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Matthew Henry's Commentary – Verses 17–21
Verses 17–21

After the destruction of the church’s enemies is threatened, which will be completely accomplished in the great day of recompence, and that judgment for which Christ came once, and will come again, into this world, here follow precious promises of the salvation of the church, with which this prophecy concludes, and those of Joel and Amos did, which, however they might be in part fulfilled in the return of the Jews out of Babylon notwithstanding the triumphs of Edom in their captivity, as if it were perpetual, are yet, doubtless, to have their full accomplishment in that great salvation wrought out by Jesus Christ, to which all the prophets bore witness. It is promised here,

I. That there shall be salvation upon Mount Zion, that holy hill where God sets his anointed King (Ps. 2:6): Upon Mount Zion shall be deliverance, Obad. 1:17. There shall be those that escape; so the margin. A remnant of Israel, upon the holy mountain shall be saved, Obad. 1:16. Christ said, Salvation is of the Jews, John 4:22. God wrought deliverances for the Jews, typical of our redemption by Christ. But Mount Zion is the gospel-church, from which the New-Testament law went forth, Isa. 2:3. There salvation shall be preached and prayed for; to the gospel-church those are added who shall be saved; and for those who come in faith and hope to this Mount Zion deliverance shall be wrought from wrath and the curse, from sin, and death, and hell, while those who continue afar off shall be left to perish.

II. That, where there is salvation, there shall be sanctification in order to it: And there shall be holiness, to prepare and qualify the children of Zion for this deliverance; for wherever God designs glory he gives grace. Temporal deliverances are indeed wrought for us in mercy when with them there is holiness, when there is wrought in us a disposition to receive them with love and gratitude to God; when we are sanctified, they are sanctified to us. Holiness is itself a great deliverance, and an earnest of that eternal salvation which we look for. There, upon Mount Zion, in the gospel-church, shall be holiness; for that is it which becomes God’s house for ever, and the great design of the gospel, and its grace, is to plant and promote holiness. There shall be the Holy Spirit, the holy ordinances, the holy Jesus, and a select remnant of holy souls, in whom, and among whom, the holy God will delight to dwell. Note, Where there is holiness there shall be deliverance.

III. That this salvation and sanctification shall spread, and prevail, and get ground in the world: The house of Jacob, even this Mount Zion, with the deliverance and their holiness there wrought, shall possess their possessions; that is, the gospel-church shall be set up among the heathen, and shall replenish the earth; the apostles of Christ by their preaching shall gain possession of the hearts of men for him whose messengers and ministers they are, and when they possess their hearts they shall possess their possessions, for those who have given up themselves to the Lord give up all they have to him. When Lydia’s heart was opened to Christ her house was opened to his ministers. When the Gentile nations became nations of those that were saved, were disciplined, walked in the light of the Lord, and brought their glory and honour into the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:24), then the house of Jacob possessed their possessions. This is the part fulfilled by the planting of the Christian religion in the world, and shall be fulfilled yet more and more by the setting up of Christ’s throne where Satan’s seat is, and the erecting of trophies of his victory upon the ruins of the devil’s kingdom. Now here is foretold,

1. How this possession shall be gained, and the opposition given to it got over (Obad. 1:18): The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, for their God is, and will be, a consuming fire; and the house of Esau shall be for stubble, easily devoured and consumed by this fire. This is fulfilled, (1.) In the conversion of multitudes by the grace of Christ; the gospel, preached in the house of Jacob and Joseph, and there owned and professed, shall be as a fire and a flame to melt and to soften hard hearts, to burn up the dross of sin and corruption, that they may be purified and refined with the spirit of judgment and the spirit of burning. Christ, when he comes, shall be as a refiner’s fire, Mal. 3:1, 2. (2.) In the confusion of all the impenitent implacable enemies of the gospel of Christ, that oppose it and do all they can to hinder the setting up of the kingdom of the Messiah by it. The gospel day is a day that burns like an oven, in which all the proud, and all that do wickedly, shall be a stubble, Mal. 4:1. Jacob and Joseph shall be as a fire and a flame; for those that meddle with them, to do them hurt, will find that they do so at their peril; they shall be to them as a torch of fire in a sheaf, Zech. 12:6. The word of God in the mouth of his ministers is said to be like fire, and the people as wood to be devoured by it, Jer. 5:14. And the man of sin is to be consumed by the breath of Christ’s mouth, 2 Thess. 2:8. Those that are not refined as gold by fire of the gospel shall be consumed as dross by it; for it will be a savour either of life or of death. When idols and idolatry were abolished, and the wealth and power of nations were brought into the service of Christ and his gospel, and the spoils of the strong man armed were divided by him that was stronger than he, then the house of Jacob and Joseph devoured the house of Esau, so that there was none of them left remaining. This the Lord spoke by his prophets, and this he did by his apostles.

2. How far this possession shall extend, Obad. 1:19, 20. This is described in Jewish language, which speaks the accession made to the land of Israel, after the return out of captivity into Babylon. The captivity of this host of Israel, that is, this host of Israel that have been so long in captivity and now they have come back are still called the children of the captivity, these shall not only recover their own land, but shall gain ground upon their neighbours adjoining to them, some of whom shall become proselytes and shall incorporate with the Jews, who, by possessing them in a holy communion, possess their land. We must reckon ourselves truly enriched by the conversion of our neighbours to the fear of God and the faith of Christ, and their coming to join with us in the worship of God. Such an accession to our Christian communion we must reckon to be more our wealth and strength than an accession to our estates. Or, The ancient inhabitants of those lands that were carried away into captivity being lost, and never returning to their estates, the children of Israel shall take possession of that which lies next them; for their numbers shall so increase that their own land shall be too strait for them, and their neighbours’ estates shall escheat to them ob defectum sanguinis—through default of heirs. They shall enter upon that which is adjoining to them. The country of Esau shall be possessed by those of the south parts of Canaan, for to them it lies contiguous. Those of the plain, on the west of Canaan, which was a champaign country, shall enter upon the land of the Philistines, their neighbours. Those of Judah, which was the chief of the two returning tribes, shall possess the field of Ephraim and Samaria, which before belonged to the ten tribes; and Benjamin, the other tribe, shall possess Gilead on the other side of Jordan, which had belonged to the two tribes and a half. The kingdom of Israel shall join with that of Judah both in civil and sacred interests, and, as friends and brethren, shall mutually possess and enjoy one another; and both together shall possess the Canaanites, even to Zarephath, which belongeth to Zidon; and Jerusalem shall possess the cities of the south, even to Sepharad. Thus did the Jews enlarge their borders on all sides. The modern rabbin teach their scholars by Zarephath and Sepharad to understand France and Spain, grounding upon this a foolish groundless expectation that some time or other the Jews shall be masters of those countries; and they call and count the Christians Edomites, over whom they are to have dominion. But the promise here, no doubt, has a spiritual signification, and had its accomplishment in the setting up of the Christian church, the gospel-Israel, in the world, and shall have its accomplishment more and more in the enlargement of it and the additions made to it, till the mystical body is completed. When ministers and Christians prevail with their neighbours to come to Christ, to yield themselves to the Lord, they possess them. The converts that Abraham had are said to be the souls that he had gotten, Gen. 12:5. The possession is gained, not vi et armis—by force and arms; for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but spiritual; it is by the preaching of the gospel, and the power of divine grace going along with it, that this possession is got and kept.

IV. That the kingdom of the Redeemer shall be erected and maintained, to the comfort of his loyal subjects and the terror and shame of all his enemies (Obad. 1:21): The kingdom shall be the Lord’s, the Lord Christ’s. God shall give it to him, by putting all things into his hand, all power both in heaven and in earth; men shall give it to him, by resigning themselves to him as his willing people, and appointing him their head. Now the work of kings is to protect their subjects and suppress their enemies; and this Christ will do; he will both reward and punish. 1. The mountain of Zion shall be saved; on it saviours shall come, the preachers of the gospel, who are called saviours, because their business is to save themselves and those that hear them; and in this they are workers together with Christ, but to little purpose if he by his grace did not work together with them. 2. The mountain of Esau shall be judged; and the same that come as saviours on Mount Zion shall judge the mountain of Esau; for the word of the gospel in their mouth, that saves believers, judges unbelievers, convinces and condemns them. Christ’s ministers are saviours on Mount Zion when they preach that he that believes shall be saved; but they judge the mount of Esau when they preach that he that believeth not shall be damned, which they are not only commissioned, but commanded to do, Mark 16:16. And in the course of God’s providence his scripture is fulfilled; when God raises up friends to the church in her distress (as he raised up judges to deliver Israel of old, Jdg. 2:16), then saviours come on Mount Zion, to save it from being sunk and ruined; and when the enemies of the church are brought down, and their power broken, then is the mount of Esau judged; and this shall be done in every age in such a way as God thinks best; we may depend upon it that the gates of hell shall not prevail against the church, but the church shall prevail against them; for the kingdom shall be the Lord’s; the kingdoms of the world shall become his, and he has taken, and will take, to himself his great power and reign.