Judges 11-12

A False View of the One True God.

And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD. He said, “If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the LORD the first thing coming out of my house to greet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering. ­– Judges 11:30-31 NLT

Back in the 1330s, Petrarch described the Middle Ages in this way, “Amidst the errors there shone forth men of genius; no less keen were their eyes, although they were surrounded by darkness and dense gloom.” The same could be said of this time in Israel called the period of the Judges. It was a dark time in the life of Israel. The book of Judges connects the period of time in which Israel was under a theocracy (God’s rule) and the monarchy (when men ruled). There is nothing glamorous or pretty about the period of the judges. It is bleak, dark, and depressing. The writer of the book of Judges sums up this period quite well: “After that generation died, another generation grew up who did not acknowledge the LORD or remember the mighty things he had done for Israel” (Judges 2:10 NLT). Joshua had died. The people had only begun to possess the land. They were not unified, but were isolated tribes spread over a large region with no central authority. The priesthood, located in Shiloh where the tabernacle was, seemed to provide little in the way of spiritual direction or leadership. And the period of the Judges ended much the same way it began: “The sons of Israel departed from there at that time, every man to his tribe and family, and each one of them went out from there to his inheritance. In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:24-25 NASB).

So as we read through the book of Judges, we have to keep in mind that it is not really a book about the judges, but about God. He is the hero of this story. It is a book about God and His covenant faithfulness. It is about His power and presence. It is about His patience and persistence. In the midst of the story we have glimpses into the lives of the people of Israel and into various characters who God sovereignly uses to lead His people. Most of the judges bring little or nothing to the table. They lack leadership qualities. They are reluctant deliverers and flawed men and women whom God uses them in spite of themselves. We’re not to emulate the judges or idolize them, but we are to see God’s sovereign hand in all that takes place in their lives.

In the story of Jephthah, we have a glimpse into just how bad things had gotten in Israel. “Again the Israelites did evil in the LORD’s sight. They worshiped images of Baal and Ashtoreth, and the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, Ammon, and Philistia. Not only this, but they abandoned the LORD and no longer served him at all” (Judges 10:6 NLT).  In other words, it’s more of the same. But look at how far they have fallen. Now they are worshiping Baal and Ashtoreth, but they’ve added the gods of Aram, Sidon, Moab, Ammon and Philistia. They are completely non-discriminatory in their idolatry. Except that now they had abandoned God completely! So God had turned them over to the Philistines and Ammonites who would afflict them for 18 long years. But as always, they cry out to God! It took them 18 years to do it, but they finally give up on their replacement gods and turn to the one true God. “Finally, they cried out to the LORD, saying, ‘We have sinned against you because we have abandoned you as our God and have served the images of Baal’” (Judges 10:10 NLT). But God sees through their seeming repentance and tells them He has had enough. He has been here before with them. He has heard them repent, only to see them turn right back to their false gods again. So He sarcastically encourages them to let their gods rescue them this time. “Go ahead! Cry out for help to the gods you’ve chosen–let them get you out of the mess you’re in!” (Judges 10:14 MSG). In fear, the people cry out again. But God is looking for more than repentance. He wants a change of heart. He wants actions in keeping with their repentance. God wanted proof that they were serious. As long as we want to keep our “gods” handy, God will allow us to find out just how well they can deliver us when we’re in trouble. We find it so easy to turn to our gods of prosperity, popularity, power, position, and pleasure instead of Him. But He wants us to put them away and return to Him.

This all reminds me of what John the Baptist said to the Pharisees who were showing up to be baptized in the River Jordan: “Prove by the way you live that you have really turned from your sins and turned to God.” (Matthew 3:8 NLT).

So the Israelites seem to respond positively, putting aside their false gods. “Then the Israelites put aside their foreign gods and served the LORD. And he was grieved by their misery” (Judges 10:16 NLT). But repentance alone would not get rid of their problem. The Ammonites were still there and they still wanted the land and were willing to kill for it. The threat was still real. The problem didn’t go away. You see, repentance isn’t a vaccine for escaping difficulty. It is not some kind of get-out-of-jail-free card that allows us to escape trouble. The presence of the Ammonites was going to reveal that the Israelites were repentant, but not dependent. They had confessed. They had repented. They had returned. But they were still doing things their way. They decide to solve their problem their own way by choosing a deliverer of their own making. And they choose an unlikely candidate. They choose a poor substitute for God in choosing Jephthah. And the interesting thing is that nowhere does the passage indicate that God chose Jephthah. And look at his qualifications: Valiant warrior, son of a harlot, skilled at warfare, and an experienced leader. Jephthah is some kind of a guerilla fighter who had been kicked out of Gilead for his questionable birth. Yet now that things are tough, the people turn to him instead of God.

The people are desperate for leadership. They want a king. And in choosing Jephthah they are rejecting God as their leader. They are making Jephthah a substitute for God. Immediately, Jephthan reveals his skill as a negotiator as he attempts to talk the Ammonites out of their demand for the land. But his efforts fail. War is inevitable. Then Jephthah the negotiator attempts to negotiate with God. He makes a vow with God, swearing to give Him the first thing that walks out of his house if God will give them victory over the Ammonites. There was no need for this vow. God did not require it. God would have given him the victory without it. So why did he make it? I think it reveals just how “Canaanized” Jephthah and the people of Israel had become. They had been so influenced by their worship of the false gods of the nations around them that they had a false view of the one true God. They saw Yahweh as just another one of the pagan deities they worshiped. Listen to what Barry Webb has to say about Jephthah and his negotiating with God: “His negotiations with the elders, his diplomacy with the Ammonites, and his vow, have all amply displayed Jephthah’s facility with words. Jephthah, we know, is good at opening his mouth. (How ironical that his name means literally ‘he opens’!). What has precipitated the crisis with his daughter is that he has opened his mouth to Yahweh, that is, he has tried to conduct his relationship with God in the same way that he has conducted his relationships with men. He has debased religion (a vow, an offering) into politics.”

Jephthah didn’t know God anymore. He didn’t understand the God he worshiped. He had false views of the one true God. And it resulted in him making an unnecessary and tragic vow. And the sad thing is, if he had known his God, he would have known that there was a way to escape the consequences of his rash vow. God had provided a way to fulfill the vow without the sacrifice of his daughter.

“Jephthah believed he could not get out of his vow (v. 35). Unfortunately he did not know or had forgotten that God had made provision for His people to redeem things they had vowed to give Him. Leviticus 27:1-8 told the Israelites that if they vowed someone or something to God and then wanted it back they could pay a stated ransom price and buy it back. Had he obeyed the Word of God he could have avoided sacrificing his daughter. With his vow he sought to secure his present, but through it he ended up sacrificing his future.” – Dr. Thomas L. Constable

Jephthah didn’t know his God. And sometimes we suffer from the same thing. We share some common misconceptions about God today.

God falls out of love with us

  • So we have to keep Him happy
  • We have to do things to keep Him appeased
  • Leads to works-righteousness

God has to be bargained with

  • We have to negotiate with Him to get what we want
  • You don’t get something for nothing
  • God is a hard-bargainer

God demands sacrifices of us

  • The more it costs and hurts us, the better
  • If we don’t give it to Him, He’ll take it away from us
  • God keeps a list of all we owe Him

Sickness, trials, and difficulty are  punishment from God

  • God pays us back for the sins we have committed
  • Trials aren’t a test, but payback from God
  • Illness and difficulties are the result of something we’ve done

Many of us have unbiblical views of God. We don’t understand the God of the Bible. We don’t know Him. Our views of Him are distorted and unclear. And our false views of God can lead to faulty decisions for God. The book of Judges and the rest of the Bible give us a glimpse into the character of God. We get to see how He thinks, how He works, how He loves, and how He interacts with mankind. It is the Bible that reveals the character of God and it is the life of Christ that models the character of God. We don’t have to guess or draw false conclusions. We just need to study the life of Christ and the Word of God.

Father, thank You that I don’t have to guess as to Your character. It is right there for me to see in Your Word and in the life of Your Son. Yet I find it so easy to reach false conclusions about You. I listen to what the world says or what other religions have taught about You. But they are wrong and unbiblical in their conclusions. Help me to see You in Your Word and learn to have a true view of the one true God. Amen

Ken Miller
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men