(Calvin, Commentary on ObadiahLecture Seventieth. , part 3)

    We observed in our yesterday's Lecture, that it nothing avails 
the ungodly, when they set up their fortresses against the judgment 
of God, as though they could escape safe from his hand; for as God 
has heaven and earth under his control, he can, whenever it pleases 
him, draw down all who now despise his power, and, therefore, deride 
his Prophets, or regard as nothing their threatening. This passage 
then ought to be carefully noticed; for God declares that it is in 
his power to draw down from the very clouds those who so raise 
themselves up, as to think themselves to be elevated above all 
dangers. The Prophet now says - 
Obadiah 1:5 
If thieves came to thee, if robbers by night, (how art thou cut 
off!) would they not have stolen till they had enough? if the 
grapegatherers came to thee, would they not leave [some] grapes? 
    The Prophet shows in this verse that the calamity with which 
God was resolved to afflict the Idumeans would not be slight, for 
nothing would be left among them; and he amplifies what he says by a 
comparison. When one is plundered of his property by thieves, he 
grieves, that what he had acquired by much labour through life, has 
been in one moment taken from him: and when any one has spent labour 
and expense in cultivating his vineyard, and another takes away its 
fruit, he complains of his great misfortune, that he had lost his 
property and big labour in the cultivation of his vineyard, while 
another devours its fruit. But the Prophet intimates that God would 
not be content with such kind of punishment as to the Idumeans. 
    Hence he says, "Have night thieves or robbers come to thee?" 
They must doubtless have stolen, and have taken away what they 
thought sufficient for them; but now nothing shall be left to thee. 
In short, the Prophet intimates that the Assyrians would not be like 
thieves or night robbers, who stealthily and privately take away 
what comes to their hands; but he means, that the Idumeans would be 
so plundered, that their houses would be left wholly empty, and he 
declares that the Assyrians would thus spoil them like night thieves 
or robbers, who are wont to proceed with unbridled liberty; for none 
dares to resist them, or even to say a word against them. This 
plundering then will not be, says the Prophet, of an ordinary kind; 
but the enemies will make thee entirely empty. 
    The same is the object in view when he says, "Have vintagers 
come to thee?" To be sure, they commonly leave some clusters; but 
the Assyrians will leave, no, not one: they shall depart so laden 
with plunders, that thou shalt be left empty. 
    But all this, as we have reminded you, was said in order to 
alleviate or to mitigate the grief of the faithful, who then deemed 
themselves very miserable, as they were alone plundered by enemies; 
for they saw that their neighbours were dwelling in safety, and even 
becoming partakers of the spoil. Their condition therefore was very 
miserable and degraded. Hence the Prophet, that he might moderate 
this bitter grief, says, that the Idumeans would in no common way be 
plundered, for not a hair could be left them. This is the import of 
the passage. 
    But some regard the verb "nidmeitah" as signifying, "Thou art 
reduced to silence;" for the verb "dum" or "damah" means to be 
silent: and they give this exposition, "How dost thou not endeavor 
at least to meet thine enemies?" for they take "to be silent" in the 
sense of being still, as "damah" is often so taken in Scripture, 
"How then have they been silent?" but he speaks of the future in the 
past tense, as though God had already inflicted punishment on the 
Idumeans, that faith in the prediction might be made more certain: 
thou hast been reduced to silence, that is, how couldest thou remain 
quiet on seeing thine enemies plundering with so much violence - how 
then hast thou been reduced to silence? Others say, How hast thou 
been consumed? for "damah" often means to destroy. But to this point 
belongs no great importance; for the Prophet means, that it could 
not be ascribed to chance, that enemies would destroy the whole land 
of Edom, for the cruel assault would by no means be of an ordinary 
kind: and then as the Idumeans thought that an entrance to their 
enemies was on every side closed up, as they inhabited the summits 
of mountains, according to what I have already said, and that they 
were most safe in their recesses and lofty rocks, the Prophet here 
sets it forth as a wonderful thing that God's judgment would yet 
reach them. Let us proceed - 
Obadiah 1:6 
How are [the things] of Esau searched out! [how] are his hidden 
things sought up! 
    He confirms the former sentence, - that the Idumeans in vain 
trusted that their riches would be safe, because they had hidden and 
deep recesses. Even when a country is plundered by enemies, the 
conquerors dare not to come to places of danger; when there are 
narrow passes, they avoid them, for they think that there is there 
some evil design. Hence conquerors, fearing hidden places, plunder 
only those which are open, and always consider well whether their 
advance is safe: but Idumea, as we have said, had hidden recesses, 
for its rocks were almost inaccessible, and there were many 
conveniences there for hiding and concealing its riches. But the 
Prophet says, that all this would be useless: and that he might more 
effectually rouse them, he speaks with astonishment, as of something 
incredible. "How have been sought the things of Esau, and thoroughly 
searched his hidden places!" Who could have thought this? for they 
might have concealed their treasures in rocks and caverns, and 
thence repelled their enemies. But in vain would be all their 
attempts: how could this possibly be? Here then he awakens the minds 
of men, that they might acknowledge the judgment of God; and at the 
same time he laughs to scorn the vain confidence with which the 
Idumeans were inflated; and besides, he strengthens the minds of the 
godly, that they might not doubt but that God would perform what he 
declares, for he can indeed penetrate even to the lowest deep. 
    In short, the Prophet intimates that the faithful did not act 
wisely, if they measured God's vengeance, which was impending on the 
Idumeans, by their own understanding or by what usually happens; for 
the Lord would make a thorough search, so that no hiding-places 
would escape his sight; and then all their treasures would be 
exposed as a prey to their enemies. We hence learn, that as men in 
vain seek hiding places for themselves that they may be safe from 
dangers; so in vain they conceal their riches; for the hand of God 
can penetrate beyond the sea, land, heaven, and the lowest deep. 
Nothing then remains for us but ever to offer ourselves and all our 
things to God. If he protects us under his wings, we shall be safe 
in the midst of innumerable dangers; but if we think that 
subterfuges will be of any avail to us, we deceive ourselves. The 
Prophet now adds - 
Obadiah 1:7,8 
All the men of thy confederacy have brought thee [even] to the 
border: the men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee, 
[and] prevailed against thee; [they that eat] thy bread have laid a 
wound under thee: [there is] none understanding in him. 
Shall I not in that day, saith the LORD, even destroy the wise [men] 
out of Edom, and understanding out of the mount of Esau? 
    Here the Prophet expresses the manner in which God would punish 
the Idumeans: trusting in their confederacies, they despised God, as 
we have already had to observe. The Prophet now shows that it is in 
the power of God to change the minds of men, so that they who were 
their friends being suddenly inflamed with rage, would go forth to 
destroy the Idumeans. Seeing then that they regarded the Assyrians 
not only as a shield to them, but also as a defense against God 
himself, the Prophet here declares that when it would be God's 
purpose to punish them, there would be no need to send to a distance 
for agents or instruments to execute his vengeance; for he would arm 
the Assyrians themselves and the Chaldeans, inasmuch as he could 
turn the hearts of men as he pleased. We now see the Prophet's 
meaning; for he here takes away and shakes off the vain confidence 
of the Idumeans, that they might not harden themselves for being 
fortified by confederacies and for having powerful friends, for the 
Lord would turn friends into enemies. "To thy border, he says, have 
they driven thee". "Shalach" is properly to send forth or to throw 
away; some render it, they have followed; as though the Prophet here 
spoke of the neighboring nations, and according to their view the 
meaning is, "However much thy neighbors may love thee, yet nothing 
will they show of this love, except that they will follow thee with 
feigned tears, when thine enemies shall lead thee away captive." But 
this is a strained exposition, and corresponds not with the context. 
The Prophet then describes here, I doubt not, the change, such as 
would take place, that the Idumeans might know, that they trusted in 
vain in their power and defenses. "The men of thy covenant, he says, 
have driven thee away"; as though he said, "See what thou gainest in 
anxiously seeking the friendship of those who will yet be thy 
enemies; hadst thou remained quiet in thy clefts, it would have been 
much better for thee: but now thou runnest to Assyria and Chaldea, 
and this will be the cause of thy ruin. Hence the men of thy 
covenant shall banish thee to the border: but if thou hadst had no 
friendship nor commerce with them, thou mightest have lived safely 
in thy recesses, no one would have driven thee out: just, then, has 
been the reward of thy ambition, for having thus resorted to the 
Assyrians and Chaldeans." 
    Continuing the same subject, the Prophet says, "Deceived thee 
have the men of thy peace" - friends and confederates; for the 
Hebrews call those men of peace, who are connected together by any 
kind of alliance. The men then of thy peace, that is those whom thou 
thoughtest thou mightest trust, and on whom thou midst rely; - these 
have deceived thee, even these have prevailed against thee, and 
oppressed thee through craft and treachery. "The men of thy bread 
have placed under thee a wound": the men of bread were those who 
were guests or friends. Some give this rendering, "Who eat thy 
bread;" and it is an admissible interpretation, for the Assyrians 
and Chaldeans, as they were insatiable, had taken booty from the 
Idumeans; for whosoever then hunted for their friendship, must have 
brought them some gifts. Since then they thus sold their friendship, 
the Prophet rightly calls them the men of bread with regard to those 
whose substance and wealth they devoured. If then we take the men of 
bread in this sense, there is a probability in the meaning. But we 
may give another interpretation, as though he had said that they 
were guests and friends: these then have fixed under thee a wound, 
that is, they have been thy destruction, and that through guile and 
hidden artifices. When one attacks another openly, he who is 
attacked can avoid the stroke; but the Prophet says, that the 
Assyrians and Chaldeans would be perfidious to the Idumeans, so as 
to conquer them through treachery. Fix then shall they a wound under 
thee, as when one hides a dagger between the bed and the sheet, when 
a person intends to go to sleep. So also he says that a wound is 
placed underneath, when a feigned friend hides himself, that he may 
more easily hurt him whom he assails deceitfully and craftily. 
    He at length thus concludes, There is no intelligence in him. 
Here the Prophet no doubt derides in an indirect way the foolish 
confidence with which the Idumeans were blinded; for they thought 
themselves to be in a superlative degree wary, so that they had no 
reason to fear, as they could see afar off, and arrange their 
concerns with the utmost prudence. Since then they thought that they 
excelled in wisdom, and could not be surprised by any craft, the 
Prophet says here, that there would be in them no understanding. 
    But he immediately subjoins the reason, "Shall I not in that 
day, saith Jehovah, destroy, or extinguish, the wise from Edom?" 
While the Idumeans were prosperous, because they acted wisely, it 
was incredible that they could thus in a moment be overthrown: but 
the Prophet says, that even this was in the hand and power of God; 
"Can I not," he says, "put an end to whatever there is of wisdom in 
the Idumeans? Cannot I destroy all their prudent men? This will I 
do." We now then perceive the import of the words. 
    But this place deserves notice: the Prophet upbraids the 
Idumeans, and says, that their confederates and friends would prove 
their ruin, because they had conspired among themselves beyond what 
was just and right. When men thus mutually join together, there are 
none of them who do not greedily seek their own advantage; in the 
meantime, both sides are deceived; for God disconcerts their 
counsels, and blasts the issue, because they regard not the right 
end. And when the wicked seek friendships, they ever blend something 
that is wrong; they either try to injure the innocent, or they seek 
some advantage. All the compacts then which the ungodly and the 
despisers of God make with one another, have always something 
vicious intermixed; it is therefore no wonder that the Lord 
disappoints them of their hope, and curses their counsels. This is 
then the reason why the Prophet declares to the Idumeans, that 
those, whom they thought to be their best and most faithful friends, 
would be their ruin. 
    But here it may be objected and said, that the same thing 
happens to the children of God. For David, though he acted towards 
all with the utmost faithfulness and the greatest sincerity, yet 
complains, that the man of his peace and a friend had contrived 
against him many frauds, 'Raised up his heel against me,' he says, 
'has the man of my peace; eat bread together did I with him, and he 
with me,' (Ps. 41: 9.) It was necessary also that this should have 
been the case with Christ himself. Now, if the children of God must 
be conformed to the image of Christ, what the Prophet says is no 
more than what applies to the whole Church, and to every member of 
it. This may appear strange at the first view; but a solution may be 
easily given: for while we strive to maintain peace with all men, 
though they may perfidiously, through treachery, oppress us, yet the 
Lord himself will succor us; and in the meantime, however hard may 
this trial be, we yet know that our patience is tried by God, that 
he may at last deliver us, so that we may confidently flee to him 
and testify our sincerity. But while the ungodly mutually cheat one 
another, while with wicked and sideway artifices they oppress and 
circumvent each other, while they cast forth their hidden virulence, 
while they turn peace into war, they know that their recompense is 
just and merited: they cannot flee to God, for their conscience 
restrains them. They indeed understand that they have deserved what 
the Lord has justly repaid them. It is then no wonder that the 
conspiracy in which the Idumeans trusted, when they made the 
Chaldeans their friends, should have been accursed; for the Lord 
turned to their ruin whatever they thought useful to themselves. 
    This then is the import of the whole, - that if we wish not to 
be deceived, we must not attempt anything without an upright heart. 
Provided then we exceed not the limits of our calling, let us 
cultivate peace with all men, let us endeavor to do good to all men, 
that the Lord may bless us; but if it be his purpose to try our 
patience, he will be still present with us, though false friends try 
us by their treacheries, though we be led into danger by their 
malice, and be for a time trodden under their feet; if, on the 
contrary, we act with bad faith, and think that we have fortunate 
alliances, which have been obtained by wicked and nefarious 
artifices, the Lord will turn for our destruction whatever we think 
to be for our safety. 
    We must now notice what the Prophet says, "Shall I not in that 
day destroy the wise from Edom?" Though men be in many respects 
blind, whom God guides not by his Spirit, and on whom he shines not 
with his word, yet the worst blindness is, when men become 
inebriated with the false conceit of wisdom. When therefore any one 
thinks himself endued with understanding, so that he can perceive 
whatever is needful, and that he cannot be circumvented, his wisdom 
is insanity and extreme madness: it would indeed be better for us to 
be idiots and fools than to be thus inebriated. Since then the wise 
of this world are insane, the Lord declares that they will have no 
wisdom when the time of trial comes. God indeed permits the ungodly 
for a long time to felicitate themselves on account of their own 
acumen and counsels, as he suffered the Idumeans to go on 
prosperously. And there are also many at this day who felicitate 
themselves on their successes, and almost adore their own cunning. 
Who indeed can persuade the Venetians that there is anywhere 
consummate wisdom but among themselves, by which, forsooth, they 
surpass all others in deception? For no other reason do they, amidst 
many agitations, retain their own position, except that they seem to 
see farther into what is for their own advantages; nay, that kings 
in general stand, and continue safe amidst so many shakings, this 
they ascribe to their own wisdom: "Except I had looked well in this 
respect to my own affairs, except I had anticipated danger, and 
except I had foreseen it, it would have been all over as to my 
condition." Thus they think within themselves: but the Lord at 
length infatuates them, that it may be evident, that this was not 
formerly said in vain to the Idumeans, Shall I not in that day, 
saith Jehovah, &c. and it was emphatically added, in that day: for 
the Prophet means, that it was no wonder that the Idumeans had been 
hitherto wary and adopted the best counsel; for it was not the 
Lord's purpose to deprive them of wisdom; but when the suitable time 
of vengeance came, he instantly took away whatever prudence there 
was in them; for it is indeed in God's hand to take away whatever 
there is either of understanding or of acuteness in men. 
    But we are warned by these words, that if we excel in 
understanding, we are not to abuse this singular gift of God, as we 
see the case to be with the ungodly, who turn to cunning whatever 
wisdom the Lord has bestowed on them. There is hardly one in a 
hundred to be found, who does not seek to be crafty and deceitful, 
if he excels in understanding. This is a very wretched thing. What a 
great treasure is wisdom? Yet we see that the world perverts this 
excellent gift of God; the more reason there is for us to labour, 
that our wisdom should be founded in true simplicity. This is one 
thing. Then we must also beware of trusting in our own 
understanding, and of despising our enemies, and of thinking that we 
can ward off any evil that may impend over us; but let us ever seek 
from the Lord, that we may be favored at all times with the spirit 
of wisdom, that it may guide us to the end of life: for he can at 
any moment take from us whatever he has given us, and thus expose us 
to shame and reproach. 
    When he says, from mount Esau, he means mount Seir, as I have 
already reminded you. But he meant to point out their whole country; 
for they were almost surrounded by mountains, and dwelt, as it is 
well known, in that Arabia which is called Patraea. It follows - 
Obadiah 1:9 
And thy mighty [men], O Teman, shall be dismayed, to the end that 
every one of the mount of Esau may be cut off by slaughter. 
    The Prophet, after having spoken of one kind of God's 
vengeance, adds another, - that he would break whatever there was of 
strength in Idumea: and thus he shows that the courage and strength 
of men, no less than their understanding, are in the hand of God. As 
then God dissipates and destroys, whenever it pleases him, whatever 
wisdom there may be in men, so also he enervates and breaks down 
their hearts: in a word, he deprives them of all strength, so that 
they fail and come to nothing of themselves. Were they who are proud 
of their strength and counsels rightly to consider this, they would 
at length learn to submit themselves in true humility to God. But 
this truth is what the world cannot be made to believe: yet God 
shows to us here, as in a picture, that however men may flourish for 
a time, they would immediately vanish, were not he to sustain them, 
and to support his gifts in them, and keep them entire; and, 
especially, that empty smoke is everything, that seems to be 
understanding and strength in men; for the Lord can easily take away 
both, whensoever it may please him. 
    We ought therefore carefully to observe what he says here, 
"Broken down shall be thy brave men, O Teman". Some think that a 
particular country is here pointed out; for Teman is the south, that 
is, with regard to Judea. But as Teman, we know, was one of the 
grandsons of Esau, (Gen. 37: 11,) and as a part of Arabia was called 
by this name, it is the more probable, that the Prophet turns here 
his discourse to Idumea. But as to the word Teman, it is, a part 
taken for the whole. 
    "For cut off, he says, shall be man": by saying, cut off shall 
man, he means, that all to a man would be destroyed. How? "by 
slaughter". But "katel" means a slaughter in which no one remains 
alive. We hence see what the Prophet means, - that all the Idumeans 
would be so broken down, that all would fall, for there would be no 
heart nor strength to resist. It now follows - 
Obadiah 1:10,11 
For [thy] violence against thy brother Jacob shame shall cover thee, 
and thou shalt be cut off for ever. 
In the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the 
strangers carried away captive his forces, and foreigners entered 
into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even thou [wast] as 
one of them. 
    The Prophet here sets forth the reason why God would deal so 
severely and dreadfully with the Idumeans. Had he simply prophesied 
of their destruction, it would have been an important matter; for 
the Jews might have thereby known that their ruin was not chance, 
but the scourge of God; they might have known that they themselves 
were with others chastised by God, and this would have been a useful 
instruction to them: but what brought them the chief consolation was 
to hear, that they were so dear to God that he would undertake the 
defense of their wrongs and avenge them, that he would have a regard 
for their safety. Hence, when they heard that God, because he loved 
them, would punish the Idumeans, it was doubtless an invaluable 
comfort to them in their calamities. To this subject the Prophet now 
    "For the unjust oppression of thy brother Jacob", &c. The word 
"chamas", violence, is to be taken passively; as though he said, 
"See, how thou hast acted towards thy brother Jacob." And he calls 
him his brother, not for honor's sake, but, on the contrary, for the 
purpose of showing forth more fully the cruelty of the Idumeans; for 
consanguinity had had no effect in preventing them from raging 
against their own brethren, and as it were against their own bowels. 
It was therefore a proof of barbarous inhumanity, that the Idumeans, 
forgetting their common nature, had been so inflamed with hatred 
against their own brethren: for, as it is well known, they had 
descended from the same common father, Abraham, and also from Isaac, 
and had the symbol of circumcision. The Idumeans indeed professed 
that they were the descendants of Abraham, and were God's peculiar 
people. Since then God had made his covenant with their common 
father Isaac, and since they had equally retained circumcision, 
which was the seal of that covenant, how did it happen, that the 
Idumeans conducted themselves so cruelly towards their brethren? We 
hence see, that the name of brother in this clause - for the 
oppression of thy brother Jacob, is mentioned for the purpose of 
enhancing their crime. 
    As then, he says, thou best been so violent against thy 
brother, "cover thee shall reproach, and forever shalt thou be cut 
off". He intimates that the calamity would not be only for a time as 
in the case of Israel, but that the Lord would execute such a 
punishment as would prove that the Idumeans were aliens to him; for 
God in chastising his Church ever observes certain limits, as he 
never forgets his covenant. He proves indeed that the Idumeans were 
not his people, however much they might falsely boast that they were 
the children of Abraham, and make claim to the sign of circumcision; 
for they were professedly enemies, and had entirely departed from 
all godliness: it was then no wonder that their circumcision, which 
they had impiously profaned, was made no account of. But he 
afterwards more fully and largely unfolds the same thing. 
    "In the day, he says, in which thou didst stand on the opposite 
side". But the Idumeans might have made this objection, "Why dost 
thou accuse us for having violently oppressed our brother? for we 
were not the cause why they were destroyed: they had a quarrel with 
the Assyrians, we labored to protect our own interest in the midst 
of these disturbances; we sought peace with the Assyrians, and if 
necessity so compelled us, that ought not to be ascribed to us as a 
crime or blame." In this way the Idumeans might have made a defense: 
but the Prophet dissipates all such pretenses by saying, In the day 
in which thou didst stand on the opposite side, in the day in which 
strangers took away his substance, and aliens entered his gates, and 
cast lots on Jerusalem - were not thou there? Even thou were as one 
of them. Now this is emphatically introduced - Even thou or, thou 
also; for the Prophet exhibits it here as a hateful omen: "It was no 
wonder that the Assyrians and Chaldeans shed the blood of thy 
brethren, for they were enemies, they were foreigners, they were a 
very distant people: but thou, who were of the same blood, thou, 
whom the bond of religion ought to have restrained, and further, 
even thou, who oughtest by the very claims of vicinity either to 
have helped thy brethren, or at least to have condoled with them - 
yea, thou were so cruel as to have been as one of his enemies: this 
surely can by no means be endured." 
    We now perceive what the Prophet meant by saying, In the day in 
which thou didst stand on the opposite side: it is then as it were, 
an explanation of the former sentence, lest the Idumeans should make 
a false excuse by objecting that they had not been violent against 
their brethren. It was indeed the worst oppression, when they stood 
over against them; though they were not armed they yet took pleasure 
in a spectacle so mournful; besides they not only were idle 
spectators of the calamity of their brethren but were also as it 
were a part Of their enemies. "Hast thou then not been as one of 
them?" I shall not proceed farther now. 
Grant Almighty God, that as thou hast once received us under thy 
protection, and hast promised that our salvation would be so much 
cared for by thee, that whatever Satan and the whole world may 
contrive, thou wilt yet keep us safe and secure, - O grant, that 
being endued with perseverance, we may remain within our borders, 
and be not carried away here and there either by craft or by wicked 
counsels; but be thou pleased to keep us in genuine integrity, that 
being protected by thy help, we may, by experience, find that true 
which thou declarest in thy word, that they who call on thee in 
truth shall ever know thee to be propitious to them: and since thou 
hast already made open to us an access to thee in the person of thy 
only-begotten Son, O grant, that we the sheep, may rely on him as 
our shepherd, and resignedly abide under his protection until we be 
removed from all dangers into that eternal rest, which has been 
obtained for us by the blood of thy Son Jesus Christ. Amen. 

Calvin, Commentary on Obadiah

(continued in part 4...)

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