It’s inevitable. It happens to us all. One day your smart phone will die and you will be forced to buy another one. The moment it breaks, you feel lost and broken yourself. You lament to yourself, “Oh, the times we had together!” But you are quickly cheered up by the sight of a brand new model at the store and upon purchase you completely forget you even had another phone in the first place! As much as our smart phones mean to us at the time, they are never missed once they are replaced. This is the natural and expected reaction of anyone who has the option of a Plan B. A fail-safe or a fall back option makes it far easier to manage the loss of an original plan, because you have an alternative you can turn to.
4,000 YEARS AGO
There is a situation found in the Bible just like this. God formed, not one, but two babies in Rebecca’s womb: Jacob and Esau (Gen 25:21–26). This was not by accident. This was by design. Twins look the same. They act the same. They ARE the same! Of course, I’m being a bit facetious, but as an identical twin myself, even I can say with absolute confidence that twins are basically the same. Twins are perfect candidates to put the Plan B theory to the test. God chose Jacob and his descendants (Israel) as His people and He unequivocally rejected Esau and his descendants (Edom). But think about it: If things go bad with Israel, God has a legitimate Plan B in the waiting with Edom. The question is: Will God ever use this back door?
3,000 YEARS AGO
When we fast forward about 1,000 years of history—say to around 850 B.C.—we see this tension unfold. Israel and Edom at this point are well-established nations with a rather heated rivalry. Up to this point, Israel has always been the unanimous victor. But during the reign of Jehoram, King of Judah, “Edom revolted from the rule of Judah and set up a king of their own” (2 Chr 21:8). For the first time, Edom is no longer standing in Israel’s shadow. They are now an equal and things will never go back to the way they used to be (2 Chr 21:10). As all this unfolds, King Jehoram drags the entire nation into such terrible idolatry that God stirs up the Philistines and the Arabians to attack Jerusalem and plunder all its possessions (2 Chr 21:16–17). This is the setting behind the book of Obadiah. God is punishing Israel for their sin and allows Edom to join the raiding party after the battle was over. The unthinkable has just happened. Edom now has the upper hand and Israel is faced with an awful realization: God may have just ditched us for Plan B, our twin!
Obadiah is written in response to this reaction square in the aftermath of this catastrophe and its message to Israel is stunning: God’s love has no Plan B. It never did. Edom was never second-string nipping at Israel’s heels for the starting job. That was never God’s plan for Edom. Quite the opposite, actually. God MADE Edom look like Plan B from the very beginning to prove His undying love for Israel. He gave Himself a back door to show He will never use it. The prophecy of Obadiah is the book of the Bible that explains the nature of God’s undying love for Israel through the lens of their hated brother, Edom.
THE CONFIDENCE OF GOD'S UNDYING LOVE (OBADIAH 1–9)
Israel needs to know right from the get-go that God still chooses them, and the best way to convey that in this scenario is to prophesy about Edom’s utter destruction (vv. 1–9). When Israel sees how far Edom will fall (vv. 3–4), how much Edom will lose (vv. 5–6), and how great Edom will suffer (vv. 7–9), they are reminded how much God loves them as opposed to Edom.
THE CONSISTENCY OF GOD'S UNDYING LOVE (OBADIAH 10–16)
It is not enough that Israel knows God loves them right now. They need to know He will love them to the end. So, in verses 10–16 God takes a panoramic picture of Edom’s fate from the present time to the end times. They raided Jerusalem in 850 B.C. (vv. 10–11), they will raid it again and murder any survivors in 586 B.C. (vv. 12–14), and they will do something terrible in Jerusalem at the end of history worthy of apocalyptic judgment (vv. 15–16). From generation to generation God sets Edom up as the scapegoat of His wrath in order to prove He loves Israel, not Edom. His love for them is constant and will never change.
THE CONSUMMATION OF GOD'S UNDYING LOVE (OBADIAH 17–21)
Up to this point, Israel only knows God’s love by the way He treats Edom. But how does God plan to show His love directly to Israel? The final verses of Obadiah tell us (vv. 17–21). First, He brings a remnant safely through the fire of His wrath and refines their hearts in the process (v. 17). Second, He gives Edom into Israel’s hands for a swift and exhaustive punishment (v. 18). Third, He extends Israel’s borders to include every land He promised them (vv. 19–20). Fourth, He gives them positions of authority to reign judicially over His kingdom (v. 21). This marks the consummation of God’s undying love for Israel. Every wrong will be made right and every promise will be fulfilled.
How God treats Edom accentuates the power and strength of God’s love for Israel (Mal 1:2–5). Without a foil like Edom, we would never come to understand how deep God’s love really is. It is an undying loyalty with unwavering confidence, measured consistency, and picture-perfect consummation. According to God, there simply is not and never will be a Plan B.
2,000 YEARS AGO
But when we fast forward roughly another 1,000 years—say to around 27–33 A.D.—we come across a situation not too unlike God’s undying love for Israel displayed by judgment against Edom. God also shows His undying love for us in the person of His Son, Jesus Christ. In a way, how God says He will treat Edom to save Israel sets up for how He treated His Son to save humanity. Without a doubt, Jesus is no Edom and our salvation is spiritual, not national. But the theological principle is the same. On the cross God treated Jesus in the same way He treated Edom, this time, not to save His people from international holocaust, but to save them from their sins. Romans 8:31–39 brings this out clearly:
What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies. Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died—more than that, who was raised—who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or danger, or sword? As it is written, “For your sake we are being killed all the day long; we are regarded as sheep to be slaughtered.” No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.
The same God, who promises to slaughter Edom as proof of His love, slaughtered His very own Son as the ultimate proof of His love. One death will save a nation from extinction. The other saves a multitude from hell. Jesus, therefore, heightens the magnitude of God’s love.
But He also serves as the explanation for how God can love so devoutly. Israel was a nation full of sinners. The Church is a congregation full of sinners. How can God love us all so irrevocably? Jesus is the answer. In Him Christians stands righteous, even though they are blatantly sinful. And in Him Jews will one day stand righteous, even though they are just as sinful. All because Jesus is their substitute. Jesus is the key to God’s undying love (Rom 5:8; 1 John 4:9–10).
Obadiah may be a lost book in the darkest corner of your Bible, but it tells us a priceless message about God’s love: When God loves you, you are loved for good. When God chooses you, there is no going back. Obadiah is, in a sense, the 1 John of the Old Testament. It offers the hope of assurance of salvation. Sure, 1 John describes spiritual salvation while Obadiah pictures national salvation. But again, the theological principle is the same. God’s choice is irreversible (Rom 9:6–13). It always has been. It always will be. And the same holds true for us today. God’s choice in salvation is irreversible. The death of Christ seals eternal life for those who trust in Him. Nothing can change that. Nothing will change that. There is no Plan B.