Jephthah and Sovereignty (Part 1)

March 14, 2012 at 2:55 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God | Leave a comment

Two years ago I posted an entry called “Following Jesus with Selfish Motives.”  There is an interesting example of that same attitude in Judges.  The author of that Old Testament book reminds us often that it was easy for the Israelites to turn away from the Lord while things were going well; but when they themselves got into trouble, they remembered the Lord and returned to him.  However, one wonders how sincere they were, since they always fell away again.   In chapters ten and eleven there is the fascinating story of a judge named Jephthah.  Here, once again, the people of Israel turned away from the Lord and worshiped false gods (10:6-7).  So the true God allowed them to be oppressed by the Philistines and the Ammonites, so that, after eighteen years, Israel was “severely distressed.” (10:7-9 ESV)  Once again, they cried out to the Lord, but this time he answered them negatively.  “You have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more.  Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” (10:13-14)  Their answer to that is insightful:  “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you.  Only please deliver us this day.” (10:15)  It sounds like they are admitting God’s sovereignty while demanding he act in their way and with their timing.  Of course, that is a contradiction.  If we believe that God is truly sovereign, we will allow him to work in his way and in his time.  We Christians today never act like that now, do we!?

But that’s not the end of the matter.  This character called Jephthah enters the picture.  He was an outcast from his home town and his own family because he was born to a prostitute (11:1-2).  But Jephthah demonstrated his leadership gifts with some “worthless fellows,” so the people of his hometown wanted him back to lead their freedom fight against the Ammonites (11:3-6).  Jephthah rightly questions their motives, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house?  Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” (11:7)  Their answer sounds eerily similar to the answer they gave God’s earlier challenge.  They said, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight with the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” (11:8)  We are in big trouble, they say, so help us now.  Again that is like people today; we befriend whomever can help us with our agenda now.  The way they acted toward Jephthah is reflective of the way they acted toward God.

God is gracious, and even in this matter, he acts with grace.  When they put away their foreign gods, “he became impatient over the misery of Israel.” (10:16)  Or as the NIV puts it, “he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”  So Jephthah is used of God to free Israel from bondage to the Ammonites.  But that story is a fascinating matter for another day.  Today I wonder, do we trust God as sovereign allowing him to do his work, or do we give lip service to sovereignty while pushing our agenda and our timing?  Do we follow Jesus because he is Lord, or because we think we can get our way from him?

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