Sabbatical 2017

Sabbatical 2017
Mill stream in Quimperle, France

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Canonical Reading Plan for Mar 22, Jdg 10-12

Today's readings are Jdg 10-12.

As we continue in Judges, notice that problems begin to arise as those pagan inhabitants of Canaan who were allowed to remain living in the land exert an ungodly influence on Israel. The first of Israel’s tribes to struggle are the those that opted to settle East of the Jordan instead of going into the Promised Land. They live in proximity to and among the Moabites, the Syrians (Bashan) and the Ammonites. The tribes living west of the Jordan struggle with the nations they failed to dispossess beginning with the Philistines and the Sidonians (Jdg 10:6). 


The longer Israel allows these others to live among them, the more Israel drifts toward their gods. God leaves Israel to their own devices until they begin to realize how desperate their situation has become and they call out to Him (Jdg 10:10-16). God responds to their repentance in grace and mercy.

A few notes about the various stories follow. 

We see how fickle Israel is in Jephthah's story. They ostracize him, then plead for him to help when they’re in trouble (Jdg 11:1-8). Israel is so confused they are fighting the enemy and fighting themselves as well (Jdg 12:1-6). 

Meanwhile, Jephthah's vow and the sacrifice of his daughter is a tragic and arduous tale (Jdg 11:40). God never asks Jephthah for anything or to make any commitment. The good-intentioned vow Jephthah makes is self-initiated and places him in a dreadful situation.

Some background context will help in understanding how Jephthah found himself in such a dire set of circumstances.

We know from archaeological evidence that most houses in Jephthah’s time have a room for livestock on the ground level, to keep the animals safe from predators and thieves. The animals were usually the first ones to emerge from the lower level when the door was opened, similar to the way many people today take their dog out for a walk. Because of this, Jephthah probably assumed an animal would come out of his house as he approached. Instead, to his utter horror, his daughter comes running out to greet him.

Jephthah is a godly man who places a high value on his word being a reflection of the faithfulness and integrity of his God. As such, he feels he has to follow through on his vow. He is trapped between the love he has for his daughter and the obligation he feels for the vow he made.

This is a difficult situation to understand for folks who live in western culture. For most of us, we think, “Why doesn’t Jephthah just claim he made a mistake and has no intention of sacrificing his daughter? God will understand.” Furthermore, we all know human sacrifice is contrary to God's law. However, Jephthah lives in a culture that places tremendous value on a man’s word and fully expects whatever he says to be binding. Even though God never speaks a word about Jephthah’s dilemma, Jephthah feels obligated to carry out the letter of his vow, painful as it may be. It's a gut-wrenching tale and a harsh lesson that teaches us to avoid making promises or vows to God without prayerfully considering the ramifications.

Could God have intervened? Of course He could have, but Jephthah’s grievous loss shows us something about God and His children. It’s not until we step back and look at the big picture of this scenario to see the profound nature of Jephthah’s story. Jephthah was the illegitimate son of the judge of Israel. He was rejected by his own people. He agonizingly sacrifices his only child to redeem those who oppose him and remain steadfast and faithful to his word, regardless of what it costs him. The parallels to what we will see in the life, ministry, and crucifixion of Christ are remarkable.

But, there’s more! Jephthah’s daughter teaches us another lesson about God’s plan of redemption. In an incredible act of obedience, she allows herself to be sacrificed for the deliverance of the very people who rejected her father.  

It’s all a picture of the gospel. One day God will be true to His word, regardless of the pain it causes Him, and sacrifice His only Son to deliver His people from their enemy, death.

Meanwhile, as we look at the narrative arc in Judges, we’re seeing Israel exhibit a breath-taking fickleness toward God and toward each other. Sadly, it will get worse! They have yet to learn the value of a consistent walk, the appropriate exercise of spiritual disciplines (prayer, reading, etc.) and the need to be constantly wary about how the world around them can draw them into ungodly behavior.
As for us, we can learn from this. We should never take our relationship with the Lord lightly or for granted and always be aware that "some participation is required." Moreover, we should realize that there is always a price to pay for drifting from God. He is faithful to redeem those who are His, but we don't know when redemption will come and the time between our drifting away and restoration can be very painful.

On a lighter note, we see the pronunciation of "Shibboleth" (Jdg 12:6) has regional differences in much the same way the pronunciation of "ambulance" does. In our time, some folks accent the first syllable of "ambulance," some the last. One can usually tell what region anther comes from by speech patterns. It was the same in Israel in ancient times.

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