Saturday, October 22, 2016

Surprising Justice--by Linden Malki

We've been reading about several of the turning points in the story of Israel and Judah (the two tribes who became a separate kingdom).  Some of us heard the story of Obadiah at Thursday church, some of you have read the Bible readings that go with that.  I think it might be interesting to take a look at the situation that produced Obadiah and how it fits in with things we have seen God do.

The first chapter in the story is the ten northern tribes of Israel, rejecting King Solomon's son as King and establishing a rival kingdom. They not only rejected the legacy of King David and his successors; they also rejected the God of Abraham and David, and got into the pagan idolatry of the neighboring kingdoms and tribes. God didn't let them go easily. He sent at least four major prophets to the northern kingdom to warn them and tell them that God would welcome them if they would return to Him--Elijah, Elisha, whose stories are told in 2 Kings; and Amos and Hosea. Not long after Hosea, the expanding Assyrian Empire rolled over the north and ended their history;  the southern kingdom was also attacked and several cities taken,but Jerusalem was spared.  The Kingdom of Judah had some good kings and strong prophetic messengers, but not enough.  About 150 years later, the rising empire of Babylon conquered the Assyrians, and took over and expanded their empire. They destroyed the city of Jerusalem and took many of its people into exile in Babylon.  This is where the story of Obadiah comes in.

Going back to the time of Abraham and Isaac, we see Isaac's twin sons, Esau and Jacob, as rivals and enemies that affected two thousand years of history. Esau and his family moved away from their family's home turf to the mountainous desert below the Dead Sea. Esau's nickname was Edom ("red")  after he traded his away his birthright for nothing but a pot of red stew.  Even though they were cousins of the Israelites, there was no love lost between them.  The Edomites joined the Babylonian sacking of Jerusalem, and refused sanctuary to refugees fleeing the disaster.  Obadiah warned them that this would bring disaster on their own heads--and it did: the Babylonians turned on them and almost wiped them out.  A small band of refugees settled in the desert at the south end of Judah.

Fast-forward through a tangled maze of imperial politics to 163BC, when the Jews, led by a priestly family known as the Maccabees, rebelled against a Greek overlord who tried to stamp out their worship of God.  They won--the story is commemorated in the festival of Hanukkah--and established an independent kingdom that lasted a century.  One of the first things they did was to annex what was then called Idumea (Greek for Edom) and force the people to convert to Judaism. As governor of this province, they appointed an Idumean named Antipas. His son Antipater became an influential official of the Maccabees--and also developed a good relationship with the Romans, who were moving into the territory. His son Herod, known as Herod the Great, was made King of Judea by the Romans in
40BC. He went on a building binge, upgrading the walls of Jerusalem, expanding and remodeling the Temple, and building fortified palaces in various parts of the kingdom.  So part of Obadiah's prophecy of Judah's restoration was carried out by a descendant of Edomites!  And later, when the Jewish Zealots rebelled and set off the war with Rome that destroyed Jerusalem in 65-70AD, there were Idumeans fighting with the Zealots defending the city. This is the point that they disappear from history-unsuccessfully defending the city that their ancestors helped demolish. But even though the Romans wiped out the Zealots and their allies, enough Jews survived to keep their faith alive--as was prophecied--and their spiritual descendants turned the pagan Roman Empire into something that is still alive and vital. We are the heirs of what God has done over centuries, that has spread far beyond Judea and Rome, in unexpected ways, despite wars and dissention and rebellion, but always to His Glory.

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