Hello, My Name Is Esau

Last week I sat with a group of friends at a local bar discussing Obadiah, a minor (meaning short) book of prophecy in the Old Testament of the Bible. It’s a word of judgment spoken against a nation called Edom, a group of people who were descendants of Esau the twin brother of Jacob (see Genesis 25 for the beginning of their story). From birth the brothers’ relationship was fraught with deception, aggression, and angst, and the nations each man spawned carried on that legacy for generations. While the date and therefore context of the situation addressed by Obadiah are unknown, many scholars point to the destruction of the city of Jerusalem by Babylonian conquerors in 586 BC.

The reason God spoke judgment against Edom was their actions during the ravaging of Israel’s capitol and the home of God’s temple, Jerusalem. The condemnation begins with general statements: you gloated over your brothers and stood aloof during their time of need. Eventually the charges are much more specific, you pillaged the city and handed survivors over to their captors. There is a theme of fraternal betrayal in the judgment, as though Edom is particularly guilty because of its shared ancestry with Israel.

Here’s the thing: the Babylonian conquest was the result of God’s judgment against Israel (a different, very long story for perhaps a different time). So if God sent the conquerors to Israel, why is Edom at fault for contributing to the conquering?

I think part of the answer lies in the other major theme in the book of Obadiah: Edom’s arrogance. Their participation in the sacking of Jerusalem wasn’t an attempt to align themselves with the rightness of God’s judgment; it was an extension of the pride and haughtiness of a nation that believed itself above judgment.

Fast-forwarding to the present, then, my first question is who are the people of God in my story? The answer is, the Church. The second question is, who am I in the story? Well, I am part of the Church and therefore part of the people of God. I start to feel concerned, however, when I realize I might also at times be Edom. There are times when I look at the people of God, or a segment thereof, and in my “righteousness” deem them very worthy of judgment. I rant about their hatefulness, mock their beliefs, and gloat over how misguided and ignorant they are. In those moments, no matter how true my statements, have I set myself against the people of God…and by extension against God Himself?

Yahweh seems to feel pretty strongly connected to His people, and He often seems to take their offenses on as His own. And while it is completely within His rights to judge them, He doesn’t seem to extend that right to others. I’m sure it has something to do with us all being borne of the same earth and dirt and sin. So when I, as a dirt-borne person, judge and mock His people, it may be safe to say that He takes that personally. Even when judgment is His course of action, even if He calls me to participate in that, He still holds me accountable if I choose to sin in the process.

Currently my world is populated by some people who are, in my opinion, very, very destructive in some of the things they preach and practice in the name of Biblical Christianity. People I love have been deeply wounded by teachings and beliefs that rob women of their personhood, men of their love, and everyone of the peace intended to mark our relationship with Christ. I am angry at the spiritual abuse I see happening, and incensed by the brokenness I see inflicted on women who are openly oppressed because of their chromosomal make-up. My heart is broken by the view of God as angry and judgmental, the bully with a magnifying glass standing over an ant hill.

But. Even if God’s heart is as broken as mine, even if He is as angry and protective of women as I am, even if judgment was His reaction to it all (and I am not saying it is)…even if all of this is true, they are still His people and as such He is still their defender and protector. Do I really want to be the one He’s defending them from? Never. I never want to be the enemy of God. And it seems like maybe that’s exactly what I am when I mock His people in their sin (remember, mocking was one of the sins of Edom against Israel).

When I set myself against the people of God I set myself up against Him. I’m accountable for sins of pride and mocking even when there is truth in my observations. If I am really called to participate in the advancing of a kingdom of peace in the name of Christ the King, there is no place for haughtiness or self-righteous anger in my attitude toward the world. Or the Church. So once again I have to ask, teach me how to pray. And I ask anyone still reading after all of that, how do you pray for the Church in her sins?




  1. July 22, 2012 at 8:06 am

    Thank you for writing this. And yes, your question is correct. I’m still working on a good answer.

  2. Crystal said,

    July 22, 2012 at 6:31 pm

    I am humbled by my own sin in this area, that I fell into certain theological views that hurt myself and my family. I understand how one gets there and so God has shown me how to have compassion.

    I think there is a line that has to be straddled. On the one hand, Jesus was really firm and hard on the pharisees for misleading and abusing the people. He deals with teachers more strictly than with those who are not. (“Let not many of you become teachers, my brethren, knowing that as such we will incur a stricter judgment.” James 3:1)

    So I think on the one hand, we need to be angry at the evil that is done. It’s evil and if we are not angry about it, and do not defend those who are being mistreated, we are not acting as God acts, and so we are sinning by omission.

    But at the same time, we need to also act as our Father has acted toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us (Romans 5:8).

    And so our response is also to be compassionate, to desire repentance, to plead their case before the Lord and love our enemies, since we were once enemies of God, but He adopted us as His own.

    The most important thing, I think, is to be honest. It would be a lie to say spiritual abuse isn’t evil. And so also to say that because we are sinners, we cannot judge whether or not it’s evil. That would be denying our status before the Lord as His saved, redeemed children who have inherited all that Jesus won. We are clean. We are righteous. We may come boldly to the throne of grace to find help in times of need (Hebrews 4:16).

    “The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
    according to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
    For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
    I am not guilty of turning from my God.
    All his laws are before me;
    I have not turned away from his decrees.
    I have been blameless before him
    and have kept myself from sin.
    The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
    according to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.”
    –Psalm 18:20-24

    So before the Lord, we should declare the evil of the sin, being completely honest about it, but plead with Him for change, be it by their repentance or by the removal of their leadership position.

    Before the person who is sinning, we should love them, truly, not just with public words but in our hearts also, praying good for them.

    And as opportunity may arise, we should speak to their sin. If God provides the place to do so, we should do so. And if He doesn’t, we trust that God still has this tightly in His grasp and will not forget the sins done to His children.

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