For the day of the Lord is near against all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head. For as you have drunk on my holy mountain, all the nations around you shall drink; they shall drink and gulp down, and shall be as though they had never been.
But on Mount Zion there shall be those that escape, and it shall be holy; and the house of Jacob shall take possession of those who dispossessed them. The house of Jacob shall be a fire, the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau; for the Lord has spoken.
We hear a lot these days about late justice. Fraud, abuse, domestic violence, war crimes, ethnic cleansing – the perpetrators may get away with it for a while, but they are never really safe. Memories, clues, witnesses and records cannot be counted on to go away, and the slow, steady pace of justice catches up in the end. Hold this thought for a moment.
Now add in the motif of bad neighbours, of peoples and communities who know each other so well that all love has been lost. Judah and Edom, as the case in point. Shepherds and farmers of the Holy Land hill-country, and mountain people across the Jordan valley, whose high and rugged territory is visible on a clear day. You can see but never touch. So near yet so far. Out of reach, of good social contact, and perhaps even of justice too.
Put those two themes together, and you have Obadiah. The bad neighbour is Edom (a.k.a the children of Esau). And late justice comes from God. For Edom had treated Judah wretchedly, laughed at her misfortune, taken advantage of her suffering, and lived through the generations as a neighbour but rarely as a friend. Yet God would catch up with the situation. Edom would not freewheel for ever on the momentum of old contempt. Judah, victim and punch-bag as she had so often been, would rise in glory, triumph over her oppressor and be gathered in the love of God.
Which is where our text comes in. It’s the word of hope at the end of Obadiah. This smallest of Old Testament prophecies speaks for the victim. It turns bad history into renewing justice, and wretchedness into reckoning. It believes in a God who never gives up.
Justice – reaching out across the years, grounded in heaven, making a difference on earth. That’s Obadiah’s message. Take the victim seriously, it says. Take God seriously too.
God of justice and judgment, of care and commitment, of memory and mercy, teach us to listen to the victim and hear the voiceless, to know when to remember and what to forget, to understand how to support and where to give space, to speak rightly about justice and truly about Jesus, who speaks your judgment and brings your mercy. Amen.
The Rev’d John Proctor, is a member of Emmanuel Church, Cambridge, and works as General Secretary of the URC.