Week Five: Know your God
Light for Living
But Jesus answered them, “You are wrong, because you know neither the Scriptures nor the power of God.”
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint and dill and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faithfulness.”
Jesus to Jewish religious leaders in Matthew 22:29; 23:23 (ESV)
Often I hear Christians support their choices by saying, “I prayed about it” or “God told me to do it.” And of course, God leads his people in prayer and by his still small voice. I’m not suggesting that we don’t pray or expect him to guide. But what if we’re mistaken because we don’t know him well enough to recognize the ways in which he leads and the choices that align with his character? I’m very careful about attributing my actions to God because I’m fallible and may be mistaken. I may say, “I sense God leading me,” after some time testing it and asking for counsel from friends whose lives and actions reflect God’s character. More often it’s only in hindsight that I can firmly attribute direction to God.
Our first Light for Living verse this week quotes Jesus speaking to the Jewish leaders, who seemingly knew the scriptures better than anyone in that day. I find it a sobering reminder of how off we can be, in thinking that we know the Bible. They often knew the “rules” but failed to apply the character of God to their reasoning. And the second of this week’s verses speaks to that very issue—our God is just, merciful and faithful, and he calls us to show his image to the world through our lives.
To know God requires immersing ourselves in understanding who he is and how he acts. That’s why I’ve found that repeatedly reading and studying the whole Bible is one of the best protections for incorrect thinking about God. After all, the Bible is his story.
Our fallen human nature can lead us to believe that our desires are God’s—that his greatest concern is our personal happiness and pleasure because he exists for us rather than the other way around. We tend to make him in our own image instead of wanting him to remake us in his. When we determine God’s will based on our feelings of peace, we risk being wrong because we’re naturally more at peace with our selfish desires and the thinking of our culture than with sacrificial love. Our blindspots can only be countered by immersing ourselves in the Word of God from Genesis to Revelation and seeking wise counsel from others who walk with him.
This section of Judges reveals a very dark time. The deliverers who saved the people from oppressive foreign rulers were apparently as ignorant of God and his character as the people who followed them. Their failure to see clearly through the darkness caused suffering and oppression. God was still present, however, and he continued to work for the best of Israel because he is faithful and merciful, not because they deserved it.
Part One Study
As you read about this cycle, note that Israel is now worshipping additional gods.
“Every time Israel worshiped the idols of a nation, that nation ended up oppressing them. This time, Israel has added the gods of the Ammonites and Philistines—and in consequence they are given over to being oppressed by the Ammonites and Philistines (10:7). Idolatry leads to enslavement.”1
Read Judges 10:1-11:11, and respond:
- What strikes you in the short record of the judges mentioned in 10:1-5?
- What differs here from previous cycles and what does this story reveal about both God and also the people of Israel?2
- Compare the backgrounds of Jephthah and Abimelech (Judges 8:29-31; 9:1-6). What insights do you have about Jephthah and the people of Israel from Judges 10:17-11:11? Write down your thoughts about God’s choice to use Jephthah.
“There is no indication that the Lord raised up Jephthah or even commissioned him for battle, though he did energize him for war.”3
*** What insights do you gain as you compare Jephthah and his “worthless” meaning “empty, idle, worthless (ethically)”4 men with David and his fighting force (1 Samuel 22:1-2; 23:5; 25:4-8; 14-16)?
Part Two Study
Read Judges 11:12-40, journaling as you think about these questions:
- What do you learn about Jephthah through his interactions with the Ammonites?
- Based on his words, what is Jephthah’s motive for making his vow? What does the vow show us about his view of God’s power and character? In light of Deuteronomy 12:29-31 and 18:10-12, how does the vow reveal his ignorance of God’s law and his adoption of the cultural norms?
- How does Israel’s repentance, which led to God’s relenting in Judges 10:10-16, differ from Jephthah’s act in making this vow?
- What is God saying to you today about what you truly believe and know about him based on your actions and prayers? Could you be ignorant of God’s character or will? What cultural ways of thinking have you adopted?
There are two thoughts about what Jephthah did to his daughter as result of his vow: 1) he killed her as a sacrifice to God, or (2) he forced her into lifelong virginity. The second idea is apparently a fairly recent one, perhaps because we don’t want to believe that Jephthah, a judge, would actually sacrifice his daughter. But remember that the character of the various judges becomes weaker as the book progresses. And we also know that at this time Israel worshiped Yahweh, the true God, alongside other gods, resulting in a syncretistic religion, the fusion of different beliefs. These idolatrous religions valued the sacrifice of children as an act of worship. This concept wouldn’t have been foreign to Jephthah or the people of Gilead. Repugnance to child sacrifice seems to be the main reason to dismiss it as fact.
To excuse Jephthah, some suggest that he expected an animal to come out of the house, not his daughter. Gary Inrig, however, lays out the case that Jephthah’s daughter was indeed sacrificed:
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 . . . .5
This story should force us to think about the toll that idolatry of any kind takes on individuals, families and communities, as well as the dangers of mixing our worship of God with any other allegiances.
Jephthah and his daughter understood that vows are serious. It’s true that we should fulfill our vows, but before we even make them, we should verify that they align with God’s Word and his character. If we make a rash vow, we shouldn’t fulfill it if God’s Word forbids our actions. Jephthah was either ignorant of God’s laws not to sacrifice people or misunderstood God’s character which prioritizes people over rules.
*** Read these verses, writing down your thoughts about the importance of keeping your word and what God is showing you: Ecclesiastes 5:2-7; Matthew 5:33-37; Psalm 15:1, 4c.
If you have time, write a lament over the unnamed daughter of Jephthah and all children today who pay for their parents’ idolatry.
Part Three Study
The first tragedy in Jephthah’s story was the death of his daughter. Sadly, he caused another tragedy because of his lack of wisdom and understanding of God’s will.
Respond to these questions as you read Judges 12:
- How did the anger of the men of Ephraim toward Gideon (Judges 7:24-8:3) compare with their anger at Jephthah? How did Gideon and Jephthah’s responses differ?
- Write down any thoughts that you have about the descriptions of the three judges mentioned after Jephthah’s story.
- What is God saying to you about conflicts in your life? Are there any perspectives or issues that you hold so closely and personally that you would fight a “civil war” over them with friends, family or other believers? Where is the line?
*** Watch this series of three short, free videos from Beyond Ordinary Women Ministries: “Fight Right”: https://vimeo.com/showcase/4885111.
My sister contracted hepatitis when she was pregnant with her first child. Although the doctors were careful not to scare her, of course our entire family was very concerned. My mother was particularly stressed and worried about both my sister and the baby. Thankfully she was a prayer warrior, but she somehow felt the need to try to manipulate God. She bargained with him, saying that she would become more regular in her Sunday evening church attendance if he would protect them both.
Praise God that although my sister struggled to feel better for several weeks, her baby was born healthy a few months later.
Sadly, my mother’s prayer revealed her lack of understanding about the nature of God. Her bargain seemed to be based on one of these possible misunderstandings: God could be bribed if she sacrificed something, or the illness was God’s punishment for her failure to faithfully attend church on Sunday night. In either case, she saw God’s actions as based solely on her good works.
Thankfully, my mother’s bargain did no damage to anyone but her. Only recently did I recognize the connection between her prayer so long ago and her lifelong lack of trust in God’s grace and goodness. It makes me sad that her failure to really know God prevented her from experiencing the joy and security of his love and salvation.
1 Keller, 109.
2 For information about the specific Canaanite gods mentioned, see the section “Additional Information about Judges” in the Appendix p. 57.
3 Chisholm, 21.
5 Gary Inrig, Hearts of Iron, Feet of Clay (Chicago: Moody Press, 1979), 193-194.
Related Topics: Christian Life