February 24, 2015.
Daily Reading: Judges 11-16.
Background: Judges 6-10.
Concepts and Connections.
1. You are not the sin of your parents: The story of Jephthah is a rather peculiar one that some might find even hard to read though. When you consider that it is in the context of the bible, it becomes even more peculiar. What we must remember, however, is that often in the book of Judges, men and women do things that are not necessarily sanctioned by God, but rather everyone just did what was right in their own eyes (see Judges 17:6 and 21:25). Though there are questionable actions in the book of Judges, God still interacted with and worked through His people, sending both punishment when they forsook Him and deliverance when they repented. Thus, there is still things that we can get from the book of Judges, even in stories like the one of Jephthah.
Jephthah’s story starts out rather uniquely with a main point hinging on the fact that he was the son of a prostitute. Since he would have likely been considered an illegitimate child, he was driven from his home by his brothers who had been born to the wife of Gilead. It seems that Jephthah had good qualities when it came to warfare, for when the Ammonites came against his father’s house, his brethren came back to beg him to be there leader and deliver them from the hands of their enemies. The story progresses to where he agrees to fight of the Ammonites if he can indeed be their leader afterwards, and then he tries to quell the leader of the Ammonites by explaining Israel’s blamelessness, ultimately having to go to battle with them and defeating them. The interesting thing about the story, however, is that God was with Jephthah, even though he was the son of a prostitute.
The fact that God used Jephthah gives credence to the idea that we do not inherit our parents sins, nor should we be judged by what our parents have done in the past. The Lord says through prophet Ezekiel that the soul that sins bears his or her own guilt; the father does not bear the guilt of the son, nor does the son bear the guilt of his father (see Ezekiel 18:14-20). The brothers of Jephthah drove him out of his city because of the fact his mother was a prostitute. They had put the sin of his father onto Jephthah. But the Lord uses Jephthah to deliver his brothers in an almost humorous display of irony. The lesson is exactly what is taught in Ezekiel: each person is responsible for their own actions. You are not the sin of your parents.
2. Think before you speak: Though Jephthah would indeed deliver his people from the hand of the Ammonites, he did so at a tragic cost. This cost, however, was completely avoidable if Jephthah had made wise decisions and thought before he made rash vows. Jephthah made a vow to the Lord that if He would give the Ammonites into his hand, then he would offer the first thing that came out of the door of his house to the Lord. it should be noted that vows were (and still are) a serious matter that should never be taken lightly. When one made a vow in biblical times, he or she paid that vow, lest a curse be brought upon them from the Almighty. This is why James tells us that we should never swear (make an oath/vow) by heaven or earth, lest we fall into condemnation (see James 5:12). However, Jephthah did make a vow, and he didn’t quite think though it before he made it. Whether or not the Lord would have actually punished Jephthah if he did not sacrifice his daughter, who was the first thing to come out of his door, cannot be ascertained with certainly. Regardless of this, both Jephthah and his daughter were sure that he had to go through with the vow. Jephthah’s tragic vow should teach us never to be rash with our words and to think before we speak. It can often save us a lot of trouble.
Civil war and minor judges: The twelfth chapter of the book of Judges really gives us a sense of rough and chaotic times that the children of Israel were having during these years. This is due to the fact that they were not seeking their God, but had gone astray, each left to their own devices. Here, we see Ephraim come up against Jephthah and his men to start a civil war with them all because Jephthah didn’t call on them to go into battle against the Ammonites. This seems rather rash even when we consider that Jephthah’s actions might have insulted the men of Ephraim, taken as a breach of trust or that the men of Ephraim simply wanted the spoils of war that would follow a victory over the Ammonites. If any lesson we can learn from this story, it is that we should not quarrel over things of little importance. It is easy to look at this story and see that a civil war was started over something seemingly incidental, but do we not fight over the little things as well? Let us learn to put on love. After Jephthah, three more judges, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon, who we know very little about ruled over Israel.
1. The Lord’s directive: When the parents of the well known (though often mis-portrayed) biblical figure Samson enter the scene, we see that Israel once again has taken another turn around that vicious cycle of disobedience-punishment-repentance-deliverence-rest-disobedience. Israel had been given into the hands of the Philistines, a nation that comes into conflict with Israel very often, for 40 years. But when it came time for the Lord to deliver Israel, He chose to do so though a man who would be born a nazarite. The angel of the Lord comes to Manoah’s wife, a woman of the tribe of Dan who was barren, to tell her that she was going to conceive and give birth to a child who would be a nazarite from the day of his birth, thus she was to drink no wine or strong drink (we will discuss the nazarite vow below). Notice both God’s intervention here and His preparation of the deliverance of Israel. Sometimes when we ask God to do something in our lives, we expect immediate results. Sometimes this might be the case, but it is often that the plan of God does not necessarily work on our time table. God’s plan to deliver Israel through Samson was initiated before his birth and would not ultimately come through until his death, though it would seem that there was some time during Samson’s life when things were starting to turn around for the Israelites. God is doing things in and through the lives of those who are His children, we can be sure of that. We just have to learn to be patient at times and wait on God’s deliverance.
2. A nazarite: The vow of a nazarite was a voluntary vow that an Israelite could take to consecrate themselves to the Lord. Though the vow could be of any given length (typically no less than 30 days), the three most well known examples of people who were under nazarite vows in the bible, Samson, Samuel (see I Samuel 1:9-11) and John the baptizer (see Luke 1:12-17 and Matthew 11:18-19), were all under the vow from birth till death. The conditions for this voluntary vow are laid out in Numbers 6. A Nazarite was to be holy, consecrated to the Lord. They were not to drink any alcohol and no razor was to come upon their head, probably as a outward sign of their vow. They also had more strict guidelines on not touching unclean things, such as dead bodies. It should be noted that this vow was above and beyond the call of the children of God and it was not necessary to gain God’s favor. People took the vow voluntarily (though one could argue that all three of these examples did not voluntarily take it, but were given it from birth) to separate themselves to God for a specific amount of time, perhaps for a specific purpose. Indeed, Manoah asks the angel of the Lord specifically what the child’s mission was, since he was being consecrated from birth. Though Samson did not live the best example as one who was a Nazarite (though he kept the restrictions firmly), in the end the Lord used him to gain a victory over the Philistines. Samuel and John also did great things in the will of God. Though it may not be advisable to take the vow today in its strict sense (see note on chapter 11 about vows), it is worth consideration to look for ways to consecrate ourselves to the Lord.
1. God can take bad things and make them work out for his will: Samson’s strength and power seemed to work to bring a sense of arrogance about him. His love for foreign women and lack of self control would ultimately lead to his downfall. The story of Samson can be quite depression, devoid of hope and even frustrating. But as Samson is choosing his first wife of the Philistines, a choice that his mother and father were very displeased with, the text says that the Lord was looking for an opportunity against the Philistines. The Lord was going to use Samson, though Samson would make terrible decisions, to execute His will over the Philistines. It should be noted that God can take bad things, and even bad people, and use them for His will, regardless of their choices and actions. Samson would not be considered a good role model to aspire to, but God used him anyway. God will use whatever and whoever to execute His will. The choice is ours, however, if the actions that He uses of ours will be good or bad.
2. Pride goes before a fall: Samson’s pride that likely stemmed from his strength would get him into a lot of trouble. Here we see Samson kill a lion with his bare hands. This would probably make any one of us just as proud as he was. Then he decides to make a riddle for the Philistines, arrogantly thinking that he could easily outsmart them get some material gain. He uses his experience with the lion to create the riddle, as he found a honeycomb in the mouth of the lion some days after he killed it. Samson was right, there was no way that they were going to deduce the riddle on their own. So they went to his wife and threatened her to get her to coax the answer to the riddle out of Samson. Women, we will see, would be one of Samson’s biggest weakness. She finally manages to get it out of him, and Samson loses the bet. This sets off his temper, and he goes out and kills 30 of the men of Ashkelon for their changes of clothing and gives it to the Philistines. We will see as Samson’s story continues that his pride really does lead him to a downfall, as is first indicated in this chapter. Pride is very dangerous to our spiritual lives and one of the most potent sins for all of us. Let us take great care in our defense against pride and avoid the consequences that will undoubtedly arise from it.
Revenge has it’s consequences: After Samson looses the bet, he returns to his father’s house due to his anger (Samson seems to have a bad temper). During this time, his wife is given to his best man, and chapter fifteen gives us an interesting story of the revenge that Samson takes on the Philistines when he finds out that his wife has been given away. He gathers 300 foxes (quite a feat on its own) and ties pairs together by their tails and sends them with torches attached into the grain and olive orchards of the Philistines, burning up their crops. Why Samson chooses this as revenge is not explicitly stated. But the consequences for revenge are evident. The Philistines find out that it was Samson that did this, and they burned Samson’s wife and her father with fire. When Samson received word of this, he takes out more revenge on the Philistines, striking them with a great blow. This revenge too has its consequences, as the Philistines then rise up and encamp against Judah and raided a city therein. Fortunately for the people of Judah, there were allowed to simply give Samson into the hand of the Philistines to avoid more conflict, and then Samson was able to overpower them, killing 1,000 men with the jawbone of a donkey through the Spirit of the Lord. Though the consequences of Samson’s revenge worked out in the end, it should be noted that it was because the Lord delivered him. Not all consequences for revenge will work out that nicely, and they often are dire. Let us not exact revenge, for it is written “‘Vengeance is Mine, I will repay,’ says the Lord (cf. Deuteronomy 32:35 and Romans 12:19).”
1. Learning from your mistakes: One of Samson’s biggest problems was that he did not learn from his mistakes. He lays a foundation with his first wife where he should have learned that he had a weakness for women. His first wife coaxed the answer to his riddle from him and then told her people. Now that he took delight in Delilah, history was repeating itself, though this time is was even more evident, as it would seem that Delilah never really had any loyalty with Samson, but only with her people. Perhaps Samson did learn a little from his first marriage, as when Delilah asks him to tell her where his strength comes from, he lies to her three times. Every time, Delilah does what he says will incapacitate him and tries to give him into the hands of her people. Every time, Samson prevails. There should have been all kinds of red flags for Samson here. Perhaps blinded by pride and arrogance (for he had overcome each time), when Delilah presses hard, Samson gives in and tells her the truth. It is interesting to note that even when she shaved his head, Samson still thought he would prevail against the Philistines, for he did not know that the Lord had left him. But Samson was wrong, and he paid an awful price for not learning form his mistakes of the past. Let us not follow the path of Samson, but rather take our mistakes and learn from them instead of falling by them over and over. Samson’s downfall came both from his pride and from his apparent short-term memory loss.
2. When you’ve hit rock bottom, God is still ready to lift you up: The story of Samson does not portray a lot of hope. Samson was not a good role model, full of pride and temper, and in the end he dies with his enemies, eyes gouged, separated from the Spirit of the Lord and set up a thing of entertainment for the Philistines. However, at the end of Samson’s life, there is an offering of hope. Samson had hit rock bottom, but one last time he makes a plea to the Lord and asks for his strength a final time so that he might die with his enemies. This is the ultimate opportunity that the Lord was seeking through the life of Samson as mentioned in chapter 14. Whereas the eternal destination of Samson’s soul cannot be explicitly deduced, his final action and the restoration of the Spirit of the Lord does offer us hope. Hope that when we have hit rock bottom, God is still there, ready and waiting to pick us up. All we need to do is take that first step back. This is taught in the parable of the prodigal son (see Luke 15:11-32). As the prodigal son goes out and wastes everything he has been given and runs his life into the ground, he quickly approaches rock bottom. When he hits it, he realizes his sin and decides to go back to his father as one of his hired servants. However, as soon as the Father sees his son a long way off, He runs to meet him, embracing him and kissing him. This is the only time in scripture were God seems to get in a hurry. He was there at the door, looking and longing for His son to return. God wants His children to return, to come back to Him. And when they do, there is always hope.
Tomorrow’s Reading: Psalm 21-23.
Grace and peace.