Wednesday, 25 May 2011

Obadiah's Parable

The Book of Obadiah is one of the shortest in the LDS scriptures, coming in at only 21 verses. It's a fairly clear historical prophecy, but I believe that, like everything else in the scriptures, it also has relevance today.

As far as history goes, Obadiah prophesies the downfall of Edom, identified with Esau, at the hands of Israel, or Jacob. This is to come as a punishment for Edom's treatment of Israel - they made war with Israel despite their close kinship. The Israelites will possess all Edom's former lands and possessions, and Edom shall be utterly destroyed. So much for the obvious prophecy.

I see Obadiah as a parable of the spirit world, to which we will all go on death. The two halves of the spirit world are symbolised by two mountains - the mount of Esau is spirit prison, and mount Zion is spirit paradise. Edom/Esau and Israel/Jacob are symbols of the people who will inhabit those two realms. This is not an invented analogy - in verse 15, the Lord tells Edom "as thou hast done, it shall be done unto thee", and as we shall see, the primary sin of Esau was to bring Israel into captivity.

The Lord gives a long list of the sins for which Edom is condemned, comprising most of the book (verses 1-4, 10-14):

The pride of thine heart hath deceived thee... thou exalt thyself as the eagle... for thy violence against thy brother Jacob... in the day that thou stoodest on the other side, in the day that the strangers carried away captive [Israel's] forces... even thou wast as one of them. But thou shouldest not have looked on the day of thy brother in the day that he became a stranger... thou shouldest not have rejoiced over the children of Judah in the day of their destruction... spoken proudly in the day of distress... looked on their affliction... laid hands on their substance... stood in the crossway, to cut off those of his that did escape...

It's clear that God isn't very happy with these people. Note, however, that they weren't the leaders of the invasion of Israel here referred to - they stood by, and occasionally helped out, helping to capture the children of Israel. These people were mislead by others, rather than being intrinsically evil. They suffer from pride (and who does not?), but for the most part their sins are of omission, or caused by listening to their friends. And who are their so-called friends? One possible answer is that we are dealing with two separate groups in prison - Esau, and everyone else - but my preferred interpretation is that the others are Satan and his followers. Esau is all those who listened to Satan in this life, followed his bidding and did his work, and their greatest sin is taking the children of Israel captive - or, perhaps, leading those who are faithful to abandon their faith and follow Satan's plan instead.

Verses 5-10 describe how completely forsaken Edom is. The Lord describes how even thieves or grapegatherers would leave more than He will - "how are the things of Esau searched out! How are his hidden things sought up!" - and then points out that those so-called friends who led to his sin have abandoned Esau. "The men that were at peace with thee have deceived thee, and prevailed against thee... there is none understanding in him." Satan will make all kinds of promises to his followers, through the lies those followers will tell others and themselves (chief among them, perhaps, being that there is no God, and no eternal consequences for our actions), but he will not support them when the lies are exposed. "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?" God will destroy the so-called wisdom and understanding from those in prison - and realising our own lack of wisdom is the first step to becoming humble.

Finally, in verses 17-21, we have the reason for the whole parable. "Upon mount Zion shall be deliverance, and there shall be holiness" - this is where the righteous live, those who have not abandoned their God for Satan's (apparently easier) plan. Verse 18:

And the house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau for stubble, and they shall kindle in them, and devour them; and there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau; for the Lord hath spoken it.

As a prophecy of actual destruction, this verse simply does not make sense. The house of Joseph, used to represent the North Kingdom, was destroyed centuries before Obadiah prophesied. And then we have that bizarre phrase - "they shall kindle in them and devour them". Israel will eat the ashes of Esau? Why? Was that a thing in those days?

However, as a parable of the spirit world, this verse is key. The house of Jacob represents all those who inhabit spirit paradise, as already mentioned, and they are a fire - a source of heat, of faith. The house of Joseph, to a Mormon, represents the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. In spirit paradise, they are represented as a flame - Jacob is the body of the fire, but Joseph carries it to others. Joseph is the missionaries, who travel from paradise to prison to preach to those in captivity, and have done so ever since the Saviour organised them while his body lay in a tomb at Jerusalem (see D&C 138:29-31).

And Edom shall be destroyed as stubble, eaten by the flames - and then devoured by the house of Israel. In verse 16 we read:

For as ye have drunk upon my holy mountain [mount Zion], so shall all the heathen drink continually, yea, they shall drink, and they shall swallow down, and they shall be as though they had not been.

This is the verse where Esau is identified as a symbol of "all the heathen", of all who will dwell in prison. And they will drink the words of Joseph, the words of God, and be remade, new men and women, as if their former selves had never been. Then they will indeed be devoured - absorbed into the house of Jacob, made part of the body of the faithful, and carried to mount Zion in glory.

Will all those who dwell in prison be redeemed? Obadiah and the Lord certainly wish it were so, and the parable says as much, but we know from human nature that it will not be so. There will always be those who reject the word of the Lord. The closing words of verse 18, "there shall not be any remaining of the house of Esau", does not mean what we wish it did, but rather that every Esau-like aspect of those who are redeemed will be destroyed - they will be reborn, divorced from their sinful past.

Verses 19 and 20 describe how utterly each individual will be changed - every aspect of them (here represented by the geography of the Middle East) will be possessed by Israel, by faith in God. And then comes the recap of the entire parable: how Jacob and Joseph will descend from mount Zion to redeem Esau, and all those who repent will come unto the Lord with all their hearts. Verse 21:

And saviours shall come up on mount Zion to judge the mount of Esau; and the kingdom shall be the Lord's.