While he got double-teamed a few times, on many others, the Chiefs simply knocked him out of the play one-on-one. Priest Holmes ran for 125 yards despite the ferocious torrent of words that flowed from Lewis’ mouth. Had it not been for a couple of rather fluky plays, the game wouldn’t have been particularly close. As it was, the Chiefs held on to win by three points.
Interestingly, Ray Lewis, the man who strutted and posed before the game, the man who shouted and shrieked during the game, simply ran off the field silent at the end. While other players on both sides spent a few minutes sharing good sportsmanship and renewing acquaintances, Lewis found himself at a loss for words. The biggest trash talk against him screamed from the scoreboard.
Jesus tells us that all who live by the sword will die by the sword. Obadiah today delivers much the same message. “As you have done, it will be done to you; your deeds will return upon your own head,” he warns Edom. That’s a rather unyielding, unforgiving promise, but it seems to be the law of the world. We reap what we sow and so forth.
I’m no psychiatrist, but I don’t think Ray Lewis is a very happy person. I rather expect that he took some considerable time getting over last night’s defeat. I’d pray that he’ll find the spiritual route to overcoming that anger somewhere along the line. And as for you and me? I’d have to admit that there’s a bit of the strutting raven in me from time to time. Perhaps it’s time to shut up and eat a little crow.
I don’t own stock in Wal-Mart. This I mention in the interests of full disclosure, for I come not to bury Wal-Mart but to praise them—even if I do so with reservations. In small towns around the country—but mostly on the coasts—Wal-Mart is seen as an invading foreign species, a sort of combination of killer bees and kudzu. The conventional wisdom is that when Wal-Mart comes in, the indigenous retailers will go out. The so-called Mom-and-Pop stores, it seems, simply can’t stand up in the face of the encroaching hordes of Sam Walton’s descendents.
In 2003, Wal-Mart approached the city of Inglewood, California with a proposal. Let us build a store in a particular place and we’ll . . . well, I’m not sure what the company offered. It was probably nothing. The merits of having a big Wal-Mart store come to your neck of the woods are supposed to be so self-evident that only some civic father with a death wish would oppose the move. That’s apparently the thinking of the Bentonville gang, but the city leaders of Inglewood didn’t see things that way. Rather than throwing themselves down in gratitude and joy at the prospect of a Supercenter rising on the edge of town, this city voted against the zoning change necessary to allow the store.
Wal-Mart, however, didn’t become the world’s largest retailer by taking setbacks easily. No, they used the California initiative process to get an issue on the ballot. If the issue had passed, the retailer would have been granted their zoning clearance. And what happened come election day? The results were rather stunning. Despite massive advertising on behalf of the Wal-Mart side of the question, the no’s won the day with an impressive sixty percent of the vote.
Was this setback for Wal-Mart a good or bad thing? That depends completely on whether you’d rather have lower prices or locally-owned retailers, on whether you’re a Wal-Mart shareholder or a wary watcher of growing corporations. Point of view, as in so many stories, is everything in this one.
I’m reminded of this today as we reach the end of Obadiah’s message to Edom. Unlike the previous prophets we’ve read, Obadiah ends with a pretty bleak set of images. There’s no softening of message here. There’s none of the backing off that we saw in Hosea and Amos. It’s not an angry God who can’t conceal his love for the people. No, this basically says that God’s angry and Edom is going to bear the brunt of that anger.
In reality, the ending of Obadiah is a message of hope. It’s just not a message of hope for the people to whom it was delivered. The day of the Lord or the day of the destruction of Edom can be good or awful days depending on your point of view. If you’re on Israel’s side, then these last verses seem hopeful; if you’re an Edomite, they’re a death sentence.
Point of view is everything. Thankfully, Christians can take a point of view from God’s side of the divides of history. We needn’t worry about the greatest manifestations of his wrath. What we must convince the world to see is that God will win the battle. Their only choice is where to watch the battle from.
Tune My Heart is primarily an aid to the devotional life of its author, Mark Browning, who holds the copyright for this material. It is provided online in hopes that some will find it edifying. All contents, unless otherwise noted, may be redistributed freely provided that you give credit for its origin and do not charge anything.