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Judges 11:29-12:15: Forsaking God (Part 2) Print E-mail
Sunday, 17 May 2015

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There is much to be learned from the mistakes of those who have gone before us.  We are not the first to live life in a fallen world.  We are not the first to be given the title: ‘People of God.’  We are not the first to be tempted to forsake what God has revealed through His Word.  The particular issues that we face in our day may be unique, but the allure of disobedience is as old as the sun.  The story of redemption, which is contained in the pages of Scripture, gives us many examples of people making mistakes.  Paul tells us in the passage that we read to open our services that these examples were written down for our instruction.  We are to learn from the mistakes of those who have gone before us.

We are to learn from the mistakes that God’s people made in the time of the judges.  We noted last week that the downward spiral is spinning out of control.  Israel has given itself to idolatry by worshipping the gods of the surrounding nations.  We are told: They forsook the Lord and did not serve him (Judges 10:6).  So what happens when the people of God forsake Him?  We noted last week from the beginning of the story of Jephthah, that forsaking God led Israel to terrible consequences like being left with worthless idols.  As we continue the story of Jephthah this morning, I want to identity three more consequences of forsaking God.

When we forsake God, we lack wisdom (11:29-41)

Jephthah is most known for the tragic vow that he took before going to war with the Ammonites, the enemies of Israel at this point.  Look at what he says in verses 29-31.  Jephthah vows to the Lord that whatever or whoever greets him when he returns from victory he will offer as a burnt offering for the Lord.  This vow reveals Jephthah’s lack of wisdom in a couple of ways.  First, the vow was completely unnecessary.  The Lord had promised His people that He would deliver them in the past.  He had repeatedly delivered them in the time of the judges.  None of those previous victories involved vows.  There was no reason for Jephthah to make this vow.  Second, it seems very likely that a person, a human being, would be the first to greet him when he returns from victory.  Of course, he did not know that it would be his daughter, but it is not hard to see that such a vow would lead to human sacrifice, something the Lord detested.  We do not want to be overly critical of Jephthah at this point, but it seems that any faithful Israelite who believed in the Lord and knew the law would never have made such a vow.  Yet, in a time that is characterized by rampant idolatry, such knowledge and wisdom can be lost.  Jephthah’s vow is evidence of his lack of wisdom at this point.

So how does it play out?  First, the war is won.  Look at verses 32-33.  The Lord does give the Ammonites into the hand of Jephthah, not because of his vow but because of His grace and mercy toward people, which continues in spite of their rampant idolatry.  Second, who will be the first to greet Jephthah?  Who will be sacrificed?  Look at verses 34-35.  How terrible?  He had won the war but his enjoyment of the victory was cut short in seeing his only daughter come out first to greet him.  Not only is it his daughter, but it is his only child.  In order to keep his vow, he must sacrifice his only daughter.  Again, since we know that God does not delight in human sacrifice, it seems that Jephthah could have broken his vow or sought to fulfill it in a different way, which some believe that he did.  Yet, it appears that his lack of wisdom is demonstrated again in the killing of his daughter.  Look at verses 36-40.  What a sad story!  Jephthah kills his only daughter, who is the only character who appears to be very noble at this point.  It was so tragic that it became tradition to remember Jephthah’s daughter each year.  We might be tempted to pretend like lacking wisdom is no big deal, but the story of Jephthah cautions us against such a mistake.  Forsaking the Lord and His Word leads to a lack of wisdom, which we desperately need to live life in this fallen world.

When we forsake the Lord, we lack compassion (12:1-7)

Once again we the Ephraimites struggling with pride.  Look at 12:1.  Remember these guys and what they said to Gideon after he had defeated the Midianites?  Look at 8:1.  They really want to be a part of the battle.  They want some glory for the victory.  They got mad at Gideon and now they are mad at Jephthah.  So, how will Jephthah respond to their complaints and threats.  Remember what Gideon did?  He took the diplomatic route and flattered them for all that they had, which worked in that instance.  Yet, we noted that such flattery did not actually deal with their problem of pride.  Although it worked for Gideon, it did not keep such pride from showing itself again, which is what we see here.

So, how does Jephthah deal with Ephraim?  Well, not like Gideon to be sure.  Look at verses 2-7.  What an odd story.  Instead of seeking to avoid conflict with his own people through diplomacy, Jephthah attacked the Ephraimites.  He captured the Jordan and found a way to distinguish between the Gileadites and the Ephraimites.  They both pronounced a particular word (which means “ear of corn”) in a different way, which made it easy to tell who belonged to which tribe.  And what did they do with the ones who pronounced it wrong?  They killed them.  The author notes that 42,000 Ephraimites died during this conflict.  Once again we see Israelites killing Israelites.  Jephthah showed no compassion for his fellow Israelites.  They had none for him (after all, they were ready to burn his house) and he had none for them.

When people forsake the Lord and His Word, they often lose compassion for others, especially those who truly do belong to the Lord.  Idolatry leads to enmity with others.  It leads to pride and division.  It leaves little room for compassion and grace.

When we forsake God, we lack rest (12:8-15)

The story of Jephthah is sandwiched between two lists of minor judges.  It follows the mentioning of Tola and Jair, while it is followed by the mentioning of Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon.  Look at verses 8-15.  Very few details are given for any of these minor judges.  Yet, one of my commentator’s notes a significant change that takes place in the book at this point. 1 We are told on a number of occasions that the land had rest after the judge delivered the people (3:11, 30, 5:31, 8:28).  Yet, after Gideon, the author no longer says that the land had rest but simply that a particular judge ruled for a particular number of years.  It seems that the downward spiral of idolatry has cost the people of Israel this precious gift of God’s rest for the land.  I want to avoid making too much of this, but it is worth noting.  Forsaking Yahweh for idols meant rest was no longer given during the time of the judges.  It was a costly consequence.

What happens when God and His Word is forsaken?  We have seen some terrible consequences over the past couple of weeks for choosing idolatry.  Forsaking the Lord leads to a lack of wisdom and a lack of compassion and a lack of rest.  People often think that following Christ and obeying the Lord means sacrificing all the good things in this life.  And make not mistake, being a disciple of Jesus does mean dying to self and sin.  Yet, the confusion rests in people’s poor understanding of what leads to lasting joy.  Sure, doing your own thing and continuing in sin can lead to temporary pleasure.  There’s no doubt about that.  But it also leads to misery and foolishness.  Jesus did not promise us an easy life, but He did promise an abundant one (John 14:6).  There is hope for something better in Him.

So then, if idolatry and ignoring Jesus truly does lead to a lack of wisdom and a lack of compassion and a lack of rest, then why would you give yourself to that?  Jesus came and lived a perfect life and died on a cross for your sins and was raised again from the dead so that you could be free from idolatry through repentance and faith.  You can make the same mistake that Israel made during the time of the judges, or you can follow Christ.  You can give yourselves to idols like they did, or you can give yourself to the One who gave Himself for you.  Through Him, you can have wisdom and compassion and rest.  The Spirit, who is given to all who believe, will lead us in wisdom and empower us for compassion and deliver us to eternal rest in Heaven.  The truth in the story of Jephthah is that forsaking God will never take us where we want to go.  It only leads to ruin and destruction.  May we learn from such mistakes and follow hard after Christ as our Lord and Savior.  Amen.  

1 Dale Ralph Davis, Judges FOTB (Great Britain: Christian Focus Publications, 2006), p. 154.

.~ William Marshall ~

Last Updated ( Tuesday, 16 June 2015 )

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