Judges 10-12: Foolish Vow
April 17, 2020
TODAY'S BIBLE READING:
A similar pattern—the downward spiral—begins again. Tola (10:1-2) and then Jair (10:3-5) rise to lead Israel for long years, but afterwards Israel again does what is evil in the sight of the Lord (10:6). They are going after other gods and abandoning the one true God, the LORD (10:6). So he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and the Ammonites (10:7-9). Then the people of Israel cried out to the LORD (10:10). He tells them to ask the gods they have gone after to rescue them (10:14). They cry out to God again (10:15). After they show real repentance and put away the false gods, God begins to act in redemption towards them (10:16).
It comes through the hand of a strange figure—Jephthah. He had been rejected by his family because he was the son of a prostitute, but they all knew he was a mighty warrior (11:1-2). So when trouble came, they turned to the sharpest shooter and best military leader in the land, Jephthah (11:4-6). He agrees to help them on one condition: he is given the authority to actually lead them (11:9). That granted, he first answers shrewdly/ wisely against the libel of the Ammonites. They are claiming that they truly have the right to the land (11:13). Jephthah replies that God has given it to Israel (11:14-25), and if they were so sure that the land was theirs, why had it taken so long for them to lodge a complaint (11:26)? In other words, he refuses to cede the moral high ground, often so important in any military or other conflict.
But with this wisdom also comes dire foolishness. He vows that the first thing that comes out of his door he would sacrifice to God (11:30-31). It turns out that that first thing is his dear daughter, his only child (11:34). She, being of a pious turn of mind, says that he should fulfill his vow (11:36). It is possible, some think, that the vow was fulfilled in her celibacy (11:37-40). But the text reads best as being as bad as it suggests. This Jephthah was by no means a purely righteous or wise man. Be careful what you vow before the LORD, but God is not pleased by human sacrifice in any case.
With this brutal pain now lodged in his history, he is in no frame of mind to deal gently with the rather pathetic complaint of Ephraim (12:1). He fights against them (12:4), and when they flee he determines who belongs to Ephraim by their inability to pronounce a particular word: Shibboleth (12:5-6). Bloodshed ensues.
After all this come three other judges (12:8-15). The picture is of leaders who are marginally better, and sometimes worse, than the people they lead. Even when following the LORD, they keep with them the pagan practices and attitudes they have learned from the pagan gods and religious immoralities. These stories make us long for a true Judge, the true King, the Savior.
Let us be wise to repent of our sins and follow the Christ the King.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Josh Moody (Ph.D., University of Cambridge) is the senior pastor of College Church in Wheaton, IL., president and founder of God Centered Life Ministries, and author of several books including How the Bible Can Change Your Life and John 1-12 For You.
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