Today we are continuing our conversation through the book of Judges, which, as a book, is painting an intentional picture of a spiral or cycle that is pointing toward the need for something to change.
The book of Judges is overwhelming, with all the failures and violence and forgetting and wondering, and with it all on repeat. But the need for something to change is beautiful.
The beauty of the potential change is clearly painted in contrast to the failures: it is pointing towards the need for grace, for a savior, for Jesus. Of course, seeing the need for change, knowing that change is necessary, does not necessarily mean that change happens.
When you are faced with a situation where “something needs to change,” how do you tend to respond? Why?
Today in the spiral of Judges, we come to a moment when it is pain piled on top of pain. While there may have been hope that things would work themselves out, now it is obvious that this isn’t working and that if something doesn’t change, no one is going to make it.
This section of the book, with this Judge, displays an overload of a relationship killer.
Think about things that break or stress or strain or hurt relationships. Things like taking your relationship for granted or holding grudges or neglecting the needs of others or playing the blame game or depending too much (or not enough) on others or being disrespectful or having communication gaps or experiencing abuse or whining or not making time. The relationship killer that happens over and over in Judges 10-12 is disloyalty.
Let’s process what disloyalty is for a moment. If you had to come up with 5 impacts of disloyalty, what would they be? Don’t be focused on the type of relationship but on the impacts of disloyalty.
What are five impacts of disloyalty?
With that on the table, process this:
If disloyalty has “obvious” negative impact, why does it still happen?
Today, we are looking at Judges 10, 11 and 12, the story of the judge Jephthah. It is a story with a lot of moving pieces and lots of characters.
- Ammonites and Philistines: people who oppose and oppress the Israelites.
- Judah, Benjamin, Ephraim: Three of the twelve tribes of Israel that are mentioned specifically in the text.
- Jephthah: a mighty warrior and judge; son of Gilead and a prostitute; a betrayed family member and a recruited savior.
- Jephthah’s half siblings: they hated him and drove him away, then later pleaded for him to come back and fight for them.
- More scoundrels: they followed Jephthah.
- Sihon: the king of the Amorites
- Jephthah’s daughter: she was killed for welcoming her dad home.
As we dive into the story, the theme of disloyalty appears and reappears and reappears. The people were disloyal to God. The family is disloyal to their own, kicking out Jephthah. The Ephraimites didn’t join the fight even after being asked. Jephthah feels like he has to make an outlandish vow to God in order to get God’s help, fearing God’s disloyalty. That vow led to Jephthah trying to be loyal to God, but killing his daughter–disloyal! The Ephraimites grumbled for not being asked to join the battle, while they actually were asked–also disloyal. And Jephthah and the people of Gilead kill other Isrealites–the Ehphamites–because of disloyalty.
Here’s the story, from Judges 10-12.
Chapter 10: Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. (betrayal) They worshiped and followed other gods. They served Baal and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Aram, of Sidon, of Moab, of the Ammonites, of the Philistines–the list is growing! The spiral is out of control.
God gave them over to the oppression of the Philistines and the Ammonites who shattered and oppressed them. The Ammonites crossed over the Jordan and oppressed the people of the tribes of Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim. And it happens again–they cried out to God for help! But this time God was unmoved: You have turned away from Me and worshiped and followed false gods, so go turn to them for help. As for me–I’m out.
The Isrealites felt this and acknowledged their sin. They got rid of the false gods and they cried out to God again for help. And God–very graciously–helped the Israelites again. The Ammonites camped in Gilead and the Israelites assembled and camped in Mizpah. The people of Gilead said that whoever takes the lead in attacking the Ammonites would be head over all who lived there… again dismissing God. (betrayal)
Chapter 11: This chapter starts with what appears to be a little prequel. Jephthah bursts onto the scene. His dad was Gilead and his mom was a prostitute, and he was known as being a mighty warrior. Jephthah’s half siblings had driven Jephtha away, saying, You have a different mom and you should not get any of our inheritance. So Jephthah left (fled) and settled in Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered and followed him.
The Ammonites were attacking Gilead. The elders of Gilead (Jephthah’s family) went to Tob and asked Jephthah to come and fight the Ammonites for them. So…you hated me and drove me from my father’s house, and now that you are in trouble you are asking for my help? (betrayal)
Never mind all of that–come fight for us. We will make you head of our people.
So if I come and win with God’s help, you will make me king? Should I trust you?
As God as our witness, we will make you head of our people.
Jephthah started out by sending word to the king of the Ammonites: Why are you attacking my home? The king replied, When your people came out of Egypt, you took our land, and now we want it back.
Jephthah sent word back: We didn’t take your land. We came out of Egypt and asked the king of Edom if we could pass through, but the king of Edom wouldn’t let us. The king of Moab also refused. We skirted the land. We also asked the king of the Amorites if we could pass through. He didn’t trust us so he attacked. (betrayal) HE attacked–your people attacked us–and we won. So we took your land fair and square because you attacked. Your god Chemosh gave you what you got: defeat and loss of land. Our God gave us what we got: victory and your land. We have had the land for 300 years. This battle is long over. It is our land. God will decide our dispute.
The Ammonites attacked. The Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah and he went into battle. He made a vow: God if you give me victory, whatever greets me first as I come home I will sacrifice to you as a burnt offering. Jephthah did have a great victory. When he went home, his only child–his daughter–ran out to greet him. NO!!! (betrayal) Jephthah told her, I have made a vow to the Lord that I can not break, and now I am going to have to sacrifice you–burn you as an offering. (betrayal) She asked for two months to roam the hills and weep with her friends, because she would never marry. When she returned, Jephthah did as he vowed.
Chapter 12: After all of this fighting, victory, and the killing of Jephthah’s daughter, the Ephraimites came to Jephthah and asked, Why did you go fight and not invite us? Why would you keep us from being a part of this great victory? We are going to burn down your house for going over our heads! (betrayal)
Jephthah said, We were in a great struggle with the Ammonites. We asked for your help and you didn’t respond. (betrayal) When I saw that you were not responding, I had to take my life in my own hands and the Lord gave me victory. And now after all of that, why are you coming to fight? (betrayal)
Jephthah called the people of Gilead and they fought against Ephraim–this was civil war. Jephthah and the Gileadites won. But the fighting was not over. They set up a checkpoint at the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a person came, they required them to say “Shibboleth.” The Ephraimites had an accent and would say “Sibbleth” instead. If they couldn't pronounce it, they would kill them. Jephthah led for six years and then died.
Why does disloyalty tend to snowball?
What are some of the impacts of snowballing disloyalty?
Judges is spiraling. Something needs to change. So much pain, so much failure, so much disappointment, so much betrayal. Feel the weight of the MESS that is in the narrative of Jephthah–all that is messed up beyond repair, all the broken relationships and disappointment and wretchedness.
And then bring in the beautiful words of 1 John:
This is the message we have heard from him and declare to you: God is light; in him there is no darkness at all. If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin. If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)
In the spiral, it feels hopeless. But the Something has changed. Jesus.
If we confess our failing, He is faithful. He is just. And He will forgive us our failing and purify us from all of our issues. In the mess, Jesus is faithful and just to forgive and restore. It is so needed. This is the GOOD NEWS!
How does feeling the weight of what happened in the Jephthah narrative give clarity to the Good News of who Jesus is?
Take It Deeper Questions
- Read 1 John 1.
- How has your fear of the dark changed over time?
- If a person sees God as the punisher, how does that impact his or her relationship with God?
- If a person sees God as not caring what people do, how does that impact his or her relationship with God?
- If a person sees Jesus as being faithful and just to forgive and restore as a person confesses his or her failings, how does that impact his or her relationship with God?
- How are you challenged, encouraged, focused, and/or confused by this text?
Bible Reading Plan
- 2 Chronicles 22
- 2 Chronicles 23
- 2 Chronicles 24
- 2 Chronicles 25
- 2 Chronicles 26