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Lesson Seven: Watch What You Promise! - Judges 10:1-12:15

Light for Today

“Lord, who may be a guest in your home?  Who may live on your holy hill? . . .

He makes firm commitments and does not renege on his promise.

Psalm 15:1, 4c (NET)

I have been left holding the bag for work to be done in women’s ministries on a number of occasions. Too often women agree to take on responsibility and later back out or never complete what they consented to do. A number of times they have said that they realized that they didn’t pray about it and so now feel freedom from faithfulness to their word. It is very important to think and pray carefully before making promises because God expects us to keep our words, as he does with us.


This period of Israel’s history is quite a dark time. The people were ignorant and rebellious against their God. The deliverers who saved the people from oppressive foreign rulers were as ignorant of God and his character and word as the people. They did not see clearly through the darkness and their lives suffered as a result. Yet, God was present and he continued to work for the best of his people. Despite the darkness around us at times, we can always know that our God is there and he doesn’t slumber or sleep. He is always at work, whether we can see it or not.

Day One Study

Read Judges 10:1-5.

1. What judges are mentioned in passing in these verses? How long did they judge? Do you notice anything good or bad in these brief descriptions?

Read Judges 10:6-16.

2. What is different here from what we have seen before in the cycles of sin?

3. What do you learn about God from this story?

Read Judges 10:17-18.

More Light: Look up these locations on your Bible map or Bible atlas.

4. What quality in a leader did the people value? (This eventually led them to the next judge, Jephthah.)

5. How does the list of qualifications for spiritual leadership in 1 Tim. 3:1-13 differ from what the people looked for in Judges 10? How do you see some people in the church today value the wrong things in their leaders?

6. Responding to God: Ask God to help his people see clearly so that they follow the right kind of leaders. Pray for the leaders in your church by name, praying that they would lead according to 1 Peter 5:2-3. Write your prayer.

Day Two Study

Reread Judges 10:17-18 and then read Judges 11:1-11. There is a short flashback in 11:1-3 to give some background to Jephthah’s life.

7. Describe Jephthah’s family background and his rise to power. Make it a news article with a headline if you likeJ

Read Judges 11:12-28.

8. What do you see that is positive about Jephthah from his response to the Ammonites?

More Light: Read the biblical account of the original story in Numbers 21:21-31.

9. What did Jephthah believe about God’s power and sovereign control of nations? (Write down what he said that reveals these beliefs.)

10. Read these verses about God’s sovereign power and write down what you learn:

a. Dan. 4:34-35

b. Luke 1:51-53

c. Rom. 13:1

d. Rev. 4:9-11

11. Sharing question: Which of the above verses is most meaningful to you today as you seek to trust God in a present situation? Why?

12. Responding to God: Use the verses you chose as the basis of a prayer, poem, or psalm of praise. Write it below.

Day Three Study

We have begun the saga of Jephthah in Judges 10-11. He attempted to negotiate and reason with the enemy, the Ammonites. Continue the story by reading Judges 11:29-40.

13. Where did Jephthah get the power to defeat the sons of Ammon? How do you know?

14. What was Jephthah’s rash vow and how did it backfire on him?

There are two interpretations of Jephthah’s vow; 1) he killed his daughter as a sacrifice to God; or (2) he forced her into perpetual virginity. Although we certainly prefer the second idea, Gary Inrig lays out good reasons to believe the first happened:

First, animals were not kept indoors. Second. . . if he intended an animal sacrifice, he would have vowed his very best animals, not just whatever wandered out the door. Third, he intended a sacrifice, as the word translated ‘burnt offering’ indicates. Every time the word is used in the Old Testament, it refers to a blood sacrifice, and that must be its meaning in Judges 13:16.12

During the last hundred years or so, the suggestion that Jephthah’s daughter remained a perpetual virgin arose. Previously, scholars agreed that he killed her. I like the new understanding better, but I am not sure it is true to the text or the religious culture of that day. At this time Israel worshipped the true God, Yahweh, alongside other idolatrous gods. They mixed beliefs from both. Those religions valued the sacrifice of children as an act of worship. This concept would not have been a foreign one to him or to the people of Gilead. If he did indeed sacrifice his daughter, the story sadly reveals Jephthah’s ignorance of God’s word, which specifically forbids human sacrifice.

More Light: Read God’s statements that forbid human sacrifice in the scriptures that would have been around in Jephthah’s day: Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10.

15. Read the following verses and write down your insights into the value of God’s word and your responsibility to know it:

a. Ps. 1:1-3

b. Ps. 119:11

c. Ps. 119:105

d. Prov. 2:1-6

16. Sharing question: Has there ever been a situation when you acted in ignorance of God’s word, resulting in disaster or at least a situation that you regretted? Explain what happened and what you learned.

17. What do you know about God’s character or his promises that is violated by bargaining with him to give you what you want?

18. Responding to God: Ask God to help you trust him and his will rather than trying to impose yours on him through bargaining!

Day Four Study

Read Ecclesiastes 5:1-7.

19. How does Solomon’s caution apply to those who choose to bargain with God?

20. Read Jesus’ teaching in Matt. 5:33-37. How would you use it to challenge a believer who didn’t keep her word, saying it wasn’t a vow?

Read Psalm 15, which describes the character of a godly person.

21. Copy Ps. 15:1, 4c, your memory verse for this week.

22. What does this verse add to the cautions about rash words?

Just because Jephthah swore and fulfilled his vow, that didn’t make him a godly person because in doing so, he violated a specific command of God. He exemplifies why we shouldn’t say anything before we think about it and hold it up to the truth of God’s word. He was foolish and ignorant of God’s commands. A sad story!

More Light: Read about Jephthah’s vow in your commentaries or online resources.

23. Sharing question: Be vulnerable and share with your group one area where you have been less than faithful to your words.

24. Responding to God: Write a prayer of confession to God for what you shared, and commit to become a faithful woman by his grace.

Day Five Study

Read Judges 12:1-7.

Ephraim is one of the tribes of Israel.

25. What insights do you have about Jephthah from this story?

26. What was the result of this disagreement with the tribe of Ephraim?

Before leaving Jephthah, let’s think a bit more about the power of our words. James has much to say about the tongue, the muscle of the body that may be most used!

Read James 3:2-12.

27. How do the images that James uses for the power of the tongue impact you? How do they make you feel about your words?

28. Draw a picture using one of the images that James uses for the tongue and its power.

29. Responding to God: Ask God to show you any sins of the tongue which you need to confess. It may be speaking in anger, speaking harshly, or speaking the truth without the love that must accompany it. Write a prayer of confession below.

Read Judges 12:8-15.

We read here of three lesser judges: Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Again, God gives us little information about these judges. They may have judged at the same time as some of the other judges mentioned in this book, just in different areas of the land. There is definitely some overlap among the listed judges, but no one knows exactly how the chronology works out.

More Light: Read your commentaries about these three judges.

Marla’s Story

A female friend of mine was in an abusive marriage. She had struggled for over a year regarding what God wanted her to do. She knew that she did not want to end her marriage, but she also knew that her husband was not behaving as a godly husband. She seemed like a fragile bird that would break at any minute, and vacillated all the time regarding what direction to go in her life.

There came a time, during lunch at a nice restaurant, that I decided it was my job to help her “snap out of it”, and get her life together, I told her what she needed to do, how she should do it, and that it was time for her to buckle up and take control of her life. As soon as I said these words I lost my appetite.

Love is long suffering and kind. The words I had spoken were not loving or kind. They were not even words that God had asked me to speak. God was working in my friend’s life, at his pace, not mine. The words were spoken out of my selfishness and impatience. I later had to apologize for my harshness.

God did work in my friend’s life. Months later, through God’s guidance in her life, she was able to resolve her problem. It was his doing though, not mine.

A Mother’s Application

If we are to be like God, we must be faithful to what we say. Otherwise, we are liars.

Sadly, many women are not promise-keepers. We promise at the altar to be faithful to our husbands and to commit to them for the rest of our lives; yet, many women choose to fill their minds with daydreams about other men or flirt with guys on the internet since the world says that fantasies are just fine. God says that to think about a man in this way is just as sinful as adultery. Some women eventually fulfill those desires physically while others choose to desert their families in the pursuit of happiness. Where is faithful commitment to our words and vows?

What are you teaching your children about their words by your example? Are they learning that if they agree to do something, they must follow through? Are they realizing that they must be careful with their words for they are permanent? Are they learning not to hurt with their tongues?

Dallas area women may be the busiest in the whole nation. We run our kids to and fro involving them in every possible activity. Then, we are too stressed to handle the things that are really important: commitment to God, to his church, and to our family relationships. Choose carefully what you agree to do and what you promise your children for you are responsible to follow through; however, you are not responsible to do everything that you are asked to do. Keep your priorities in order and be true to your word for then you will model the character of God to others.

Write a prayer of thanksgiving to God for his faithfulness. Thank him that you do not have to worry about his failing to make good on His promises.

12 Gary Inrig, Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 193-194.

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