Monday, August 17, 2009

The shock value of Judges

My wife and I had a good discussion after church about the sermon on Jephthah, who was a Judge of Israel and made a foolish vow that led him to sacrifice his own daughter. This is truly shocking.

Our pastor pointed out that at the time that Israel and the surrounding nations was so immersed in worship of Baal et al. (which involved ritual prostitution, child sacrifice, manipulating the gods with sacrifices in order to get military victories....) that Jephthah may have actually thought that he was doing the right thing by YHWH. Furthermore, the only reason he did not break his foolish vow may have been mostly to do with saving face.

I cant find anywhere in the text where a prophet or angel of the LORD tells Jephthah to make or to keep this vow.

Judges describes some truly shocking characters and incidents. It should repel us and lead us to difficult questions. In an earlier post I wrote that a key passage to understanding the book is the last verse of the book (Judges 21:25):
In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
But, now I think a key is just appreciating the repeated cycle of the Israelites turning away from YHWH, who then turns them over to the consequences of their sin, usually subjugation by their enemies, and misery, they cry out to YHWH in desperation, He hears them and raises up a deliverer (Judge), they repent, within a generation or less, they turn away from YHWH, .... and on and on ... and on....
Chapter 2 highlights this:
1Now the angel of the LORD went up from Gilgal to Bochim. And he said, "I brought you up from Egypt and brought you into the land that I swore to give to your fathers. I said, 'I will never break my covenant with you, 2and you shall make no covenant with the inhabitants of this land; you shall break down their altars.' But you have not obeyed my voice.

11And the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals.

16Then the LORD raised up judges, who saved them out of the hand of those who plundered them. 17Yet they did not listen to their judges, for they whored after other gods and bowed down to them. They soon turned aside from the way in which their fathers had walked, who had obeyed the commandments of the LORD, and they did not do so. 18Whenever the LORD raised up judges for them, the LORD was with the judge, and he saved them from the hand of their enemies all the days of the judge. For the LORD was moved to pity by their groaning because of those who afflicted and oppressed them.
The cast of characters and events in Judges is truly shocking. It shows us how truly evil and unfaithful we can be. But, what should be more shocking is that there is a merciful, compassionate, and faithful God who saves people (yes, very flawed people) who do not deserve to be saved. It is this same God who shocks us with the offer of the free gift of eternal life in Christ (Ephesians 2:8,9).

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