JUDGES 10, 11 and 12
Israel had been in the Promised Land 300 years by now and the spiritual temperature towards the Lord has fallen again. It was G. K. Chesterton who said: “When people stop believing in God, they don’t believe in nothing, they believe in anything.” – and these Israelites were out to prove him right! It is really very strange that such a high proportion of the population seems to think that ‘all roads lead to heaven’, when the main doctrines of the main world religions are completely contradictory. You would not for a moment take that advice if you wanted to drive from London to Glasgow, would you? “Any road in any direction will do” – I don’t think so! Yet these apostate Israelites were happy to follow a raft of man-made gods, whose worship started from idols and ended at demons, and to believe a mass of contradictory doctrines. The only constant rule seemed to be: “Any god but the Lord”. We see this today in our own nation, where the national institutions will bend over backwards to avoid offence, and to offer platitudes to every other possible form of religion or atheism – other than the belief in the One who says: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life; no-one comes to the Father, except through me”.
So Israel’s actions greatly offended the Lord (and our society’s does also today); so he allowed the Amorites and Ammonites, who had almost been completely destroyed 300 years previously, to re-form and to oppress Israel. This mainly concerned the region of Gilead in Transjordan. After 18 years, Israel could stand it no more, and repented. ‘Repentance’ simply means changing your mind about your allegiance to the Lord; true repentance is evidenced by unambiguous actions consistent with it. (Acts 26:20.)
Jephthah was a mighty warrior, similar to the future King David, and out of favour with his family because his mother was a prostitute. The elders of Gilead recognized a winner and so struck a bargain with him to become their military commander, with the reward of being their President afterwards. Sensibly, Jephthah got them to put it in writing before the Lord! Then, full of the Holy Spirit (very necessary for success) he led Israel to a great victory in battle. Less sensibly, for insurance purposes, he had made a reckless oath to God that he would sacrifice a random person from home in exchange for God’s ensuring the victory. The outcome, inevitably, reads like a Thomas Hardy novel and the unfortunate victim of this oath was Japheth’s beloved only daughter, and only child. A word of advice here: don’t make reckless oaths to God; in fact, don’t make any!
Twice in two days, we read that Ephraim became very ‘prickly’ with a national hero, simply because they felt they had not been given sufficient prominence in the battle (it is very easy to be ‘heroic’ during a victory parade!). Unlike the experience of Gideon, they were not placated by Jephthah’s diplomacy, but insulted and attacked him. His battle-hardened army deservedly routed the Ephraimites and drove the survivors away from their own land. As the stragglers attempted to re-cross the Jordan home, Jephthah’s security forces imposed a small ‘native language’ test on them; being able to pronounce the ‘Sh-‘ sound became a matter of life and death! Civil wars are often the bloodiest of all, and 42,000 men from Ephraim were killed during that conflict – far more than God’s enemies could have managed. This goes to show that unity amongst believers is not only a prerequisite for the Church’s power and witness, but its absence is immensely destructive to us all.