Judges 11:30-12:15. God Is With Us Despite Our Foolishness. 1-1-20

God Is With Us Despite Our Foolishness

Judges 11:30-12:15                                                           Kevin E. Jesmer

Key verse: 11:32-33                       Lesson 14                 1-1-20

“Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.”

God had called Jephthah back to his own people, who had previously rejected him. He was to be a general to help his people fight against their enemies. Just prior to the actual battle, he made a foolish vow that placed him in a situation where he felt compelled to sacrifice his own daughter! The vow was his own idea, for God neither expects nor wants such vows. Jephthah’s foolishness would cost him dearly. Despite of his foolishness, God gave Jephthah victory over the Ammonites. Jephthah was unable to stop a bloody civil war among his own people. He really needed to know God better. Though Jephthah acted in ignorance, we cannot deny that he was a man who feared God and God was with him. After Jephthah’s death, God raised up three minor judges. God used them to bring some degree of order and peace to Israel. In today’s passage, let’s stop and consider God’s character and his heart. He is a God that we can come to even when we have made foolish choices. Let’s see.

Part l: Jephthah Makes A Very Foolish Vow (11:30-40)

So far in this chapter, things seem to have been going well for Jephthah. He was called back to lead his people, by elders who appeared to be sorry for driving him away. The Gideonite army was rallying around him. He successfully confronted the Ammonite king, drawing his armies into battle.

But now, Jephthah went ahead of God and made a very foolish vow. Look at verses 30-31. “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands,31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.  Making vows was a very common occurrence in these ancient times. Those who made a vow tried to show their sincerity about fulfilling the will of their god. The pagan nations around the Israelites were known for making rash vows. Even vows that included human sacrifice.

The people of God make sincere vows from time to time. It shows their sincerity and it was very serious. In the Law of God, a vow was a promise to God that should not be broken. (Numbers 30:1-2; Deut 23:21-23). It carried as much weight as written contract. Once one makes a vow, especially for a leader, it very difficult to get out of it. More than just a vow, God wants out hearts. The Bible tells us what God requires. Micah 6:8 reads, “He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” This is the basis of all vows. God never meant for anyone to vow to make a human sacrifice. It seems that Jephthah was mixing up the Hebrew way of vow making with the pagan way.

When Jephthah made the vow, he may have thought a prized cow or a lamb would walk through the door. Could he be thinking about human sacrifice? If he was, maybe he was expecting a slave, or someone he didn’t know, to walk through. After all he was living in a time and in a culture where pagan religion and human sacrifices were common. If he wasn’t holding firmly onto the word of God, while immersed in the pagan culture, it may not have seemed like a sin. Jephthah’s conscience may have been made dull by the constant intrusions by the pagan culture around him.

We can ask ourselves, shouldn’t Jephthah have known about God’s command against human sacrifice? Let’s look at some of these verses found in the Bible. Leviticus 18:21 reads, “Do not give any of your children to be sacrificed to Molek, for you must not profane the name of your God. I am the Lord.” (NIV) And look at Leviticus 20:1-5, which reads, “The Lord said to Moses, 2 “Say to the Israelites: ‘Any Israelite or any foreigner residing in Israel who sacrifices any of his children to Molek is to be put to death. The members of the community are to stone him. 3 I myself will set my face against him and will cut him off from his people; for by sacrificing his children to Molek, he has defiled my sanctuary and profaned my holy name. 4 If the members of the community close their eyes when that man sacrifices one of his children to Molek and if they fail to put him to death, 5 I myself will set my face against him and his family and will cut them off from their people together with all who follow him in prostituting themselves to Molek.” (NIV) God accepts vows, but not human sacrifices. Mixing the two is the result of a thought world contaminated by the surrounding pagan culture. It also is a result of not knowing the mind and heart of God, nor his word.

Jephthah is not in good company by making a foolish vow. There are a couple examples of foolish vows in the Bible like Saul who vowed to kill anyone who ate before evening (1 Sam 14:24-25) And what about Herod Antipas vowed to give Herodian’s daughter anything she requested. (Mark 6:22-23) God never expected Jephthah to make such a foolish vow in the first place. It was not necessary.

The fact that Jephthah was seriously thinking about a human sacrifice shows us how far any believer can wander from the ways of the Lord if we don’t know God’s heart and mind. It comes when we don’t hold onto God’s word. We may be saved. We may have a personal relationship with Jesus. But are we being led away by the cultural practices and philosophies that we are living in? It could be very possible. We need to always take hold of the word of God, and seek to know the Lord, so that we can please the Lord and not go astray…even if the whole society around us is drifting from the truth.

Despite his foolish vow, God granted Jephthah and his people a great victory. Let’s see in verses 32-33, “Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.” The Lord gave him victory, first and foremost because of his grace and the promises to his people. He was also answering the prayers of Gileadites and recognizing Jephthah’s faith. The victory was definitely not given because of a foolish vow.

Despite of the grace of being granted a great victory by God, Jephthah was blinded because his delusions and his ignorance of God’s ways. He was determined to carry through with his vow at any cost. Look at verses 34-35, “When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.“ His daughter was a very happy girl. She greeted her dad dancing with a tambourine. She had numerous friends. She was so full of life. Jephthah’s rash vow brought him unspeakable grief. He felt miserable and wretched. It was so unnecessary for God was not asking for such a sacrifice at all. Jephthah’s stubbornness and foolishness, (all in the name of pious sincerity), was causing all his suffering. And not only his suffering, but the grief of many, many people.

There is “room” for some slight redemption to this sad story. His daughter lamented that she would never marry and bear children. If this was the case, is it possible that she was set aside for religious service and not actually sacrificed? I would like to think so. Or was she actually sad, that being an only child, she would not be able to continue the name of her father’s family among the tribes of Israel? He dedicated his daughter to be sacrificed or to live in perpetual virginity in an ancient Israelite religious order, you choose.

What a dreadful waste his vow was. All life was drained out of his beautiful daughter. Look at verses 38b-39 to discover how she reacted to the news of what her father had done, “…She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.” She was a very obedient and devoted daughter. She actually returned to her father. Look at verse 39, “After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.” My question is, why did the daughter submit to the father to be sacrificed? She was hanging out in the hills with her friends. She could have fled. She could have tried to talk some sense into her father’s stubborn mind. Maybe she was helpless and forced into it with no place to hide. Maybe she was trying to be the obedient child. She might have been ignorant of the word of God and was convinced that God required this of her too and for the sake of protecting her people from future invasion she was willing to sacrificing herself.

What a sad story. And it is all a result of false religious beliefs that this father could not let go of. How we need to let go of our false views on religion, that are keeping our hearts in a prison house of sorrow and despair. Why remain stuck in the trap of our unfounded religious beliefs? I do know one thing, God is merciful. Even if Jephthah made a vow, he could still come to the Lord, confess his sin and ask God’s forgiveness. God accepts anyone who comes to him in humble repentance and faith that he will be forgiven. He is ready willing and able to forgive and restore. Come to Jesus who sets the captives free for he is the way, and the truth and the life. (John 14:6) Luke 4:18 reads, “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to set the oppressed free,” (NIV)

Part ll: Jephthah’s Foolishness Causes a Civil War (12:1-7)

After his war with the Ammonites Jephthah had to deal with the pains of civil war among his own people. And some of the choices he made were not the wisest. Let’s take a closer look. Look at verse 12:1, “The men of Ephraim called out their forces, crossed over to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, ‘Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.’” The Gileadites had just won a great victory but instead of joy among all the tribes of Israel, there was pettiness and quarrelling. The tribe of Ephraim was angry and jealous that they were not invited to join the fighting (although Jephthah said that he had invite them (2)) The Ephraimites had not lifted a finger to fight their common enemy and acted as though they had been slighted by Jephthah. They had no right to speak to Jephthah as they did. He had just defeated their common enemies, the Ammonites. They were insulting a man whom God had raised up. They should have spoken words of encouragement and praise to the Lord instead of griping.

Jephthah first of all gave them a stiff dose of the truth. Look at verses 2-3, “Jephthah answered, “I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. 3 When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?” I am impressed that Jephthah spoke the truth to them. This is the way he dealt with the Ammonites. He spoke the truth to them first.

After speaking the truth, Jephthah did not have adequate self-control over his emotions. The insults of the Ephraimites enraged him. Look at verse 4, “ Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, “You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.”  In his raging, Jephthah called his troops and the battle began. He continued in his pursuit of his fellow Isrealites right to the end. Verses 5-7 read, “The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead asked him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he replied, “No,” they said, “All right, say ‘Shibboleth.’” If he said, “Sibboleth,” because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.7  Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in a town in Gilead.” His revenge was swift. Jephthah captured the fords of the Jordan, the boundary of Ephraim, and was able to defeat his countrymen as they crossed the river. He used a pronunciation test to clearly identify the Ephraimites. Eventually his army killed 42,000 of them.

It cost Israel dearly and it might have been avoided. There must have been another way than engaging in a devastating civil war. The Ephraimites had done the same thing to Gideon in 8:1-3. Gideon had been generous. But Jephthah’s misguided zeal resulted in a bloody civil war. Jephthah’s reaction could have been the bad fruit of not knowing the Lord or his word deeply enough. It shows the importance of not being content with a mediocre knowledge of God or his word. One day bad fruit will be born from our shallowness.

Despite of Jephthah’s weaknesses, one thing is clear, God honored his faith. Jephthah was mentioned in the Hebrews 11:32-34 as one of the great giants of faith. “32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” If God honored Jephthah then we should view his weaknesses with grace and honor Jephthah as God did.

Part lll: God Heals The Nation With Three Judges (12:8-15)

The names of the next three judges are Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. There is little known about three judges or their importance. But a few points can be derived from these verses. One was politically wise. Another kept the government stable, and another had rich children. They are all fruitful men whom God worked through in the decades after the bloody civil war.

First, one was politically wise. Look at verses 8-10, “After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel. 9 He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He gave his daughters away in marriage to those outside his clan, and for his sons he brought in thirty young women as wives from outside his clan. Ibzan led Israel seven years.10 Then Ibzan died, and was buried in Bethlehem.” Ibzan means ““illustrious“. He had sixty kids. That is a lot of kids. He must have had concubines. The amazing thing that he did was gave each of them in marriage to someone who was from a different clan. This promoted peace between the clans. What a wise thing to do after a civil war! I am sure that this act promoted healing in the land.

Second, one kept the government stable for a decade. Look at verses 11-12, “After him, Elon the Zebulunite led Israel ten years. 12 Then Elon died, and was buried in Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.” Elon means, “oak; grove; and/or strong.” The only thing said about Elon is that he led Israel for ten years. Though not much is said, he accomplished a great task. The country had been in turmoil for so many years under Jephthah. The healing of the nation would take more time than seven years. God provided another decade through this “Oak” of a leader. Indeed, time is a healing balm.

Third, one raised a lot of successful children and grandkids. Look at verses 14-15, “He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He led Israel eight years. 15 Then Abdon son of Hillel died, and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites” Abdon means, “service.” We can say that he established two generations of people who are successful in a worldly sense. They rode on donkeys which indicate that they were well off. There is some good in having seventy successful descendants. After all we should all hope to raise kids and grandkids that are able to provide for themselves, and be blessings to their church, neighbors and communities. Hopefully these descendants used their wealth in the service of God and man. These verses also show that there was a time of prosperity in the land. These seventy men were able to ride on donkeys. This would be difficult in a war-ravaged land.

I can see here that God cared about his people. He raised up three judges so that the land could heal from the civil war for twenty-five years. God is the one who blesses nations. He pours his blessings on the righteous and the unrighteous. He establishes governments and builds economies in order to serve his purpose. He is the sovereign Lord. We can trust God and trust what he is doing, despite of the weaknesses and failings of political leaders.

In this passage we discover the importance of knowing God. God does not demand that we make foolish vows. He wants our hearts and minds. He wants to be our all in all. We also discover the importance of growing to know God better through his word. This world will keep us in ignorance and darkness. It is possible for a believer to be deceived by the culture around them until they are led astray with foolish vows and angry, rash decisions. But God is gracious. He allows his people to come to him in humble repentance so as to be restored by his grace. We will go astray, time and time again, but God is waiting with open arms to restore us time and time again. He grants us times of peace and healing in order to be restored. I pray that you may come to know Jesus, through his word, even more deeply than you know him now.

Part 1: Jephthah Makes A Very Foolish Vow (11:30-40)

  1. Review how God called Jephthah in the previous passage. What did Jephthah feel compelled to do prior to battle? (30-31).
  2. What is a vow? How is a “God pleasing” vow different from Jephthah’s vow? Think about godly vows in the Bible. (Numbers 30:1-2; Deuteronomy 23:21-23)
  3. How does God view human sacrifice in the Bible? (Lev 18:21; Lev 20:1-5). How do think a judge for God’s people could have wandered so far from the truth? How can Christians overcome this tendency?
  4. What did God do despite the foolish vow? (32-33). What kind of suffering did Jephthah’s false idea cause? How could he have overcome this tragedy? (Luke 4:18)

Part ll: Jephthah’s Foolishness Causes A Civil War (12:1-7)

  1. Why were the men of Ephraim upset? (1). Why were they unreasonable? (2) How did Jephthah initially respond? (2-3)
  2. How did Jephthah fail in his diplomacy? (4-7). What were the tragic results? (7). What does this tell us about our need to know God and his word?

Part lll: God Heals The Nation Through Three Judges (12:8-15)

  1. Who are the next three judges? How did God work through each of them? Ibzan (8-10)? Elon (11-12)? Abdon (13-15)? Think about how God was working to heal the nation.
  2. How did God honor Jephthah? (Heb 11:32-34). What does this tell us about God and how he works?

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