It all started in 1878 over disputed ownership of a pig. (The feud between the Hatfield and McCoy families.) And it didn’t finish for nearly 30 years. It’s a true story, and it’s been turned into a movie, as well as a 3 part TV miniseries. The Hatfield-McCoy feud has entered American folklore as a byword for bitter, long-running feuds.
The Tug Fork River marked the border of Kentucky and West Virginia. The Hatfields lived on ONE side, while the McCoys lived on the OTHER. The Hatfields had money from timber and were well-connected politically. The McCoys were lower middle-class. Both families were involved in the manufacture and sale of illegal moonshine – of course.
Tensions had simmered between the two families since an alleged war crime during the civil war fourteen years earlier. But it really got started when Randolph McCoy claimed that Floyd Hatfield had one of his hogs. Local justice of the peace, Anderson Hatfield, ruled in favour of the Hatfields, on the testimony of Bill Staton, a relative of both families.
That was enough for Staton to be killed by two McCoy brothers in 1880. Although they were later acquitted on grounds of self-defense.
Things got personal when Roseanna McCoy began a relationship with Johnson Hatfield, and moved in with the Hatfields in West Virginia. So the McCoys had Johnson arrested on Kentucky bootlegging warrants. Roseanna made a desperate midnight ride to alert the patriarch, William “Devil Anse” Hatfield. He organised a posse who rescued Johnson from McCoy custody.
The feud intensified in 1882 when Ellison Hatfield was killed by three of Roseanna McCoy’s brothers. He was stabbed 26 times and finished off with a gunshot for good measure. They were arrested, but then captured by a vigilante group of Hatfields, and killed by more than 50 shots fired at them while they were tied to some bushes.
The feud reached its peak, however, with the 1888 New Year’s Massacre. The Hatfield clan surrounded the McCoy cabin in Kentucky and opened fire. They set the cabin on fire in an attempt to drive Randolph McCoy out. He escaped, but two children were shot and his wife was beaten.
A few days later a posse of deputies, led by the McCoys, crossed the border into West Virginia and caught the Hatfield attackers. A number from both sides were killed in the battle, before the Hatfields were arrested. They were eventually convicted in Kentucky, being sentenced to jail, or death by hanging.
Tensions eased after that, but trials continued until 1901, with the trial of Johnson Hatfield.
That seems to us like a long, complicated story of a family feud. But, let me tell you, it’s NOTHING compared to the family feud that’s in the background here in the book of Obadiah.
Obadiah’s a JEWISH prophet with a warning to the neighbouring nation of EDOM. The Jews are descended from JACOB. And Edom is descended from ESAU, Jacob’s twin brother.
And their feud began in the mother’s womb. Apparently they were fighting even THEN. Genesis 25:21 says
Rebekah became pregnant. 22 The babies JOSTLED each other within her, and she said, “Why is this happening to me?” So she went to inquire of the LORD.
23 The LORD said to her, “Two nations are in your womb, and two peoples from within you will be separated; one people will be stronger than the other, and the older will serve the younger.”
Esau was older, but when they grew up that didn’t stop Jacob cheating his brother out of his birthright, and then tricking his father, Isaac, into giving HIM the first-born’s blessing.
And that was the start of a feud that lasted CENTURIES.
When God rescued Israel from Egypt, they miraculously crossed the Red Sea, and the pursuing Egyptian army were drowned. And Moses sang, in Exodus 15, of God’s majestic power, and how the nations will hear and tremble, and THE CHIEFS OF EDOM WILL BE TERRIFIED.
That might explain why, not too long later, as they head out of the desert, they ask Edom to let them pass through their country on the way to the Promised Land. (Numbers 20:14). But Edom said NO, and even called out their army to make sure Israel didn’t enter. And so Israel had to go the long way around.
Despite that, in Deuteronomy 23:7, God commands Israel not to hate an Edomite, because he is their brother.
However, by the time of King David, it seems the two nations are effectively at war. David and his armies, led by their commander in chief, Joab, kill 12,000 Edomites (Psalm 60:1).
To cut a long story short, it seems those tensions simmered for the next few hundred years. Amos pronounced God’s judgment on Edom (Ch 1 v11), and sums up the attitude between the two brother nations.
11 This is what the LORD says: “For three sins of Edom, even for four, I will not turn back [my wrath]. Because he pursued his brother with a sword, stifling all compassion, because his anger raged continually and his fury flamed unchecked,
- Pride and prejudice
Which brings us to the prophecy of Obadiah, given shortly after Babylon conquered Jerusalem in 587BC, and sent the Jews into exile.
And, once again, God’s got a message for Edom. Verses 1-3, a message about PRIDE AND PREJUDICE.
This is what the Sovereign LORD says about Edom… (v2) 2 “See, I will make you small among the nations; you will be utterly despised. 3 The pride of your heart has deceived you, you who live in the clefts of the rocks and make your home on the heights, you who say to yourself, ‘Who can bring me down to the ground?’
The land of Edom was high in the mountains to the south of Judah. It was difficult to get to, and therefore almost impossible to conquer. And Edom thought that made them SAFE. And they’d looked down at the difficulties Jerusalem was having with Babylon. And they’d felt PROUD. And COMPLACENT. And COMFORTABLE.
But God’s warning was that he’d make them SMALL, not BIG. DESPISED, not safe. He’d bring them DOWN, not UP. V4
4 Though you soar like the eagle and make your nest among the stars, from there I will bring you down,” declares the LORD.
“The pride of your heart has DECEIVED you,” says God. Pride is deceptive because it thinks you’re autonomous and independent, when you’re NOT. It thinks you control your own destiny when you DON’T. It thinks you’re not ACCOUNTABLE to anyone/ when you ARE.
Like the rich fool we saw a few weeks ago in Luke 12. Who built big barns to store all his grain, but didn’t plan on meeting God.
It’s the same attitude we see in so many Australians today. Comfortable and complacent and content. Work, family, nice home, healthy, active, enough disposable income for entertainment, hobbies and travel. No PLACE for God because they’ve got no NEED for him.
Life’s GOOD, and whatever they need or want, they’ve got the resources to GET it. Plenty of credit, savings, health insurance, superannuation, connections and influence.
One of the first things we need to be praying for the non-Christians we know is that God would break their PRIDE.
They may not CALL it pride. But that attitude of independence and autonomy will lead to God’s JUDGMENT. Whether it’s EDOM in the sixth century BC, or Sydney, Australia in the twenty-first century. Different time, different location, but THE SAME SIN.
And pride in the human heart has a lot to answer for. It’s the root of so much ELSE we do that’s wrong. C.S. Lewis, in Mere Christianity, says
The centre (of Christian morals)… the essential vice, the utmost evil, is Pride. Unchastity, anger, greed, drunkenness, and all that, are mere fleabites in comparison: it was through Pride that the devil became the devil: PRIDE LEADS TO EVERY OTHER VICE: it is the complete anti-God state of mind.
You see, every time we say to ourselves, “I want to do what I want to do, not what God wants!” That’s PRIDE! And that’s what sin basically is – a declaration of independence from God.
You might think that just because you’re a Christian, you’re IMMUNE from pride. But we’re NOT, are we? We’re proud of so MANY things, aren’t we? Every time we LOOK at someone, we’re comparing ourselves. Male or female. If it’s men, it’s how much we can bench press, or how much we earn. If it’s women, it’s what clothes we wear, or how our hair looks. We compare educations, and houses, we compare how well-behaved our children are. It’s all pride.
But what God wants instead is a recognition that HE’s God, and you’re NOT. That he’s wise, and you’re not. He knows best, and you don’t. That’s HUMILITY.
In fact, that’s the way into the Kingdom of God. Jesus taught (Matthew 5), Blessed are the poor in spirit, and the meek, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven, they will inherit the earth.
But it’s not just the way IN, it’s the attitude of the kingdom ONCE YOU’RE IN. 1 Peter 5:5-7 says
5 Young men, in the same way be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because, “God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.” 6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time.
It’s the way of the KINGDOM, because it’s the way of the KING. Philippians 2 says
3 Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit, but in humility consider others better than yourselves. 4 Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. 5 Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus: 6 Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, 7 but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. 8 And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself and became obedient to death- even death on a cross!
- Family feud (10-14)
That’s Jesus. And that’s to be US. But it certainly wasn’t EDOM. So what were the specifics of EDOM’S pride? The ATTITUDE would be enough for God’s judgment. But that was only THE BEGINNING. Look at v10.
10 Because of the violence against your brother Jacob, you will be covered with shame; you will be destroyed forever. 11 On the day you stood aloof while strangers carried off his wealth and foreigners entered his gates and cast lots for Jerusalem, you were like one of them.
From the safety of their mountains, they saw Babylon marching against Jerusalem. But rather than come to the AID of their brothers. Rather than DEFEND them. They stood back and WATCHED.
But not only WATCHED, they REJOICED in their downfall. And BOASTED about how much better, and safer, THEY were. V12.
12 You should not look down on your brother in the day of his misfortune, nor rejoice over the people of Judah in the day of their destruction, nor boast so much in the day of their trouble.
But even THAT’S not the worst of it. Inactivity and attitude became ACTIVE HOSTILITY. V13
13 You should not MARCH THROUGH THE GATES of my people in the day of their disaster, nor look down on them in their calamity in the day of their disaster, nor SEIZE THEIR WEALTH in the day of their disaster. 14 You should not wait at the crossroads to CUT DOWN THEIR FUGITIVES, nor HAND OVER THEIR SURVIVORS in the day of their trouble.
Once the walls of Jerusalem came down, and the people were marched off, the Edomites came in and looted whatever they could find. Making the most of another’s downfall is pretty low.
But even worse, they joined in with the Babylonians. They captured fleeing Jews, and handed them over to their conquerors. The ultimate betrayal.
And behind it all was PRIDE. Presuming they’d be SAFE. Thinking they could act any way they wanted. And there’d be no consequences.
V10: they STOOD ALOOF while strangers carried off Jacob’s wealth.
V12 They LOOKED DOWN on their brother, and BOASTED in the day of his trouble.
They thought THEY were in charge, but the reality was it was GOD in charge all along. And just as it was God who was punishing Judah for HER sin. So he’d punish EDOM, for HERS.
V6, they’ll be ransacked and pillaged.
V7 Deceived by allies
V8 the wise men will be destroyed, and
V9, the warriors cut down in the slaughter.
- Don’t write off God’s people (15-21)
And so we come to the LAST section of the prophecy. And at this point it’s important to remember that this was a prophecy directed at Edom, but spoken in the hearing of God’s people, JUDAH. For THEIR BENEFIT.
They’re listening in/ as God delivers his judgment verdict against Edom. They’re listening in, as they’re led off into captivity. They’re listening in, as God’s just verdict is delivered against EDOM, even while they’re suffering God’s just verdict against THEM.
And the message that’s COMFORTING in the midst of that/ is that God’s justice will eventually come to ALL. NO ONE will get away with it forever. Look at how, v15, the judgment picture ENLARGES;
15 “The day of the LORD is near for ALL NATIONS. As you have DONE, it will be done TO YOU; your deeds will return upon your own head. 16 Just as you drank on my holy hill, so all the nations will drink continually; they will drink and drink and be as if they had never been.
Edom drank, in celebration, within the ruins of Jerusalem. But God would make ALL the wicked nations drink TOO – drink the cup of HIS WRATH. All the kingdoms that LOOK so strong, so proud, will BE GONE.
And only ONE KINGDOM WILL REMAIN. Look at the contrast from v17. God’s people look like they’re down and out at the moment. But God’s got PLANS for them. Plans to RESTORE them. Because they’re HIS PEOPLE. V17. (All the nations will be as if they’ve never been)
17 But on Mount Zion will be DELIVERANCE; it will be holy, and THE HOUSE OF JACOB will possess its inheritance. 18 The house of Jacob will be a FIRE and the house of Joseph a FLAME; the house of Esau will be STUBBLE, and they will set it on fire and consume it. There will be NO SURVIVORS from the house of Esau.” The LORD has spoken.
It might not look like it at the moment, but God’s people will RISE. And Edom will FALL.
And if you look through the pages of history, that’s just the way it turned out. Edom, who thought they were safe from danger, up in the strongholds of the mountains. They’ve disappeared off the map.
I mean, where’s Edom today? It’s been overtaken and over-run so many times, there’s not even a trace of it anymore. Who goes on holidays to Edom?
But there’s ANOTHER kingdom that’s grown and flourished, that reaches all over the world. Obadiah says in verse 21, THE KINGDOM WILL BE THE LORD’S. The Kingdom of God.
People have been writing off Christians even since the time of Jesus. And the Old Testament people for centuries before THAT. Today, they mock that we belong in the past. That churches are closing, and percentage of Christians declining. That we’re out of date and irrelevant. That we’re weak and defeated.
Public opinion and the media think we’re a spent force. That our opinions don’t deserve being listened to. Because we live in a modern, enlightened, post-Christian age. And they MOCK us.
But that mistake’s been made before. Just ask Edom.
And they mocked Jesus as he hung on the cross. But that was a mistake TOO.
God’s plans were wiser than their foolishness, and more powerful than their weakness. And he established his eternal, never-ending kingdom, when he raised his Son from the grave. And seated him at his right hand.
And he’s STILL RULING from there. And one day he’ll return and set everything RIGHT.
Despite the way things sometimes appear. Despite people thinking we’re out of date and irrelevant. The reality is we’re the OPPOSITE. We’re a people of THE FUTURE. A future where God’s kingdom RULES. And we’re a part of it all.
So, will you remember that, next time you’re struggling? Next time you’re ridiculed or persecuted for what you think about marriage, or abortion, or the rights of the disabled, or truth, or morality, or the Bible. Next time you suffer injustice, or you’re tempted to just give it all away, and take the EASY PATH. Remember how God vindicated his people Judah. And brought down her enemy Edom. And how he raised Jesus. And how it’s only HIS kingdom that will last. Everything else is going to go.
Remember, we’re not people of the past; we need to be people LOOKING TO THE FUTURE. And holding on to the promises of God. Or as Obadiah says,
21 Deliverers will go up on Mount Zion to govern the mountains of Esau. And the kingdom will be the LORD’s.