With the new year arriving, many of us probably have taken the time to reflect on our spiritual growth and development over the past year. This is also the time of year where many of us plan our Bible studies for the rest of the year. Last year, my wife and I went through three general studies: The Johannine writings (Gospel of John; 1, 2, and 3 John; and Revelation), the Petrine writings (Mark; 1 and 2 Peter), and what we called “The Jewish Books of the New Testament” (Matthew; Hebrews; James; and Jude). We also spent time doing an overview of the prophets during times of family worship.
The Necessity of the Preached Word
In thinking about what I will be studying for this year, I reflected on two articles. The first article came out on the Gospel Coalition blog which is entitled Why Preaching is Still Relevant. Part of the article addresses a common sentiment in our nation that says “Don’t preach to me”. Therefore, the basic question is how should churches respond to this? Is there a wiser, more effective alternative to the old-fashioned pulpit preacher? I think there are some who have answered the question by saying that they are teachers not preachers. However, I agree with Miguel Nunez who said
Preaching will always be relevant because there is no higher or better opinion than the voice of God… As long as we are creatures and he is the Creator, we’re going to be in need of what He has revealed.
Unlike teaching, preaching demands a certain response; it’s about calling forth, whether it’s exhortation, a call to action, or a call to repentance. You can see the video below
The second article came from the Reformation21 blog which is entitled Why is So Much Preaching So Poor. In the article, Carl Trueman address this question by giving eight theological, cultural, and technical reasons. His first reason resonated with me the most and is similar to the discussion in the above video. In addressing the theological reason for poor preaching, Carl Trueman says
First, the theological: to preach well, the preacher has to understand what he is doing. Understanding what a task is is basic to performing the task well. If you think that preaching is about communicating information or providing entertainment or fostering a conversation, that will shape how you preach. The greatest danger for seminary students is that they assume the lectures they hear in class are the model for the sermons they are to deliver from the pulpit. They are not. Preaching is a theological act. The preacher finds his counterpart not in the lecture theatre or the classroom or, most ghastly of all, on the stand-up comedy circuit. He finds him in the Old Testament prophets, bringing a confrontational word from the Lord which explains reality and demands a response.
In looking at my own spiritual development over the year, I’ve realized that I’ve spent a good deal of time reading through much of New Testament for the purpose of properly understanding what scripture teaches. Because of that, I’ve become more prone to gravitate towards and listen to those who identify themselves as teachers. I realize that I haven’t heard much preaching lately. So in planning my Bible reading, I’ve decided to thoroughly study the Old Testament prophets. In thinking about the Old Testament prophets, there aren’t many exegetical challenges that immediately come to mind (in comparison to New Testament passages). However, the prophets are the mouthpiece of God and their words demand a response. They are not simply communicating new information, but rather, they are invoking a response whether it’s through direct exhortation, consolation, encouragement, parable, or physical demonstrations.
In thinking about this study, I’ve decided to do a chronological study of the prophets and so the first prophet that I’ve studied so far has been Obadiah. As many OT prophets, Obadiah speaks about God’s judgment toward His covenant people (in this prophecy Israel is already under judgment), God’s retributive judgment against the nations (in this prophecy Edom is the object of God’s wrath) who oppose God’s covenant people, and God’s restoration of His covenant people because of His faithfulness.
It doesn’t take long at all to read through Obadiah’s prophecy (it’s only 21 verses) and the major themes are rather easy to follow. There are no major interpretive challenges in the letter, but the point here is not to develop doctrinal statements. This prophecy is meant to invoke a response from Edom and from Israel.
The Certainty of God’s Judgment
Concerning Edom, Obadiah’s point is clear: judgment is coming and it is inevitable. It doesn’t matter how well Edom tries to protect themselves or how much hope that have in their normally inaccessible location. Obadiah clearly states that the Edomites have false hopes of invincibility and they will be humbled by God.
Behold, I will make you small among the nations;
you shall be utterly despised.
The pride of your heart has deceived you,
you who live in the clefts of the rock,
in your lofty dwelling,
who say in your heart,
“Who will bring me down to the ground?”
Though you soar aloft like the eagle,
though your nest is set among the stars,
from there I will bring you down,
declares the Lord.
Moreover, Obadiah emphasizes how thorough God’s judgment will be. Edom will be thoroughly plundered with nothing remaining. All of their hidden treasures will be ransacked and plundered; all of their allies will turn against them; all of their pacts with other nations will become worthless; all of their hopes as a nation will be cut off as all of the men will be killed in judgment (cf. Obadiah 5-9).
In reading this, I’m reminded of the fullness of God’s wrath against sin and sinners. I’m gripped with the reality that no sin can escape God’s sight and that apart from Christ, we are storing up God’s wrath. I wonder how many people truly believe that God will not execute perfect judgment towards sin. I’m reminded of the warning given in Hebrews: if every transgression received a just retribution in the Old Covenant, how much severer will punishment be in the New Covenant. In light of this, I examine myself to see if I properly fear God in light of the reality of His judgment. Moreover, I examine my heart to see if I’m truly striving with all of God’s grace to put sin to death inside of me. (For a great definition of sin, see John Piper’s quote or listen to this song).
Again, as Obadiah has stated, God’s judgment is inevitable; the day of the Lord draws near. The nations who have opposed God’s people and have lived in constant rebellion will face His judgment. Consider the picture that Obadiah paints.
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 own head.
For as you have drunk on my holy mountain,
so all the nations shall drink continually;
they shall drink and swallow,
and shall be as though they had never been.
But in Mount Zion there shall be those who escape,
and it shall be holy,
and the house of Jacob shall possess their own possessions.
The house of Jacob shall be a fire,
and the house of Joseph a flame,
and the house of Esau stubble;
they shall burn them and consume them,
and there shall be no survivor for the house of Esau,
for the Lord has spoken.
There’s only one question that comes to mind after reading this: Who can stand? Again, if God’s wrath was this thorough in the Old Testament towards His covenant people, how much severer will His wrath be towards those who have spurned His Son and His bride, the Church (cf. Hebrews 10:29-31; Revelation 7:15-17)? It is no longer a secret that the Church is being persecuted around the world. There are many believers who are being martyred around the world for confessing Christ, and it appears that God’s people are not being vindicated. Moreover, there are those who rejoice over these events, just as Edom rejoiced over Israel’s calamity and distress (cf. Obadiah 10-14). However, there is coming a day when God will perfectly execute His justice towards those who directly opposed His covenant people and thoroughly save His people. This day has already come for Edom, and it will come when Christ perfectly executes His justice.
The Certainty of God’s Redemption
Just as Obadiah paints a picture of God’s perfectly thorough and exacting judgment, he also paints a picture of God’s thorough redemption of His people. Obadiah’s final words tell of a glorious future for God’s covenant people.
Those of the Negeb shall possess Mount Esau,
and those of the Shephelah shall possess the land of the Philistines;
they shall possess the land of Ephraim and the land of Samaria,
and Benjamin shall possess Gilead.
The exiles of this host of the people of Israel
shall possess the land of the Canaanites as far as Zarephath,
and the exiles of Jerusalem who are in Sepharad
shall possess the cities of the Negeb.
Saviors shall go up to Mount Zion
to rule Mount Esau,
and the kingdom shall be the Lord’s.
The remnant of the Jews will escape to Mount Zion, which is a picture of God’s people taking refuge in Him and being delivered from the wrath of God. This is such a beautiful picture of God’s grace because this is not because of the goodness of the Jews. The Israelites were already under judgment for their idolatry and their rebellion against God, but it’s God’s determination to save His people. He is the one who provides the refuge for His people. This dwelling on Mount Zion then becomes a foretaste for us, who gather around the greater temple – Christ Jesus. The possessions that the Jews receive is a foretaste of the inheritance that we receive in Christ, and ultimately, this end-time redemptive reign will be consummated with His coming.
Again, there are no interpretative challenges here. This is God’s encouragement and consolation towards us. Obadiah’s final words deepens my appreciation of the gospel. I am thoroughly aware of my sin and the condition that my sin has placed me in. I am aware that I deserve to remain in this state of misery that my sin has produced, but here we see the wondrous grace of God in promising redemption. The work of Christ has cleansed me from sin’s guilt, but His Word promises that I will be cleansed from sin’s power as well. If I believe that God’s wrath is certain and inevitable as promised in His Word, then His promises of redemption are also true.