MESSAGE FOR AUGUST 11, 2002 FROM JUDGES 10:17-11:11
When the Ammonites were called to arms and camped in Gilead, the Israelites assembled and camped at Mizpah. 18The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, "Whoever will launch the attack against the Ammonites will be the head of all those living in Gilead."
11:1Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 2Gilead's wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. "You are not going to get any inheritance in our family," they said, "because you are the son of another woman." 3So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.
4Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, 5the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6"Come," they said, "be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites." 7Jephthah said to them, "Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why do you come to me now, when you're in trouble?"
8The elders of Gilead said to him, "Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead."
9Jephthah answered, "Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me--will I really be your head?"
10The elders of Gilead replied, "The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say." 11So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.
This week, we continue to work our way through the book of Judges and today we meet the next major figure in the book, Jephthah. Last week, in the introduction to this section of Judges we saw in the most detailed way yet the pervasive influence of Canaanite idolatry in Israel during this time. Because the Jews had once again forsaken their covenant God, Yahweh for the gods of the Canaanites, God disciplined them for 18 years at the hands of the Philistines on the west and the Ammonites on the east. Finally, the Ammonites are no longer content to oppress Israel from the area of Gilead in the tribe of Gad. They invade into the heart of Israel and fight against Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim. That means that on the west, the Philistines are oppressing the Jews and now on the east and pushing forward into the interior of Israel is the army of the Ammonites. God used these two pagan nations to literally put the squeeze on Israel and they cry out to God for help. As we saw last week, they really don’t care about repenting and restoring their relationship with God, they just want out of the mess they are in. Into that sorry spiritual context, steps Jephthah.
These introductory verses as we meet Jephthah once again show the godlessness of the Jews during this time period. Although they have called on God to deliver them, they are in no way trusting in him or relating to Him as he has provided for them in the covenant relationship with him. We can see at least six marks of their godless, independent, self-seeking hearts. In chapter 10:17-18 notice the first godless act. “When the Ammonites were called to arms and camped in Gilead, the Israelites assembled and camped at Mizpah. 18The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, "Whoever will launch the attack against the Ammonites will be the head of all those living in Gilead.” Notice this godless process of recruiting a leader.
The ruling council of the region of Gilead is feeling the hot breath of the Ammonites on their necks so they are deciding who will be the military leader they hope can deliver them and the other tribes from these pagan invaders. This is a totally God-less process. Yahweh is not even mentioned in passing in this meeting. The selection process here that ultimately results in the selection of Jephthah radically differs from the other judges who delivered Israel. In chapter 3:9 it says of the first judge Othniel, “But when they cried out to the LORD, he [God] raised up for them a deliverer, Othniel, son of Kenaz.” Later when Ehud began his ministry, it says, “Again the Israelites cried out to the LORD, and HE gave them a deliverer—Ehud…” In both of those cases, it is God who takes the initiative to raise up a deliverer. In chapter four there is never any doubt that Deborah was raised up by God because she was primarily a prophet of God who clearly spoke as God’s representative. In chapter six when we meet Gideon, you’ll recall the angel of the Lord appeared to him and gave him a special call to deliver the Jews and also gave him many personal reassurances of God’s power to do what he had promised him. Later on in chapter 13 when we meet Samson, we see the angel of the Lord appear to Samson’s parents announcing to them that they will parent the one who will deliver the Jews from the Philistines.
Don’t miss how different those accounts are from this one chronicling Jephthah’s rise to power. He is the only true deliverer of whom it is explicitly said comes to power as the result of a decision of men. This tells us that the spiritual decline in Israel had degenerated to a point that although they had earlier called on Yahweh to deliver them, they did not see fit to wait for him to raise up a deliverer for them. The people screamed at Him for help and then took matters into their own hands. Again, we see a dismal lack of faith in God here. We see this in the next verse because Jephthah’s introduction is done by the author, independent of any reference to God. 11:1Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. Here’s a second mark of the godlessness of the times. Jephthah is a valiant warrior but he is the son of a prostitute. That means there is gross sin somewhere. His father’s name is Gilead and because he comes from the region of Gilead that would generally mean that his father was part of the nobility or ruling class of the Gileadites. This name was reserved for people of position. Yet, this well placed person in society is visiting prostitutes. This is a direct violation of the law of God whether the prostitute was a Jew or a Canaanite and we are not informed of her nationality.
What this tells us is this was a debauched time in Israel when you have a Hebrew nobleman fathering children by prostitutes. Another mark of godlessness is found in the next verse. 2Gilead's wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. "You are not going to get any inheritance in our family," they said, "because you are the son of another woman." Even though Jephthah is the son of a prostitute, there was no legal justification for him being treated this way. This goes totally against the law of God because the laws of inheritance ran from the father, not the mother. Gilead was just as much Jephthah’s father as he was the other males. Jephthah as a son of Gilead is just as much entitled to the father’s inheritance as the others but because they wanted it for themselves, they toss Jephthah out. This is wicked and this sin doesn’t even include their gross violation of the law by failing to treat their neighbor (in this case their half-brother) as they would be treated themselves according to the law of Leviticus 19. Greed and lawlessness motivates Jephthah’s expulsion from his home and family.
Verse three gives us another indication or mark of the godlessness of Israel at this time. We read, “ 3So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.” Jephthah was a warrior—that’s what he was good at so he goes to a place called Tob and works as some sort of soldier for hire. We have no idea where Tob was; it was probably in a nearby region. The people Jephthah surrounds himself with speaks volumes something about his character. The NIV there translates the Hebrew phrase as “adventurers” but that misses the strongly negative meaning conveyed in the original. This is the same word used for those men Abimelech surrounds himself with in 9:4. There the NIV translates the words “reckless adventurers.” It means “worthless men.” Jephthah surrounds himself with worthless men. These were rouges--fighting men, mercenaries who fought for pay from anyone who needed a bit of muscle. They were like cheap hit men. If you had someone you wanted to take out or in some way intimidate, Jephthah and his band of worthless men would be the ones to call in this region of Israel. If there had been any law enforcement in those days, they would have surely ended up in prison. These were losers, outcasts who managed to survive in a lawless, chaotic time by the power of intimidation and raw force. Jephthah’s unsavory activities and companions are another mark of the godlessness of this time.
Another mark of the godlessness of this day is seen in the last section of this entrance of Jephthah. Beginning in verse four, “4Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, 5the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6"Come," they said, "be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites." 7Jephthah said to them, "Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why do you come to me now, when you're in trouble?" 8The elders of Gilead said to him, "Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead." 9Jephthah answered, "Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me--will I really be your head?" 10The elders of Gilead replied, "The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say." 11So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.
Notice the Jews treat Jephthah here the same way they treated God in last week’s text. If you’ll remember when the Jews cry out to him, he sarcastically tells the Jews to “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble.” He is powerfully making the point that these gods they had given themselves to were utterly incomparable to him and totally unworthy of the worship. Similarly, these leaders of Gilead here, after they initially turn their backs on Jephthah, find they have to swallow their pride and come back to appeal to him to deliver them. Like Yahweh, Jephthah sarcastically rejects their offer in verse four, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to be now when you’re in trouble?” There is however a big difference between Yahweh’s sarcasm and Jephthah’s. God was trying to help the Jews see how foolish they have been to trust in their Canaanite gods. Jephthah’s sarcasm is nothing more than a manipulative devise he uses to extract as much from these Jews as he can. He plays “hard to get” to compel the Jews to offer him more for his services. We know this because in verse six they ask Jephthah to be their “commander.” That word is a military term and does not convey any political power. They are simply asking him to command their army. This is different than what they had said in 10:18. In their initial offer to the person who would deliver them from the Ammonites they proposed a much bigger prize. They said, “Whoever will launch the attack against the Ammonites will be the head of all those living in Gilead.” The word used here translated “head” conveys a much more powerful position than simply a military field general. This is a political term and could also be translated “president.” What all that means is that when these Gilead officials first come to Jephthah they offer him a lower level of compensation for his services than they had originally offered to the one who would deliver them.
Jephthah plays hard to get to pressure them into upping the ante. This is a common near eastern bartering tactic used even today. You go into a shop and you see a trinket you really want so you pretend NOT to want it all that much. That is done to cause the seller to sweeten his offer by lowering the price. That is all Jephthah is doing here. We know that’s what’s going on here because after his sarcastic comment, the leaders respond by saying, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.” Jephthah got them to up the offer back to what it was originally and he confirms the arrangement in the next verse when he says, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD give them to me—will I really be your head?” Do you hear how he is just confirming the specifics of the deal here? The elders respond by placing themselves under an oath in verse 10, “The Lord is our witness [that is an oath formula among the Jews] we will certainly do as you say.” This is the ancient near eastern equivalent to visiting a lawyer and drawing up a legally binding contract. They put themselves under oath. This whole situation screams godlessness to us. We see this in that they have taken into their own hands the formerly God-ordained task of selecting a deliverer and have reduced it to nothing more than a crass, commercial process.
Folks, this exchange in verses 6-10 is nothing more than a business deal. That’s all it is. Pragmatism dictates everything that goes down here. “We are in trouble, we need someone to deliver us, what will it take to acquire your services, Jephthah? The military position is not enough? Alright, how about the presidency? Name your fee.” When these leaders refuse to consult God or trust in Him to raise up a deliverer, they are left with nothing but the methods of the market place. They cut a deal. Without God calling someone to deliver them they simply “buy” the best man they can find using the currency that is most appealing to Jephthah, political power. DON’T MISS THIS. When God is taken out of a context, what we have left is fallen human wisdom and an expression of that we see throughout this narrative is pragmatism—doing what will work or solve a problem in the short term. We see this in countless contexts today.
When God is removed from our concept of humanity as the culture has done by denying his image in us, we are free to abort our babies and euthanize our sick and elderly. Its cheaper, more convenient—much more practical—pragmatic. When God is taken out of marriage then divorce becomes preferable over the sometimes-brutal work of making a difficult relationship meaningful. Divorce is so much more convenient, less labor-intensive-- practical. Why work through hard problems in a relationship when you can just leave? If God isn’t there and marriage is no longer a sacred relationship, why put yourself out to make a go of it? When God and his word are removed from the central place in Christ’s church pragmatism reigns. “ If we practice church discipline on this person in sin, we will never recover—they are charter members and they give a lot of money! We don’t need to spend as much time in prayer and the word and seeking after God because we just hired a pastor who has 14 years of experience in corporate America—everything he touches turns to gold. We don’t need to pray and fast for the success of this evangelistic outreach, we simply need to employ these amazing Madison Avenue marketing techniques and the people will run into our church.”
When God is removed from the top place of priority in a believer’s heart, pragmatism reigns as well. “I am so busy and the kids are involved in a 1001 things—there is no way we can come to church every week, much less have a daily, significant time alone with God. It’s just not practical--there just isn’t time. God understands and if we did all that spiritual stuff, we couldn’t be involved in all these other activities that mean so much to us.” Or maybe it’s, “You know, we are so strapped for cash these days—the stock market has just killed our net worth—there’s no way we can tithe right now.” If God is removed from a culture or a marriage or a church or the top place in a believer’s heart, we are left only with empty, vapid pragmatism which we must admit works in the short term. Abortion does get rid of the inconveniences of unwanted pregnancy. Divorce does eliminate the stress caused by a difficult marriage. Trusting in talented people and the tools of modernity for church growth will often fill the pews and so it’s often substituted for a lot of inconvenient, time-consuming prayer and fasting and weeping and repenting. And reducing your time spent with God and his people will free you up for other diversions and not tithing will mean more money for other things. All those things are true on the short term. That’s the appeal of pragmatism but the cost is much too high.
One of the costs of leaving God out in favor of a more man-dependent, pragmatic approach is --it brings you under God’s judgment. Proverbs 14:12 says, “There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. Pragmatism leads you to murder babies created in God’s image. It leads you to sever one-flesh marriages that God has joined together. The judgment of God comes on the pragmatic trusting of modern business techniques in Christ’s church instead of the grace and mercy of God. The judgment of God comes on people who idolatrously place their own selfish love for entertainment and diversion and money above whole-hearted devotion to Christ and his church. You see, Jesus reminds us that the essence of living for God is loving him with all your heart, soul mind and strength in the context of a relationship and for any of you who have been in love; you know that’s not a very pragmatic context. Being in love should not be characterized by recklessness, but neither should it be pragmatic. When you’re in love, you do impractical, lavish and extraordinary things because what matters above so called “practical” concerns is that you express your love for the object of your affection and that they know how much you love and delight in them. From a purely pragmatic point of view writing love letters where you carefully choose every word is a terrible waste of time---buying a dozen roses for your beloved is a horrible investment—they wilt in a few days. Staying up late at night thinking about your beloved is an irresponsible drain on your body’s need for sleep. Love is not very pragmatic and showing love for God isn’t either. Yet pragmatism takes over when God is removed from a context and even though the short-term results may be pleasant or convenient, it ultimately brings the judgment of God.
Another cost of leaving God out and basing our lives around purely pragmatic concerns is you lose your joy. “The joy of the Lord shall be your strength.” God is the source of our joy and when we take him out of the picture in favor of our own self-centered, pragmatic agendas our joy goes away. The church is filled with people who, because they have followed the way of pragmatism are living convenient, pleasure-filled, user-friendly lives but who are devoid of joy. The paradox of living sacrificially is the more you sacrifice to God out of a heart of love, the more you know joy. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these other things will be added to you.” That’s what Jesus said. Are we living like that? Or are we putting God on the back burner in favor of what we think will make us happy? People who do that are not very happy in the long term.
A final mark of this godlessness the complete ignorance of the importance of servant leadership. These leaders’ appeal to Jephthah to be their head plays purely on his political ambition. They are not searching to find any noble or high-minded motive in him. That’s not even on their radar screen. They don’t care the least about the condition of his heart—they just want someone who can push back the Ammonites. Jephthah wants power and these people have some of it to give so they offer it to him in exchange for his military service. Do you see how backward this is? The leader who is following God doesn’t care anything about power. Their desire is to serve. Jesus says, “I am among you as the one who serves.” Moses, who apart from Christ is probably the greatest leader in the Bible is referred to by a certain title 21 times. That title is “the servant of the Lord.” God characterizes Moses and Christ as servants—those who lived for others. Do you see how radically different this is to Jephthah who, before he is willing to lead the army bargains for political power and position? What is Jephthah’s top priority? Jephthah. A godless context has not surprisingly produced a godless leader.
The church of Christ must constantly remember that leadership in the body should never be given on the basis of talent alone and should never be given to someone with a thirst for power and authority. A servant leader—someone who will lay his life down for the body is the only kind of leader God recognizes. That’s especially important for us to remember as we begin selecting pastor-elders over the next several months.
Where are we today? Oh, beloved if you have jettisoned God in favor of pragmatic concerns in one or more areas of your life, repent of that today. Return to Christ and do the things you did at first. Life just isn’t about doing what seems easy or convenient—there is no lasting joy there. Life in Christ is about loving God and sometimes that pursuit will lead you directly away from that which is practical on a human scale. We are called to lavish God with love expressed in sacrificial obedience to him. That’s how we know the joy of the Lord. There is no judgment there—only “joy unspeakable and full of glory.” May God give us the grace to know God, trust God and love radically for God.
Page last modified on 8/25/2002
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