Archive for May, 2015

Notes on 1 John – 2:1

My little children,

John uses this phrase and other similar phrases, not to demean his audience but to endear them to himself. He cares for them as a parent cares for children, and he wants them to understand the richness of the gospel of Jesus Christ.

I am writing to these things to you so that you may not sin.

Here we have another purpose statement in John’s epistle. Of course it is different from other purpose statements that we have in the letter, but it is not contradictory. So what is John’s purpose in writing? That  his audience might walk in holiness, that they might not sin. This is an important reminder following the previous statements. It would be easy, in our flesh, to take verses 8 and 10 as permission to revel in our sin. 1 John 2:1 reminds us that that would be an inappropriate response. There is a significant difference between being honest about our sin, the goal of John’s statements in verses 8 and 10, and glorying in our sin, the goal of our flesh.

John is reminding us in 2:1 that the Christian should not sin. That the Christian should not sin, seems like an obvious statement; however, it is often met with charges of legalism or reminders that we are not under the law if we are in Christ or some other such self-interested response. Is calling Christians to holiness legalism; is it placing them back under the law? Not necessarily. Legalism is not any call to holiness. Legalism is a call to holiness as defined by the law as the basis of one’s justification. Ephesians 2:8-10 is helpful here. Paul writes, “For by grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Notice that Paul connects a gracious justification with a call to holiness. He does this precisely because by God’s grace we have been freed from sin and death. If we automatically assume that any call to holiness is legalism, then we understand neither legalism or the gospel.

Being “under the law” is a Pauline phrase set in contrast to being led by the Spirit or being justified by faith or being adopted as a son of God or some other such idea. “Under the law” indicates that you are not in Christ; therefore, the law still has condemning power.  However, a call to holiness does not necessarily mean condemnation by that holy standard. The good news is, in part, that Jesus has fulfilled the holy standard for his people; therefore, it no longer stands over them condemning them at every turn.

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life has set you free in Christ Jesus from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do. By sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1-4, ESV).

If we automatically assume that any call to holiness is placing us back under the law, then we understand neither what it is to be under the law nor the gospel.

So, John call’s his readers to not sin. Christians are not supposed to walk in sin. We are supposed to walk in righteousness before God. We are supposed to love God and love one another and love others. Love of course is the fulfillment of the law. The freedom the Christian experiences is not freedom to do whatever he wants but freedom from the condemnation of the law, freedom from sin and death, and freedom from the tyranny of present day Pharisees who go about condemning people based on their own laws of righteousness. Christians are free to love, truly. Christians are free to love, not with a weak, Hallmark love, but with the love that is the fulfillment of the law, with a love that is set on God and others and not self. When we try to love apart from law, it is always a selfishly motivated love, because we are defining what that love looks like, and our flesh, that is warring in us, will always define love in terms that are most convenient for itself.

John goes on to say, “But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.” We’ll dig into those wonderful words next time, but here is a preview.

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Notes on 1 John – 1:8-10

If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.

John continues his series of conditional statements that began in verse 6. Apart from verses 8-10 it would be easy to over apply verse 6 and 7 in such a way as to teach perfectionism. However, John here points out that the claim of having (a present tense verb in the greek) no sin is an act of self-deception. You may ask, “How could anyone think they have no sin? Who could possibly be that prideful?” Let me ask in return, the last time you and your spouse had a disagreement, was it all your spouse’s fault? Were you able to own your sinful contribution to the situation? Very few people would claim flat out that they have no sin, but almost everyone struggles to acknowledge their sin as a contributing factor to a particular situation. Our pride is strong, and we are easily deceived. When we operate, in any given situation, from the perspective of having only contributed righteousness to that situation, we are operating from a position of self-deceived falsehood.

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.

We often shy away from being honest about our sin before God and men out of fear. “If they knew what I had done, would they still welcome me in?” “If they knew my thoughts, would they include me?” “If they knew how much of a failure I am, would they reject me?” Our fear keeps us from being honest about our sin. On the one hand hand, this makes sense. People are horrible. It seems we are always ready to take advantage of anything that will give us a leg up on someone and exploit weakness or hold failure over another’s head in order to feel better about ourselves. On the other hand, we must recognize the idolatry of self that is driving our fear leading us to be dishonest about our sin. We must acknowledge that the fear and pride that leads others to treat us harshly when we admit our sin is the same fear and pride that keeps us from wanting to admit it in the first place. It is hypocritical to justify our dishonesty about our sin in an act of self-preservation on the basis of another’s potentially ungracious and self-preserving response. This is the difficulty of living together as sinners whether in family or in church. The good news is, John tells us such a fear before God is utterly unwarranted.

If I confess my sin before men, they might or might not respond well. If I confess my sin before God, he will forgive me and cleanse me. John is not telling us of God’s possible response; he is telling us of God’s promised response. Notice that John says this forgiveness flows from God’s faithfulness and justice. It flows from the character of God. God is faithful to forgive sin because he has promised to do so in Christ. God is just to forgive sins because Christ has already born the penalty for the sins of his people. This helps us understand something about forgiveness. Forgiveness is not simply ignoring some debt, in this case sin. Forgiveness is absorbing the debt that is owed (I believe I first heard this helpful explanation from John Piper, but I am not sure. I only know I didn’t come up with it.). God’s forgiveness is not him simply overlooking our sin. God’s forgiveness is him absorbing the debt we owe. He absorbed that debt in Christ on the cross.

Along with forgiveness comes cleansing. Paul tells us in Philippians that even our good works, when considered for our justification, are dung. What must we say then of our sin? John reminds us that with the gospel comes a bath. John is repeating the promise that Isaiah announced, “though your sins are like scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they are red like crimson, they shall become like wool” (Isaiah 1:18). Because we have been cleansed from all unrighteousness, we are no longer counted as sinners before God if we are in Christ Jesus!

If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us.

John returns to the idea of lacking sin, this time stating it in the past tense. Of course, having present sin implies having past sin. However, the issue is no longer self-deception. John says the issue with saying you have not sinned is that you implicate God as a liar. God’s Word is clear that all have sinned. To claim otherwise is to claim that God is a liar. Such a stand against God comes from those lacking the life giving, transformative word.

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Notes on 1 John – 1:7

But if we walk in the light,

Again, “walking in” is one’s pattern of life. Walking in the light is walking by faith, having your eyes fixed upon Christ to whom you also are clinging for life. John’s walking in the light is parallel to Paul’s walking in the Spirit. Paul describes the pattern of life he has in mind in this way.

But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do. But if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under the law. Now the works of the flesh are evident: sexual immorality, impurity, sensuality, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, fits of anger, rivalries, dissensions, divisions, envy, drunkenness, orgies, and things like these. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control; against such things there is no law. And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires (Galatians 5:16-24).

Walking in the Spirit is not going and being loving, joyful, peaceful, patient, kind, good, faithful, gentle, and self-controlled in your own power. Walking in the Spirit is continuing in the same Spirit in whom you began when he worked faith in you. Thus Paul writes to the Galatians,

O foolish Galatians! Who has bewitched you? It was before your eyes that Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified. Let me ask you only this: Did you receive the Spirit by works of the law or by hearing with faith? Are you so foolish? Having begun by the Spirit, are you now being perfected by the flesh? Did you suffer so many things in vain—if indeed it was in vain? Does he who supplies the Spirit to you and works miracles among you do so by works of the law, or by hearing with faith— just as hAbraham “believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness” (Galatians 3:1-6)?

The pattern of life indicated by both “walking in the Spirit” and “walking in the light” is a life of faith. In Christian Faith: A Systematic Theology for Pilgrims On the Way, after a lengthier discussion of faith, Michael Horton concludes, “Faith is clinging to Christ.” What does it mean to walk in the light? It means to cling to Jesus Christ, the light of the world.

as he is in the light,

John has already established that God is not only in the light, but that “God is light, and in him their is no darkness at all” (1 John 1:5b). He is simply pushing the same point with a slight variation here. God is light, so he is necessarily in the light.

we have fellowship with one another,

In verse 3 John told us he and the apostles proclaimed their message in order that their audience might have fellowship with them. In verse 7 John is explaining how this works. All those who walk in the light have fellowship with one another. In verse 3 he connected this Christian fellowship with fellowship with God in such a way as to show that the former was really conditioned on the latter. Here the same point is made. Christian fellowship depends on walking in the light, or fellowship with God through faith. There is no Christian fellowship apart from fellowship with God. There is no fellowship with God apart from faith in Jesus Christ. Again, we recall that the fellowship that John has in mind is participation in, communion with, and transformation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, according to the will of the Father, resulting in participation in, communion with, and transformation through the body of Christ on earth, the church, whose job it is to announce the fellowship creating gospel through the ministry of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and prayer.

and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.

The Westminster Shorter Catechism defines justification as “an act of God’s free grace, wherein he pardoneth all our sins, and accepteth us as righteous in his sight, only for the righteousness of Christ imputed to us, and received by faith alone” (Westminster Shorter Catechism #33). Walking in the light is synonymous with walking by faith, so it makes perfect sense that through walking in the light we are cleansed from our sin. There is a temptation to see walking in the light as a work we do, but this, as we have seen, is not the case. Viewing walking in the light as a work we do undoes the gospel by making our forgiveness dependent on our performance.

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Notes on 1 John – 1:5-6

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you,

John continues grounding his message in the objective, “we have heard from him.” It is easy to present the message of the apostles as a kind of group thought experiment in order to justify the years they spent following Jesus who was eventually killed; however, such an explanation does not do justice to what they are claiming. The apostles never present their message merely as a life philosophy but always go back to the objective reality of the gospel. Any refutation of the gospel operating exclusively on philosophical grounds has misunderstood the nature of the gospel. I can no more offer a valid refutation of the gospel on entirely philosophical grounds than I can offer a refutation the occurrence of the American Revolution on philosophical grounds. The apostles knew Jesus. They walked with him and ate with him and learned from him, and now are passing along his story. What had they learned of God through his incarnation?

that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.

Light and darkness is a common theme in John’s writing. John presents God as light to show his transcendence, holiness, perfections, and purity, and to contrast him with the darkness of sin and its effects. In his gospel, John tells us of Jesus, “In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it” (John 1:4-5). And teaches of Jesus’ own claim, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life” (John 8:12). References to God and his Savior as light is not unique or new to John. Isaiah proclaimed, “The people who walked in darkness have seen a great light; those who dwelt in a land of deep darkness, on them has light shined” (Isaiah 9:2). If we properly understand ourselves and our sin (“for at one time you were darkness” (Ephesians 5:8) see also Acts 26:18), we see in the announcement of God as light a definite distinction between him and us and a definite announcement of good news as the light comes in to expel the darkness.

If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth.

The fellowship that John has in mind is participation in, communion with, and transformation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, according to the will of the Father, resulting in participation in, communion with, and transformation through the body of Christ on earth, the church, whose job it is to announce the fellowship creating gospel through the ministry of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and prayer. When we rightly understand the fellowship that John has in mind, his statement of the inability to be in fellowship with the light while living in darkness makes perfect sense. We cannot simultaneously pursue the transcendent, holy, and perfect God of pure light and pursue the sinful desires and darkness of our flesh. We know from 1 John 2:1 that John does not have in mind the idea that if you ever sin you have no fellowship with God. This is why he uses the phrase “walk in darkness.” “Walking in” is a common biblical phrase signifying one’s pattern of life. Psalm 1 begins, “Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the wicked, nor stands in the way of sinners, nor sits in the seat of scoffers; but his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night” (Psalm 1:2). John’s point is that we cannot have fellowship with the light by turning the lights off.

John pushes further than the mere statement that fellowship with the darkness while walking in the light is impossible by calling us liars for claiming such. It is important that we hear this reminder of how easily we are self-deceived. Jeremiah says the same thing more pointedly, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it” (Jeremiah 17:9)? If we think we are pursuing God, walking in the light, but we are living in open, unrepentant sin, walking in darkness, then we are lying and we are not walking in truth.

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Notes on 1 John – 1:3-4

that which we have seen and heard we proclaim also to you,

John reiterates the objectivity of the gospel. The message that they are preaching was not simply a religious idea, vision, or dream. John and the other disciples had spent three years walking and talking and eating with Jesus. They had seen Jesus perform miracles. They had seen Jesus cry over the death of his friend Lazarus. They were patiently taught what the story of the Bible really was by Jesus. They had experienced Jesus comforting and extending grace to them and others in the midst of their trials and failures. Some of the disciples had looked on as Jesus died on the cross. John had been appointed by Jesus with the task of looking after Mary, Jesus’ mother, when he was gone. The disciples had seen the empty tomb after the women who first had found it empty had told told them the news. The disciples had eaten with Jesus after his resurrection. Jesus had continued teaching them, telling them, on the road to Emmaus, that the Bible was all about him. In short, the disciples had been eyewitnesses to Jesus’ life, death, and resurrection. They had watched him live a sinless life in the face of temptation, they had heard him say he came to die for sinners and would rise again, they had watched him die on the cross taking the wrath of God for his people, and they had seen him resurrected in victory of sin and death. What they were proclaiming wasn’t simply a theological idea, it was an eyewitness report of historical events with profound theological and social and ethical and political import.

so that you too may have fellowship with us;

John’s first purpose statement in his letter concerns why they are proclaiming this gospel message. The desire of John and his fellow apostles was that others would be in fellowship with them. A fellowship built not on work or ethics or ideas or experiences that they held in common, though as a result of the gospel they did hold much of this in common, but a fellowship built on a story they held in common – a story about the Savior of the world, a story about grace, a story about forgiveness, a story about redemption, the story of the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus. Sometimes the church forgets that our fellowship is based on Jesus. Sometimes the church pretends we have something more to offer. True there are moral and social and political and philosophical consequences that we see flowing from the gospel, playing out in our lives, but these consequences are not what unite us. John and the other apostles were proclaiming the gospel, the story of Jesus life, death, and resurrection that his hearers and readers might have fellowship with them.

and indeed our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.

John then quickly adds that their fellowship extends beyond human relationships to being in community with God himself. Because of the finished work of Jesus Christ, all who are united to him by faith have fellowship not just with other believers but with God himself. This is central to Jesus’ high priestly prayer recorded in John 17 and is stated explicitly in verses 20 and 21 of the same chapter. “I do not ask for these only, but also for those who will believe in me through their word, that they may all be one, just as you, Father, are in me, and I in you, that they also may be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me” (John 17:20-21). Every believer should see in this verse Jesus praying for them, asking his Father to keep them.

All of this begs the question, “What does it mean to have fellowship?” The fellowship John is speaking of is far more than friendship or friendly interaction. Fellowship is far more than community or “doing life together.” Fellowship is more than being part of a group with a common goal. Fellowship is more than learning and growing together. Each of these realities is part of fellowship, but only part. The fellowship that John has in mind is participation in, communion with, and transformation through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ, by the ongoing ministry of the Holy Spirit, according to the will of the Father, resulting in participation in, communion with, and transformation through the body of Christ on earth, the church, whose job it is to announce the fellowship creating gospel through the ministry of the Word, administration of the sacraments, and prayer.

And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.

John’s second purpose in writing is that his and the other disciples’ and the other Christians’ joy may be complete through his hearers being brought into fellowship with them. It is a joyful thing when sinners turn to Christ in faith and repentance. It is not wrong or manipulative or selfish to desire and faithfully seek the conversion of our family members, friends, and co-workers or to be filled with joy over someone being brought into fellowship with God and his people through the gospel of Jesus Christ or to seek joy through such means.

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Notes on 1 John – 1:1-2

That which was from the beginning,

John begins his first epistle telling the readers what the subject and goal of his writing is. His first qualifier is that his subject “was from the beginning.” Some take this to mean the beginning of John’s ministry or some other more recent “beginning”; however, the eternality of the Son is a frequent theme in John’s writings. He begins his gospel, “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God” (John 1:1-2). John is telling us that he is writing about an eternal subject. Following this statement about the eternality of his subject, John gives a series of qualifiers rooting his subject in this world.

which we have heard,

The apostles, the most likely antecedent of the “we”, were taught by Jesus. When we read the gospels we see that teaching was a central part of Jesus’ ministry to his disciples. While this qualifier begins to root John’s subject, Jesus, in the material world, the apostles could have heard him as the prophets of old heard Yahweh. John continues.

which we have seen with our eyes,

They have also seen Jesus. With every new qualifier the physical presence of Jesus on earth with the apostles is established more. However, visions were also a way God revealed himself. John’s statement that they had seen Jesus with their eyes helps to distinguish between seeing a vision; nonetheless, John continues.

which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands,

The apostles had looked upon something physical. They had touched Jesus with their hands. Not a dream. Not a vision. A real man they could hear and see and touch. There was physical interaction with the eternal Son of God. Some see a response to Gnosticism, a heretical variant of the Christian faith with an emphasis on secret knowledge over against the objective realities of the gospel story, in John’s emphasis on the physical; however, John was writing around 100 years before Gnosticism was a real issue. It is more likely that John is simply wanting his readers to understand the wonder of the gospel, that the eternal stepped down into physical reality.

concerning the word of life -

John’s message is about the historic figure who was the Word of life and who taught the disciples the Word of life. The Word is another emphasis in John’s writings. Recall again the introduction to John’s gospel,

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it…

And the Word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth (John 1:1-5, 14).

The Word is central to John’s theology. Indeed, the Word is central to all biblical theology. With the Word, Jesus, comes life.

the life was made manifest, and we have seen it, and testify to it and proclaim to you the eternal life

John moves fluidly between presenting Jesus in physical and spiritual terms and between representing his as the Word and as Life. The life was revealed, made known, to the disciples, and the life was made known to them in such a way that they could experience him in the physical world. Now, having had life revealed, John bears witness to that life and preaches the  life giving Word.

which was with the Father and was made manifest to us - 

John returns to the eternality and divinity of the life. He was with the Father. This, of course, is reminds us of John’s gospel – “the Word was with God.” The same life giving Word that existed with the Father and was at work when the Father created by his Word, has been revealed to the disciples who are now proclaiming him to the world.

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Notes on 1 John – Introductory Remarks (sorry for the formatting Kevin – 0 Word Press – 1)

1 John is a fascinating book to study for at least 5 reasons.

  1. It’s organization is much more organic than linear. John does not begin a topic, dress it out fully, and move through a conclusion to his next point. Rather he broaches a subject, deals with it for a bit, moves to something else deals with it, moves on, circles back to an earlier subject to deal with it from a different angle, moves on to others topics, circles back to earlier topics etc. Some have described the organization in the terms of a symphony developing musical themes. You could also think of it in terms of shopping – picking up an item, looking at it, setting it down, looking at other items, returning to earlier items with new thoughts of their usefulness, etc.
  2. 1 John is focused on encouraging believers, and he is less explicitly polemical than other New Testament letters. Cranky people like myself need to be reminded that right thoughts about God should result in things like joy and love. Moving on.
  3. John offers multiple purpose statements which are helpful to keep in mind as we read this letter. These purpose statements show 1 John to be a logical follow up to the more evangelistic Gospel of John, of which John said, “Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name” (John 20:30-31).
    • 1 John 1:4 - And we are writing these things so that our joy may be complete.
    • 1 John 2:1 – My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
    • 1 John 2:12 – I am writing to you, little children because your sins are forgiven for his name’s sake.
    • 1 John 2:13a (and 14a) – I am writing to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.
    • 1 John 2:13b (cf 14b) – I am writing to you, young men, because you have overcome the evil one.
    • 1 John 2:13c – I write to you, children, because you know the Father.
    • 1 John 2:14a (and 13a) – I write to you, fathers, because you know him who is from the beginning.
    • 1 John 2:14b (cf 13b) – I write to you, young men, because you are strong, and the word of God abides in you, and you have overcome the evil one.
    • 1 John 2:21 – I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth.
    • 1 John 5:13 – I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God that you may know that you have eternal life.
  4. We don’t know a lot about the specifics of the occasion, location, or recipients of this letter, giving it a more timeless feel. That is not to say that any other part of the Bible is less timeless, only a recognition that we can often be tempted to overlook or even ignore clear teachings because they seem to be “culturally bound.”
  5. John beautifully weaves together gospel, ethics, and worship as a cohesive whole. At times, we tend to over distinguish between these realities resulting in a systematic expression of our faith that doesn’t always jive with the lives we live. Theology (systematics) is good, but we need to be reminded that theology that does not include axiology and doxology is incomplete. I think we often leave the latter two points out because they get so messy so quickly.

Due to John’s organic (or symphonic or spiral or whatever cyclical synonym you like) organization, some understanding of the book on the front end can be helpful. We will dive in to the text tomorrow.

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Notes on Obadiah – 19-21

Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau, and those of the Shephelah shall possess the land of the Philistines; they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria, and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.

Most of us are totally unfamiliar with the geography of Israel apart from being able to find Israel, the Dead Sea, and Jerusalem on a map. Our unfamiliarity is magnified when we begin talking about ancient Israel and cities that only currently exist as archeological dig sites. In fact, scholars are not always in agreement on the precise referent of ancient city names found in Scripture. We can get bogged down in trying to find some grand significance in a particular place name, when God may be making a broader point. Of course there are examples of specific places in Scripture carrying special theological significance, but we don’t need to make every city out to be such a place. The point of the verses before us is that God’s promises, announced again through Obadiah in verses 15-18, are going to be fulfilled. The land promised to Israel will be restored. “The house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions” (Obadiah 17).

The exiles of this host of the people of Israel shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath, and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad shall possess the cities of the Negeb.

A similar point as above is made here. The people will possess the promised land. However, a new dimension to the promise is added. The exiles will be brought home to possess what God had given them. The prophet’s job can be thought of in terms of a lawyer or a judge prosecuting the people of God based on the law of God. That is to say the prophet’s job was to bring God’s word to God’s people. In Deuteronomy 30 we read,

And when all these things come upon you, the blessing and the curse, which I have set before you, and you call them to mind among all the nations where the LORD your God has driven you,  and return to the LORD your God, you and your children, and obey his voice in all that I command you today, with all your heart and with all your soul, then the LORD your God will restore your fortunes and have mercy on you, and he will gather you again from all the peoples where the LORD your God has scattered you. If your outcasts are in the uttermost parts of heaven, from there the LORD your God will gather you, and from there he will take you. And the LORD your God will bring you into the land that your fathers possessed, that you may possess it. And he will make you more prosperous and numerous than your fathers. And the LORD your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live. And the LORD your God will put all these curses on your foes and enemies who persecuted you. And you shall again obey the voice of the LORD and keep all his commandments that I command you today. The LORD your God will make you abundantly prosperous in all the work of your hand, in the fruit of your womb and in the fruit of your cattle and in the fruit of your ground. For the LORD will again take delight in prospering you, as he took delight in your fathers, when you obey the voice of the LORD your God, to keep his commandments and his statutes that are written in this Book of the Law, when you turn to the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul.

For this commandment that I command you today tis not too hard for you, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that you should say, ‘Who will ascend to heaven for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ Neither is it beyond the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will go over the sea for us and bring it to us, that we may hear it and do it?’ But the word is very near you. It is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it (Deuteronomy 30:1-14)

Notice the law promises that the curses will come upon the people for their disobedience. Before the people of God ever enter the promised land, the law of God promises that the the people would fail and be exiled. However, the law also promises that God would restore the people, circumcising their hearts to love the Lord. Obadiah is reiterating this promise from the law.

Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion to rule Mount Esau, and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s. 

The plural “saviors” is difficult until we realize the God did bring fulfillment of his promises in stages. However, the ultimate fulfillment comes with Jesus Christ who came calling people to repentance because the Kingdom of God had come with himself. We see Jesus being presented as the explicit fulfillment of this passage (and others like it) in John 11.

Many of the Jews therefore, who had come with Mary and had seen what he did, believed in him, but some of them went to the Pharisees and told them what Jesus had done. So the chief priests and the Pharisees gathered the council and said, “What are we to do? For this man performs many signs. If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and the Romans will come and take away both our place and our nation.” But one of them, Caiaphas, who was high priest that year, said to them, “You know nothing at all. Nor do you understand that it is better for you that one man should die for the people, not that the whole nation should perish.” He did not say this of his own accord, but being high priest that year he prophesied that Jesus would die for the nation, and not for the nation only, but also to gather into one the children of God who are scattered abroad. So from that day on they made plans to put him to death (John 11:48-52).

According to John, Caiaphas was spot on without even realizing it. Jesus was coming to die for the nation, but also to gather in all those who had been scattered abroad. Jesus was coming to fulfill the law and the promises. Jesus is the ultimate Savior who gathers the scattered people of God, establishes the Kingdom of God, and rules from Mount Zion.

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Notes on Obadiah – 15-18

For the day of the Lord is near upon all the nations.

Obadiah has just listed Edom’s sins against Israel. They had stood aloof, gloated, entered Jerusalem to loot, and turned the defeated Isrealites over to the enemy. Now the judgement of God would come on them. The day of the Lord is metaphor for judgement against the enemies of God throughout the Bible. The day of the Lord will show God to be not only the God who can justly judge Israel, his people, but the God who can justly judge all nations. Yahweh is not a local God concerned only for certain people. As the creator of all things, he is a global God, concerned with all of his creation. No one will escape his righteous judgement.

As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on our own head.

The Edomites will reap what they have sown. Having abandoned their brother in need and exploited him in his weakness the Edomites will be abandoned and find no ally in their weakness.

For as you have drunk on my holy mountain,

Wine and drinking can be either a sign of prosperity and blessing or a sign of judgement. The prophets repeatedly give the promise of drinking new wine in the days of glory. They also talk repeatedly about the cup of God’s wrath being poured out. Verses 17 and 18 are set in contrast to verses 15-16 and describe the salvation of a remnant. Further, verse 15 is clearly describing the coming judgement on both Edom and all nations. The right conclusion is to read verse 16 as another announcement of judgement on Edom and the nations. Just as Edom has drunk from the cup of God’s wrath and been destroyed, so will all nations who have stood against Yahweh and his people.

But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape,

Mount Zion is Jerusalem and is regularly pictured as the dwelling place of God with his people. Those who have been faithful will escape the coming judgement. In the prophets, there is always redemption. Even if it is buried in chapters and chapters of judgement, Yahweh never forgets the promises that he made to Abraham and passed down to Isaac and Jacob. Grace is always promised, a grace that has been secured by the finished work of Jesus Christ.

and it shall be holy,

The escape will not be contra what is deserved. They will not escape by sneaking out from under the sovereign hand of God’s judgement though they are still guilty. Their escape will be according to God’s holy plan.

and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions. 

All that has been looted will be restored. The vanity of having worked hard only to have the fruit of your labor stolen will be undone. With redemption will come restoration. What is their’s, God will give back to them. God has promised to give them the land. Though for now it seems they have been driven out forever, God will restore them in the great day of redemption. We see this fulfilled in the final chapters of Revelation when the New Jerusalem is established forever with Jesus Christ, the promised seed of David, as the eternal King.

The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble;

Jacob will prove victorious over Esau just as the flame is victorious over stubble. In the day of the Lord, Esau will not be able to stand before those whom she exploited.

they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau,

Esau’s destruction, as has already been said, will be complete. They will be utterly consumed by the holy wrath of God for their actions taken against their brother, Jacob.

for the Lord has spoken.

God’s word is never thwarted by man’s attempts. What God has declared is final.

 

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Notes on Obadiah – 10-14

Because of the violence done to your brother Jacob,

Here the prophet uses Jacob to name the southern kingdom of Israel, Judah. He does this to highlight the family relationship between the Edomites, who were descendants of Esau and the Israelites who were descendants of Jacob.

Following the reign of Solomon, Israel had split into two kingdoms. The northern kingdom consisted of ten tribes and was called Israel. The southern kingdom consisted of two tribes and was called Judah. In 722BC the northern kingdom was conquered and its citizens were scattered. Later, in 586BC, the southern kingdom was conquered and its citizens were scattered. Edom was not the one who conquered Judah; however, when Judah was being conquered, the Edomites took advantage of their brothers’ weakness, even rounding up some who were trying to flee and turning them over to their enemies. For this reason, God’s judgement is coming on the Edomites.

shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever.

Where the Edomites had stood in pride they would stand shamed. To be cut off is to come under the judgement of God. Because Edom had opposed and oppressed the people of God, they would come under the mighty wrath of God. God does not deal kindly with those who deal harshly with the oppressed and beaten down. Yahweh regularly returns the harsh actions of the oppressors on the oppressors themselves.

What exactly had the Edomites done?

On the day that you stood aloof, on the day that strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.

The first thing Obadiah mentions is that they had not done anything to protect their brother. They stood by, disinterested, and let it happen. The Edomites sin began with their just watching all of this happen to their brother Jacob. Judah was being utterly decimated by the Babylonians, and the Edomites watched. When nations fought and a foreign army conquered a new land, all the wealth of that land would be exported to the conquering land for their benefit. God’s accusation is, “you were like one of them.” At some level, disinterest in the oppression of God’s people, or anyone, is tantamount to active involvement.

But do not gloat over the day of your brother in the day of his misfortune; do not rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their ruin; do not boast in the day of distress.

The Edomites increased their guilt by not only standing aloof, but also celebrating the fall of Jerusalem and the demise of Jacob. Recall, Jacob had swindled Esau out of both his birthright and his blessing. At the time Esau sought to kill Jacob. Perhaps the Edomites’ thought was something along the lines of, “At last, after all these years, they got what they had coming.”

Do not enter the gate of my people in the day of their calamity; do not gloat over his disaster in the day of his calamity; do not loot his wealth in the day of his calamity.

Again, we see an increase in the culpability of the Edomites. They did not stop at celebrating, but went to Judah and took advantage of the situation. They saw the weakness of Jacob and thought, “This is an easy take for us.” Like the oppressors of Judah, the Edomites looted and plundered their brother Jacob. “In the day of his calamity,” shows the lowness of the Edomites. In some ways, the Edomties seem worse even than the Babylonians. The Babylonians had fought with Judah. The Edomites, like parasitic scavengers, waited for their downfall and then took advantage of their weakness.

Do not stand at the crossroads to cut off his fugitives; do not hand over his survivors in the day of distress.

The Edomites guilty involvment has grown again. Their standing by and watching grew to celebration which grew to looting which grew to participating in the enslavement of the decendants of Jacob. The Edomites posted themselves on the roads out of town and rounded up those who sought to escape in order to turn them over to the Babylonians. Another regular part of war between nations in the Ancient Near East was the exportation of talent. When King A would conquer King B, King A would have the best and the brightest subjects of King B rounded up and scattered in order to dilute the influence and expedite the process of the acculturation of the conquered people. If groups of people escaped and reunited, this could pose a potential, future threat. The Edomites helped the Babylonians by capturing Hebrews and handing them over to their oppressors.

 

 

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