The Heart of Man.
Judges 11-12, Acts 23
But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” – Judges 11:7 ESV
The Bible gives us a glimpse into the character and nature of God. From the very beginning, recorded in the book of Genesis, all the way to the end, chronicled in the book of the Revelation, we are able to witness God in action, creating, calling, commanding, loving, caring, leading, conquering, and faithfully carrying out His divine plan for mankind. The stories found in the Bible provide a well-rounded portrait of God and allow us to see His divine nature in all it’s glory. He is holy, righteous, transcendent, loving, gracious, powerful, all-knowing, all-powerful, and sovereign. He is judge, king, creator, warrior, father, benefactor, provider, and deity. His image is revealed through the pages of Scripture. But while the Bible allows us to discover much about God, it also shows us exactly what man is like. And it is not a pretty picture. From the moment Adam and Eve sinned in the garden, the moral and spiritual trajectory of mankind seems to be on a perpetually downward path. On rare occasions we are allowed to see a few individuals whose hearts seemed to defy the odds and whose lives were marked by a love for God. But in most cases, the portrait of man is a dark and depressing one. In the book of Judges, we see the repetitive cycle of sin that plagued the people of God. They just couldn’t seem to stop rebelling against God. And in spite of His patience and faithful deliverance of them, they continued to turn against Him.
What does this passage reveal about God?
Man is wicked. He has been from the beginning. And there came a time when God determined to destroy mankind for its wickedness. The book of Genesis records, “The Lord saw that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every intention of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually. And the Lord regretted that he had made man on the earth, and it grieved him to his heart” (Genesis 6:5-6 ESV). So God brought a world-wide flood. His righteousness required Him to mete out justice. But He preserved a remnant. He rescued Noah and his family. He preserved a handful of representatives of the human race, because He was not done yet. He had a preordained plan to restore His creation to its original splendor and it would be accomplished through mankind and in spite of them. His will regarding mankind would be fulfilled. His desire to rectify all the problems created by sin would come about – in His perfect timing and according to His perfect plan. And it is amazing to watch His plan unfold through the pages of Scripture, even as man’s wickedness is revealed on virtually every page.
What does this passage reveal about man?
The story of Jephthah is a perfect illustration of man’s heart problem and God’s faithfulness. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute who had been ostracized by his own half brothers. They refused to share their inheritance with him and forced him to give up his rights as a brother. This sad story begins with Jephthah living as an outside, surrounded by “worthless fellows.” And then the story takes a twist. The Ammonites show up. The enemies of Israel arrive on the scene, threatening war and creating panic among the people. And what do they do? They turn to Jephthah, who just happened to be a mighty warrior. This man who was not enough to share their inheritance becomes the perfect person to save their skins. They even agree to make him their leader if he will only help them defeat the Ammonites. What a perfect picture of the heart of man – fickle and unfaithful, opportunistic and always self-serving. The prophet Jeremiah was right when he said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17:9 ESV). The Bible makes it clear that the heart of man is inherently and irreparably wicked. You see it in the repetitive cycle of rebellion portrayed in the history of the people of Israel. You see it in the hatred of the religious leaders of Jesus’ day, who adamantly refused to accept Him as their Messiah, instead demanding His execution, rather than acknowledge Him as the Son of God. Those same men would continue their opposition to the cause of Christ through their persecution of His apostles. Paul encountered these same men, and was dragged before them because of his efforts on behalf of the Gospel. During his trial before the Jewish council, we see a glimpse into the heart of these men as they bicker and fight amongst themselves, arguing over the issue of resurrection from the dead. Even their common enemy, Paul, could not keep them from fighting amongst themselves, revealing their selfish, vain, and wicked hearts. “…a dissension arose between the Pharisees and the Sadducees, and the assembly was divided” (Acts 23:7 ESV). “And when the dissension became violent, the tribune, afraid that Paul would be torn to pieces by them, commanded the soldiers to go down and take him away from among them by force and bring him into the barracks” (Acts 23:10 ESV). Their hatred for Paul was only surpassed by their hatred for one another.
How would I apply what I’ve read to my own life?
As human beings, we tend to want to think the best of ourselves. We have a hard time recognizing or admitting our own wickedness. But the Scriptures make it painfully clear. When more than 40 men swore a vow to assassinate Paul, simply because they didn’t like what he was teaching and preaching, it is hard to justify their actions. What would cause these men to risk their lives against the Roman cohort, just in order to eliminate one man? As Jeremiah said, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” But God does understand man’s heart. He knows full well the wickedness that permeates it. And that is why He sent His Son to provide the only means for restoring man’s heart to its pre-fall condition. But it is essential that we understand and acknowledge our own sinful condition and the undeniable reality of our heart problem. I must regularly remind myself of my own heart condition. My heart has been damaged by sin. My predisposition is towards rebellion and rejection of the will of God. My sin nature wants me to resist the will of God and do things my way. My heart is prone to do what I want to do, rather than what God would have me do. Which is why God has placed His Spirit within me, to provide me with a new way of thinking and processing. I have been given a new capacity to live in obedience to God that comes from the very Spirit of God within me. I can’t trust my heart, but I can fully rely on the Spirit of God. Paul reminds me, “But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the flesh. For the desires of the flesh are against the Spirit, and the desires of the Spirit are against the flesh, for these are opposed to each other, to keep you from doing the things you want to do” (Galatians 5:16-17 ESV). “If we live by the Spirit, let us also keep in step with the Spirit.Let us not become conceited, provoking one another, envying one another” (Galatians 5:25-26 ESV). The Spirit of God makes it possible for us to live in obedience to God. But it is essential that I acknowledge my need for the Spirit. I must come to grips with my own sin nature and deadly heart condition. I must daily recognize my need for the transformative power of the Spirit of God in my life, providing me with the capacity to live differently and distinctively in a world where man’s wickedness is on constant display.
Father, I should have no problem admitting the wickedness of my own heart. I get to see it in full living color every day. It reveals itself in so many ways that it is impossible to deny it. But You are in the process of transforming my heart and renewing my nature. Your Spirit is providing me with a capacity to live righteously that I never possessed before. But I must constantly recognize the true condition of my heart and my indisputable need for His power to live the life You have called me to live. Amen
Grow Pastor & Minister to Men