On January 27, 1986, an engineer with Morton Thiokol contacted NASA. At the time, Morton Thiokol was a key partner with NASA on the engines used to power the Space Shuttles which were being flown on missions into space in those days. The urgency in the Morton Thiokol engineer’s phone call had to do with his concerns about the upcoming launch. Weather forecasts for the morning of the impending launch suggested that temperatures were going to be in the high 20s. In turn, he feared that a key component of the Morton Thiokol made engines called an O-Ring may not function appropriately under such cold conditions. In short, there was a history to suggest that postponing the launch until warmer weather was the smart, safe thing to do.
To be clear, that decision related to the now infamous Space Shuttle Challenger explosion caused by the malfunction of the O-Ring was much more convoluted that I just made it out to be. In truth, almost every such hard decision that any of us face in life is more complex than those on the outside looking in would suggest. But, one of the lessons that remains from the Challenger tragedy is that sometimes our weakness and our vulnerabilities stare us in the face and we choose to ignore them or not believe them. (How the Mighty Have Fallen, Jim Collins, pages 71-73)
Edom and the Edomites stand as our Biblical example of this same truth. Their story rises to the forefront in bold relief in the little known, mostly forgotten Old Testament book of Obadiah. Obadiah is the shortest book in the Old Testament. It is one chapter or twenty one verses long. Its subject is not really Israel or the Israelites but rather Edom and the Edomites.
Edom was the near kin of Israel. Edom was birthed in the dispute between Jacob and Esau. When Esau traded his birthright to his brother Jacob as the first born son of Isaac for a bowl of porridge in the early pages of Genesis, the two brothers went their separate ways. Jacob becomes the father of the twelve tribes of Israel who settle by and large on the West Side of the Jordan. Esau becomes the father of the Edomites who settle to the southeast of Jordan. Like the Hatfields and the McCoys, the Israelites and Edomites continue for years and years the feud started by their ancestors. Almost like two enemies looking over a fence at each other Israel and Edom look over the Jordan with disdain. And, as Israel, in particular, struggles, Edom gloats and develops an attitude that says, it will never happen to us.
Like the NASA scientists who had the evidence of the O-Rings susceptibility to failure in cold weather, the Edomites watched with front row seats as their near kin Israel struggled with following God, saw the horror of the Israelite nation collapsing, laughed and cheered as the Israelites were taken into captivity by both the Assyrians and Babylonians. As they watched, laughed, cheered, they failed to learn, grow and see themselves. They become more arrogant instead of more humble. Obadiah hints and speaks at this over and over again but perhaps the clearest statement comes in verse three with these words “your proud heart has deceived you, you that live in the clefts of the rock, whose dwelling is in the heights, you say in your heart, ‘who will bring me down to the ground?’”
There is a play on words at work here. Edom was elevating themselves higher and higher as their arrogance grew more and more. Likewise, part of the arrogance was related to their literally being situated on a mountain and thus in a high place which led to their belief that their location gave them a level of defense that could never be penetrated.
Of course, Edom wasn’t above humiliation. They were just as susceptible as anyone. Of course, Edom could easily be defeated. Their place in the heights wasn’t ironclad. They could fall just like Israel. In fact, Israel kept giving them example after example of what they could become but they simply kept ignoring it over and over and over again.
It happens to us every day. We watch others get sick – cancer, heart disease, injury. “It will never happen to me,” we say in our hearts. We see others go through horrific trials – job loss, divorce, substance abuse. “It will never happen” in my family we claim. We see others make terrible decisions and pay the consequences. “I wouldn’t do that,” we comment.
But, it will happen. It will happen to all of us. We are not immune or better than anyone else. We are not more spiritual or bullet proof. We are not recipients of some special dispensation of God that everyone else didn’t get.
Humility is found in saying “I will one day die”. Humility is found in realizing “I will one day face a hard place in life”. Humility is found is knowing that one day “I will make a bad decision”. Humility comes in knowing that God is our only hope for support, grace and guidance for we are not near as smart, good or above life’s challenges as we think. Humility says but by the grace of God go I and when I do fall, but by the grace of God will I stand again.
This meal is reminder – our hope is not in our self sufficiency but in God’s supremacy. It is not our might but God’s mercy makes the difference. Charles Surgeon once said that humility is “making a right estimate of one’s self” which is to say that humility is seeing ourselves as we really are not as we think we are. May it be so, may it be so. Amen.