The Rise and Fall of Pride

Obadiah 3 - The arrogance of your heart has deceived you.

Obadiah 12 - Do not gloat over your brother's day of misfortune.

Obadiah 15 - Your dealings will return on your own head.

Read the whole book of Obadiah.

The little book of Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. You almost have to use the Table of Contents in your Bible to find it! Obadiah is only 21 verses long, but it packs a powerful message--a message concerning God's judgment of pride. Although this little book of Scripture was written centuries ago, it is very applicable today. Is there any one of us who is free from the problem of pride?

The prophecy of judgment written in the book of Obadiah was addressed to the people of Edom who were the descendants of Esau. (See Genesis 36.) While other Old Testament prophets also predicted the doom of Edom (See Isaiah 34; Jeremiah 49; Ezekiel 25, 35 and Amos 1), Obadiah's prophecy is the most comprehensive. The Edomites had settled in the region south of the Dead Sea and built a powerful nation there. However, Edom was a nation that did not follow the Lord. The people of Edom followed in the steps of their godless forefather, Esau. (See Hebrews 12:16.)

A significant portion of the land of Edom was rugged mountainous terrain that was easily defended. As a result, the people of Edom became proud, thinking that in their lofty mountain strongholds they were invulnerable--even to God. But God denounced their arrogance and pronounced judgment upon the proud nation. They were deceived in thinking that they were secure and above attack in their "impregnable" fortresses. The Lord declared, however, that they would certainly be brought down and humbled. The Lord Himself would bring them down (vs3­4).

A false sense of security is always a consequence of pride. "Having it made" in looks or athletic ability or career success (even in the ministry) often gives rise to pride. (See Hosea 13:6.) Invariably associated with that pride is the "Edom attitude"--I am above and superior to those around me and therefore invulnerable. No one can touch me and nothing can hold me back. Even God would have a hard time pulling me down! Do you know any students or professional people like that? Is it possible that we exhibit such an attitude when things are all going our way? Has the arrogance of our own hearts deceived us? Remember that "Pride goes before a fall" (Proverbs 16:18). The prophecy of Obadiah to Edom is God's Word to us.

Another reason for the rise of pride in Edom was her wealth and wisdom. The nation of Edom was located at a crossroads of the ancient world. Trade routes from Egypt and the Gulf of Aqaba in the south merged in Edom with northern routes coming from Syria and Mesopotamia. The well-known King's Highway, which Edom refused to let Israel use (Numbers 20:14­22), was one of these trade routes. As a result of her considerable control over the trade of the ancient world, Edom grew rich. And as an international crossroads with constant break-throughs and up-to-date knowledge in technology and advances in every field of learning, Edom was full of worldly wisdom.

The wealth and wisdom of Edom made her a proud and conceited nation. But again the Lord declared that she would be humbled (vs5­9). She would be robbed of her wealth. Most thieves don't take everything, but Edom's conquerors would completely ransack and clean out the descendants of Esau (vs5-6). Her allies would become her plunderers (v7). And Edom's wisdom would also come to nothing. The counsel and understanding of her wise men would vanish because Edom would be no more (vs8-9).

The fulfillment of Obadiah's prophecy against Edom can be seen today. A visit to the ruins of Petra (in modern Jordan), the capital of ancient Edom, is convincing proof of the accuracy of Bible prophecy. The former grandeur of this strategic city can still be envisioned as one approaches this "inaccessible" mountain citadel. The magnificent ruins of the once-proud city are entered through a narrow canyon which cuts between towering walls of sheer rock. But the streets and buildings of this ghostly city have long since been deserted. The arrogant nation and people of Edom have all disappeared in fulfillment of God's prophetic Word through Obadiah.

We all know that the accumulation of wealth and wisdom by people today may result in pride. And growing Christians are not immune to this problem. Disparities in economic and academic status are leading causes of factions within churches and fellowship groups. And behind this status-consciousness is the sin of pride. If you think you are free of pride in these areas, try fellowshipping with believers who are less fortunate than you are as to money or brains and see if you can avoid a feeling of condescension. A clear warning to Christians who are proud because of their accumulations is found in the message to the lukewarm Church of Laodicea. "You say, `I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing.' But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked" (Revelation 3:17).

Even the accumulation of biblical knowledge and spiritual truth can give rise to pride! Do we view Christians of other evangelical churches or groups or ministries as being in a somewhat inferior position with God compared to us? Do we (almost unconsciously) look down on fellow believers who don't have as good a grasp of doctrine as we do? Spiritual pride can be most subtle, but it is no more acceptable with the Lord than any other form of pride. It too must fall under the judgment of God. Obadiah's prophecy of judgment on Edom is certainly a warning to the people of God today.

The people of Edom were not only guilty of a superior attitude--they were guilty of sinful actions as well (vs10­14). When their brothers (the people of Judah were descendants of Jacob, the twin brother of Esau) were invaded, they stood by and gloated over their distress (vs11-12). Not only did they cheer on the attackers of Jerusalem, but they actually participated in the looting (v13). Furthermore, they blocked the escape of the fleeing fugitives and either killed them or imprisoned them (v14).

Although the date of the invasion of Jerusalem mentioned by Obadiah cannot be pinpointed (there were several invasions of Jerusalem in Old Testament times), the point of Obadiah's prophecy cannot be missed. The cruel actions of the Edomites were inexcusable and would be judged (vs15-21). Edom could not escape God's standards of judgment for the nations. "As you have done, it will be done to you. Your dealings will return on your own head." (v15). In contrast to the prediction of judgment on Edom was the prophecy of future blessing on Israel--the very people the Edomites had gloated over and despised (v17). The descendants of Jacob would actually possess the territory of the descendants of Esau and the House of Esau would be no more (vs18-19).

At the end of his prophecy, Obadiah foretold that the complete fulfillment of the prophecy in all its details would await the coming of the Lord's kingdom on earth (v21). However, the prophecy of Edom's destruction began to be fulfilled as early as the Babylonian invasion of this area under Nebuchadnezzar in the 6th century BC. (Obadiah may have written as early as the 9th century BC.) Then, during the 5th and 4th centuries BC, the Arabs known as the Nabataeans drove the Edomites out of their mountain strongholds and into the area south of Judea known as Idumea. During the Maccabean times of the 2nd century BC, Obadiah's prophecy was further fulfilled when the Jews subdued the Idumeans and forced them to accept Judaism. Although the notorious Herods were Idumeans, by the time of the 1st century AD, the identity of the House of Esau had been lost completely.

The rise and fall of pride follows the same pattern in nations today as in ancient Edom. With growth and prosperity comes a superior attitude. Along with this vanity comes a heartless aloofness to the crying needs of other peoples. In fact, when rival nations make mistakes or experience calamity, national gloating sometimes takes place--masked, of course, by token public statements of official sympathy. It isn't long before proud nations take cruel action against the dissidents within the nation or against other less powerful nations. Such sinful actions call for God's judgment. The humiliating fall of the proud nation may be somewhat delayed because of God's patience and long-suffering, but it does come. History is filled with illustrations. The rise and fall of the Third Reich is only one obvious example. Russia is following the "Edom pattern" today. (See Ezekiel 38 and 39 for the final chapters in Russia's rise and fall pattern.) Has our own nation fallen into the Edom pattern? Let us pray that we would be preserved from reaching the point of no return.

The way of pride takes the same course in individuals as in nations. Words and actions that hurt other people go hand in hand with a superior attitude. Secret gloating over rivals when they blow it or suffer a setback is a step in the direction of cruelty. Unchecked pride makes it easier and easier to take advantage of and step on people. And Christians are not blameless in this area either. It is shameful and a smear on the name of Christ when proud Christians cut one another down with derogatory comments and hurtful actions. Let us be careful that such deadly pride is not on the rise in our own hearts.

God's way of dealing with such sin has not changed since the time of Obadiah's prophecy. God's rule of judgment in verse 15 is repeated in the New Testament in Galatians 6:7. "Whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap." The fall of pride is as certain as its rise. No nation or corporation or individual can change the way God deals with pride. It would be a good thing for all of us to periodically read the book of Obadiah so that we would be aware and warned of the dangers of pride.
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