“A HEBREW ROBIN HOOD”

JUDGES 11:1-11

APRIL 22, 2012

 

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            This morning we are skipping over the ninth chapter of Judges because I don’t want us to get our hands dirty recounting the sickening story of Gideon’s son Abimelech.  Remember him?  He was the only one of Gideon’s sons who the author of Judges mentioned by name.  He ascended to become ruler of Israel by killing his brothers.  He ruled for three years and according to the Bible, he was an unprincipled, ambitious ruler, often engaged in war against his own subjects.  While attempting to put down a revolt against him in the town of Thebez,  he was struck on the head by a mill-stone, thrown by the hand of a woman from the wall above.  Realizing that the wound was mortal, he ordered his armor-bearer to thrust him through with his sword, so that it might not be said he had perished by the hand of a woman.  Look with me how the ninth chapter ends.  Verse 56,

 

            Thus God repaid Abimelech for the crime he committed against his father in killing his seventy brothers. 

 

            That’s as close as I want to come to looking at Abimelech’s life.  Instead, I want us to jump to the tenth chapter, and pick up his polar opposite, the next major Judge of Israel, a man named Jephthah.  So, if you haven’t done so already, take out your bible and follow along as I begin reading in the sixth verse of chapter ten. 

 

            The Israelites again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, worshipping the Baals and the Astartes, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines.  Thus they abandoned the Lord, and did not worship him. 

 

            A quick note before we move on.  This marks the sixth time the Israelites have done this, and each time they drift from God, they sink lower and lower.  They are now participating in seven false religions, and some of these false religions engaged in some some of the most perverted and depraved practices ever known. 

            OK, let’s continue.

 

            So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites, and they crushed and oppressed all the Israelites that year.

 

            In other words, God allowed Israel to be sandwiched between two very powerful nations.  On the west were the Philistines and we will learn more about them in the story of the next Judge, Samson.  To the east was the nation of Ammon.  They were a desert people who lived on the eastern side of the Dead Sea, and these are the folk to whom Jephthah will direct his attention.  Verse eight,

 

            For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites that were beyond the Jordan in the land of the Amorites, which is in Gilead.  The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah and against Benjamin and against the house of Ephraim; so that Israel was greatly distressed.

 

            Now before we read the next section I want you to pay close attention to what comes next.  Twice the Israelites will cry out for help, but only after the second time will God answer affirmatively.  God turned them down the first time.  As we read, note what caused God to change his mind in terms of coming to their rescue once again.  Verse 10,

 

            So the Israelites cried to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have abandoned our God and have worshiped the Baals.”  And the Lord said to the Israelites, “Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and the Philistines?  The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, oppressed you; and you cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand.  Yet you have abandoned me and worshiped other gods; there I will deliver you no more.  Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.  And the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you; but deliver us this day!”  So they put away their foreign gods from among them and worshiped the Lord; and he could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.

 

            Why did God agree to help the second time and not the first?  What was different?  Note verse sixteen:  They put away their foreign gods from among them and worshiped the Lord.

            There is a great difference between regret and repentance.  I’m reminded of the chaplain who visited a prisoner about to be released from prison.  The chaplain said to the man, “I hope you have repented of what you have done so you will not make the same mistakes after you are released.”

            “Yes, Reverend, I sure won’t.  Next time I pull a job I’ll be sure to wear gloves.”

            That’s regret, not repentance.  That’s what characterized the Israelite’s first request.  The second time around they moved from regret to repentance.  They changed their behavior.  They put away their foreign gods and worshiped the Lord.

            By the way, that may be one of the reasons we sometimes experience power shortages in our Christian journey.  Until we move from regret to repentance we may not fully experience God’s presence and power.  God will always love us, but not always empower us.  Verse seventeen,

 

            Then the Ammonites were called to arms, and they encamped in Gilead; and the Israelites came together, and they encamped at Mizpah.  The commanders of the people of Gilead said to one another, “Who will begin the fight against the Ammonites?  He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 

 

            OK, that’s the back story.  Now we are ready to meet Jephthah.  Chapter eleven, verse one,

 

            Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior.  Gilead was the father of Jephthah.  Gilead’s wife also bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah away, saying to him, “You shall not inherit anything in our father’s house; for you are the son of another woman.’  Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob.  Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him.

 

            Note a couple of things.  First, note his family background. Jephthah springs from suspicious origins.  His father, Gilead, was a married man with a wandering eye, and when his eye landed elsewhere, other parts of him followed, and the result was Jephthah. 

            But Gilead was better than your average "john," meaning that he took responsibility for his actions and took the baby into his home.  He named him Jephthah and treated him as the sons who were born to his wife who, by the way, deserves some credit.  By that I mean how many women do you know who would do that, who would take in the child of her husband’s infidelity?  I venture to say not many.  Every day of their married life, Jephthah was a reminder of Gilead's wandering eyes.  But they dealt with it ... lived with it ... overcame it.

            His half brothers, however, were a different matter.  When they were old enough, probably after Gilead passed away, they gave Jephthah the boot.  He headed north and settled in the frontier area of Tob.  That’s the other thing I want us to note from our introduction to Jephthah.  Tob was the kind of place where people didn’t ask much about your past.  It was a place where you didn’t form deep friendships because people had a way of dying on you.  While there Jephthah became a sort Robin Hood figure, a leader of outcasts and rejects ... our translation calls them “outlaws” ... and he molded them into a crackerjack military band that functioned as an unofficial police force protecting Hebrew families who lived on the border alongside Ammon.  Through all this Jephthah became famous, his reputation spread, and when the Israelites got into hot water, the elders of Gilead, which included some of his half brothers, asked him for help. 

            He responds to their request by saying, verse seven,

 

            Are you not the very ones who rejected me and drove me out of my father’s house?  So why do you come to me now when you are in trouble?

 

             I don’t know if Jephthah got any satisfaction out of their asking him for help,  but Tommy Lasorda, the former Los Angeles Dodgers manager, would have.  In his book The Artful Dodger Lasorda tells of a time in his minor league career when he got to pitch to Buster Maynard.

            Ten years earlier Lasorda, then an eighth grader nuts about baseball, attempted to get Buster Maynard’s autograph after a Philadelphia Phillies - New York Giants game.  Maynard a member of the Giants, however, pushed Lasorda aside and kept walking.  Lasorda vowed never to forget Buster Maynard.  Then years pass, and Lasorda is on the mound.  It’s the first inning.  Two outs, and the public address announcer says, “Now batting for the Augusta Yankees - Buster Maynard.”  By that time Maynard was working his way down from the major leagues as Lasorda, a left-handed pitcher, was working his way up to the majors.  Lasorda described the encounter as follows,

 

            I couldn’t believe it.  I couldn’t believe I could be so lucky.  I was going to get to hit Buster Maynard with a pitch.  I threw the first pitch right at his head.  He took a dive; his bat went flying one way, his cap the other, and he lay spread-eagled in the dirt.  What a thrill to see him go down.  I smiled happily.

 

            We don’t know if Jephthah smiled when the elders and his half brothers came a calling, but Tommy Lasorda would have.  Of course, Lasorda may not be as spiritually and emotionally mature as Jephthah was. 

            There’s one more thing I want to mention about Jephthah.  Note his response to their request in verse nine,

 

            If you bring me home again to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.

 

            Note the mention of “the Lord.”  Here’s an important tidbit about Jephthah.  He mentioned God more than any other person in the Book of Judges.  Of all the Judges, Jephthah appears to have the most alive, personal relationship with God.  So, given his spirituality, he probably did not smile when his half brothers came a calling, but I bet God did.  We can almost see God winking at Jephthah and whispering in his ear, “For revenge is mine, saith the Lord.”

            Well, that’s the crisis.  That’s the man.  Now let’s draw one lesson from it.  Here it is, and it may surprise you.  We get a number of glimpses of the God of the New Testament in the Old Testament. 

            You see, some people believe the God of the Old Testament and the God of the New Testament are like night and day.  Some see the God of the Old Testament as stern, unforgiving, a God who delights in judgment whereas the God of the New Testament is a God of unceasing love and infinite mercy.  Nothing could be further from the truth. 

            Think about it.  This is the sixth time in the Book of Judges the Israelites have drifted and the sixth time they come asking God for help.  The sixth time.  And even though they had sunk to new lows, God could not let them go.  He bails them out still another time.  In so doing, God also orchestrates a marvelous event in Jephthah’s life.  God shows incredible sensitivity to Jephthah and all Jephthah had been through.

            Let me close with a story.  It reminds me of our God of the Old and New Testaments.

            On a Thursday morning a man told his wife that sometime during the day he was going to ask his boss for a raise.  Naturally, he was nervous and apprehensive but toward the end of the day he mustered enough courage to approach his boss, and to his pleasant surprise, the employer agreed to the raise.

            When he arrived home he noticed the dining room table set with the best china.  Candles were burning.  A festive meal had been prepared.  He thought to himself, someone at the office must have tipped off his wife about the raise.  He went into the kitchen, kissed her, told her the good news and went upstairs to wash up for dinner.

            When he returned to the dining room there was a note on his plate that read, “Congratulations, darling!  I knew you’d get the raise.  This meal tells you how much I love you.”

            They enjoyed the meal, and she got up to get dessert, but when she did a second card fell from her pocket.  He bent over, picked it up and it read, “Don’t worry about not getting the raise.  You deserved it anyway.  This meal tells you how much I love you.”

            Through good and bad, through highs and lows, through acceptances and rejections, God loves us.   We get a number of glimpses of the God of the New Testament in the Old Testament.  Amen.