…humility and theology…

Obadiah 1:3-4

3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rock, in your lofty dwelling,who say in your heart, “Who will bring me down to the ground?”4 Though you soar aloft like the eagle, though your nest is set among the stars, from there I will bring you down, declares the Lord.

The opening message of Obadiah is the spiritual equivalent to a doctor using defibrillation paddles. He uses language here to try and shock cold hearts and bring a pulse back. Though this short book is not addressed specifically to the people of Israel, there is a profound messaged in the analogous opening lines.

Obadiah uses terminology that we would typically associate with traditional Christian comforts and Biblical promises. He first speaks of Edom as living in the “cleft of the rock” and in a “lofty dwelling.” These images have been used by the people of God to express the protective nature of our Father. But here, Obadiah is clear that these images can be sources of false security if pride is the generating source of our understanding. It is absolutely true that God is a place of safety and refuge for us in the midst of difficult situations and circumstances (some that even He has led us into), but we make an enormous mistake if we begin to stand at the mouth of that cave with any swagger or arrogance, pridefully looking at those with no shelter and boasting about how exclusive we are. I can’t imagine anything but heartbreak as Noah looked from the Ark and watched his countrymen and neighbors struggle and gasp for breath as the tumult of water surrounded them (Genesis 7). I’m also reminded of David’s time at Adullum (1 Sam 22). He didn’t saunter up to the cave with an arm gleefully swinging, he crawled there with his own saliva dried on his face after pretending to be insane as he tried to save his own life in the court of a Philistine ruler. David wasn’t bolting a “members only” sign to the edge of the rocks, he was welcoming every has-been and have-not from miles around into his refuge. Six hundred miscreants, ruffians, failures, and rejects piled into that hole in the earth to come follow the man who wore a bib to his place of safety.

Obadiah tells them next that it was exactly their high perch that would make their fall so painful and destructive. We have traditionally used the words of Isaiah regarding the eagles to give us strength in comfort and hope (Isaiah 40:31), but there is another side to that picture. Who falls as far as the nested eagle?  If there has ever been a practical reason for staying grounded it would have to be the length of the fall. a servant, a humble servant, has very little to worry about in the event of a fall, he’s already down.

Jesus dealt with this in a story about a man that showed up to a dinner party early and got a great seat, but his swagger was short lived as the host had intended that seat for someone else. The long walk from the head of the table, where the conversation is stimulating and rewarding, to the kids table, where they only talk to announce which vegetable they are going to throw, is a shameful trip. If our theology is based on our worth or our strength or us at all, then our course is set for a mid-air collision with reality, and in that tragic mess of twisted metal and smoldering dreams there are few survivors; pride rarely wears a parachute. However, if humility and service drive our understanding of theology, then we are inevitably going to find ourselves at the feet of Jesus. And is there any place that life makes more sense? Is there any place we can be where we are “higher” or more elevated than with Him? The Psalmist said that it is better to be a doorman at God’s tent than to be a star in the dwelling places of the wicked. (Psalm 84:10) Augustine echoes this upside-down sentiment:

Do you wish to rise? Begin by descending. You plan a tower that will pierce the clouds? Lay first the foundation of humility.

May we not inflate our own worth today. May we humbly and gratefully come to God in prayer and thank Him profusely for His grace, His mercy, and His love. May we never begin to elevate our own opinion of ourselves and forget the Bible’s words, “we have nothing to give that has not been first given to us.”

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