This verse was originally addressed to the ancient Edomites, but it’s a general statement of truth too: all bad deeds have consequences, theirs and ours. They explode on our heads in the future, as boomerang like time bombs. We should take this seriously, even though it often seems like such prophesies of doom don’t hold true. Some trajectories are long, taking time before coming home to roost. However, before we despair about the firestorm that awaits us, although such missiles can’t be defused they can be dealt with. Moreover, we can launch a different kind of explosive future, a heavenly one, so blessings will burst on our heads instead.
The Edomites were descendants of Esau, Jacob’s brother, so near kin to ‘“Israel”’(Genesis 32:28) – the name given to Jacob after his formative encounter with God, meaning striver with God (yisra-El). Edom in contrast developed a reputation for striving against God and his people. In this passage they’re charged with, ‘“violence done to your brother Jacob”’(Obadiah 10), and also just standing by whilst others attacked and looted Jerusalem, looking down on their cousins rather than helping, gloating even. Most likely this refers to when the Babylonians sacked Jerusalem and took the Jews into exile. The Edomites are remembered in the Psalms for crying ‘“Raze it! Raze it even to its foundation!”’(Psalm 137:7). It’s of note that God is not happy with those who gloat over others’ misfortune, even when He’s decreed it for their own judgement, as with the exile to ‘Babylon’(Jeremiah 25:11). So we should tread carefully and humbly before throwing ‘“the first stone”’(John 8:7). Even Babylon was later punished for its role in Israel’s own judgement (Jeremiah 50:10-11).
Nevertheless, for our own benefit we must understand that bad choices have consequences. Sometimes there’s a direct cause and effect. For example, ‘the drunkard and the glutton shall become poor; and drowsiness clothes them in rags’(Proverbs 23:21). Various other behaviours out of line with our maker’s instructions could be mentioned too, with their natural consequences. As has often been said, apparently for millennia, ‘He has dug a hole, and has fallen into the pit which he made’(Psalm 7:15). That Psalm continues, as in the study verse, ‘The trouble he causes shall return to his own head’(Psalm 7:16). This introduces some apparent deliberate ambiguity, since a few verses earlier the Psalm states, ‘God is a righteous Judge… he has bent and strung his bow… He makes ready his flaming arrows’(Psalm 7:11-13). So to some extent God oversees and permits evils destruction of itself, yet is involved in the preparation and execution too. Haman in the book of Esther is a good example of that, whose plot against God’s people rebounded ‘on his own head’(Esther 9:25), under divine providence. Sometimes though the judgement is more directly from God, without any obvious self-inflicted element, for example the sobering story of ‘Ananias, with Sapphira’(Acts 5:1).
However, we know life doesn’t always seems to work like that. Such was the case when Obadiah originally wrote this prophesy, and apparently partly what it was for, to comfort the Jews. It was probably written during their exile; all they could see was Edom safe in a mountainous stronghold, ‘profane’(Hebrews 12:16), proud and arrogant before their demise, which Obadiah foresees. His prophesy helped God’s people to see like Asaph, who saw ‘the arrogant… the prosperity of the wicked… always at ease… painful for me… Until I entered God’s sanctuary, and considered their latter end… they are suddenly destroyed!’(Psalm 73:3-19).
It might seem that others or ourselves are getting off lightly now, but beware, justice will be done, as Obadiah’s prophesy makes clear: ‘As you have done… Your deeds will return upon your own head’(Obadiah 15). For Edom the outcome was partly in this world – the prophet Malachi looked back after their mountain stronghold had been made ‘a desolation’(Malachi 1:3). Whether such things happen here or not, we mustn’t ‘be deceived. God is not mocked, for whatever a man sows, that he will also reap’(Galatians 6:7), in eternity.
But there’s hope. Delayed justice is for a reason: God ‘is patient with us, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance’(2 Peter 3:9). He wore a ‘crown of thorns’(Matthew 27:29) on His head, that we might be given a ‘crown of righteousness’(2 Timothy 4:8) on ours. So if we repentantly accept Jesus as our saviour, at the final reckoning we’ll find that He’s dealt with what should land on our heads and we’ll be presented with His crown of righteousness. Moreover, ‘whatever good thing each one does’(Ephesians 6:8) will be rewarded too – blessing bombs!