The sorry story of Abimelech in chapter 9 serves as a reminder that actions have consequences. In particular, Gideon sowed the seeds of disaster with his immorality, and the rivalry of so many sons to which it gave rise.
Also behind the story is the warning against ambition – and ambitious leaders – which is shown so beautifully in the ‘Parable of the Trees’ – essentially, the fruitful trees are occupied already with producing their fruit which so many enjoy, so only the bramble is willing to accept the crown and be king of the trees. I’m reminded of the saying that anyone who wants to be in power should automatically be ruled out for that very reason from being in power. Certainly most of the great leaders of the Bible seem to have been reluctant to step up to the mark.
Then we have one of the stories I’ve been dreading coming to – that of Jephthah and in particular of his sacrifice of his daughter to fulfil a rash vow. Once again, reading it in the setting of the bigger picture has given me a different perspective from what I anticipated.
I think Judges 11:24 is telling.
Should you not possess what your god Chemosh gives you to possess? And should we not be the ones to possess everything that the LORD our God has conquered for our benefit?
In contrast to the vision of the LORD which inspired Moses and Joshua, as the only God or at least as entirely different from any other ‘god’, Jephthah seems to view the LORD as being in some way comparable to Chemosh, God of the Amorites.
Given that, his reluctant willingness to sacrifice his daughter makes more sense. He is inspired to victory by the LORD, but his view and actions are unprompted. With his small view of the LORD, it perhaps made sense to offer even human sacrifice as payment for a great victory – that was not unusual in some pagan cultures, and Jephthah had grown up surrounded by the worship of Baal.
Once again we see the vital necessity of getting the right vision of God – not for His sake but for ours and for the sake of those around us.
Of course it didn’t stop with Jephthah and his family. In chapter 12 we read of the tribes of Israel at war with each other – no Philistines, Amorites or Moabites are needed. When we start to think that the LORD is just another tribal god, we start acting in tribes and calling it faithfulness.
Let’s renew our vision of the one God of all, and our wisdom in what it means to serve that LORD faithfully.