Monday, May 17, 2010

Judges series - Judges 11

The way to read this article is that the orange underlined texts are the verses of the Bible (NIV, unless otherwise stated). The black texts following the Bible verses (and enclosed by square brackets) are my commentaries. At the end of these Bible texts and commentaries, I have inserted a section on "Points to take note/What we have learnt/can learn".
{For full listing of all articles in this series, click here}

Jephthah (a not so glorifying judge?)

1 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead's wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. "You are not going to get any inheritance in our family," they said, "because you are the son of another woman." 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him. [According to the chronicles, in 1 Ch 7:14, Gilead was the son of Makir who descended from Manasseh. So Jephthah who was the son of Gilead, was a Manasseh, even though his mother was a prostitute. Because of his mother’s status, he was driven away by his half brothers, to the land of Tob, where he acquired some followers. Jephthah, like Gideon who was also a Manasseh, was a mighty warrior.] 4 Sometime later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, 5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 "Come," they said, "be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites." 7 Jephthah said to them, "Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why do you come to me now, when you're in trouble?" 8 The elders of Gilead said to him, "Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead." 9 Jephthah answered, "Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me—will I really be your head?" 10 The elders of Gilead replied, "The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say." 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah. [When the Ammonites made war, the elders of Gilead pleaded with Jephthah to come to their aid, to be their commander, and promised Jephthah, headship over Gilead, if he won over the Ammonites] 12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: "What do you have against us that you have attacked our country?" 13 The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah's messengers, "When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably." 14 Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, 15 saying: "This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. 16 But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the desert to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, 'Give us permission to go through your country,' but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh. 18 "Next they traveled through the desert, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border. [The first thing that Jephthah did was to send messengers to the Ammonites king to ask him why the Ammonites would attack the Israelites. The Ammonite king replied and said that when the Israelites came up out of Egypt, they took away the lands of the Ammonites, so now they wanted it back. Jephthah replied and said that, that was not the correct account of what happened. Jephthah said the Israelites then did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. In fact, the Israelites only wanted permissions to pass through the land. I believe Jephthah’s account was correct.

Do you know who were the Moabites and Ammonites? They were the descendants of Lot, the nephew of Abraham. Abraham had made a treaty with Lot that they shall not fight over territories. Abraham gave Lot the first right to choose the land he wanted to go, and Abraham said whichever way Lot would take, he would go the other way. Lot decided to stay in the rich plains of Jordan where Sodom and Gomorrah were, and Abraham ended up heading the other way. These were recorded in Genesis 13. In Genesis 18, Abraham pleaded with the Lord for the sparing of the righteous in Sodom and Gomorrah. I believe Abraham was thinking about his nephew, Lot, in his plea to the Lord. In Genesis 19, we read that God destroyed Sodom and Gomorrah. On the account of Abraham’s plea, by right, Lot’s family would have been spared but because Lot’s wife turned back, she was turned into a pillar of salt. Lot had 2 daughters and future sons-in-laws but because the latter did not believe the coming destruction of the cities, they were destroyed. Lot ended up settling in the mountains with his 2 daughters. In Genesis 19:30-36, we read that the daughters slept with their fathers and each had a son through their father, Lot. The older daughter’s son was called Moab, and became the father of the Moabites. The younger daughter’s son was called Ben-Ammi, and became the father of the Ammonites. These things, I believe, the Israelites then knew, and had honored Abraham’s treaty and his love for his nephew, Lot.] 19 "Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, 'Let us pass through your country to our own place.' 20 Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his men and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel. 21 "Then the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his men into Israel's hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, 22 capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan. [These verses talked about Amorites. The Amorites were not nearly as close to the Israelites as the Moabites and Ammonites, as explained above. The Moabites and Ammonites (through Lot) and Israelites (through Abraham, Israel {aka Jacob}) all came from the same blood line leading back to Shem, son of Noah. The Amorites, on the other hand, were descended from (through Canaan) Ham, son of Noah. Because the Amorites chose to fight the Israelites instead of letting them through, the Lord gave them over to the Israelites.] 23 "Now since the LORD, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? 24 Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the LORD our God has given us, we will possess. 25 Are you better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? 26 For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn't you retake them during that time? 27 I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the LORD, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites." [So, Jephthah reasoned to the Ammonite king that since the Lord God gave the land of the Amorites over to the Israelites, the latter had to accept it. Furthermore, for 300 years that Israel occupied the land, the Ammonites did not come claiming, why now. Jephthah ended with the saying, “Let the Lord decide”. When it became a matter to be decided by the Lord, the necessity of the Israelites honoring Abraham’s good intention would also be decided by the Lord, in the light of this development.] 28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him. [The Ammonite king ignored Jephthah’s explanation, I believe to his own detriment.] 29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 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." [The Lord commissioned with his Spirit coming upon the one he had chosen. I believe it was true then, it is still true now – empowering by the Holy Spirit is so needed in ministry. What was puzzling was whether or not Jephthah’s vow was necessary? Had he not vowed would he still have victory? You will read later, the sad consequence of the vow.] 32 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. [Complete victory!] 34 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." [Oh no, his one and only child, his daughter, came out to meet him. His daughter must be offered as burnt offering!] 36 "My father," she replied, "you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request," she said. "Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry." 38 "You may go," he said. And he let her go for two months. 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. From this comes the Israelite custom 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. [The verses are self-explanatory. What I want to dwell on is that Jephthah fulfilled his vow, just as he had vowed to the Lord. Nothing was said here that it was aborted or that the Lord stopped Jephthah. I think Jephthah really made a big mistake with the vow, not that I have not done stupid thing of a similar, but not the same, nature, before.

One stupid thing I did was this: I prayed for the shifting of my (continual) blessings (maybe a clear word is favor) to another out of love. I have since realized it was a silly thing to do, the consequence of it was so painful, and it did not glorify God. This could even give the devil a foothold in our lives. If someone is lacking in something, wealth, health or whatsoever, NEVER pray the shifting of your own blessings (favor) to the person, or ask that you suffer in place of them, like taking over their sickness or bearing their pain. If we read the Bible thoroughly enough we will realize how important, the blessings (favor) of God were viewed in the Bible. Bless people but not give your blessings (favor) away no matter how much you love another.

If you have $10K, and you want to give it away, give it away but do not give away your blessings (favor). If you want to give away one of your 2 kidneys, give it away, but do not give away your blessings (favor). Giving away your own blessings (favor) does not glorify God. Do you know why? It does not glorify God because you are saying God has too little to give - if it was given to you, He had no more to give to another. It is not like in a musical chair game, where there is always a shortage; someone is going to be left stranded with no chair (no blessings/favor). You do not give up your blessings (favor) like you would give up a chair in a musical chair game. If God has one stream of blessings for you, He can also make another stream of blessings for your loved ones. If your loved one is sick, ask God to heal him/her. Don't ask God to let you be sick so that he/she can be well, or let you take his/her place of sickness or pain. Our God is not so small and with limited resource to give or distribute, that you need to sacrifice yours. I think I am clear, I am not asking you not to be generous, that would be wrong, I am saying give or ask God to give but do not give away the blessings (favor) God intended for you. It is disastrous to be caught without the blessings/favor/protection of God in this fallen world.

Back to Jephthah, some commentators tried to give him the benefit of doubt or did not want to make it sound like a judge appointed by God could be so stupid. God used all kinds of people in the course of dealing with man over the centuries. We cannot say they would not make mistakes or erred. Only Jesus would not have made a mistake, all others could. Even Moses and King David made mistakes, even committed serious sins. We got to be objective, and we are to learn from mistakes made by Biblical characters. They were recorded not without reasons.

While we can sympathize with Jephthah, what he did was wrong. The sympathetic circumstances included these: This land that Jephthah lived on, historically was a place where great evils and abominations were done. We already said earlier on, because of the evils done, Sodom and Gomorrah were destroyed by God directly (not through destruction by wars, etc).

Judges 10:6 listed for us, so many gods being worshipped in the midst of the Israelites. Jephthah was living in such a place and such a time. Furthermore, he came from a broken family setting, his mother was a prostitute; his half-brothers disliked him and drove him away. He got into gang-hood and acquired followers. Some of the pagan worship practices involved human sacrifices, including burnt offering of children. The gods, Chemosh, referred to in verse 24 and Moloch/Molech/Milcom were the gods of the Moabites and Ammonites, although verse 24 was said to have implied that Ammonites also worshipped Chemosh (god of Moabites). Some even regarded them as the same god, which could have been, but by the time of King Solomon’s reign, evolved to be worshipped as separate deities, for in the fall of Solomon in this regard, built separate altars for the 2 gods (1 Kings 11:7). This was not unusual as the fathers of the Moabites and Ammonites were half-brothers, fathered by Lot with his own 2 daughters, they all stayed at the same land. The point is the worship of Molech/Moloch/Milcom involved l’molech – the passing of children through fire as an offering to the god, and this was specifically forbidden by the Lord (Lev 18:21, 20:2-5). In a separate account, in the subsequent period of time (but I mention it here, as a proof of practice), a Moab King, when was desperately fending off the Israelites, sacrificed his son (his heir) at the city walls.

Jephthah was desperate to win, and in his desperation he made a vow that he shouldn’t have; he probably got influenced by pagan practices, and did not have enough proper guidance from his family concerning things of the Lord. God chose him nevertheless, this we must accept.

The things against him were these: He knew what he was vowing. Firstly, he obviously knew that a person was most likely to come out of the house to meet him, not an animal, a sheep, for example. Secondly, he was referring to a burnt offering sacrifice. Come on, since when did domestic house roaming animals were being used as sacrifices to the Lord. Animals used for sacrifices were good unblemished animals {Comparatively, see what Gideon, also a Manasseh warrior, did, in Judges 6:17-24, my article – Judges series – Judges 6 (on Gideon being called) }.

Jephthah knew every well, the “whatever” was going to a person. That he was not thinking that it was abominable to the Lord to offer a burnt human sacrifice was unacceptable. I do not want to go at length, into how come the Lord did not censure him, or how he managed to make the sacrifice, in view of Lev 20:2-5; maybe he did it secretly, like his original vow which was perhaps given privately. We have to accept that he was used by the Lord for the purpose of fighting off the Ammonites despite hearing his vow. But we know that the prohibition clearly spelled out in Leviticus still stood then, even in the subsequent period (King Josiah torn down the high places built by King Solomon for Chemosh and Molech {2Kings 23:13, 23:10}), yet the Lord allowed this man to win the war. What this reminds me is that when an isolated supernatural good thing is done by a man, it does not mean the man is one whom God is pleased with. There can be hundred and one reasons why God has a certain thing done, supernaturally, and the reason(s) got nothing to do with the man used. The man could just be an instrument to achieve the purpose(s) God wanted to achieve. It can be just a case of “it so happens God uses the man”. It is the repeated use of the man by God that would show something. Don’t go bowled-over each time you see a man performs a supernatural act. Find out whether or not there is consistency for that man. If there is, he is probably a “man of God”, otherwise he could just happen to be at the right place at the right time.

For this article, I would not separately spell out what we could learn from it. The extended commentary of mine above, amply explained the points that I believe, we should learn.]

Anthony Chia – Children sacrifices turns the hearts of fathers against their children and the hearts of the children against their fathers; and was and is detestable by God. Also, know that our God is a big God; He does not need to deprive one so that He can bless another. By all means, pray for God to bless another, but do not pray the shifting of your own blessings to another.

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