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How Do We Reconcile Obadiah 12 With Psalm 137? | Q&A


Question:


Obadiah 12–14 relates how Edom is judged for standing aloof and rejoicing in their brothers’ downfall, participating in the looting, cutting off, and turning over the survivors over to their enemies. My question is how do you reconcile this with the imprecatory psalms such as Psalm 137 where the psalmist is rejoicing at the downfall of their enemies?

Answer:

Although the imprecatory psalms (psalms invoking judgment or curses upon enemies) and the judgment in Obadiah appear on the surface to be at odds, the subject is actually the same in both—righteousness. Let’s examine the subject of Obadiah first and then consider the more general issue of righteousness and the present dispensation where the grace of God is predominant.

Edom was “brother” to Israel. This is the key issue in Obadiah. If God would bring judgment upon Israel for their sins, that was an issue between God and His child Israel. In the case before Obadiah, the instrument of God’s discipline was Babylon. Another example is that of Assyria as described in Isaiah 10:5, 6. These are interesting examples showing how God uses nations to discipline Israel. Yet, they are responsible to act only according to God’s will.

For someone else, especially a family member, to interfere on either side of that dispute was inappropriate. Think of a father disciplining his son or daughter and one of the other siblings interferes seeking either to accuse or to excuse the offending sibling. The father would deal with the interference first and then continue with the discipline of the original offender. In a similar way, Edom was guilty of interfering to take advantage of his brother. This is a particularly important issue today as we see nations taking sides either in support or in opposition to Israel. God will deal with all these nations in a day that is soon approaching.

There are a number of imprecatory psalms[1] and they all represent a plea for justice in one form or other. There is a great cry in the world today for justice. Skeptics commonly accuse God of injustice or base their arguments for their atheism on the lack of justice in the world. The irony of this is that the world wants justice, but according to its own conception, not according to the true righteousness of God. The justice that the world desires would end in the worst possible tyranny. This was demonstrated by the sad international-political history of the 20th Century. Only justice which is based on God’s truth can be truly peaceful and prosperous. That is the justice that the psalms plead for. This can only exist under the rule of the true Shepherd-King, the Lord Jesus Christ, during the Millennium.

Yet, even this justice is in contrast to a proper Christian perspective. Here it is necessary to recognize that the Dispensation (or, Age) of Grace characterizes our present attitudes and behavior. So, while the imprecatory psalms may look forward to true righteousness being displayed on earth, the sentiments that they express are still out of place at the present time.

The salvation of God has been manifested by the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ and that is the message we convey to the world now. The Lord’s own words on the cross express this: “Father forgive them they know not what they do” (Lk. 23:34; see also Acts 7:60; Rom. 12:19; 1 Pet. 2:23). Seeing the evil and pain in the world, we may long for righteousness to be displayed. But, that must follow the judgment of the present world system (Rev. 11:18). Only God knows what that will entail and He is patient not willing that any should perish (2 Pet. 3:9). We are to have the mind of God, which is at this time to preach the gospel of salvation throughout the world (Matt. 28:18–20).


[1] Some major imprecatory psalms are 5, 10, 17, 35, 58, 59, 69, 70, 79, 83, 109, 129, 137, and 140.

By Roy Touzeau

Roy Touzeau is a regular teacher at Grace and Truth Gathering in Portland, Oregon where he has been faithfully attending since 1981. He was instrumental in founding Principles in Focus, an annual biblically focused retreat for young people. Roy and his wife Pamela have been married for forty-nine years and enjoy visiting their children and grandchildren and studying God’s creation using Roy’s eight-inch telescope.

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