Why Edom Is No More
HOW pleasant life is when members of a family deeply care about one another! Strong bonds of natural affection prevent jealousies, bitterness and hatreds from developing and wrecking family peace and unity. But when natural affection breaks down, untold trouble can result. In one case, the corroding of natural ties finally led to the total extinction of an entire people, the Edomites.
Edom is but another name for Esau, the twin brother of Jacob from whom the Israelites descended. So the Israelites and the Edomites were as closely related as any people could be. The Originator of the family arrangement, Jehovah God, therefore commanded the Israelites to show due regard for their fleshly relationship with the Edomites. They were instructed: “You must not detest an Edomite, for he is your brother.”—Deut. 23:7.
From the start of their contact with the Israelites as a nation, however, the Edomites, who settled in “the land of Seir,” gave no consideration to this brotherly relationship. (Gen. 32:3-8) They treated their brother nation as an outright enemy. It was an Edomite tribe, the Amalekites, who launched the first unprovoked attack against the Israelites after their leaving Egypt under Moses’ leadership.—Ex. 17:8-16; Gen. 36:12.
About forty years later, Moses’ respectful request for the Israelites to be allowed to pass through Edom over the king’s highway met stiff opposition. Twice the Edomites refused permission, threatening to stop the Israelites by force of arms. The second time a strong military force actually took a position to block the Israelites from going through the land. This was despite the fact that the appeal had been made on the basis of a brotherly relationship. The message conveyed through the messengers sent by Moses began: “This is what your brother Israel has said, ‘You yourself well know all the hardship that has overtaken us.’”—Num. 20:14-21.
In the centuries that passed, the attitude of the Edomites did not change toward their brother nation. During the reign of Israel’s first king, Saul, warfare broke out with Edom. (1 Sam. 14:47, 48) Then, when David was king, the Edomites seized the opportunity to invade Judah. From Psalm 60 and its superscription, it appears that at this time the Israelites had suffered reverses while warring in the north with the forces of Aram-naharaim and Aram-Zobah. Nevertheless, the Edomites were subdued, and David stationed garrisons of Israelite troops throughout Edom.—2 Sam. 8:14.
Thereafter, whenever the power of the Judean kings weakened, the Edomites were quick to take advantage, even allying themselves with other peoples in fighting against Israel.—2 Chron. 20:1, 2, 10, 11, 22; 28:16-20; Ps. 83:4-8.
Toward the close of the seventh century B.C.E. the intensity of Edom’s hatred for Israel came especially to the fore. At that time the Babylonians conquered the Kingdom of Judah. The Edomites rejoiced over the disaster of their brother nation, shared in taking spoil and even turned over Judean escapees to the Babylonians. (Obad. 1, 12-14) They greedily sought to enlarge their territory by taking over the land formerly controlled by the kingdoms of Israel and Judah.—Ezek. 35:10-12.
These unbrotherly deeds did not escape the notice of Jehovah God. By means of his prophets Obadiah, Ezekiel and Jeremiah, he decreed doom for Edom. In essence, Jeremiah and Obadiah presented the same message, making the fulfillment of Jehovah’s word about Edom’s downfall doubly certain: “If it were thieves that came in to you, if despoilers came in by night, to what extent would you have been silenced? Would they not steal as much as they wanted? Or if it were grape gatherers that came in to you, would they not let some gleanings remain? O the extent to which those of Esau have been searched out! How his concealed treasures have been sought out!” (Obad. 5, 6; Jer. 49:9, 10) Yes, thieves steal only what they want, and grape gatherers leave gleanings. But, in the case of Esau (Edom), nothing would be passed over at their going down in defeat.
And through whom would the calamity come? The prophetic answer was: “The very men in covenant with you have all deceived you. The men at peace with you have prevailed against you. Those eating food with you will place a net under you as one in whom there is no discernment.” (Obad. 7) So defeat would come at the hands of the very ones with whom the Edomites had been in alliance, evidently the Babylonians to whom they had handed over escapees from Judah.
In time, according to Obadiah’s prophecy, ‘there would prove to be no survivor to the house of Esau.’ (Obad. 18) The Edomites were to cease to exist as a people. According to the prophetic word through Ezekiel, the Israelites were going to share in the fulfillment of God’s judgment against them. Jehovah’s word through Ezekiel was: “I will bring my vengeance on Edom by the hand of my people Israel; and they must do in Edom according to my anger and according to my rage.”—Ezek. 25:14.
No one today can deny that the prophetic word about Edom has been fulfilled. The Edomites have completely disappeared as a people. And this has happened in the manner pointed to in Bible prophecy.
The ancient Jewish historian Josephus tells of Nebuchadnezzar’s military campaign in Syria-Palestine during that monarch’s twenty-third year. Doubtless at that time Edomites were subjugated, but that defeat did not yet spell total ruin for their land. From about the fifth century B.C.E. onward, Arabian nomads began pressuring the Edomites. By the third century B.C.E. the Nabataeans had pushed them out of their heartland into the Negeb to the south of Judah. Eventually the Edomites moved farther north, into the region around Hebron. According to the apocryphal book of 1 Maccabees (5:3) they suffered a crushing defeat at the hands of the Levite Judas Maccabaeus. Later, according to Josephus, John Hyrcanus, Jewish king of the tribe of Levi, subdued the Edomites, permitting them to remain in the land only if they submitted to circumcision and agreed to abide by Jewish law. The Edomites complied with the condition and were in time absorbed by the Jews. After the destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70 C.E. the Edomites ceased totally to exist as a people.
Thus an unbrotherly attitude led to the end of the Edomites as a people, in fulfillment of God’s prophetic decree. This forcefully illustrates that Jehovah God does not overlook willful disregard for his will and purpose. Moreover, those who persist in attitudes and actions contrary to his ways will not escape adverse judgment. Wise indeed are all who live in harmony with his Word. For, as the inspired apostle John wrote, “the world is passing away and so is its desire, but he that does the will of God remains forever.”—1 John 2:17.