Malevojoy

The Book of Obadiah

By Chuck Griffin

The little prophetic book of Obadiah contains a description of an emotion so nasty that God promised to destroy those who felt it.

Oddly, as powerful an emotion as it is, we don’t have a word for it in English. The Germans call it schadenfreude. The Greeks call it epichairekakia.

It is the joy we sometimes feel when someone else experiences trouble. Usually, that someone else is a rival or enemy, and we are reminded in Obadiah that we can treat people quite close to us as rivals or enemies.

Obadiah, a prophet we know little about, described in 21 tight verses why God would destroy the Edomites. The Edomites, you may recall, were the descendants of Esau, twin brother of Jacob. Jacob, of course, was a progenitor of the Israelites.

In other words, the Israelites and the Edomites were cousins. They considered themselves the killing kind rather than the kissing kind, however, keeping alive some very old grudges going back to their twin forefathers.

While we don’t know the exact time frame for Obadiah, his prophecy clearly came after the Israelites had suffered terrible defeat and destruction. The Edomites were guilty not so much of committing violence, but of reveling in what they witnessed.

“You should not have gloated over your brother on the day of his misfortune; you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah on the day of their ruin; you should not have boasted on the day of their distress,” God said to the Edomites through Obadiah.

The desire to grin at a rival’s pain is such a common emotion that I’m surprised we don’t have a word for it in English. Perhaps we need one; it’s hard to identify and repent from a sin when you cannot name it. “Malevojoy,” a fusion of “malevolence” and “joy,” might work.

We see such perverse emotion displayed again in the New Testament, as Jesus is hanging on the cross. The chief priests, scribes and elders watch their rival bleeding and dying and mock him, no doubt with grins on their faces.

“And the people stood by watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!'” (Luke 23:35.)

The potential result of their malevojoy seems much different in the New Testament, however. We are told in Luke how Jesus dealt with such people before they so much as spoke, knowing full well the judgment his enemies might face one day. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Even at his death, Jesus felt only love and pity for his rivals.

Dear Lord, forgive us for the nameless sins we commit. Amen.

What They Saw

Acts 2:14-24 (NRSV)

But Peter, standing with the eleven, raised his voice and addressed them, “Men of Judea and all who live in Jerusalem, let this be known to you, and listen to what I say. Indeed, these are not drunk, as you suppose, for it is only nine o’clock in the morning. No, this is what was spoken through the prophet Joel:

"In the last days it will be, God declares,
that I will pour out my Spirit upon all flesh,
    and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy,
and your young men shall see visions,
    and your old men shall dream dreams.
Even upon my slaves, both men and women,
    in those days I will pour out my Spirit;
        and they shall prophesy.
And I will show portents in the heaven above
    and signs on the earth below,
        blood, and fire, and smoky mist.
The sun shall be turned to darkness
    and the moon to blood,
        before the coming of the Lord’s great and glorious day.
Then everyone who calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved."

The above passage is the beginning of Peter’s sermon at Pentecost, delivered shortly after the Holy Spirit had fallen upon the disciples.

Peter referenced a prophecy from Joel, found in Joel 2:28-32, to explain what was happening in the moment, the enthusiastic declaration of the gospel by disciples in languages they should not have known. Peter also continued to quote from Joel about the sun being darkened and the moon turning to blood.

I am fascinated by that second part. There is no record of anyone in the crowd asking, “And exactly when did these signs in the sky occur?” It appears there was no need for such a question because these events had been witnessed and discussed widely for more than a month.

In regard to the sun darkening, all we have to do is look at Luke’s account of the crucifixion, focusing on the actual moment of Jesus’ death. According to the NRSV translation, Luke tells us “the sun’s light failed.” 

We can be certain this was not the result of a natural solar eclipse, for reasons rooted in moon phases and how they relate to the Passover, the religious festival that was the backdrop for Jesus’ death. I consider the unknown cause either directly miraculous or a miracle of timing, incorporating a sandstorm or some other strange environmental phenomena.

The moon turning to blood is easier to explain. Again, because of the moon phase during Passover, it is quite possible the moon rose with a deep red tint on the Saturday while Jesus was in the grave, a disturbing reminder of the blood spilled the day before.

Regardless of how these events in the sky happened, they were very much on people’s minds, and Peter was able to reference them without explanation.

The crowd was troubled by all they had seen, just as we sometimes are troubled, and they became even more troubled as Peter offered them their share of blame for Jesus’ crucifixion. Blessedly, his sermon went on to deliver good news.

“Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him.”

Lord, thank you for the signs of love and reconciliation we receive from you now, preparing us for the glorious day of your return. Amen.