READ: Judges 11-12
BACKGROUND: This is the story of Jephthah’s judgeship.
11:1 – Since he was the son of a prostitute he lost his familial rights.
7 – Jephthah reminds the elders that they drove him out because of his family history and now they are asking him to save them.
13 – This statement isn’t entirely true. Jephthah corrects the Ammonite king by reminding him of the real history in verses 14-23.
24 – Jephthah shows great wisdom here – wisdom that he will not continue to display – by trying to negotiate for peace without fighting.
30 – This is where Jephthah’s wisdom deserts him. He had no reason and no need whatsoever to make that vow. He was trying to buy and coerce God’s favor…but he already had it.
31 – It’s important to note here that when Jephthah made this vow he expected an animal to come out first – because numerous animals lived inside of homes with people in this culture – but he should have known it could be a human.
35 – Jephthah blames his daughter for the mess he is in. Classic job of taking responsibility for his own actions…not!
12:6 – The Ephramites, who were in the wrong here, pronounced the word Shibboleth differently than everyone else, so they were able to apply a linguistic test to see if people were Ephramites or not.
THINK: I have always thought that one of the absolute stupidest parts in the entire history of humans is the European witch-hunts of the 16th and 17th centuries. Some really brilliant Christians decided that there needed to be a definitive way of determining whether any woman accused of being a witch was actually a witch. So, naturally, they came up with the ingenious idea of tying a woman’s hands and legs together and then tossing her in a lake, river, or ocean to see if she would float. Because, of course, non-witches sink like normal human beings but witches float. And why do witches float? There were a number of theories including: they renounced baptism, witches are supernaturally light – hence the ability to fly on broomsticks, water is so pure an element that it rejects witches, and witches are made of wood (hilarious video if you’ve got 5 spare minutes). The problem with this method is that everybody loses. First and foremost, innocent women lost if they didn’t get pulled up in time before they drowned. Secondly, any innocent women who floated lost because they ended up getting burnt at the stake. Finally, everyone lost, society lost because they were so overcome by fear and superstition that they participated in an utterly ridiculous, improper, and barbaric ritual that cost people their lives.
This situation isn’t entirely unlike Jephthah’s situation in Judges 11. I have always thought that one of the absolute stupidest parts in the entire history of the Bible is what Jephthah did in Judges 11 when he swore an oath that he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house as an offering to God if he won the battle. He didn’t have ANY REASON to make that oath! He had just finished explaining why God was right and Ammon was wrong and he knew that God would win the day. But because he allowed himself to be overcome by fear and superstition he tried to coerce God and to earn God’s favor by making a stupid oath. And it cost him dearly when the first thing to come out of the door was his daughter. And his daughter very calmly offered herself up since Jephthah had made that promise to God and the whole nation of Israel celebrated her bravery each year. But here is the critically important thing to understand here: THAT WAS UTTERLY RIDICULOUS, IMPROPER, & BARBARIC! By all of them. Jephthah, his daughter, and Israel.
Even though Jephthah made God that promise, God didn’t want his daughter to be sacrificed. God specifically prohibits human sacrifice! He would way rather have a broken promise than a murdered daughter. But because Israel had fallen so far away from God and become so much like the pagan cultures around it, everyone was blinded to see that truth. Jephthah was. His daughter was. The entire nation was. And they were all guilty! They were all wrong! They all sinned before God!
Jephthah’s mistrust of God and his selfishness and his attempt to coerce God – his sin – ultimately affected more than just him. It affected – and it dragged down his family and his entire nation. Sin does that. Sometimes it’s really easy to think that sin is personal and that our sins don’t hurt anybody else. But that simply isn’t the case at all. Our sins affect those around us. They affect our culture. Sin isn’t just a personal thing. It’s a communal thing. The tragic story of Jephthah in Judges 11 makes that clear.
ASK: Do I ever let my doubts, fears, & superstitions lead me away from God? In what ways have my sins affected those around me?
PRAY: Ask God to show you the ways in which your sin drags others down. Pray for the courage to follow him wholeheartedly and the strength to draw those around you closer to him.