“For the day of the LORD is near upon all the nations. As you have done, it shall be done to you; your deeds shall return on your head” (Obadiah 15)
One of the things I love about a study bible is that it helps me understand the context of the book I’m reading. I really needed it this morning as my daily reading took me to Obadiah. Let’s face it, some books of the Bible are easier to understand than others, and quite frankly, easier to find. Obadiah is only twenty-one verses long and if you weren’t specifically looking for it, you might pass right by it. However, whether it’s a long book or a short book, often read and studied or not, Old Testament or New, all of Scripture is God’s Word and therefore profitable to us. And as I studied Obadiah this morning, I realized how relevant a message it has for Christians today.
The primary themes of Obadiah are God’s just judgment against His enemies and His faithfulness and mercy towards His people. The exact date of Obadiah’s prophesy is difficult to determine, but it concerns imminent judgment on Edom, Israel’s longtime enemy, for their part in a military assault on Jerusalem. Obadiah’s reference to “the day of the LORD” is of the day when God will bring judgment to His enemies and blessing and salvation to His people.
Sometimes we shy away from certain parts of Scripture because of a lack of familiarity or a perception that they’re not relevant for today. This is where a study bible can be useful in helping our understanding. Through Obadiah, God pronounced judgment on Edom for the evil they perpetrated against Israel, but at the same time reassured Israel of His faithfulness in spite of their circumstances. God is always faithful to His people. In times when it may appear that evil has an upper hand and living out our faith in Christ is difficult, we must remember, God is sovereign and His justice will reign. My study bible expresses it this way, “It is the righteous purpose of God, not the evil of men that determines history”. Though our faith may sometimes be weak, our God is not. He is always at work for us and we can trust Him in all things and under all circumstances.
“[Let no one] be moved by these afflictions. For you yourselves know that we are destined for this” (1 Thessalonians 3:3)
In his book Desiring God, John Piper uses an analogy of a camera to help explain the idea in which God sees our suffering. He says that on one hand, God uses a narrow lens in which He looks and grieves with us as we undergo suffering. This is often the only lens you and I see through. But according to Piper, God also uses another lens, a wide-angle lens in which He sees beyond the immediate situation. This is the lens that sees what has occurred before and what will result from this moment, ultimately working for our good and God’s glory. This “good” may be realized in our lives as God works out the circumstances, or it may only be realized in death.
Paul knew about suffering. It was a topic he wrote about in almost all of his letters. He knew its purpose and the importance of teaching that purpose to others. He also demonstrated the proper response to it. Through his suffering, Paul knew his strength came from the Lord. Jesus was Paul’s reason for living. To see Him magnified was his passion. But Paul also knew that to die was gain (Philippians 1:21). As he wrote his final words in 2 Timothy 4:6-8, he was comforted knowing he had fought the good fight, finished the race and kept the faith. He also knew what awaited him—a crown of righteousness. That was worth everything Paul had endured in his life and it will be worth everything suffering may cost you in your life as well.
So how do we respond in times of suffering? We trust God. He is sovereign. We allow His Word and His Spirit to penetrate our shaken and shattered lives. We live each day in view of eternity knowing that no amount of suffering can compare to glory (Romans 8:18). And we trust that His grace is sufficient to see us through (2 Corinthians 12:9).
Oswald Chambers once wrote “It is only a faithful person who truly believes that God sovereignly controls his circumstances. We take our circumstances for granted, saying God is in control, but not really believing it. We act as if things that happen were completely controlled by people. God may cause our circumstances to suddenly fall apart, which may bring the realization of our unfaithfulness to Him for not recognizing that He had ordained the situation. We never saw what He was trying to accomplish, and the exact event will never be repeated in our life. This is where the test of faithfulness comes. If we will just learn to worship God even during the difficult circumstances, He will change them for the better very quickly if He so chooses.” This quote is found in the December 18th devotion entitled Test of Faithfulness from his devotional My Utmost for His Highest. The key passage for this devotion is Romans 8:28, “And we know that for those who love God all things work together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose”.
If you’ve never read Oswald Chamber’s, you should. You’ll be blessed by his writing. It was ten years ago today that I got up that morning and read this devotion. Later that same day, I waited by the phone for a call to find out whether or not I still had a job with the company I had worked for sixteen years. When the call came, I found out I didn’t. I’ve always been struck by God’s graciousness in providing these words to me that morning. I needed them. I still need them. More and more, I realize it has always been about God’s faithfulness and not my own. In fact, in spite of my unfaithfulness, His still remains. I’m encouraged by that. I hope you are as well.
God’s sovereignty doesn’t always play out the way we had hoped for, but His faithfulness during difficult times is everything we could hope for. God is good. And every situation He ordains in our lives is ultimately for our good. Although that good might look a little different than what we might have envisioned, we can always trust His ways. The question is, will we? Will we be faithful and worship Him even during the difficult times?
“He who calls you is faithful” (1 Thessalonians 5:24)
“But the Lord is faithful. He will establish you and guard you against the evil one” (2 Thessalonians 3:3)
“…if we are faithless, He remains faithful” (2 Timothy 2:13)
“God is faithful, by whom you were called into the fellowship of His Son, Jesus Christ our Lord” (1 Corinthians 1:9)
“Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for He who promised is faithful” (Hebrews 10:23)
“So it was not you who sent me here, but God” (Genesis 45:8)
For all Joseph’s brothers subjected him to, it would have been easy for bitterness to consume him. His brothers wanted to kill him, but instead sold him into slavery in Egypt. He was seventeen. They did it because they were jealous of how much their father Jacob loved Joseph. It didn’t help matters that Joseph also told them of his dream, a dream that they would one day bow down to him. It only made them hate him more. Joseph’s brothers sought to do, and did evil to Joseph.
For a large part of his life, Joseph was cheated out of many things he might have enjoyed; the opportunity to spend time with his family, including his younger brother whom he had never met and the father he loved greatly. He was also subjected to various challenging circumstances along the way. But whatever the circumstance, Joseph always found favor with God and in the end was reunited with his brothers and his father. God’s great purpose for Joseph was to preserve the Hebrew people, a remnant on earth (Genesis 45:7). The complete Joseph narrative is found in Genesis 37-50.
Scripture teaches that for those who love God, all things work together for good (Romans 8:28). But good doesn’t always mean easy. Joseph’s life is testimony of this truth. During his times of testing, Joseph exhibited faithful obedience and trust in the Lord each step of the way. He recognized that what his brothers meant for evil, God meant for good (Genesis 50:20). He grasped the important truth that everything that happens, happens only under the sovereign hand of God.
Evil is real, life is full of storms and sometimes our circumstances can be overwhelming. This can lead to bitterness. But our God is greater. Trusting in His sovereignty is not only a help when evil dawns, but also comforts through life’s storms and protects us by keeping bitterness from taking root, robbing us of the joy of our salvation. God’s sovereignty puts perspective around our circumstances. People and circumstances may come against you, but as He was with Joseph, God is with you. Be faithful to obey and trust in the Lord’s sovereignty knowing that He is working both for your good and His glory.