Lessons from a prostitute’s son

Judges 11:1 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 

Okay now, I don’t really know what to say about this chapter today. Quite frankly, I didn’t like it.  Well, that’s not really true, but the end result wasn’t very fairy tale if you know what I mean.  Here’s the scenario: You’ve got this guy Jephthah.  It seems that it was worth mentioning that his mother was a prostitute.  So for obvious reasons, he is shunned from the rest of his family.  Things get rough, however, and they come find him and ask for his help.  The Spirit of the Lord comes on him and he does some pretty good damage on the enemy.  This I like.  I like the fact that God isn’t really concerned with where we came from.  He is concerned with where we are going.  And that was almost enough for me today.  I wanted to write all about that.  But I just couldn’t avoid the content of the rest of the chapter.

You see, Jephthah makes a vow before God that he will sacrifice whatever comes out his door when he returns home from his victory.  Now I am not sure what he was hoping for, maybe a sheep or one of his wives.  Regardless, it’s a really strange vow to make.  Low and behold, his only child comes out the door.  He’s pretty torn up about it too.  The last thing he wants to do is kill his daughter.  He let’s her go dance in the hills for a couple of months, but then he does it.  The crazy thing is this: nowhere do I see God asking him to do this.  Instead, he made a vow and stuck to it.  And to me that is frustrating.  Now I am a man of my word, so I get the inner conflict.  But maybe be a little more careful with what you are promising here.

So what can I get out of this?  There are two things that this brought to mind.  The first is this: when you make a stupid commitment, why not ask for mercy?  I don’t really understand why he didn’t go to God and ask for release from this promise.  I can’t imagine that God really  wanted him to kill his daughter.  So why didn’t he get on his  knees before  God and beg for mercy?  Why not tell God that he messed up?  I see Moses and Joshua both pleading before God.  God’s pretty merciful in that way.  That I just don’t understand.  I think we can get the same way.  We stick to our guns out of principle without asking God for help.  Even Jesus asked God to pass the cup from Him.  Now in that case, God didn’t – but at least He asked.  Maybe sometimes we need to ask God if we can be released for the stupid thing we got ourselves into.

Secondly, I think we need to take seriously the things we are saying to God.  We sing worship songs that say, God I lay down my life.  Do we mean it?  We pray prayers telling God we will do anything, go anywhere.  Will we?  We need to think about what we are saying before we say it.  Let’s be ready to follow through with what we promised we would do.  And I guess I can admire Jephthah’s character when it comes to that.  He was willing to do a really hard thing.  Maybe, just maybe, we should take God seriously too.  Or better yet, maybe we should live a life that God can take seriously.   After all, we can count on His promises to us, but can He count on our promises to Him? 

Do you think God gets frustrated?

Judges 10: 10-16  10 Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.”  11 The LORD replied, “When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 12 the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? 13 But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!”   15 But the Israelites said to the LORD, “We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” 16 Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer. 

Do you ever wonder if God gets frustrated with humanity?  We know that God is love, but how does He put up with us?  Today, we need look no further than Judges chapter 10.  The shocking news in today’s passage is the Israel ONCE AGAIN turned away from God and did evil.  They thought it would be a good idea to serve inanimate objects rather than the real, living God.  Then they come to God like a 25 cent gum-ball machine.  “Okay, God help us now.  We put in our 25 cent prayer, now dispense the gum-ball.  Come save us.”  At this point, it seems that God has had it up to here and says, “nah, that’s okay – I’m good.  Why don’t you just ask all those fake gods to save you?”

Now this is an unexpected response from God, isn’t it?  Isn’t He supposed to forgive all the time, no matter what?  Look, God is about relationship.  He is about us pursuing Him with our lives.  So Old Testament, New Testament, whatever… He doesn’t want to be treated as a doormat.  He can quite easily examine our motives, for He sees the heart, not just the words.  So when, like the Israelites, we cry out with an insincere plea for a bailout, something tells me God might not be that interested.  And so He responds like He did to the Israelites.  “Haven’t you already chosen who you will serve?  You certainly didn’t choose me.”  And I think it would probably get pretty frustrating having people ask you for all the benefits and blessings without doing their part.

But God still loves.  He did help them once He saw that they were sincere.  They got desperate and got rid of all the garbage in their lives.  How much like them are we?  We want to hang on to all the garbage and still receive all the blessing.  We justify our sins and then gorge ourselves on grace, because God has to give it to us.  We want God to help us on our terms.  And so we have a world that believes that He is some mean God who gets off on sending good people to Hell.  That’s not the case at all.  Rather, He lets people live and die with their choice of “god.”  Why would a loving God force Himself on us as if we were some kind of slave?  He doesn’t.  He says choose me.  Choose me with your heart and choose me with your actions.  That’s all He really wanted from the Israelites in Judges 10 – He wanted them to live with their choice.  So when they did choose Him, He was there to rescue.  Because that’s the kind of God He is. 

It’s important how you start

Judges 9:1-6  1 Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, 2 “Ask all the citizens of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man?’ Remember, I am your flesh and blood.”  3 When the brothers repeated all this to the citizens of Shechem, they were inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” 4 They gave him seventy shekels of silver from the temple of Baal-Berith, and Abimelech used it to hire reckless adventurers, who became his followers. 5 He went to his father’s home in Ophrah and on one stone murdered his seventy brothers, the sons of Jerub-Baal. But Jotham, the youngest son of Jerub-Baal, escaped by hiding. 6 Then all the citizens of Shechem and Beth Millo gathered beside the great tree at the pillar in Shechem to crown Abimelech king.

Holy smokes this is a brutal chapter of the Bible.  Talk about your ultimate case of sibling rivalry.  Here’s the scenario: Gideon has 70 sons, which to me seems a bit excessive.  One son, Abimelech decided he should be in charge around here so he convinces the people to help him.  Now you should now that Abimelech’s mother was a slave of Gideon (first problem: sleeping with your slave), so his relatives were a different people group than the other sons.  He convinces his relatives that he should be the only one in charge.  After all, a throne with 70 guys on it gets a little crowded.   Well, they agree with him and he beginning days of his leadership aren’t something to be proud of.   And his choices at the beginning of his leadership defined the remainder of his days.

Abimelech made three horrible choices at the beginning of his rulership: 1. He accepted money from the temple of a false God.  He essentially used dirty money to launch his authority.  2. He hired fun, free-spirited, reckless adventurers for his team.  There are two problems with this – buying his followers and selecting a bunch of trouble causers.  3. He killed people to gain authority.

Now this last one seems like an obvious no-no, but let’s also take a look at the other two.  Because I see these same things happening in our world today.  Number one, people are offered dirty money to get ahead.  Examples of this are bribes, stolen money, and sketchy business deals.  Number two, surrounding oneself with people who flatter them and are willing to do what you say as long as you pay them to say the right stuff.  Number three, stepping on whoever is necessary to get ahead.

This is corporate America, people!  This is the way of the world.  And it always works and it never works.  It always seems to work out in the short-term.  It provides instant results, but it usually catches up with the person in the long run.  They may later be exposed for their incompetency and it is discovered that they cheated their way to the top.  They may later crack under the pressure because they don’t have the skill set necessary to lead.  No matter the cause, leadership that starts off corrupt usually ends with poor results.

This is why it is so important to start things the right way.  Abimelech’s life was ended in a miserable, shameful way – a lady dropped a brick on his head.  The decisions he made at he beginning of his rulership followed him.  He became defined by how he started.  He started a cheater, so he led like a cheater.  He started a murderer, he led like a murderer.  He couldn’t escape it.  (Well he could have escaped it by repenting and turning to God, but he didn’t.)  He chose the way he would be defined.  We, too, choose the way that we are defined.  We get to decide how we start things.  We can hold integrity as a high standard and follow the ways of the Lord or we can lie, cheat, and steal our way into power.  We just have to keep in mind that whatever path we choose will define our leadership.  It will stick with us.  So let’s choose to have ethics that we can be proud of.  Let’s start things with the right motives in the right way.

The real boss

Judges 8:22-23  22 The Israelites said to Gideon, “Rule over us—you, your son and your grandson—because you have saved us out of the hand of Midian.”  23 But Gideon told them, “I will not rule over you, nor will my son rule over you. The LORD will rule over you.”

Today’s passage gets to the very heart of why Gideon was successful.  In this chapter we see a different Gideon – we see a confident Gideon.  He destroys anyone in his path with such great confidence that it is terrifying.  The scared wimpy Gideon of the past is gone and the mighty warrior of God has arrived at the scene.  And the best part about it is that he realizes why he is different.  He recognizes the change in identity and purpose.  The difference is the changing power of God in his life.

So when the Israelites come to him and ask him to rule over them, he simply responds to them with the truth.  He says that he will not rule over them, but the Lord will rule over them.  The thing is: Gideon did rule over them.  He was the big boss; he ruled the nation.  But Gideon pointed toward God with his leadership.  He told them that God was the real boss.  God was the CEO, the CFO, and the COO.  He was the real one in charge.

It’s the most effective way to lead really, God through us.  With God, all of your shortcomings become a non-issue.  With God, all of your wisdom is trumped by all of His.  So when we lead our homes, our kids, our friends, or our companies, we should remember Gideon.  We should remember that it is the Lord who is truly leading.  Let’s just make sure that when we say that, we are really letting Him lead.  Doing so will produce the greatest success anyone’s ever known.

Trust me, you need less

Judges 7:1-3 1 Early in the morning, Jerub-Baal (that is, Gideon) and all his men camped at the spring of Harod. The camp of Midian was north of them in the valley near the hill of Moreh. 2 The LORD said to Gideon, “You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands. In order that Israel may not boast against me that her own strength has saved her, 3 announce now to the people, ‘Anyone who trembles with fear may turn back and leave Mount Gilead.’” So twenty-two thousand men left, while ten thousand remained. 

Here’s the scene: you’ve got 32,000 Israelite warriors ready to square off against a large number of Midianites.  By large number, I mean there were too many to count.  They were described as locusts and the number of camels was likened to sand on a seashore.  That’s a lot of bad guys!  So how in the world were 32,000 Israelite warriors supposed to defeat this massive force?  Well, they weren’t.  There were too many of them.  Too many Israelites, that is.  Now you might be thinking the same thing that I am: how in the world are there too many Israelites?  They are already outnumbered.  But when God says there are too many, you just go with it.

So Gideon releases 22,000 of them to go home, leaving them with 10,000.  God’s still thinks that is too easy of a victory, so He whittled this mighty army down to 300.  “Okay now Gideon, you and 300 guys are going to go and fight the massive population of Midian.”  The thing is, God knew what He was doing.  He even gives the reason that He wanted fewer soldiers – He wanted them to give Him the glory.  He wanted to make sure that they knew it was His victory, not theirs.  He didn’t want them taking credit for something He was about to pull off.  So He asked them to lay down their wealth of resources so that He could pull off a miracle. He wanted them to put their trust in Him, not in the greatness of their army.

Nothing much has changed, really since the days of Gideon.  We live our lives trying to build an army of 32,000 and never understand that 300 would be plenty for God.  We say, “but God, I don’t have enough money.”  He says that we have too much confidence in that money.   We say, “but God, I don’t have the abilities to take that on.”  He says that He has equipped us for everything He has called us too.  We look at our 10,000 and say it isn’t enough, but He wants to show His power to us with just 300.  This is the God we serve.  We must not have so much confidence in our army of resources that we take His miraculous power out of the picture.  If He is able to hand the victory to 300 Israelites, He is certainly able to take our lack and hand us the victory, too.  So what are we trusting in today?  Will we trust in our resources or His?  When you put all your trust in Him, He will get the glory and you will get the victory.

He calls you mighty

Judges 6:11-12 11 The angel of the LORD came and sat down under the oak in Ophrah that belonged to Joash the Abiezrite, where his son Gideon was threshing wheat in a winepress to keep it from the Midianites. 12 When the angel of the LORD appeared to Gideon, he said, “The LORD is with you, mighty warrior.” 

Gideon was a weakling.  I could have taken him in a fight… I think.  His weakness came from how he saw himself.  He argued with the angel of the Lord about his assignment.  He was sure he couldn’t do it.  Just to see how lame he thought he was, we can look at verse 15: My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.  I mean, this guy had zero confidence.  So even when the Lord showed up, it was still a hard pill to swallow.  How could little old me change the world?

There was good news for Gideon – God saw him differently.  In verse 12, the angel shows up and calls him mighty warrior.  Now keep in mind that he is hiding out in a winepress threshing grain at this time.  He is full of fear, anxiety and worry.  So he hides from the enemy, not wanting to be discovered.  But the angel calls him mighty.  How can this be?  How can the angel call a scaredy cat like Gideon a mighty warrior?  I’ll give you two reasons:

1. God sees people the way He created them to be.  He sees in us the capacity of greatness – that He put in us – through His power.

2. God sees things for what they will be.  He isn’t stuck on what things look like in the present.

God saw Gideon in these two ways.  He saw him with the capacity of a mighty warrior and He saw him through the lens of what was to come.  It took Gideon a while to come around, but when he finally starting believing he was who God said he was… look out!  He was a force to be reckoned with.  But it took God telling Him who he was.  For when God tells us who we are, we can rise to that identity and stop looking through our own eyes.  It is at that point that the mirror doesn’t matter anymore; all that matters is the reflection of Him in our lives.

Understanding these truths will absolutely change your life.  This will change the way you see yourself; it will change the way you believe in yourself.  For God sees you the way He created you to be.  To Him, your identity is not limited to your poor choices or your insecurities.  He knows who you really are.  And He knows what you can become.  It is for this reason that He calls you mighty.  It is for this reason that little old me might just change the world. 

Just keep swimming, just keep swimming

Judges 5:31 “So may all your enemies perish, O LORD!  But may they who love you be like the sun when it rises in its strength.”

Finding Nemo – a classic movie for kids of all ages.  It’s the story of a dad on a journey to find his son.  He comes across many obstacles and dangerous situations.  And at times, he wants to give up. But his friend Dory somehow keeps him motivated to go on.  There is this one moment in particular when he is discouraged and she begins to sing: “just keep swimming, just keep swimming.”  She knows that sometimes you just have to keep going.  Giving up isn’t an option when the end result will be so rewarding.  Such is the case in life.  Sometimes you have to keep on swimming; you have to keep on moving. 

In Judges 5:31, we come to the end of the song of Deborah.  She has just led the people in victory and helped return them to the Lord’s ways.  She makes this statement at the end, may all your enemies perish, O Lord.  The good news is this: all of His enemies have perished.  They have all been defeated.  We are just a few days away from celebrating Good Friday and Easter.  But we cannot make them into holidays on a calendar.  They are greatly significant.

The cross and the empty grave are the very places that Jesus defeated the enemy.  They are the place where He robbed Satan’s power.  We must be mindful of that fact and live our lives as though Jesus actually won!  He had the victory 2000 years ago and He still has the victory today.  And you know what, He will have the victory tomorrow.  So what do we do with that?  Do we live defeated lives like  He’s still dead or do we live like  He is alive?  Do we live like He has the victory?

You see, we have Jesus Christ alive in us.  He sent us His Spirit to empower us to really live.  And it is our job, church, to uphold the victory of the cross and empty tomb.  We must stand firm in what Jesus has done.  So whether we feel like we can do it or not isn’t all that important.  What is important is that He did it.  And we must continue standing in His strength and His authority.  We must keep swimming, for the reward is just up ahead.