Through the Bible in 90 days: Day 18
Read: Judges 3:28-15:12
Verse that stood out: Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the God's of the Philistines - Judges 10:6
The book of Judges is one big mess. Take the story of Jephthah, the Gileadite. An outsider, the son of a prostitute, Jephthah is initially ostracized by his half-brothers (the current leaders of Israel) until they are in need of his brawn. He strikes a deal with them. He'll help them if they make him their leader. There are a couple of problems with this, while Jephthah has the brawn to lead, he has neither the temperament nor the spiritual maturity to be a good leader. At one point, in his discussions with a foreign king, he will equate the worship of Israel's God with the worship of the foreign god Chemosh. It is significant that unlike on previous occasions, God's presence is notably absent in the selection of this judge.
Nevertheless, in an act of grace God's Spirit does later descend upon Jephthah as he heads out to battle the Ammonites. The presence of God's spirit guarantees a victory for his people, but it does not override all of Jephthah's inadequacies. In a rash vow, Jephthah promises that in return for a victory he will sacrifice to the Lord the first thing that walks through his door. Who should that be, but his only daughter, a virgin daughter. Her innocence contrasts his ignorance. Jephthah remains committed to sacrificing his daughter even though the Law of the Lord forbids such actions (Deut. 12:31); and even though the Law allows him a way out of his vow through the process of redemption (Lev. 27:1-8). Jephthah may be leading God's people, but he's doing so without a knowledge of God's ways. Even though he wins on the battlefield, his actions at home serve as a defeat. There the ways of Chemosh prevail over the ways of the LORD.
A sense of tragedy fills the story. We wonder why God didn't intervene. The same could be said for a million tragedies just like this one that happen in the world today. How often do we go about our lives attempting to do good things for God in ways that do anything but reflect God's character? How often do our best intentions, nevertheless, end up hurting (sometimes significantly!) the ones who are closest to us? We have to remember that it's not enough to claim to be on God's side. We must also choose to walk in his ways. In the person of Jesus Christ, we discover that that way involves a cross of self-sacrifice. Miraslov Volf, a Croatian theologian who has written much on the way of Christ, especially the way of forgiveness writes, "Only those who struggle against evil by following the example off the Crucified will find him at their side. To claim the comfort of the Crucified while rejecting his way is to advocate not only cheap grace but a deceitful ideology" (Exclusion and Embrace, 24).
Ask yourself today, are my actions following the pattern of Christ who gave his life for others or the patterns of this world that willingly sacrifice even one's family to get whatever it is that I want?