The Danger of Indifference (Obadiah)

            This morning, my sermon comes from the book of Obadiah, so if you’d like to follow along in your Bibles, please turn to the table of contents so that you can find it.  Because, let’s be honest, Obadiah is one of the more obscure books of the Bible.  And it’s only 21 verses long, so it’s hard to stumble onto it by flipping pages.

            Someone has said that the book of Obadiah is like a rare bird — experts can be expected to appreciate it, but most folks are barely aware of its existence.

            And I think it’s safe to say that most Christians, even those who grew up in church, may recognize the name of this book, but they’d have a tough time identifying the theme of Obadiah, or how its message applies to us in the 21st century.

            Someone else has said that Obadiah is like the spleen of the Old Testament; we know it’s there, but most of us aren’t quite sure exactly what it does.  So, let me give you two words to let you know what the book of Obadiah is all about – Edom and indifference.

            First of all, the book of Obadiah is about Edom, which is a bit unusual.  As you’ve probably noticed, most of the Old Testament prophets directed their message toward God’s people, either Judah in the south or Israel to the north.  There are some rare exceptions, like Jonah who went and preached to the people of Nineveh.  But, for the most part, all the prophets delivered their message to either Judah or Israel.

            But Obadiah’s message was directed at Edom.  Edom is a nation that most of us are not very familiar with, so let’s go back and take a look at some background.  The nation of Edom was composed of the descendants of Esau.  That name should ring a bell.  Esau was Jacob’s brother.

            If you remember the story, Jacob and Esau were twins, but Esau was actually the firstborn, the oldest son.  He was the one who should have been the most prominent, the one who should have received the birthright and all the blessings that went with it.  

            Instead, Jacob, because he took advantage of his brother and he was downright deceitful, received that honor, and he became the one to receive all of God’s promises.  Jacob was the one who inherited all the blessings.  It’s through Jacob’s line that we have the nation of Israel, which included the promised Messiah.  And Esau was angry and jealous of Jacob, with good reason.

            That anger and jealousy carried over into the relationship between the two nations that came from them – Israel and Edom.  Those two nations should have been rather close.  If you wouldn’t regard them to be brothers, you would at least consider them to be cousins, because they were all related together as descendants of Abraham and Isaac.  But those two nations never got along.  The Edomites were always trying to win back what Esau lost to Jacob!

            So, Obadiah delivered his message against the people of Edom, and of all the sins that they committed, the root of it all was a sin that I want us to devote our time to this morning — the sin of indifference.

            Let’s take a look at this video which will give us an overview of the book of Obadiah and then I’ll be back to talk with you about indifference.

            VIDEO (Obadiah)

            As the book of Obadiah opens, he doesn’t waste any time.  He launches right away into God’s judgment against the nation of Edom. I’m going to be reading from Obadiah this morning using the New Living Translation.  In verse 1, Obadiah says:

We have heard a message from the Lord
    that an ambassador was sent to the nations to say,
“Get ready, everyone!
    Let’s assemble our armies and attack Edom!”

The Lord says to Edom,
“I will cut you down to size among the nations;
    you will be greatly despised.
You have been deceived by your own pride
    because you live in a rock fortress
    and make your home high in the mountains.
‘Who can ever reach us way up here?’
    you ask boastfully.
But even if you soar as high as eagles
    and build your nest among the stars,
I will bring you crashing down,”
    says the Lord….

“Your enemies will wipe you out completely!
Every nook and cranny of Edom
    will be searched and looted.
    Every treasure will be found and taken.

“All your allies will turn against you.
    They will help to chase you from your land.
They will promise you peace
    while plotting to deceive and destroy you.
Your trusted friends will set traps for you,
    and you won’t even know about it….

“The mightiest warriors of Teman
                        will be terrified,
and everyone on the mountains of Edom
    will be cut down in the slaughter.”

                                                            (Obadiah 1:1-4,5-7,9)

            Apparently, Obadiah missed out on that class of “How to Win Friends and Influence People.”  He gets right to the point.  He tells Edom, “You are going to be judged for your sins, and God is going to completely destroy you.”

            Now, a message of judgment and destruction is not exactly something new in the prophets.  Because our God is a holy God, he is a righteous God, and he has created this world expecting certain things from his creation.  And when we don’t do what God has told us to do, God judges sin and he punishes sinners.  And humanity has a long-standing habit of frequently doing the things that God says not to do, so there are a lot of messages of judgment.

            And almost everyone would agree that there are some things that need to be judged.  Things like murder.  Rape.  Theft.  And so much more.  Most everyone recognizes that there is a reason why we have police officers and courts and judges and jails.

            But sometimes, we’re a bit surprised by some of the things that God says require judgment. Because Obadiah, after telling Edom that they will be judged, goes on to tell them why.  And a big part of it is something that you and I probably wouldn’t think that much about.  Beginning in verse 10, he says:

“Because of the violence you did
    to your close relatives in Israel,
you will be filled with shame
    and destroyed forever.
When they were invaded,
    you stood aloof, refusing to help them.
Foreign invaders carried off their wealth
    and cast lots to divide up Jerusalem,
    but you acted like one of Israel’s enemies.”

                                                            (Obadiah 1:10-11)

            Obadiah says to Edom, “You’re guilty because of what you did to Israel.”  And here’s where it all started – “When they were invaded, you stood aloof, refusing to help them.”    What did Edom do when enemies attacked Judah?  The answer is — nothing. They just stood there and watched.  We may say, “What’s the big deal?”  And God says, “That’s the big deal — that you just stood there and did nothing.”  Their sin was the sin of indifference. 

            Indifference is defined as “a lack of interest, concern, or sympathy.”  It’s what happens when we just don’t care, or when we don’t care enough to actually do something about it.  It’s the sin of seeing someone who is in need and doing nothing to help them out.  It’s the sin of seeing someone who is being mistreated and not stepping in to stand up for them.

            Indifferent people fail to notice the suffering around them, they fail to come to the aid of people in need, they fail to get involved, and they fail to take a stand for what is right.  And people will justify what they do with some pious-sounding phrases like, “Mind your own business.” “Don’t get involved.” “Live and let live.”

            But whenever we are aware of people who are in need, when we are aware of people who are being mistreated and we do nothing, God regards that as a sin that needs to be judged.

            Think about Jesus’ story of the Good Samaritan.  In that story, we recognize that the Samaritan is the hero of the story.  He’s the guy who helped out the guy on the side of the road who had been beaten and robbed.  But we also recognize that the priest and the Levite are the villains in the story.  But what did they do?  They didn’t do anything.  But that was the problem.  They didn’t do anything!

            James said, If a brother or sister is poorly clothed and lacking in daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Go in peace, be warmed and filled,’ without giving them the things needed for the body, what good is that?” (James 2:15-16).  James says, “When you see a brother or a sister who is in need and you don’t care enough to do something about it, that shows that you’re really not a follower of God.”

            The apostle John talked about the same thing.  In I John 3, he said, But if anyone has the world’s goods and sees his brother in need, yet closes his heart against him, how does God’s love abide in him? (I John 3:17).

            The sin that James and John are talking about is the sin of indifference.  Now, this is a good place to point out that, despite what you may believe, the opposite of love is not hate.  The opposite of love is indifference or apathy.  A lot of times, we feel good about ourselves because we don’t hate anybody.  We don’t hurt anybody.  We’re not mean to anybody.  And so, I must be a good person. 

            But the guideline in scripture is never whether or not you hate someone, it’s whether or not you’re doing something to help someone.  And, as the apostle John makes clear, love always does something, so when you don’t do anything to help, you don’t have God’s love. 

            It’s the same thing that Jesus talked about in Matthew 25.  Jesus said that on the last day, everyone will be divided into two groups.  Those on his right hand are the ones who took care of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, those who are naked or sick or in prison.  Those on his left hand are those who didn’t take care of those people.  And Jesus says those on his left hand will go away into eternal punishment for doing what?  For doing nothing.  It’s the sin of indifference, the very opposite of love. 

            But, back to Edom.  Their sin of indifference, standing by while enemies slaughtered their brothers and sisters, led to several other sins.  While they were doing nothing to help, Edom was actually rejoicing over Judah’s misfortune and suffering and used it as an occasion to make themselves feel good.  God says,

“You should not have gloated
    when they exiled your relatives to distant lands.
You should not have rejoiced
    when the people of Judah suffered such misfortune…

You should not have gloated over their destruction
    when they were suffering such calamity.”

                                                            (Obadiah 1:12,13)

            Edom’s sin started with doing nothing, and then it progressed to taking great joy over Judah’s distress.  They were actually happy that all these bad things were happening to Judah.  They experienced what the Germans call schadenfreude.  Schadenfreude is a feeling of pleasure at the bad things that happen to other people.

            And we’ve all been guilty of this.  Someone cuts you off in traffic and speeds off, and a little ways up the road, you see them pulled over by a cop.  Let’s be honest, when that happens, we get a feeling of joy because of what’s happened to them – that’s schadenfreude. 

            Or there’s someone at work who’s constantly hassling you and they get called into the boss’ office and handed a pick slip.  You can’t help but smile when that happens – that’s schadenfreude.  A feeling of pleasure at the bad things that happen to other people.

            You may say, “What’s wrong with that?”  What’s wrong is that that it’s impossible to do that with someone that you truly care about.  It’s impossible to have those feelings of joy if it’s someone that you have sympathy for.  God tells us that we need to “rejoice with those who rejoice and weep with those who weep” (Romans 12:15).  Because that’s what love does.

            But the Edomites were rejoicing at the fact that the Israelites were suffering.  And then the Edomites took it one step further: they took advantage of the situation and profited from Israel’s problems.  God says,

“You should not have plundered the land of Israel
    when they were suffering such calamity…
“You should not have seized their wealth
    when they were suffering such calamity.”

                                                                        (Obadiah 1:13)

            The Edomites took advantage of Judah’s misfortune and they went in and took some of their land and some of the things that got left behind.  They looted the homes and farms the Israelites had been driven from. The Edomites didn’t drive the Jews out, but they certainly profited from someone else doing it.

            And then, to add insult to injury, they prevented Israel from escaping their enemies.

“You should not have stood at the crossroads,
        killing those who tried to escape.
You should not have captured the survivors
      and handed them over in their terrible time of trouble.” 

                                                                                    (Obadiah 1:14)

            The worst part of it all was – Edom joined in on the attack against Judah.  Whenever they saw people from Judah fleeing southward from the attacking army, they either killed them or gave them over to the enemy as prisoners.

            Notice the progression:  At first, they were indifferent.  Then they rejoiced at their suffering.  Then they profited from their situation.  And, in the end, they participated in the wrong that was done to Israel.

            Edom was being judged by God for good reason.  But, just in case you think Obadiah’s message was only for Edom, God says in verse 15:

“The day is near when I, the Lord,
    will judge all godless nations!
Just as you swallowed up my people
    on my holy mountain,
so you and the surrounding nations
    will swallow the punishment I pour out on you.
Yes, all you nations will drink and stagger
    and disappear from history.”

                                                            (Obadiah 1:15-16)

            God says, “I’m going to judge all the godless nations — Edom.  Israel.  The United States.  China.  Australia.  Russia.  Great Britain.”  There’s nobody exempt here.  All nations are going to experience the judgment of God for this very same sin — indifference, rejoicing in the misfortune of others, profiting off the misfortune of others, participating in injustice.

            God says, “All you people who have shown that you don’t care about others, all you people who have no sympathy for those around you who are suffering, all you people who stand by and do nothing while people around you are being mistreated, I will judge you all.” 

            But, as the video pointed out, there is a brief message of hope at the end.  Verse 17:

“But Jerusalem will become a refuge for those who escape;
    it will be a holy place.
And the people of Israel will come back
    to reclaim their inheritance….

Those who have been rescued will go up to Mount Zion in Jerusalem
    to rule over the mountains of Edom.
And the 
Lord himself will be king!”

                                                            (Obadiah 1:17,21)

            God’s judgment is going to come against all those who do evil, but things will change on Mount Zion.  God’s kingdom will be established, and those who submit to the King will rule together with him.

            We have the benefit of seeing how this prophecy was fulfilled.  How Jesus, the Son of God, came to this earth.  How he was crucified, but then he rose from the dead.  And, by doing that, he demonstrated his authority.  He set himself up as the King, the one on the throne, the one who will lead the Kingdom of God.

            And the way that he does it is to take normal, everyday people, like you and me.  And he’s changes them and transforms them from the inside out.  He takes that heart that is indifferent to the sufferings of others and replaces it with a heart that truly cares about others.  And he creates this new group of people from every tribe and every tongue and every language.

            These people want nothing more than to see his kingdom established, and so they try to make a difference in the lives of the people around them.  As they encounter hardships, they try to make things better.  As they come face to face with sin and all of the mess of humanity, they speak a message of hope through the gospel of Jesus Christ.  That’s the plan.

            But what happens when those people who are supposed to be bringing about these changes, don’t do it, because of their indifference?  And we’re all susceptible.

            If you turn on the news and you see someone who is being treated unjustly. What happens if you’re indifferent to that?  What happens if you don’t care and you don’t have sympathy?  You become conditioned.

            So maybe then you’re driving down through town and you see the poverty of those around you, maybe it’s easy to be indifferent to the needs you see.  Because you’ve conditioned yourself to be indifferent to the suffering of others.

            And then maybe you’re at work and you’ve got a coworker who just got promoted.  They’re in a little over their heads and instead of offering to help, you just sit there and watch them flounder.

            It’s true for all of us: if we’re indifferent, we’re going to just sit there and watch.  And then maybe a little later, we move on to the next step.  Instead of just being indifferent, we start to gloat and think, “I’m sure glad I’m not the one who’s in that mess.  I’m glad I’ve got my life together better than all these people do.”

            And then at work, we realize, “Hey, if this coworker keeps floundering, maybe that opens a door for me once they finally get rid of him.”  We begin to see the profit in indifference. 

            And it’s not far from there to where we begin participating in the injustice, making things even harder for those who are already going through a rough time, just like Edom did standing at the crossroads. 

            It’s important that we understand that indifference is a sin.  It’s not just something that offends God: it destroys us.  Indifference is the gateway to a host of other sins.  And it takes us from not caring about others to taking pleasure at the misfortunes of others, to profiting from the loss of others.

            I used to worry about the American church.  I used to worry that we were a lot like Israel, tempted by all the idols that pull us away from God – money, sex, success, entertainment.  But, after reading Obadiah, maybe we’re not like Israel as much as we’re like Edom — indifferent to the problems of others around us.

            But if we’re going to be what God has called us to be, we can’t be indifferent.  We have been given the life-changing message of the gospel of Jesus Christ. We are the ones who can go into a world that is broken and say, “Here’s a solution!”  We can go to people who are drowning in despair and who are turning to alcohol and pornography and drugs and success and money and all of these things that will ultimately be empty and we can say, “Look! That’s not going to do it for you, but here’s someone who can – Jesus Christ.”

            We can do that.  But are we?  No church in history has ever had the resources that the American church has. No group of believers has ever had the sheer numbers, the sheer technological ability, and the sheer financial resources of the American church.

            And yet, no church has ever spent more money, more time, or more effort on itself.  The church was never designed to be a country club that we pay our dues to and we show up once a week or twice a week for our own benefit.

            And yet, for the most part, the American church has devoted itself to creating a culture centered around itself – listening to the preachers that we like, singing the music that we like, and building the buildings we like.  All the while indifferent to the fact that much of the world’s population has no access to the gospel of Jesus Christ.  Indifferent to the fact that there are people around us who aren’t sure whether life is worth living even one more day.  Indifferent to the fact that there are people who will go to bed tonight not having eaten last week and not sure if they’re going to get to eat this week.

            What if we are Edom?  What if we are the ones who are guilty of indifference. If that’s the case, then we need to fix it.

            If the problem is indifference, then the way to fix it is to start caring.  And start making a difference.  Instead of just sitting there and watching and being indifferent when you see a problem – engage.

            Engage with your heart: feel it.

            Engage with your head: think about it.

            Engage with your mouth: speak boldly about it.

            Engage with your hands and your feet: go do something about it.

            Engage. It’s the opposite of indifference.  And it makes a difference.  Because everything changes when you engage.

            So, the next time you’re looking the news, ask yourself the question, “Am I being conditioned for indifference or am I determined to make a difference?”  As you come in contact with people in this community, ask yourself the question, “Am I being conditioned for indifference or am I determined to make a difference?”

            The danger of indifference is that we would waste the life that God has given us and find ourselves worthy of his judgment, just like Edom.  The beauty of engagement is that we get to work together with God who says, “Join with me in changing the world.”

            Reject indifference.   Embrace Jesus and show love.  Make a difference in this world.


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