Wednesday, August 29, 2012

Strand and Strands

Greg Strand is the director of biblical theology and credentialing for our family of churches, the EFCA and a good friend.

The latest issue of EFCA Today has a excellent article by Greg called Undergirding the Faith which explores 7 core doctrines of the Christian faith.

At the end of the article, it is revealed that Greg has a blog (how did I miss this?) called Strands of Thought where he shares insights into theology, culture, ministry, and a whole lot more.  I added it to my RSS reader today, and recommend that you do so, too.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Writing a Book

I can relate.  It's been about a year since I finished the first draft of my book on resisting gossip, but those feelings remain.  (Make sure to watch all the way through the credits.)

[HT: Steve Laube]

Sunday, August 19, 2012

[Matt's Messages] “The Weakness of Samson: Part Two"

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“The Weakness of Samson: Part Two”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
August 19, 2012 :: Judges 15:1-16:31

We are learning together about the last of the judges in the book of Judges, the very weak man named Samson.

“The Weakness of Samson.”  He was very strong, supernaturally strong physically, but he also had significant weaknesses–especially spiritual ones.

Samson was a living picture of the downward depths to which the nation of Israel had fallen.

We saw last week how Samson had been born with so much promise and potential. The angel of the LORD Himself had announced Samson’s birth and declared him to be a Nazirite from conception: no grapes, no razors, no corpses.

And the angel promised that Samson would begin the deliverance, the salvation, of Israel from the Philistines.

But Samson seemed determined NOT to live up to his potential.

Even though he lets his hair grow long, he doesn’t seem to care about whether he gets near grapes nor corpses. In fact, he scoops out honey from a lion he killed and not only eats it, but gives some to his parents.

And instead of going to war against the Philistines, he wanted to marry one!

And so he did, and it was a total disaster.

Worst. Wedding. Ever.  The bride cried for a week. The guests cheated at the games at the reception. The groom killed 30 men. And, they were apparently divorced by the end of the week.

But in chapter 14, verse 4 the author of Judges let us into a little secret: God was still at work.

Even though Samson would never have done his part on his own to deliver Israel from the Philistines, God would still use Samson do just that.

Chapter 14, verse 4 says, “His parents did not know that this [disastrous marriage] was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.”

Now, this doesn’t excuse the weakness of Samson, but it does show us that God is still at work, mysteriously, behind the scenes, providentially making everything turn out the way He wants it.

God had promised to deliver Israel from the Philistines, starting with Samson, and He’s going to do it–no matter what.

So, at the wedding, if you remember, Samson tells his 30 Philistine guests an impossible riddle and offers 30 new outfits if they can figure it out.

And they lean on Samson’s weakness for women to outsmart him.  His new wife cries for the whole wedding week and Samson gives in and tells the answer to the riddle which she tells the Philistines, and that makes Samson mad.

“Hulk smash.”  Right?

He goes to another Philistine town, kills 30 men for their outfits and throws them at the feet of his wedding guests.  Not a great start to your marriage.

And it was the beginning of a war between Samson and the Philistines.

That war is the subject of chapters 15 and 16.

It’s really like a gangland war with escalating violence on both sides, and no end in sight.

The story picks up right where we left off with Samson and his ex?-wife.

As we read these two chapters, I’m going to point out 5 areas of application where we can take what we read and apply it to our lives.

Here’s #1.


This story is about revenge–which is not a good thing.

Samson is so caught up in himself. He doesn’t think about anyone but himself.

Chapter 15, verse 1, Samson shows up at his father-in-laws house.  V.1

“Later on, at the time of wheat harvest, Samson took a young goat and went to visit his wife. He said, ‘I'm going to my wife's room.’ But her father would not let him go in.”

Hold on for a second.  Do you get the picture?

A little bit of time has passed, and Samson gets to thinking about that wife he left back in Timnah.

It appears that he’s feeling a little randy and wants to enjoy the benefits of being married.

I can’t imagine this going well. He’s got the ancient equivalent of a box chocolates under his arm (a young goat) [this humourous insight was suggested by a scholar named Boling quoted in Lawson Younger’s commentary], and he expects (as if nothing had ever happened) to be let into the house and into his wife’s room.

But his ex-father-law stands in front of the door and says, “No way.” v.2

“I was so sure you thoroughly hated her,’ he said, ‘that I gave her to your friend. Isn't her younger sister more attractive? Take her instead.’”

Nice. Wouldn’t you love to live in that Philistine culture?

And Samson doesn’t like it either. V.3

“Samson said to them, ‘This time I have a right to get even with the Philistines; I will really harm them.’”

There’s our phrase in the NIV, “getting even.”

That’s what this is all about for Samson, personal revenge. V.4

“So he went out and caught three hundred foxes and tied them tail to tail in pairs. He then fastened a torch to every pair of tails, lit the torches and let the foxes loose in the standing grain of the Philistines. He burned up the shocks and standing grain, together with the vineyards and olive groves.”

That is quite a feat!

Having foxes in our backyard, I can’t imagine how hard it would be to catch one, much less 300.  And now, you have 150 pairs with torches lit between them and they wreak havoc on the fields of the Philistines.

Now, we know that God is using this to break deliverance to Israel.

But from Samson’s point of view, it’s retaliation.  It’s an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.

And that’s how the Philistine’s take it, too. V.6

“When the Philistines asked, ‘Who did this?’ they were told, ‘Samson, the Timnite's son-in-law, because his wife was given to his friend.’ So the Philistines went up and burned her and her father to death.”

Great!  And then Samson hears about that. V.7

“Samson said to them, ‘Since you've acted like this, I won't stop until I get my revenge on you.’ He attacked them viciously and slaughtered many of them. Then he went down and stayed in a cave in the rock of Etam.”

The King James says, “he smote them hip and thigh with a great slaughter.” I take that to mean that he left them in a big jumble of broken and severed limbs.

Samson was an awesome warrior.

But he was driven by personal revenge.

His motto was “do to others what they did to you, or worse.”

Getting Even: Revenge.

That’s a powerful motivation. It can begin with a simple desire for justice to be done. Justice does involve retribution and payment for offense.

But a desire for revenge eats away at the hearts of humans and is not easily satisfied.

And more, it quickly falls into an endless cycle of tit for tat, of revenge for revenge, of retaliation for retaliation.

This week, I heard a news report about two tribes in Sudan who have endless warfare basically over cows.  One group steals some cows, the other group comes over and steals the cows back and takes some more. And now, it’s grown to include murder and rape and kidnaping.

And nothing seems to be able to stop it.  Both groups are sure that they are in the right, and they don’t trust that other group as far as they can throw them.

Have you gotten there in your relationships?

I know marriages like that.

I know families that have broken down over “getting even.”

Well, they did that to me.  So, I did this to them.

I don’t think that our culture even understands that personal revenge is a bad thing.

Most of the action movies that come out are based on this concept of getting even.

You hurt my son, my daughter, my wife.  I’m going to get you.

But Jesus presents a radically different way of living.

He talks about turning the other cheek.
He talks about going the extra mile.
He talks about loving your enemies.

Break the cycle!

The apostle Paul says, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God's wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay,’ says the Lord. On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.’  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.”  (Romans 12:19-21)

Now, we see here that God can use our sinful motivations to accomplish His good plan.  God had a bone to pick with the Philistines, justice to be done, and He used Samson to do it.

But Samson (and the Philistines) were operating out of self-centered get-even motivations that would eat them away from the inside out.

Where will it stop?

Yes, someone has done something to you. But that doesn’t mean that you have to get even.  Leave room for the wrath of God, and love your enemies.

So, Samson is hiding out in cave in the rock of Etam, and the Philistines come up in force to get him. V.9

“The Philistines went up and camped in Judah, spreading out near Lehi. The men of Judah asked, ‘Why have you come to fight us?’ ‘We have come to take Samson prisoner,’ they answered, ‘to do to him as he did to us.’”

See the “getting even?”  They sound like a bunch of kids.  “We are going to do to him as he did to us!”

And Judah has fallen very far from the days of Othniel when they were leaders in following the Lord.  Now, they are just scaredy-cats. V.10

“Then three thousand men from Judah went down to the cave in the rock of Etam and said to Samson, ‘Don't you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us? What have you done to us?’ He answered, ‘I merely did to them what they did to me.’ [Sound familiar?] They said to him, ‘We've come to tie you up and hand you over to the Philistines.’ Samson said, ‘Swear to me that you won't kill me yourselves.’ ‘Agreed,’ they answered. ‘We will only tie you up and hand you over to them. We will not kill you.’ [They will, not us!] So they bound him with two new ropes and led him up from the rock.”

Now, this is a really sad story.  You know, nothing in these two chapters is how it should be. Everything this wrong.

Look what’s happened here.

Judah, 3,000 men!, has tied up Samson to turn him over to the Philistines.

They should be asking Samson, “What’s next? How do we defeat the Philistines?”

But instead, they are fearfully turning him over to them, with sentences like in verse 11, “Don’t you realize that the Philistines are rulers over us?”

This is what we said last week: apathy.


Getting cozy with the enemy.

Being mad at Samson for fighting Philistines?!  That’s all backwards.

The fact is that they have become comfortable with their enemies.

They are apathetic, and it’s pathetic.

How about you and me?  Have we gotten to where we don’t care any more?

Are we apathetic and cozy with the world, the flesh, and the devil?

Remember, we have enemies, and we can’t forget that they are our enemies.

I think that verse 11 is the saddest verse in chapter 15.

Israel has become comfortable being ruled by their enemies. They have forgotten how to resist.

And that can happen to Christians, as well.

I see it in our choices of entertainment.
I see it in our lifestyles.
I see it in the daily choices we make.
What we submit ourselves to, etc...

We can become comfortable with the world, the flesh, and the devil.

And then, God help us.

The men of Judah here have tied up their judge and are trying to deliver him to their enemies.

But, at this point, the Lord will not allow that. V.14

“As he approached Lehi, the Philistines came toward him shouting. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. The ropes on his arms became like charred flax, and the bindings dropped from his hands. Finding a fresh jawbone of a donkey, he grabbed it and struck down a thousand men.”

What a scene that must have been.

“Then Samson said, ‘With a donkey's jawbone I have made donkeys of them. With a donkey's jawbone I have killed a thousand men.’ When he finished speaking, he threw away the jawbone; and the place was called Ramath Lehi [Jawbone Hill.]”

Now, this story reminds us of the Shamgar story from chapter 3, but it doesn’t seem as godly as Shamgar’s did.

Again, Samson is motivated by personal revenge and sinful anger, not God’s glory and righteous anger.
And there he is again, using a corpse as a weapon. A fresh jawbone with its teeth still in it must have been a formidable weapon, but unclean, especially for a Nazirite.

And when he’s done, he’s boasting. But he’s also thirsty. V.18

“Because he was very thirsty, he cried out to the LORD, ‘You have given your servant this great victory. Must I now die of thirst and fall into the hands of the uncircumcised?’ Then God opened up the hollow place in Lehi, and water came out of it. When Samson drank, his strength returned and he revived. So the spring was called En Hakkore, and it is still there in Lehi. Samson led Israel for twenty years in the days of the Philistines.”


Samson acts self-sufficient in most of the stories about him, but we all know that he was just a man and just as needy as any man.

Now, his prayer isn’t a great one. It seems full of boasting even as he asks, but he does ask. He does pray. He does see his own need and turn to the One who can help.

The spring on Jawbone Hill is re-named En Hakkore, “Calling Out Spring.”

Because Samson called out for help.

And we need to do that, too.

We need help all of the time, and we need to turn to the Lord who can help us.

I don’t know about you, but if I'm not careful, I can go for a long period of time without praying.

To my shame!

Bob Bakke used to say that a prayer-less life is boast against God.

“Thanks, but I don’t need you, God.”

Have you ever asked someone if they have a prayer request, and they say, “No thanks, I’m good.”

What?  I know what they mean, but it could be dangerous.

We need. We pray.  We get grace.

Hebrews 4 says, “Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”

And when we do, we can rename where we live, En Hakkore.

Now, verse 20 makes it sound like the end of the story. Maybe we’ll just have another cycle of the judges?

But no, there is more to come.

Apparently, Samson hasn’t learned a thing. Chapter 16, verse 1.

“One day Samson went to Gaza, where he saw a prostitute. He went in to spend the night with her. The people of Gaza were told, ‘Samson is here!’ So they surrounded the place and lay in wait for him all night at the city gate. They made no move during the night, saying, ‘At dawn we'll kill him.’ But Samson lay there only until the middle of the night. Then he got up and took hold of the doors of the city gate, together with the two posts, and tore them loose, bar and all. He lifted them to his shoulders and carried them to the top of the hill that faces Hebron.”

The fourth area of application is weakness.


We here we see a very strong man with a very strong weakness.

Last we said last week, Samson continually gives in to his appetites, his desires.

He is ruled by his wants.

This time, he doesn’t even marry the girl. He just pays for her.

It’s down in Gaza, which is Philistine territory again. What is he doing there?

Well, we know what he’s doing.

And yet the Philistines don’t win. Samson carries the city gates about 40 miles!

What strength!  And what weakness.  V.4

“Some time later, he fell in love with a woman in the Valley of Sorek whose name was Delilah. [And his weakness for her will be the death of him. V.5] The rulers of the Philistines went to her and said, ‘See if you can lure him into showing you the secret of his great strength and how we can overpower him so we may tie him up and subdue him. Each one of us will give you eleven hundred shekels of silver.’”

Now, our story turns from being a gangland violence story to being an espionage spy story.

A female agent has just been offered an enormous sum of money to get the information from the hero.

But the hero is wise to her feminine wiles wait. Maybe he’s not.  V.6

“So Delilah said to Samson, ‘Tell me the secret of your great strength and how you can be tied up and subdued.’”

[Samson, run!]

“Samson answered her, ‘If anyone ties me with seven fresh thongs [animal sinews] that have not been dried, I'll become as weak as any other man.’

Then the rulers of the Philistines brought her seven fresh thongs that had not been dried, and she tied him with them.  With men hidden in the room, she called to him, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ But he snapped the thongs as easily as a piece of string snaps when it comes close to a flame. So the secret of his strength was not discovered.

Then Delilah said to Samson, ‘You have made a fool of me; you lied to me. Come now, tell me how you can be tied.’ He said, ‘If anyone ties me securely with new ropes that have never been used, I'll become as weak as any other man.’

So Delilah took new ropes and tied him with them. Then, with men hidden in the room, she called to him, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ But he snapped the ropes off his arms as if they were threads.

Delilah then said to Samson, ‘Until now, you have been making a fool of me and lying to me. Tell me how you can be tied.’ He replied, ‘If you weave the seven braids of my head into the fabric on the loom and tighten it with the pin, I'll become as weak as any other man.’

So while he was sleeping, Delilah took the seven braids of his head, wove them into the fabric and tightened it with the pin. Again she called to him, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ He awoke from his sleep and pulled up the pin and the loom, with the fabric.”

Stop there for a second.  What’s going on?

Doesn’t Samson realize what is happening?

Can he really be that dumb?

I guess so.

Samson had a weakness for women. Not that women are bad, but there are bad women.

Samson was a he-man with she-problem.

He was stupid for sex.  He was in love with being in love.

He must have known that he was playing with fire, but he wouldn’t (or couldn’t even) stop himself.

Here he is asleep in the arms of a woman who is trying to defeat him.

I think we’re supposed to remember Sisera and Jael when we read chapter 16.

And it’s all wrong. This is not how it should have been.  V.15

“Then she said to him, ‘How can you say, 'I love you,' when you won't confide in me? This is the third time you have made a fool of me and haven't told me the secret of your great strength.’ With such nagging she prodded him day after day until he was tired to death.

So he told her everything. [Giving in.]  ‘No razor has ever been used on my head,’ he said, ‘because I have been a Nazirite set apart to God since birth. If my head were shaved, my strength would leave me, and I would become as weak as any other man.’

[And telling her this is repudiating the last of the Nazirite vows, the only one that he has kept.  That’s the true weakness of Samson.  He was not faithful in any way to the LORD and did not fulfill his calling. He was only interested in himself and not in saving Israel, and he was a slave to his passions. And Delilah knew it. V.18]

“When Delilah saw that he had told her everything, she sent word to the rulers of the Philistines, ‘Come back once more; he has told me everything.’ So the rulers of the Philistines returned with the silver in their hands. Having put him to sleep on her lap, she called a man to shave off the seven braids of his hair, and so began to subdue him. And his strength left him.

Then she called, ‘Samson, the Philistines are upon you!’ He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I'll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the LORD had left him. [Saddest verse in this chapter. I don’t want to ever get there. V.21]

“Then the Philistines seized him, gouged out his eyes and took him down to Gaza. Binding him with bronze shackles, they set him to grinding in the prison.

But the hair on his head began to grow again after it had been shaved.”

Samson was blinded by and enslaved to his appetites and became blinded by and enslaved to his enemies.

The only remedy is to repent, and Samson didn’t do it soon enough to escape.

But there is still hope. And it rests in God’s commitment to His own glory.


Verse 23. “Now the rulers of the Philistines assembled to offer a great sacrifice to Dagon their god and to celebrate, saying, ‘Our god has delivered Samson, our enemy, into our hands.’  When the people saw him, they praised their god, saying, ‘Our god has delivered our enemy into our hands, the one who laid waste our land and multiplied our slain.’”

[Stop one second. Is that what happened?

Should the glory go to Dagon of the Philistines?

Did Dagon deliver Samson into their hands?

No. There is no God like Yahweh, and He will get the glory. V.25]

“While they were in high spirits, they shouted, ‘Bring out Samson to entertain us.’ So they called Samson out of the prison, and he performed for them. When they stood him among the pillars, Samson said to the servant who held his hand, ‘Put me where I can feel the pillars that support the temple, so that I may lean against them.’ Now the temple was crowded with men and women; all the rulers of the Philistines were there, and on the roof were about three thousand men and women watching Samson perform.

“Then Samson prayed to the LORD, ‘O Sovereign LORD, remember me. O God, please strengthen me just once more, and let me with one blow get revenge on the Philistines for my two eyes.’ Then Samson reached toward the two central pillars on which the temple stood. Bracing himself against them, his right hand on the one and his left hand on the other, Samson said, ‘Let me die with the Philistines!’ Then he pushed with all his might, and down came the temple on the rulers and all the people in it. Thus he killed many more when he died than while he lived. Then his brothers and his father's whole family went down to get him. They brought him back and buried him between Zorah and Eshtaol in the tomb of Manoah his father. He had led Israel twenty years.”

Now, Samson is not much of a hero. Not a godly one.

He was amazingly strong and killed a lot of bad guys.

But he was almost completely a loser when it came to spiritual values.

He’s not much of a role model.

But he did put his faith in the right place.

Hebrews chapter 11 says, “I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”

Samson was not much of a role model. Even in his last prayer, he’s praying for personal vengeance. There is nothing in there about saving Israel from the Philistines.

He just cares about his eyes.

But he does pray. He has faith. He does trust God for strength.

And God in His grace and for His glory, gives it to Samson. His weakness was turned to strength.

God is zealous for His own glory. He won’t share it with Dagon or with any other false God.

But when we turn to Him in faith, He turns our weakness into strength.

The point is not how much faith we have but whom we put our faith in.

When we trust in the Lord, He gets the glory.


Messages in This Series:

Unfinished Business
Israel's Downward Spiral
Run to the Battle: Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, and Jael
Gideon Part One: The 'Mighty Warrior'
Gideon Part Two: The Snare and the Thornbush King
Downward Judges: Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon
The Weakness of Samson: Part One

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Book Review - Loving Well (Even If You Haven't Been)

Here's my conclusion:
Loving Well (Even If You Haven’t Been) will go on my “pastoral toolbox” bookshelf right next to Jonathan Edwards’ Charity and Its Fruits and Paul Miller’s Love Walked Among Us as a “go-to book” for people who desperately want to grow in their ability to show Christ’s love to other people (and shouldn’t that be all of us?). It’s a splendid book.


By the way, I was given a free copy of this book by the publisher with no requirement to write a positive review (or even to publish one). Thanks, New Growth Press!

Sunday, August 12, 2012

[Matt's Messages] “The Weakness of Samson: Part One"

Image Source
“The Weakness of Samson: Part One”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
August 12, 2012 :: Judges 13:1-14:20

We have reached the surprising story of the twelfth and last of the Judges of Israel in the book of Judges–the most famous judge of all–the very weak man named Samson.

Yes, you heard me right. The very weak man named Samson.

Yes, he was perhaps the strongest man to ever live. He might have been able to take the gold in many many Olympic events.

But the most glaring features of Samson’s story in the book of Judges are his many weaknesses and the downfalls that come with them.

Last week, we studied 6 judges with the title, “Downward Judges” in the series about Israel’s “Downward Spiral.”

Well, this isn’t the bottom of the bottom for Israel–hold on for the last couple of chapters to get that.

But this is the bottom of the barrel when it comes to the judges themselves.

Samson was a picture of the downward-ness of Israel.

And it's not a pretty picture.

Today, we’re only going to get halfway through his story, and I want us to learn some lessons about four things:

Apathy, Waste, Weakness, and Hope.

Those will be our four areas of personal application.

Judges chapter 13, verse 1.

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD, so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.”

Stop there.

By now, most of us could probably reproduce this diagram from memory.

We are so used to Israel acting in this way.

“Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the LORD [they followed other gods, they forsook the Lord, they ignored the covenant, they disobeyed the law, they prostituted themselves with false gods and idols], so the LORD delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.”

That’s the most that any of these oppressors oppressed Israel.

And what did Israel do about it?

What does verse 1 say?

That was a trick question.

Israel does nothing. Search the whole story (4 chapters), and you won’t find it anywhere.

They don’t even do step 3 in cycle of the Judges.

They don’t cry out to God for help!

We’ll see as this story goes on (esp. in chapter 15) that Israel has become USED TO Philistine oppression.

It’s become the new normal.

Here’s our first word of application:


Don’t get too comfortable with spiritual oppression, living under your enemy.

Israel had gotten to the place that they just didn’t care anymore.

Have you been there?

“I just don’t care any more.”

“I know my life is not like it’s supposed to be, and I know that I’m making my life harder for me than it needs to be, but it’s so hard to change, and I just don’t care any more.”

I don’t care that I’m not reading my Bible.
I don’t care that I’m not fellowshipping with other Christians.
I don’t care that I’m living like the world.

I just don’t care any more.

That’s spiritual apathy.

And it had infected Israel so much that even though they were under the heel of the Philistine’s they had stopped caring so that they didn’t cry out to the Lord for help.

But the LORD, catch this, still loved them. He had still made covenant promises to them.

And even though this oppression was His doing, He still had compassion them, and sent them a deliverer. V.2

“A certain man of Zorah, named Manoah, from the clan of the Danites, had a wife who was sterile and remained childless.  The angel of the LORD appeared to her and said, ‘You are sterile and childless, but you are going to conceive and have a son.”

Oh ho ho!  There is a story starting here!  This sounds like Sarah getting a visit from an angel and being told that she would have a baby boy in her old age.

Manoah’s wife was barren but not for long.

And whenever a special child like this gets announced (think Samuel or John the Baptist), that special child will have a special role to fulfill.  V.4

“Now see to it that you drink no wine or other fermented drink and that you do not eat anything unclean, because you will conceive and give birth to a son. No razor may be used on his head, because the boy is to be a Nazirite, set apart to God from birth, and he will begin the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.’”

Oh ho ho!  Something special is going on now!

This boy is to be a lifelong Nazirite. Remember the vows of the Nazirite from back when studied Numbers together?  Numbers chapter 6 has all of the details.

Nazirites took a special vow and kept away from three things.

Anybody remember what they are:

Grapes, Razors, and Corpes, right?

No grapes (or drinks that come from grapes), no razors–no cutting of the hair, and no contact dead bodies for the length of the vow.

This boy is having the vow made for him before he’s even conceived!  The mother is to keep from drinking wine or touching any corpses so that he is born ceremonially clean–consecrated from birth to death.

A walking picture of holiness.

Not that those grapes, cut hair, or corpses are inherently unholy, but they are pictures of unholiness.

And this boy was to be special, a walking picture of holiness from birth to death!  Wow!

And he has special calling on his life. He is judge. He is a deliverer. V.5, “He will BEGIN the deliverance of Israel from the hands of the Philistines.”

A deliverance that they haven’t even asked for yet.

They may be apathetic, but the LORD is not.

He is preparing for them a savior.

Unfortunately, this savior’s dad is spiritual dull and apathetic himself. V.6

“Then the woman went to her husband and told him, ‘A man of God came to me. He looked like an angel of God, very awesome. I didn't ask him where he came from, and he didn't tell me his name. But he said to me, 'You will conceive and give birth to a son. Now then, drink no wine or other fermented drink and do not eat anything unclean, because the boy will be a Nazirite of God from birth until the day of his death.'’ Then Manoah prayed to the LORD: ‘O Lord, I beg you, let the man of God you sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.’ [I don’t think he truly believes his wife. She just told him all of that. But God is gracious. V.9] God heard Manoah, and the angel of God came again to the woman while she was out in the field; but her husband Manoah was not with her. [Notice that God shows up to the one who is open to Him. Not the spiritually dull one. V.10]”

“The woman hurried to tell her husband, ‘He's here! The man who appeared to me the other day!’ Manoah got up and followed his wife. When he came to the man, he said, ‘Are you the one who talked to my wife?’ ‘I am,’ he said. [Hmmm.] So Manoah asked him, ‘When your words are fulfilled, what is to be the rule for the boy's life and work?’

“The angel of the LORD answered, ‘Your wife must do all that I have told her. She must not eat anything that comes from the grapevine, nor drink any wine or other fermented drink nor eat anything unclean. She must do everything I have commanded her.’”

[Okay, what should I do know. Try to stall him? Try to control him? Get some control in this situation?]

“Manoah said to the angel of the LORD, ‘We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.’ The angel of the LORD replied, ‘Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the LORD.’ [Yahweh.] (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the LORD.)”

See how spiritually dull Manoah is? He is a picture of Israel at the time.  They don’t care they are under the thumb of the Philistines, and they don’t know God when they see Him at work.

V.17 “Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the LORD, ‘What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?’ He replied, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.’”

And Manoah still doesn’t understand.

“Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the LORD. And the LORD did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the LORD ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground.  When the angel of the LORD did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the LORD.”

“‘We are doomed to die!’ he said to his wife. ‘We have seen God!’ But his wife answered [with wisdom], ‘If the LORD had meant to kill us, he would not have accepted a burnt offering and grain offering from our hands, nor shown us all these things or now told us this.’ [Remember, buddy, he said that there was a boy coming?]

“The woman gave birth to a boy and named him Samson. He grew and the LORD blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him while he was in Mahaneh Dan, between Zorah and Eshtaol.”

Isn’t it interesting how deaf and dull Manoah seems to be?

I used to think that Manoah was a righteous man that God blessed with a special baby boy, but there is very little about Manoah that show his uprightness.

He seems almost apathetic himself until the angel jumps into the flame and blazes up to heaven!

Too many so-called Christians are apathetic today.

We just don’t care.

We don’t try to live a holy life.
We don’t try to reach others for Christ.

Too many have given up on actually living out the Christian life.

And we’ve gotten cozy living under the enemies’ thumb.

But God is not comfortable with that.

He wants to deliver us from our enemies: sin, Satan, and self.

Do you detect spiritual apathy in yourself?

Open yourself up to the Lord, and live up to your potential in Christ.

Unfortunately, Samson did not live up to his potential.

Chapter 13 exists to show us how special a boy Samson was to be.

Never since, Moses, has there been a boy born with such a high level of expectation.

Moses didn’t even get an angel to announce his birth!

Samson grew and the LORD blessed him, and the Spirit of the LORD began to stir him.

He had all of the potential in the world.

And it went to (almost completely) to waste.


In the very next chapter, we are introduced to the all grown-up Samson.

And we might expect to see him raising an army to overthrow the Philistines.

But instead, we see him lustfully wanting to marry one of them!  Chapter 14, verse 1.

“Samson went down to Timnah and saw there a young Philistine woman. When he returned, he said to his father and mother, ‘I have seen a Philistine woman in Timnah; now get her for me as my wife.’”

Whoa. This is all wrong!

That’s not what chapter 13 led us to expect.

(That’s what his parents said, too.) V.3

“His father and mother replied, ‘Isn't there an acceptable woman among your relatives or among all our people? Must you go to the uncircumcised Philistines to get a wife?’ But Samson said to his father, ‘Get her for me. She's the right one for me.’”

The strong-willed child!

And his parents could never say “No” to him.

This is the pattern of Samson’s life from here to the end.

Samson wastes his God-given potential.

He lives like the world and chases after skirts.

He follows his senses and his desires and not wisdom or truth.

And he uses the gifts God has given him for personal gain not (for the most part) to fulfill God’s calling on his life.

Samson squanders what God has given him.

We’ll see that more and more next week.  Waste.

Are you and I wasting what God has given to us?

Everybody here has God-given potential to live for the Lord–gifts, time, treasures, abilities, experiences, potential.

What are we doing with it?

Everybody here is good at something–many things.  Are you using it for the Lord or are you just sitting on it?

I see so many Christians who waste what the Lord has given them, and it’s sad.

I love that our Serbia team took stock of what they were each good at and everybody did their part.

We all have something to offer the Lord, and not hide it away for a rainy day or just use it for our own pleasures.

But Samson does the opposite.  He sees something he wants and says, “Give it here.”

He is weak.


V.4 “(His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)”

We’ll come back to that. That’s the most important verse for us today.

But, first, let’s see how controlled Samson is by his desires. V.5

““Samson went down to Timnah together with his father and mother. [That’s where the girl is!  But they get separated along the way.] As they approached the vineyards of Timnah, suddenly a young lion came roaring toward him. The Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power so that he tore the lion apart with his bare hands as he might have torn a young goat. But he told neither his father nor his mother what he had done.”  Stop there for a second.

First off, what is Samson doing in a vineyard?

What kind of a Nazirite is he?

He shouldn’t be near grapes.
He shouldn’t be allowing a razor to touch his hair.

We assume that’s he keeping up that part of it.

He probably looks now like cross between Troy Polamalu and ZZ Top.

But what is he doing in a vineyard?

Being attacked by a lion, I guess.

And God’s Spirit rushes upon him and gives him the supernatural strength to tear a lion in two!

But he doesn’t mention this to his folks. V.7

“Then he went down and talked with the woman, and he liked her. Some time later, when he went back to marry her, he turned aside to look at the lion's carcass. [Wait! What? That’s a corpse! What kind of a Nazirite is he? A bad one, apparently.]

In it was a swarm of bees and some honey, which he scooped out with his hands and ate as he went along. When he rejoined his parents, he gave them some, and they too ate it. But he did not tell them that he had taken the honey from the lion's carcass.”

Now this is extraordinary. Roper, do bees normally make honey in body cavitites?

No, this was miraculous. God was doing something different here.

But Samson shouldn’t have been anywhere near it.

And when he saw the honey, what should he have done?

Said, “No.”

But he said, “Yum.”

And then he offered some to his mom?!

Samson was enslaved to his appetites.

What he wanted, he wanted, and he grabbed.

That was a big part of what was wrong with Israel, and it’s easy for us to fall into today.

Samson was a prisoner to his appetites.

We saw that with the woman of Timnah. “Get her for me. She’s right in my eyes.”

“I want what I want and I want it now.”

That is the current American motto, and it will destroy us.

Chuck Swindoll said that Samson was a He-Man with She-Problem.

I like that. We’ll see that clearly clearly next week.

But even more fundamentally, Samsons biggest weakness was a lack of self-control.

He just went after what he wanted and didn’t care about the consequences.

That’s how he wasted so much of his life.

He’s just having fun!

I think that “having fun” is one of the great American idols right now.

Entertain me!

What are you enslaved to?

It could be lust. Maybe pornography?  If the internet had existed in Samson’s day, he would have clicked around in the worst places.

But we can be enslaved other appetites, as well.


Information. I fight every day with an addiction to information. I want to know, know, know.

Gossip?  You haven’t heard me talk about that one in a while, but that’s addictive. “The words of a gossip are like choice morsels, they go down to a man’s inmost parts.”

How about money?

Food, drink?

How about adrenaline? Excitement? Action?

Are those things bad?  Not all of them.

But if they get ahold of our insides and start running us?

That’s weakness.

Samson was a very weak man. V.10

“Now his father went down to see the woman. And Samson made a feast there, as was customary for bridegrooms. When he appeared, he was given thirty companions. [Kind of a like a big party, though you get the idea that they are here to keep an eye on him in Philistine territory. What do you make of this hairy guy?]

“‘Let me tell you a riddle,’ Samson said to them. ‘If you can give me the answer within the seven days of the feast, I will give you thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.  If you can't tell me the answer, you must give me thirty linen garments and thirty sets of clothes.’ ‘Tell us your riddle,’ they said. ‘Let's hear it.’

He replied, ‘Out of the eater, something to eat; out of the strong, something sweet.’ For three days they could not give the answer.

[They would NEVER get the answer. Who could? Nobody knows what he’s talking about. But Samson runs right on.]

“On the fourth day, they said to Samson's wife, ‘Coax your husband into explaining the riddle for us, or we will burn you and your father's household to death. Did you invite us here to rob us?’”

Sounds like a fun wedding party, huh?

“Then Samson's wife threw herself on him, sobbing, ‘You hate me! You don't really love me. You've given my people a riddle, but you haven't told me the answer.’ ‘I haven't even explained it to my father or mother,’ he replied, ‘so why should I explain it to you?’

She cried the whole seven days of the feast. [What a party!] So on the seventh day he finally told her, because she continued to press him. [We see what drives Samson.] She in turn explained the riddle to her people.

Before sunset on the seventh day the men of the town said to him, ‘What is sweeter than honey? What is stronger than a lion?’ Samson said to them, [You cheated!] ‘If you had not plowed with my heifer, you would not have solved my riddle.’

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon him in power. He went down to Ashkelon, struck down thirty of their men, stripped them of their belongings and gave their clothes to those who had explained the riddle. Burning with anger, he went up to his father's house. And Samson's wife was given to the friend who had attended him at his wedding.”

Looks like there was a divorce at the very end of the wedding!

That’s what weakness leads to. Constantly giving in to your appetites will enslave you.

God has something better for His people.

Now, that is some fight that Samson gets into in verse 19.

He goes to Ashkelon and in one action-movie scene, kills thirty men.

He takes their clothes and keeps his bargain.

“Here’s your dirty thirty outfits! Hope you enjoy them. The previous ownwers were dying to get rid of them.”

Did you notice that God was involved in verse 19?

Here, Samson, inflamed with anger and a result of his foolish marriage with a Philistine woman is clothed with power from the Spirit of God to kill people.

And he does.

What is going on here?

It’s actually our last word, a word of hope.


In reading this sordid story, it’s easy to forget that God had a plan for Samson and had made some promises about Samson that He was going to keep.

No matter how apathetic, pathetic, wasteful, or weak Samson was, God was still going to use him to begin the deliverance of Israel from the hand of the Philistines.

Go back to verse 4. It’s a parenthesis in the NIV, but it’s the most important verse.

“(His parents did not know that this [his marriage! His stupid foolish marriage to a Philistien girl!] was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel.)”

This becomes round #1 in a war between Samson and the Philistines.

A war that God wants.

A war that Samson apparently would never have waged on his own initiative.

But God has plans that overrule Samson’s plans and intentions that overrule Samson’s intentions to accomplish God’s own purposes.

This does not excuse any of Samson’s weaknesess.

But Samson’s weaknesses don’t stop any of God’s plans either.

And that should give us hope.

God is always up to something good for His people.

Even when we are the most apathetic, pathetic, wasteful, squandering, and weak.

If we truly belong to Jesus, God is up to something good.

That’s what happened at the Cross, isn’t it?

When the disciples ran away?

Where our sinful squandering of our potential had brought punishment?

Where our weakness and foolishness had enslaved us to our appetites and earned for us the oppression of our enemies.

God was up to something good.

Jesus turned it all around.

He took on Himself what we deserved, went to war with our enemy, Satan, and won the day.

And that’s true every day for God’s people.

God is up to something good.

We can’t always see it.

Things were bleak in Samson’s day.

And even though God had promised something good, they couldn’t really see it.

And Samson looks like a poor excuse for a Savior.

But God can use a poor excuse for a Savior to save His people.

So we should put our hope in Him.


Messages in This Series:

Unfinished Business
Israel's Downward Spiral
Run to the Battle: Shamgar, Deborah, Barak, and Jael
Gideon Part One: The 'Mighty Warrior'
Gideon Part Two: The Snare and the Thornbush King
Downward Judges: Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon

Friday, August 10, 2012

Sunday, August 05, 2012

[Matt's Messages] “Downward Judges: Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon”

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“Downward Judges: Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon”
Downward Spiral: The Message of Judges
August 5, 2012
Judges 10:1-12:15

We took two weeks off of the book of Judges for both listening to Spencer and to commission our Serbia team, but we are back to the book of Judges, as far as I know, from here to the end.

And let me tell you the thing that has surprised me the most as I’ve studied for these messages–it’s the thing about Judges that I was not prepared for.

I was prepared for Judges to be depressing. I’ve read it before. 

But I wasn’t prepared for how depressing the judges themselves would be to me this time.

I mean, I knew that they weren’t perfect people. I’ve read the book before.

But I still had this mental image of the judges as godly deliverers of Israel.

Now, they were God’s deliverers of Israel.

But they weren’t always godly.

They didn’t just have feet of clay–some of them seem to be made of clay up to their necks!

Othniel was great.
Ehud wasn’t too bad.
Shamgar, it’s hard to say.
Barak, after his initial hesitation did well.
Deborah was stellar.
And I guess Gideon had his moments.

But it’s been pretty downhill most of the way.

And today, believe it or not, it’s going to get worse. Much worse.

In fact, today, we’re going to study 6 more judges, and we’re going to call the message, “Downward Judges.”

Not just Israel went downward, but the judges did, too.

“Downward Judges: Tola, Jair, Jephthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon.”

Don’t worry, that’s only three chapters in our book.

But it is 6 judges.  If there are 12 judges (putting Barak and Deborah together), these are numbers 6, 7, 8, 9, 10, and 11.

We’ll leave #12 for next week.  He’s the most famous judge of all.

But this week, it’s “Downward Judges.”

And we’re going to learn at least three downward lessons from them.


The last person to lead in Israel was not a judge at all.

Do you remember what his name was?  Abimelech. And he was Gideon’s evil son.

He died and then someone named Toal came next. Chapter 10, verse 1.

“After the time of Abimelech a man of Issachar, Tola son of Puah, the son of Dodo, rose to save Israel. He lived in Shamir, in the hill country of Ephraim. He led Israel twenty-three years; then he died, and was buried in Shamir. [Keep going.] He was followed by Jair of Gilead, who led Israel twenty-two years. He had thirty sons, who rode thirty donkeys. They controlled thirty towns in Gilead, which to this day are called Havvoth Jair. When Jair died, he was buried in Kamon.” Stop there for a second.

Now, we aren’t told very much at all about Tola and Jair, so we don’t want to speculate and draw too much from their stories, short as they are.

But let’s note 2 things.

First, up until Gideon, the book of Judges always tells us how long the land had rest in the cycle of the Judges.

Remember this?

The Israelites did evil. They anger burned against them. They cry to God for help. God’s sends a deliverer/judge. Peace follows and the land has rest.

But ever since Gideon, who saved them from Midian but then basically started acting like a king himself, the land has no rest.

These men, Tola and Jair, save Israel, as well, but all it says is how long they led Israel, not how long there was peace.

And, secondly, that second one, Jair, seems to be cast in the mold of Gideon who had 70 sons.

Jair only has 30, but that almost certainly means that he had a harem and they ride on donkeys, which sounds funny to us like donkey basketball, but these were probably more rare and expensive and royal so that it’s like saying, he had 30 sons and he gave them 30 Mercedes. And they were the mayors of 30 towns.

You could conceive of this as blessing, but it seems more like self-serving pseudo-monarchy to me.

A downward slide.

Israel is certainly on a downward slide. V.6

“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 gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the LORD and no longer served him, he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, who that year shattered and crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites. The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and the house of Ephraim; and Israel was in great distress.”

Sounds like a broken record, doesn’t it?

Living out the cycle. Again and again.

What’s the next step.

Cry out to God.  Right on time. V.10

“‘Then the Israelites cried out to the LORD, ‘We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.’ The LORD replied, ‘When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!’ But the Israelites said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’ Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the LORD. And he could bear Israel's misery no longer.” Stop there for a second.

This is a different side to the Lord than we often think about or like to talk about.

God talks back to these people who are crying out to Him for help.

And He says in effect, “Didn’t I do that already?”

“I’m done. You have given up on me. I will give up on you.”

“Go see if your other lovers, these other gods, will save you.”

“But I’m hanging up on you now.”


God knows what’s going on here.

He knows the score.

You can’t fool the Lord!

These guys have gotten themselves into trouble, and they want a BAAL-OUT.

Get it?  A Baal out?

That was a bad one, I know.

But that’s what it is.

They think they’ve figured out how to get God to do what they want.

Ok. “We’ve sinned. We’re going to get rid of our gods now. Watch us do it. See us put them away?”  Big crocodile tears.  “Sorry, God, now can you save us?”

How many times have you and I acted like that?

“We’re asking God to forgive us as we plan to sin again!”

God is not fooled.
God will not be mocked.
You can’t manipulate the Lord. 

But He does love His people. Look at verse 16.

“And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.”

Now, that actually could be translated to mean that He was impatient with Israel’s apostasy, which would fit with His words here.

But I think it shows His heart.

Even though His people have not repented, and even thought He knows that, the LORD still has compassion on them, and is moved to help.

You can’t manipulate the Lord, but He is amazingly gracious. V.17

“When the Ammonites were called to arms and camped in Gilead, the Israelites assembled and camped at Mizpah. The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, ‘Whoever will launch the attack against the Ammonites will be the head of all those living in Gilead.’”

And the man that gets the job is named Jephthah.

It’s interesting to note that though God uses Him to save His people, it doesn’t say that God raised Him up the way it did for the other judges.

And I think that’s because they are choosing a leader downward. Chapter 11, verse 1.

“Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. Gilead's wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. ‘You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,’ they said, ‘because you are the son of another woman.’ [And who knows if we really even have the same dad!]  So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him. [These are worthless fellows. He joined a gang and became their leader.]  Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob.

‘Come,’ they said, ‘be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.’  Jephthah said to them, ‘Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why do you come to me now, when you're in trouble?’  

[Notice the parallels between how Israel treats God and how Gilead treats Jephthah.]

The elders of Gilead said to him, ‘Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.’  Jephthah answered, ‘Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me–will I really be your head?’ [Notice what’s important to Jephthah.]

The elders of Gilead replied, ‘The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.’  So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.”

[Notice: Not a word from God, so far. V.12]

“Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: ‘What do you have against us that you have attacked our country?’ [Starts with diplomacy.]

The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah's messengers, ‘When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably.’ 

[v. 14] Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, saying: [No, No, No, No. That’s not how it happened.] ‘This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the desert to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, 'Give us permission to go through your country,' but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh. ‘Next they traveled through the desert, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border.

‘Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, 'Let us pass through your country to our own place.' Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his men and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.  

‘Then the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his men into Israel's hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.

[Now, here’s the takeaway from this little history lesson. V.23]

“‘Now since the LORD, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over?  Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the LORD our God has given us, we will possess.  Are you better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them?  For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn't you retake them during that time? 

I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the LORD, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.’”

Now, Jephthah gets some things wrong in this little history lesson.

For example, he calls the god of Ammon “Chemosh,” but the Bible says that their god was Milcom. Perhaps, he’s getting it wrong to egg them on. “Whatever your silly god’s name is” or perhaps he doesn’t really know. He’s a warrior, not a theologian or a diplomat.

Even more wrong is the theology that Chemosh has any land to give. All the land is God’s to give.

But he gets the most important thing right.  V.27

“The LORD” is the judge. And He will decide between the Israelites and the Ammonites.

Interestingly, this is the only time in the book of Judges when the judge is named, as in, the “the judge was...”  And here we know who the Judge really is.


You can’t manipulate him. Get that straight.

V.27 is why Jephtah makes it into the “Hebrews Hall of Faith” in Hebrews chapter 11.

He gets a lot wrong, more than I can believe.

But He trusts God to rightly judge.

Jephthah has faith.

And God uses him. V.28

“The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him. Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. [Divine power.] He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.

And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: [Oh no. He opens his big mouth.] ‘If you give the Ammonites into my hands,  whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’”

A tragic vow. Right in the middle of being used the Lord, Jephthah makes a major, tragic mistake.

He tries to manipulate the Lord.

The very thing he was saying you can’t do.

‘If you give the Ammonites into my hands,  whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’”

If you bless me, God, then I’ll do this for you.

If you scratch my human back, I’ll scratch your divine back.

If you promise to hold up your end of the bargain, have a got a deal for you.


That’s not how our God works.

That was the deal with the pagan gods.  But not with the real God.

God is looking for faith and obedience.

Not for kickbacks.

You can’t manipulate the Lord.

In what ways have you and I been trying to manipulate God?

What little deals have we been trying to make?

If I give this money, God, will you do this for me?

If I volunteer for that ministry, God, will you give me this thing I want?

If I ... then ...?

You can’t manipulate the Lord.

The fact is that God has a better deal for you than you could ever come up with if you trust Him.

He can’t be manipulated, but He’s amazingly gracious.


“Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.”

That’s God.

“When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, ‘Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break.’

‘My father,’ she replied, ‘you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 

But grant me this one request,’ she said. ‘Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.’ ‘You may go,’ he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry.  After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin. From this comes the Israelite custom that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.”

That is so tragic.

First of all because God does not delight in human sacrifice.

There is only one time in the whole Bible when God calls for it, and that’s just a test of Abraham with Isaac. He calls it off when He sees Abraham’s faith.

And of course, Jesus is a human sacrifice, but even though that is His will, He never commands it. It is a great injustice even as it is the Lord’s will.

Jephthah should not have promised this and should not have carried it out.

Jephthah should have known God’s will better. God wouldn’t ask for that. God says that it would have never entered His mind to ask for that!

And He should have known that the Law includes provisions for getting out of rash vows. Read Leviticus 27.

God didn’t hold him to this stupid action.

Be careful what you promise, and don’t compound a stupid sinful promise with carrying it out in a stupid sinful faithfulness.

Do you see the downward slide of the judges?

Othniel would have never done this.

And he wouldn’t have done the next thing either. Chapter 12, verse 1.

“The men of Ephraim called out their forces, crossed over to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, ‘Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We're going to burn down your house over your head.’”

Does this sound familiar?

They Ephraimites said something very similar to Gideon, and he replied very diplomatically.

Not Jephthah. The downward slide continues. V.2

“Jephthah answered, ‘I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn't save me out of their hands. [No evidence that he really did call.] When I saw that you wouldn't help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?’

Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, ‘You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.’

The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, ‘Let me cross over,’ the men of Gilead asked him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he replied, ‘No,’ they said, ‘All right, say 'Shibboleth.'’ If he said, ‘Sibboleth,’ because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.”

Now, this would be a funny story about pronouncing words wrong from region to region.

Your accent will really give you away.

But 42,000 men is no joke.


This is civil war.

There had to be a better way.

There had to be a way out of this conflict.

These were brothers. Israelite on Israelite warfare.

Needless shedding of brotherly blood.

I think there is a take-away here for the church.

So, often Christians fight over things they don’t have to fight over.

Our adult Sunday School classes are studying Christian Community right now, and we’ve been talking about how Christians need to learn to get along.

Not that we can’t have differences.

And not that we can’t disagree over those differences.

But we need to pursue brotherly unity with all of our might.

Never compromising the gospel, but being longsuffering and bending over backwards to show honor and respect for each other.

You shouldn’t fight with your brothers if you can at all help it.

Romans 12:18 says, “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

That’s a Bible verse to memorize.

Yesterday, I had a long conversation with someone who had been fighting with another Christian but really didn’t want to and was looking for help in knowing how to, as far as it depended on them, to live at peace with another Christian.

Is there a battle that you need to drop?

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”

You shouldn’t fight with your brothers and sisters if you can help it.

And now, let’s finish our story for today. V.7

“Jephthah led Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died, and was buried in a town in Gilead. After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel. He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He gave his daughters away in marriage to those outside his clan, and for his sons he brought in thirty young women as wives from outside his clan. Ibzan led Israel seven years. Then Ibzan died, and was buried in Bethlehem.  After him, Elon the Zebulunite led Israel ten years. Then Elon died, and was buried in Aijalon in the land of Zebulun. After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He led Israel eight years. Then Abdon son of Hillel died, and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.”

We want to get the Lord’s table, so we won’t spend much time on these verses, but there are a few things to notice.

First, again, the land has no rest. Just these kind of kings.

Maybe they were warriors. Maybe they saved Israel, but it doesn’t say that.

It looks more like they tried to be little kings with their harems and progeny.

And the Bible doesn’t say much about them.

Maybe there wasn’t much to say.

Or maybe, the point is that they are not the point.


We learned that lesson back in the book of Genesis.

Maybe the point of the Judges is not the judges but the Judge. Capital J.

All of these judges just pointed towards the Judge who was to come.

All of these leaders pointed towards the Leader who was to come.

All of these deliverers, these Saviors, pointed towards the Savior who was to come.

The only thing they really had in common was that they died.

V.7 “Jephthah the Gileadite died.”
V.10 “Ibzan died.”
V.12 “Elon died.”
V. 15, “Abdon died.”

They all showed promise. They all were going to be something for their people.

But they died. And another took their place.

But there is one Judge, one Deliverer, One Savior who died and then came back to life once more.

And He is Who we celebrate at this table today.