“We’re on a Mission from God.” Quick, name the movie! It was Jake and Elwood in The Blues Brothers (1980) who used this line to justify their zany, law-breaking antics. In way that only he could, John Belushi delivered that line and since then, fans have tried to repeat it, saying it just as he did. And those fans have failed.
Iconic – that movie and Belushi’s delivery of that line; this is ‘iconic’ in American movie lore. But is the line anything more than a pretext to “put the band back together?”
“We’re on a Mission from God.” When someone in real life and not in a fictitious story says, “We’re on a Mission from God,” what do they mean?
Mission from God. Are people really sent on missions from God? Does God actually talk to people and with purpose? Are there real, actual people in the world in which we live today, in 2014, who are truly on a mission from God?
You are reading the ‘honest talk with God’ blog, which you know is written by a pastor who travels to Ethiopia every year believing he is on a mission from God. So, you know my answer to the previous question is of course yes!! Yes, God calls people. If you have read posts of mine on this page, you know I believe followers of Jesus Christ as always on a mission from, even in the normal places of our daily lives. In my role as a preacher and spiritual encourage, I implore people to think about their lives in terms of mission.
Live with purpose. Think about and do two things constantly: (1) Announce that Jesus Christ is Lord, God in the flesh, savior of all (and all people need salvation). And (2), in every relationship and venue of your life as a Christ follower, find opportunities and ways to tell everyone who will listen than in the coming of Jesus, God’s final, eternal Kingdom has arrived and will be fully inaugurated as His second coming. Whatever Christians do, our lives are to be lives announcing that Jesus is Lord and His Kingdom has come.
But, does this overarching purpose help us understand what it means to be on a Mission from God. Kingdom is the long range vision, but how do I understand mission today, as I live right now? In this particular piece, I won’t directly answer this partly because all my writing is an attempt to answer this question. So I will look toward how the average 21st century American lives out the Christian mission, but I won’t offer specifics. Rather, here I want to address God’s invasiveness and assertiveness and most importantly, God’s authority. All this is a response to my reading of the writings of the Old Testament prophet Obadiah.
This of course raises a serious question. I have already said that the core elements of the mission to which every Christian is called are the proclamation of the Lordship of Jesus and the announcement of God’s Kingdom, seen in Jesus’ coming. Put more simply, we say, “Jesus is Lord,” and live as citizens of the Kingdom of God (Philippians 3:20). Obadiah prophesied, probably, in the 6th century BC, shortly after Judah was overrun by the Babylonians. The leaders of Judah were either killed or taken as slaves into exile in Babylon where they would stay through the end of the Babylonian empire and into the Persian period, a span of 70 years. Those left in Judah, the poor and landless were derided and taken advantage of by their distant kinsman and geographic neighbors, the Edomites. Obadiah’s short prophecy is a word of God against Edom for Edom’s sin of piling on God’s people when they had already clearly been punished by Babylon.
Obviously, Obadiah has a very specific context – 6th century BC Judah. The target of Obadiah is Edom, the recipient of a very angry word from God. Is it not obvious how removed this is from the early 1st century AD, when God came in human form, died for the sins of all, and then, through the empowering Holy Spirit began a church movement that truly transcended the nationalism that would divide Judah and Edom. In Obadiah’s day, Edom was condemned for evil committed toward Judah. In Jesus’ day and because of whom Jesus is and what he did (crucifixion, resurrection), all are called to God – Edomites, Judeans, Babylonians, Americans, and everyone else. So how does the person who is “in Christ” learn about God from such a specific and ancient prophecy like Obadiah?
Obadiah was on a mission from God. Unlike Jake and Elwood, Obadiah was a real person in history, not a goofy movie character. Obadiah may seem like he’s unreal because he is so removed from present-day cultural understandings. And there are scholars who question what we can really know about the man for whom the prophecy is named. But, I trust that while Obadiah as a historical person is basically unknowable, there was someone by this name who live in Judah during the exile and spoke this angry prophecy. Equally, I believe that while he came before Christ and likely had no idea that Christ was coming, Obadiah’s words were Holy Spirit inspired, so the truth about God transcends Obadiah’s specific historical situation.
He begins, “The vision of Obadiah. Thus says the Lord God concerning Edom” (Ob. 1).[i] “Lord God” comes from ‘Adonay Yahweh.’ Yahweh ties to Moses’ very first encounter with the Lord. And Adonay denotes God’s sovereignty, God’s absolute authority. Obadiah gives the highest attribution to God he could give. In other words, his mission comes from the top. The Contemporary English Version renders this “The Lord gave Obadiah a message about Edom.” It was not a happy message.
Even so, with it, the first connection to Jesus becomes clear. In the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus, we see God acting in history. The sovereign God, the ruler and creator of the universe, is at work. The evidence is what Jesus said and did, and who Jesus is. Similarly, though in a much more localized way, when Obadiah speaks his prophecy, God is acting in history. In both cases, it is same God. So all who worship and follow that God ought to listen, learn, and live according to what is said.
The nations report that God is summoning them, calling them to battle against Edom (end of verse 1). “The Lord said, I will make you the weakest and most despised nation” (Ob. 2).
Imagine you are an ancient Edomite walking in the ruins that once was Jerusalem. The city, after being burned by Babylonian forces, is not much more than rubble. But this firebrand of a prophet stands on a toppled bit of rock that serves as his pulpit. A crowd has gathered and you join him to hear the angry man’s sermon. Only, to your horror, you realize he’s reporting that God has judged you, the Edomite, and sentenced you for destruction. How does that feel? Do you dismiss him as a desperately crazy Jew? Does his word spike your heart with fear?
If we step back and receive Obadiah’s word as word of God (and we should do just that) we have to ask: why is such divine vitriol leveled against this small ancient Middle Eastern people? Obadiah tells us. “You were cruel to your relatives, the descendants of Jacob” (Ob. 10a). “You stood there and watched as foreigners entered Jerusalem and took what they wanted. In fact, you were no better than those foreigners. 12 Why did you celebrate when such a dreadful disaster struck your relatives? Why were you so pleased when everyone in Judah was suffering” (Ob. 11-12).
As Jerusalem burned, Edom cheered. Certainly this goes back to the enmity between Esau (for whom Edom is named; Genesis 25:30) and his brother Jacob (whose 12 sons were the progenitors of the 12 tribes of Israel). From the time the younger twin stole the birthright from the older (Genesis 25:29-34); the peoples descended from each man have hated each other. Additionally, for Edom it would have appeared advantageous to side with the might of Babylon. But Edom forgot the might of God and their own heritage.
Here we cite another connection. When we are in Christ, we are the people of God. If we, Christ followers, forget who we are and live as people of the world, we will suffer for it. This is put beautifully in 1st John 1:5-9.
5 Jesus told us that God is light and doesn’t have any darkness in him. Now we are telling you.
6 If we say that we share in life with God and keep on living in the dark, we are lying and are not living by the truth. 7 But if we live in the light, as God does, we share in life with each other. And the blood of his Son Jesus washes all our sins away. 8 If we say that we have not sinned, we are fooling ourselves, and the truth isn’t in our hearts. 9 But if we confess our sins to God, he can always be trusted to forgive us and take our sins away.
10 If we say that we have not sinned, we make God a liar, and his message isn’t in our hearts.[b]
God is the light. To receive Jesus and then return to darkness is to deny our very selves. It is abominably stupid and abominably bad. We are in Christ so we are in the light and should live in the light and according to the light.
The Edomites were not Jews, but they were cousins. They were not descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, but of Abraham, Isaac, and Esau. They knew who God was and is. They knew the stories of how God sees. They joined the bully, Babylon, piled on the victim, Judah, and turned their own backs on God.
What if, when Babylon invaded, instead of seeing it as an opportunity to stick it to Judah, Edom did the opposite? What if Edom had mounted their war horses and come to fight Babylon and aid Judah? Would Edom have been slaughtered too? Maybe. It would have been a fool’s errand for anyone to stand in the face of Babylon’s might. Maybe they would have joined Judah in exile. Maybe Edom would have been steamrolled.
But maybe, and I think more likely, God would have noticed Edom’s courage and faith. God would have laid protection over Edom as God saw them stand for God’s purposes and God’s people. Maybe Edom would be now renowned for their faithfulness.
Instead, Edom is a footnote in the Old Testament. The prophet Obadiah rails against Edom, but how many people, especially Christians, even read this book, the shortest in the Old Testament? Edom, because of giving in to the impulse to heap cruel taunts on her beaten rival, is in the crosshairs of God’s wrath and the story is told in a book of the Bible that the lectionary ignores and few believers read.
But we should. We should read Obadiah. This prophet in a small but forceful voice asserts that God is Lord – the Lord who sees every sin and deals with each one. God is Sovereign. The Old Testament message is that Judah went to exile for her sins. Yes, Babylon was the vehicle, but God was the cause. In time, God dealt with Babylon. And for God, a side story like Edom was as worthy of attention as the main event.
We do not slip past God’s notice, not ever. From Obadiah to Jesus, we have noted two points of connection: (1) we, like the Jews of ancient Judah, are the people of God. Because of Jesus, we are the people of God. (2) Like Edom, also descended from God’s chosen one, Abraham, we have a choice. We can live in reverence of the God we know to be true (live in the light as 1 John 1:5-7 says), or we can act as if God is uninvolved. Edom chose this second option and as a result fell under the judgment and verdict Obadiah delivered.
When we read Obadiah and hear it as word of God, we recognize that the prophet is on that mission from God. His mission is to proclaim God’s authority. He promises that in the end, justice will be served and God’s chosen will be with God on God’s mountain (Ob. 21). However, those who oppose or taunt and deride the broken and fallen, God will judge and punish them. Obadiah was sent to declare these things with prophetic authority.
We are left with our imagination. What would it have been like if Edom has stood with Judah?
We are left with questions. Are we guilty of acting as if God could care less about how we live? Are we ignoring, failing to help or even heaping pain upon those around us who are already beaten, already hurting? Are making the choice Edom made which landed Edom in the path of God’s anger?
Finally, we are left with our imagination. What if? “What if” questions should always accompany our reading and living of scripture. What if we read Obadiah, imagine Edom, and then imagine how the story would go if Edom had done the opposite and instead stood with God’s people? What if we today, diligently search until we see where God is active and who God loves, and what if we go there and love them? What would the prophet say to us if we acted the opposite of how Edom acted?