The Promise of Deliverance & Holiness 

adapted from PCC Prayer Meeting Exhortation on 17 Dec 2010 

But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.   18 And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the LORD hath spoken it” (Obadiah 17-18).

The Book of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. The name ‘Obadiah’ means “Servant of the Lord.” It was a common name in Old Testament days. There are more than 10 Obadiahs in the Old Testament. But nothing else is known about the Prophet Obadiah except what is mentioned in this book.

When was the prophecy written? Again we are not sure. Some say it was written before the exile, possibly during the reign of King Jehoram (848-841 BC). Others suggest that it was written after the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC.

But when it was written does not make much of a difference to the message of Obadiah. The message of Obadiah is a timeless one. It speaks of God’s preservation and restoration of His Church in the face of persecution. This is promised in the key verses of this book, which is our text for this study.

We want to do so under two heads. First, let’s consider how the church will face persecution; secondly, let’s consider how the LORD will vindicate his church.


1. The Church Will Face Persecution

The promise, which is our text begins with the word ‘But.’ This is a powerful word, which compels us to consider the contrasting background of the promise that makes it truly precious.

What is this background? Well, the background is the persecution that God’s people suffered in the hands of the Edomites. You can read that in verses 10-14.

In fact, the bulk of the prophecy of Obadiah is actually directed against the nation of Edom. The Edomites and the Israelites were blood relatives. Their forefathers, Esau and Jacob were twins. But their relationship was one of enmity.

Their enmity began with a struggle between the twins in the womb of their mother Rebekah (Gen 25:21-26). Years later, when Esau, the first born, was hungry he traded his birthright with Jacob for a bowl of pottage (Gen 25:29-34). And then Jacob, under the instigation of his mother, tricked his father Isaac to pronounce the blessing of the firstborn upon him rather than on his brother. The brotherly relationship was deeply soured. It would never be completely healed. This enmity was carried into the lives of their descendants.

When Israel returned from Egypt to possess the Promised Land, Edom refused to let them pass through their land (Num 20:14-21). But God would not let Israel hate Edom, since they were brothers (Dt 23:7). However, the hostility between Israel and Edom developed and continued for centuries.

There were clashes between Israel and Edom for the most part of their shared history in Palestine. There were clashes during the reigns of Saul, David, Solomon, Jehoshaphat, Jehoram, Amaziah and Ahaz.[1]

Such was the history of conflict between Edom and Israel or Judah. But the final straw came in 586 bc. That year, the Babylonians attacked Jerusalem. And history tells us that Edom was there to cheer them on in their wicked deeds. This was what prompted the Psalmist to cry out:

“Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof” (Ps 137:7).

It was also this event that occasioned the prophecy of Obadiah. This prophecy is about the destruction of Edom and the vindication of Israel. Edom’s destruction began with the Nabatean-Arab invasion shortly after the time of Obadiah. This invasion drove the Edomites to South Judah, where they were eventually wiped out of existence in AD 70 by the Roman army led by General Titus.

But what has this conflict got to do with us in the 21st Century? We are neither Jews nor Edomites. What has this background to the promise we are studying got to do with us?

Well, much in every way: For the conflict between Jacob and Esau or Israel and Edom is really a type of the conflict between the Church and the World; or more specifically, between the Elect and the Reprobate.

The prophet Malachi highlights this conflict and makes it clear where God stands. God says through him: “I loved Jacob, And I hated Esau” (Mal 1:2-3).

The apostle Paul citing Malachi brings us to understand another aspect of the conflict in Romans 9. He reminds us that the people in this world are either the elect of God or the reprobate. God has before the foundation of the world elected some unto eternal life. These are the vessels of mercy and beloved in Christ. But all others, God would reject and destroy. These are the vessels of wrath. These are hated by God: “As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (Rom 9:13).

Esau was a type of the reprobate, whereas Jacob was a type of the elect. So Edom represented the world, whereas Israel and Judah represented the Church.

The Church is beloved of God because God has ordained that the elect of Christ should be nurtured in her. But because the world hates God, it hates also his Church. Therefore in this world there is a constant war between the Church and the world. God had already warned about this conflict in Genesis 3:15—

“And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head, and thou shalt bruise his heel.”

This conflict was played out in the Old Testament between Edom and Israel. Yes, Israel was an ungrateful nation deserving God’s wrath. Yes, there were many reprobates in Israel. But still Israel was the Church of God in the Old Testament. The elect of God were being nurtured in her. Israel was, as such beloved of God. God would not allow Edom to persecute her with impunity.

Today, the visible church has many blemishes. We are a sinful people. And there are not only the elect, but reprobate as well in the visible church. But we are as a body beloved of God for the elect’s sake. And because we are beloved of God, we can expect our twin brother, the world, to persecute us.

The world will persecute us because it hates Christ. The world hates Christ because His life and message testifies against them (Jn 15:18-19). If you are like Christ, the world will hate you for the same reasons. The world will not hate you simply because you profess to be a Christian. The world will hate you once it sees your life and speech testifying against its wickedness.

Thus the apostle Paul asserts in 2 Timothy 3:12,—“Yea, and all that will live godly in Christ Jesus shall suffer persecution.” This fact is repeated over and over again in the Scripture and in the history of the church.

Are you a Christian? If you have any close contact with unbelievers at all, I know you will be persecuted or ridiculed in some ways.

The world laughs at the faith of Christians. They say we believe a fable when we believe that the world was created in six days and that there was a global flood. They say we are simpletons because we believe that Christ was crucified for His people.

They say that Christianity is a crutch for weaklings. It is opium for those who have guilty consciences. They don’t like Christians who are serious about their faith.

  • Because you would speak out against sin, you are considered a self-righteous troublemaker.
  • Because you would not work on the Sabbath, you are charged with laziness.
  • Because you would not trade time with family and church for money, you are called a fool.
  • Because you treat your domestic help well, you are accused of spoiling the market.
  • Because you tell your neighbours about Christ, they avoid you as a religious fanatic.
  • Because you say Christ is the only way of salvation, they say you are bigot and intolerant.
  • Because of your meekness they take advantage of you.

When you speak of judgment to come, the more gentlemanly laugh in their heart, the more candid will sneer. You will be persecuted. As Edom persecuted Israel, the world will persecute God’s children.

But as God would not allow Edom to mock Israel with impunity, so the Lord will not allow the world to mock His church or His children without facing His justice. This is what the first nine verses of this prophecy is about.

But tonight, we want to focus our attention rather on God’s promise to His Church; which is the second point of our study, namely…


2. The Church will Triumph

Yea, the Church will surely triumph. Christ our King is upon the throne in the heavenly Zion. Therefore Zion will triumph. But how will Zion triumph? Verse 17—

17 But upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness; and the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions.

Calvin says of these words…

Whenever then God inflicts wounds on his Church, prepared at the same time is the remedy; for God designs not, nor does he suffer, that his own people should be wholly lost.

God was chastising His people for their sins through the Babylonians and even the Edomites. But His chastisement of His people is always for a limited time only.

Upon mount Zion shall be deliverance…” God will deliver his remnant. God will deliver His Church. Upon Mount Zion has God set his anointed King the Messiah (Ps 2:6). Therefore it cannot be, but that there is deliverance upon Mount Zion.

Although Edom would be completely destroyed, a remnant of Israel would remain. “Salvation is of the Jews” (Jn 4:22) says our Lord. Therefore God delivered a remnant of the Jews upon Mount Zion. But Mount Zion,—in prophecy,—is not a physical place. It designates the covenant people of God—the Church (cf. Isa 2:3).

There on Mount Zion, will be deliverance and salvation. There, salvation shall be preached and prayed for. There the elect of Christ will be delivered and saved from the wrath of God, from sin, and from death.

Edom, which persecuted Israel, would be destroyed without pity. The world which persecutes the church will be destroyed without pity. But there will be deliverance upon Mount Zion. The world will not have victory. The battle is the Lord’s!

The victory will become obvious one day. The apostle Paul, writing to the Romans says: “And the God of peace shall bruise Satan under your feet shortly” (Rom 16:20). He was referring to the promise in Genesis 3:15. At the Cross of Calvary, Christ crushed the head of the serpent. The war has been won.  But the serpent is in its dying throes trying to cause as much damage to the kingdom of Christ as possible. But one day it will breathe its last in this world.

But is the victory only future? No, no; the victory is secured and victory is being experienced today, for deliverance from sin and Satan is already experienced in  Mount Zion through sanctification. “And there shall be holiness” says Obadiah.

The world under the leadership of Satan is conspiring to oppose Christ and to destroy His bride. But God would not allow that to happen. There would be holiness in Mount Zion. The remnant is being beautified with holiness. They are being fortified against sin. The Holy Spirit is working in their hearts to make them love righteousness and hate sin more and more.

We live in a day of small things. We look at the world, and the world appears to be getting more and more wicked. We look at the church, and it appears to be getting weaker and weaker. And what’s more, it appears that the world has infiltrated the church. Even in our own church, sin appears to abound more than grace. But is that a fact? No, no, beloved. Christ is on His throne. Deliverance is being effected day by day. Holiness is being wrought little by little.

The people of Christ are being sanctified and delivered from the power and influence of sin. This is the testimony not only of the Scriptures but also of our experience. Because of the corruption of our nature, we tend to be negative and to focus on the failures, sins and defeats.

But do you not see? Do you not know? Christ is working. Lives are being transformed and fitted for heaven. There is deliverance, and there is holiness. Men and women are becoming more and more heavenly minded. Obadiah says: “the house of Jacob shall possess their possessions [or their heavenly inheritance].” This is true is it not? As you grow in holiness, you begin more and more to enjoy your heavenly inheritance or eternal life.

And not only so, but the blessings of Christ you enjoy is spreading. Do you not see it? It is spreading like fire. It is spreading through the preaching of the word and the holy witness of the saints. Obadiah put it this way:

18 And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them…

God has not only given His people redemption and holiness. He has made them a fire. It is a fire that will spread and conquer. The house of Esau shall be for stubble, easily devoured and consumed by this fire.

How will this fire spread? It will spread through the preaching of the Word and the witness of the saints. God says through the prophet Jeremiah:

“Behold, I will make my words in thy mouth fire, and this people wood, and it shall devour them” (Jer 5:14).

False religions may conquer by the arm of flesh; but the kingdom of Christ conquers through the sword of the spirit. Through the preaching of the Gospel, strongholds are demolished and the devices of Satan are defeated. The double-edged sword of the Gospel will never return unto God void. Such as would be redeemed would be redeemed; such as would be left without excuse are left without excuse.

Through the preaching of the Gospel, hearts hardened by sin are soften and melted. Enemies of God are made friends of God. Servants of the kingdom of darkness are translated into the kingdom of light. And not only so, but through the Word and Spirit the remaining corruption in the hearts of God’s children are burned up like dross. For Christ shall be as a refiner’s fire, says Malachi.

But at the same time, the unrepentant enemies of the Gospel are put to shame, and left without arguments. Today, they may mock and ridicule. But the day is coming when they shall cringe in shame for their rebellion against Christ the Lord.

Says Matthew Henry: “Those that are not refined as gold by fire of the gospel shall be consumed as dross by it; for [the gospel] will be a savour either of life or of death.”

Through the preaching of the Word, the kingdom of the Redeemer shall be strengthened and maintained. “The kingdom shall be the Lord’s” says Obadiah (v. 21).

Christ our Lord is reigning and will reign. All power in heaven and on earth has been given to Him. The apostle John saw Him upon a white horse having a bow in His hands and a crown upon His head. And He is going forth “conquering, and to conquer” (Rev 6:2).

He will be victorious for He is the King of kings. And we will be victorious in Him too, for we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us and shed His blood for us. “For he must reign, till he hath put all enemies under his feet” (1 Cor 15:25).


Conclusion

Oh dearly beloved, do not be discouraged, do not despair. Though we shall be persecuted as Edom persecuted Israel, we shall be vindicated. Vengeance belongeth unto the Lord. The Lord knows who are his. He will not suffer any of His children to be lost.

The Lord has said to Peter: “Upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it” (Mt 16:18). Press on therefore with the good work. Go labour on! Serve the Lord with courage and confidence. Serve Him with gratitude.

You will see the conversion of your children, He has promised.

You will see holiness adorning your life and the life of your brethren, He has promised.

You will see the vindication of your faith and your life, He has promised.

Only put on the armour of God and keep fighting. Do not be distracted by Edom. Do not love Edom. The day of our redemption draw nigh and what a glorious day it will be. May the Lord help us! Amen. Ω



[1] Cf. 1 Sam 14:47; 2 Sam 8:13-14; 1 Kgs 11:17-22; 2 Chr 20:1-2, 10-11, 22-26; 2 Kgs 8:20-22, 2 Chr 21:8; 2 Kgs 14:7; 2 Chr 25:11-12; 2 Chr 28:17.