Thursday, 3 April 2014

(94) April 4: Judges 10-11 & Luke 9:1-36

Ask God to open your mind, heart and will to understand, delight in and obey what you read.

To discover:­­
As you read consider what should be commended and critiqued about Jephthah.

To ponder:
God uses Tola and then Jair to lead Israel. The prosperity and peace Jair’s sons enjoyed in ruling the “Gilead” region is noted to contrast the illegitimacy and poverty of Jephthah (11v1-2) as the one God chose to lead. This patterns his choice of Jesus, who was also born in shame and poverty. God does things his way, and salvation comes by the equipping of his Spirit not by human privilege.
            As Israel “again” turn from the LORD, their idolatry broadens to include not just the Baals and Ashtoreths, but the gods of the surrounding nations. Again then, God sells them into the hands of their enemies – and on both sides of the Jordan. And again, they “cry out” to him. But this time God refuses to save, urging them to seek salvation from the gods they have “chosen.” It reminds us that we cannot presume God’s deliverance from the enticements of this world, if we choose to give ourselves to them. However, Israel persist in their pleas until God “could bear Israel’s misery no longer.” We can be sure then, he takes no pleasure in his judgement or discipline.
            Jephthah the “Gileadite” is already known as a “mighty warrior,” around whom a “group of adventurers” have gathered. So when the Ammonites make war on Israel and camp in Gilead, it is no surprise the elders ask him to command them. However his mother was a prostitute, so his brothers had driven him away so he wouldn’t share in their inheritance. Jephthah understandably points this out. And it warns us against rejecting the Lord’s anointed, as we will one day need him to deliver us.
            The elders promise Jephthah will be “head” which is repeated twice with appeal to God as witness and then in his presence (11v10-11). Jephthah then dialogues with the Ammonite king. The land in question had once been Moab’s, before being lost to the Amorites and then to Israel. It seems the Ammonites had now taken Moab and so laid claim to their old lands too. Jephthah points out Israel have taken nothing from the Ammonites, and because God had given this particular land to Israel the Ammonites have no right to take it. Indeed, the king of Moab didn’t oppose Israel when she first took the land, nor have the Ammonites for the past 300 years Israel have occupied them (the time since Joshua). So the Ammonites should take what their god gives them, not what the LORD has given Israel. This suggests the contest is between these two gods. And Jephthah is in no doubt who is the true God, ending: “Let the LORD, the judge (or ruler), decide the dispute this day.” It is because the LORD has decided we are to receive our inheritance that it is so certain.
            Of course the Ammonites paid no attention, and as with other judges, “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah,” and he advanced. Yet, although his speech displayed leadership skill appropriate to rule Israel, he immediately showed himself a sinner. Rather than simply trust God, he made a hasty vow to broach a deal with him. And when the LORD gave the enemy into his hands, this was forfeit. The vow many not have entailed Jephthah sacrificing his delightful and only daughter (11v34), but dedicating her to a life serving the LORD (Lev 27v1-2). This makes the daughter’s submission to the vow commendable – and perhaps Jephthah’s too. It also explains the threefold emphasis on her never marrying, meaning Jephthah would have no descendent to inherit (11v37-39). The lesson is that God does not need persuasion or coercion to act, just faith. Indeed, bargaining with him may lead to unfortunate consequences.

Praying it home:
Praise God that he has compassion even amidst his judgement and discipline. Pray that we would simply trust him and never presume to bargain with him.

Thinking further: Jephthah’s vow
The NIV reads 11v31 as a foolish vow from Jephthah that “whatever comes out of my door will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” However, this could read “whatever comes out of my door will be the LORD’s, or I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” So if it was an animal that was appropriate as an offering, it would be sacrificed, but if not, whatever appeared would be given to God’s service. Commentators differ on this, but in my view a number of factors favour the second interpretation: First, this reflects the two possibilities of Leviticus 27v1-13 – the vow that dedicates a person to the LORD (Lev 27v1-8), or the vowing of an animal to be sacrificed or given to God’s service (Lev 27v9-13). Jephthah is certainly using this “vow” terminology. Second, this gives better explanation of the threefold stress on his daughter being a virgin (11v37-39). This would be odd if she was just being killed, but not if she was being given to a life in which she could never marry. Indeed, if she is about to be sacrificed, why is she not lamenting her coming death? Third, the idea of “dedication” to the LORD is a big theme in the coming events (13v5-7, 17v3,1 Sam 1v22). Fourth, Gideon’s sins were condemned (8v27), so one would expect the writer to do the same with such a serious sin as child sacrifice in Jephthah (Deut 18v10). Fifth, child sacrifice warranted the death penalty (Lev 20v2), so it is hard to explain why God instead has Jephthah lead Israel.

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