Friday, June 13, 2008

Edom is the World

Ezekiel chapters 35 and 36 both refer to Edom. Chapter 35 is an extended prophecy focusing on Edom. Although chapter 36 focuses on the restoration of Israel, verse 5 seems to tie back to the preceding chapter, when the Lord says through Ezekiel "in the fire of my jealousy have I spoken against the residue of the heathen, and against all Idumea." ("Idumea" is a synonym for Edom. In chapter 35 Ezekiel refers to Edom poetically as "Mount Seir," another synonym.)

Edom was a tiny nation on the southeastern borders of Israel, on the edge of the desert. By tradition, the nation of Edom was founded by Esau, the older brother of Jacob (Israel), whom Jacob and his mother tricked out of his birthright. Biblical texts suggest there was considerable mutual rivalry and hatred between Edom and Israel. In the early, pre-kingship years of Israelite history, the Edomites occasionally scored some victories over the Israelites, but they were subjugated by Israel under King David and never posed a serious threat to Israel after that, except possibly as collaborators with the imperial warlords of Assyria, Babylon and Persia who later swept away the Israelite kingdoms. Yet, the Israelites always remembered the bitter rivalry between Jacob and Esau.

One wonders why these two chapters of Ezekiel would give such prominent attention to Edom, a kingdom that by Ezekiel's time was as much a victim of the northern empires as Israel was. Until one realizes that in ancient Israel, "Edom" became a synonym for the Gentiles, for the World. Under Roman rule, for instance, the Jewish slang term in Aramaic for the Romans was "Edomites."

Ezekiel 35 lists the sins of Edom. They are hatred (see vss. 5 & 11), violence and excessive bloodshed (vss. 5-6), anger (vs. 11), and pride (vs. 13). The description in Genesis of Esau, the father of Edom, seems to fit this profile of pride, anger and violence. This prophecy against Edom is the classic declaration of how one's own sins come back to haunt one. Essentially, the Lord through Ezekiel declares that since Edom has lived by the sword, so shall they die by the sword.

Given the association of Edom with violence and arrogance, it is not difficult to imagine why the Israelites came to associate all foreign conquering empires with "Edom," why their nickname for the Romans was "Edomites."

How have the world's empires changed since then? The World is Edom.

I've never been a particularly violent person, but anger and pride have been my sins as well. For many years I hung onto useless anger against the Church and against others I associated with the Church. We leave the World and return to Zion by giving up our anger, our hate and our pride, by giving up our desire for unrighteous dominion. Each time we struggle against sin, it is an acknowledgment of our need for humility and repentance. It is a step away from anger and pride and a step toward the Empire of God.

1 comment:

MoHoHawaii said...

You might want to check out Flannery O'Connor's short story "Parker's Back" in Everything That Rises Must Converge.

O'Connor gave her character the name "Obadiah Elihu" and associated some of the Edom imagery from the Book of Obadiah with him. (His sin is pride.)

Anyway, it's a literary treatment of the issues you mention. It's also one of my favorite short stories, ever.

(BTW, O'Connor was a devout Catholic.)

Back to your post, as I've mentioned before your example of reconciliation has helped temper my own excesses of emotion with respect to the church. I'm still not quite where you are because of my indignation at injustice. I fight if not for myself then for the generation behind me.

On the other hand, I think that in the end you will soften more hearts than I will.