12. Inadequate Grace (1)

The Truth about Guilt Meditations: 12. Inadequate Grace (1)

Judg 11:30 “And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord.”

Moving On: We now move on from considering how we view others’ guilt, to two instances that provide us with severe challenges in the way they are contrasts with the way Moses responded to guilt. We will consider one now and the other in the following study.

Jephthah: “Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior,” is how Jud 11 starts off. Great warrior he might have been but knowing about the grace of God he did not! If you want a contrast to Jephthah look at Naaman who appears in 2 Kings 5 and observe the way that initially he was a bumptious warrior, but once he was healed he appeared before Elisha with humility and grace. There is none of that about Jephthah. He is an idiot. Sorry to put it so strongly but read the story in Jud 11 and you’ll see why.

The Situation: In v.30 he makes a vow. It follows conflict with the Ammonites (v.4) where local leaders call on him to lead them (v.5-11) and then confronts the Ammonite with the truth of the situation (v.12-28)  but the Ammonite king will have nothing of it, so battle is the only way out. At this point something happened that we see happen again and again in Judges: Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah.” (v.29) Now for the naïve we need to say when God comes and gives gifting – courage in this case – that doesn’t mean the individual has got any more than that gifting. So Jephthah is motivated by the Spirit to go and defend Israel and, sadly, it is at this point he starts bargaining with God. He doesn’t realize that because he has this fresh impetus of courage, it is God’s provision and therefore God will give him the victory he needs. So he makes this vow.

The Vow: The vow is unnecessary and even more, it is stupid! Don’t call it anything else. What did he have in mind when he talked about sacrificing, “whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me”? (v.31) A stray goat??? He is, I suggest, guilty of the sin of godless unrighteousness. But it gets worse. When his daughter comes out he agrees to sacrifice her to the religious superstitious rubbish he has in his mind. I get angry when I read this. Today, you and I know Jesus died for all our sins and if I have to ‘sin’ by breaking a most stupid oath that will harm others, I will trust the Lord to judge me, discipline me or take my sin to the Cross.

The Law: Years later Solomon would write about fulfilling vows (Eccles 5:1-6) but that was about promises of offerings you said you would bring to the Temple. The Law in Leviticus lays down the sacrifices that should be offered for stupid (sinful) acts. This man should have known about sacrifices for sin and relied on them for his stupidity. This is the sinfulness of mankind in the form of ‘religion’. Let’s not have any of it!

Beware Wrong Sacrifices: There is a wrong teaching that sometimes surfaces in Christian preaching that uses the illustration of Abraham called to sacrifice Isaac (Gen 22) ignoring the fact that God didn’t want Isaac dead, He just wanted to test Abraham’s willingness to be obedient. This teaching revels in the thought of us sacrificing those nearest to us in our call to follow God. As guardians of our children we are never to do anything in the name of religion that might harm them. As husbands or wives we are never to do anything in the name of religion that might harm our partner. If you want to see the contrast in apostolic teaching, read 1 Pet 3:1-6!

Foundational Verses: Almost my favourite verses in the Old Testament are found in Ezek 18: Do I take any pleasure in the death of the wicked? declares the Sovereign Lord. Rather, am I not pleased when they turn from their ways and live?” (v.23, repeated in v.32 and 33:11) Now I know that is taking verses out of context but the meaning is clear: i. God doesn’t desire the death of sinners. ii. He rather looks for repentance that will deal with the situation.  iii. In the Law sacrifices were to be a sign of repentance and would cover any and every sin confessed. The Law was there expressly to save people from themselves.

Application: The folly of Jephthah includes his absence of knowledge of the Law and understanding the heart of it. God doesn’t want him to fulfill a stupid vow that involves the death of another. That is superstitious religiosity at its worst. Could God not have struck Jephthah down? Obviously yes, but the truth is that He gives us immense freedom on this earth, exercising our free wills badly, hurting one another, causing wars, causing genocide etc. but He calls us collectively as mankind to resist such things, to stop them happening. The Israelite leaders with him should have stopped him. This is an example of collective lack of godliness. But no one did and so the stain of this memory hung over them.

And Us? Never let religion be a cause for you harming another; Jesus’ teaching is totally against letting that happen.  When we do something stupidly wrong, very badly wrong, God is still there seeking to redeem you and your circumstances. Nothing is too bad that is cannot be covered by the blood of Jesus. This is not to be casual about vowing to serve God, but a wrong promise is wrong full stop. Confess it and seek and receive forgiveness.  That is why Jesus died! never forget it.

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