August 4, 2014

To Cut a Long Story Short: Preaching Obadiah

by Clint Archer

hatfield-mccoy_pigThis is a long story, but I’ll keep it short. In 1878 Floyd Hatfield had a pig. Somehow this pig got a tiny bit of its ear bitten off or otherwise severed, or so Hatfield claimed. You see, on the other side of Tug Fork river on the border of Kentucky and West Virginia, lived a family called the McCoys.

The McCoys notched their pigs’ ears, to be able to identify them if they got stolen. When Randolph McCoy saw the notched hog in a Hatfield sty, he accused Floyd Hatfield of swine theft. The matter soon escalated into a bitter lawsuit. Randolph McCoy took Floyd Hatfield to court over the issue.

The problem was complicated in that the local justice of the peace was the honorable Anderson Hatfield. He found no evidence that Floyd had stolen the pig, and based on the testimony of one Bill Staton, ruled in favor of the Hatfields,. The case was closed. Or was it?

Bill Staton was later killed–supposedly in self-defense–by two McCoy brothers. Around that time Roseanna McCoy was courting Johnson Hatfield and the McCoys arrested the young man for bootlegging. The Hatfields rescued him by force. But then Johnson Hatfield abandoned the pregnant Roseanna McCoy, and married her cousin. Later, Roseanna’s three brothers killed a Hatfield (I forget which one). The Hatfields then hunted down the McCoy brothers, tied them to pawpaw bushes and pumped them with lead. The Hatfields were arrested, but mysteriously got away with no punishment. So, the McCoys used political connections to reinstate the charges. In retaliation the Hatfields burnt down a McCoy cabin. Two McCoy children were killed that night, and eight Hatfields were arrested (one of them hanged). Well, to cut a long story short, the notorious Hatfield-McCoy blood feud raged bitterly for decades, claiming a dozen lives from both families. Eventually the governors of Kentucky and West Virginia intervened, and even the US Supreme court got involved! Like I said, it’s a long story.

I have no idea what happened to the pig.

What I do know is that when family feuds turn violent, the end is never initiated by the feuding families. The dispute must be settled by the intervention of supreme powers.

I’m about to begin preaching a series of sermons in the shortest book of the OT, namely Obadiah.

This little book really has got short-changed in the preaching repertoire of many expositors due to its blink-and-be-missed brevity. Most preachers make short shrift of the book by cramming its copious truths into a single sermon. That’s like trying to summarize Lord of the Rings in a tweet. But the brief missive of Obadiah is pregnant with lessons about God’s attributes, stocked with comfort for those under God’s discipline, loaded with hope for those who have been taunted by rivals, and jam-packed with warnings to those who target God’s people.obadiah

What also makes the book more like a saga than a pamphlet is that it spans the epic length of history’s timeline. The family feud Obadiah addresses began in eternity past, was played out in the womb of Rebecca, manifest several times in history like a recurring-remitting disease, and finds its ultimate resolution in the eschatological future. And all that drama is presented in the compact prophesy of 21 verses.

Obadiah is like a tightly strung crossbow: easy to hold in your hand, but with a penetrating range that reaches a surprising distance. Obadiah is also unique in that it is the only book in the Bible not addressed to God’s people or mankind in general but directly to a particular enemy of Israel: the Edomites.

Edomites were descendants of Esau, nicknamed Edom or “Red” because he traded his birthright for a mess of red stew– a raw deal to rival the Louisiana Purchase. Rebecca knew that two nations were warring in her womb. Jacob’s heel-grabbing antics made for a lively birthday. Then there was the sneaky scamming of blind Isaac, over which the Edomites would stew for centuries. The rest is history.

The Edomites were a perpetual pest that constantly targeted Israel, taunted her misfortunes, and sided with her enemies. And that history of harassment would have raged on indefinitely unless God stepped in and cut the long story short.

The prophecy of Obadiah is the death sentence God issued to Edom by the hand of a Jewish messenger. God did this to provide comfort to the Jews, who although under discipline, needed reminding that their enemies would get their just desserts, and that the Jews could cling to a promise of eventual restoration. The Edomites on the other hand were told that their anti-Semitic days were numbered. One nation would be wiped out, the other would be restored to rule and reign in the Messiah’s Millennial kingdom. Have you eaten at any Edomite deli’s lately? Exactly.

The book of Obadiah proves that God knows the future, is faithful to his covenants, is powerful to act, ensures justice is done, hates pride, punishes those who curse his people, and he is still busy working out his will in our lives. How could I preach all that in one sermon? The only way to do it is to cut a riveting long story, very, very short. And who wants to do that?

Clint Archer

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Clint is the pastor of Hillcrest Baptist Church. He and his expanding troop of Archers live near Durban, South Africa (and pity anyone who doesn't). When he is off duty from CGate, his alter ego blogs at Café Seminoid, clintarcher.com
  • Soon-Jong Kim

    Thank you for the long story short but how can one apply this today? When friends around me face trials with gambling dad and experienced divorce of their parents and identity crisis crimes committed ever yday .. I normally share that very God in obadiah who brought justice eventually will take us and carry us forward so endure faithfully… but I speak so foreign language to them and struggling to breakdown the truth plainly not so theologically loaded. I struggle homiletically I guess. Tx always for your sharing of the blog. :) SJ

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Ps 73 is a good supplement for that discussion. Sometimes the wicked prosper and the righteous suffer… in this life. But in the judgment only the righteous will stand.

      • Soon-Jong Kim

        And… so… one application – just…… wait… can’t do anything.

  • Soon-Jong Kim

    And… so… just… wait…

    • http://www.clintarcher.com/ Clint

      Right.