For the slaughter and violence done to your brother Jacob,
shame shall cover you,
and you shall be cut off for ever.
On the day that you stood aside,
on the day that strangers carried off his wealth,
and foreigners entered his gates
and cast lots for Jerusalem,
you too were like one of them.
But you should not have gloated over your brother
on the day of his misfortune;
you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah
on the day of their ruin;
you should not have boasted
on the day of distress.
You should not have entered the gate of my people
on the day of their calamity;
you should not have joined in the gloating over Judah’s disaster
on the day of his calamity;
you should not have looted his goods
on the day of his calamity.
You should not have stood at the crossings
to cut off his fugitives;
you should not have handed over his survivors
on the day of distress.
The tiny book of Obadiah is a prophetic tirade against Judah’s neighbor, Edom. To understand the book, one must know the historical context. In 587 BC, when Jerusalem was sacked by Babylon, the neighboring Edomites didn’t come to Judah’s defense. Instead, they took part in the plunder, looting goods and “gloating over Judah’s disaster.”
This betrayal cut deeply, since Edom and Judah were considered “brothers”; they traced their ancestries back to Esau and Jacob, respectively. Even though the Edomites were not Jews, they were still family.
Through the prophet Obadiah, God promises to repay the Edomites, threatening, “As you have done it, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your own head” (Obadiah 15).
As Christians, we ought to hear these words in relation to our connection to our own faith “brothers and sisters” — Jews and Muslims. All three faiths are descended from the same central figure, Abraham; Jews and Christians find their heritage in the line of Isaac, while Muslims trace their ancestry through Ishmael.
Unless we want to face God’s wrath, we ought to consider the way we treat Jews and Muslims. Do we rush to their defense when they are mistreated or insulted? Do we gloat when representatives of their faiths fall or stumble? Do we “loot” their dignity by passing on lies, untruths, and propaganda about them?
In recent months, hate crimes and threats against Jews and Muslims in the U.S. have increased dramatically.
A flood of bomb threats against Jewish community centers and synagogues, though revealed to be hoaxes, has opened the door to a rise in anti-Semitism. According to the Southern Poverty Law Center, there are currently 130 active Ku Klux Klan groups operating in the country, as well as hundreds of other white supremacist, anti-Semitic, and Holocaust-denying hate groups. Earlier this month, the largest synagogue in Seattle was defaced with graffiti, including the tag line, “Holocau$t i$ fake hi$tory!”
American Muslims are also under constant threat and harassment. Anti-Muslim groups proliferated in 2016, from 34 in 2015 to 101 last year. So far in 2017, the Council on American-Islamic Relations has reported 33 separate incidents in which mosques have been targeted for vandalism or arson. Early Sunday morning of this week, someone threw rocks and a Bible through the glass doors of a Fort Collins, Colorado, mosque.
The rising rhetoric of suspicion and mistrust against those who practice Islam and Judaism is unacceptable to those who believe in the God of the Bible. This goes beyond a simple affirmation of the Golden Rule; we must do more than simply “live and let live.”
God uses the word “brother” to describe Judah’s relation to Edom in the book of Obadiah, and God would surely use the same language to speak to us of Muslims and Jews.
We are all family.
Prayer: God, we often fail to see ourselves as brothers and sisters with people who believe differently. We may disagree over theological points, but we agree that you are one God, and that you are a God of love. Help us to love each other. Amen.
Justice Challenge: Since Jewish and Muslim communities are fearful and anxious these days, why don’t you reach out to a member of one of those communities and express your support? It’s as easy as sending a card or gift to your local synagogue or mosque; or taking a neighbor or fellow worker who is Muslim or Jewish to lunch.