We don’t know much about Othniel.
God gives us what we ask for
The pattern of God’s judgement is always that he gives us what we ask for. We choose bad things and God gives us over to the bad things that we choose. Sometimes you realise you’re not fighting this battle on Jesus’ side anymore. God is displaced. You’ve given up fighting. The Israelites wait eight years before crying out to God. It’s not clear they repented.
God hears our cries for help
God raises up a judge, leads the people against their enemies and the people are safe. When the judge sins or dies, the people go back to their own ways. It’s as if the writer is saying they need a judge who will never sin and will live forever. That’s the judge God has given us. He now stands living perfectly, forever to welcome you back to God.
God gives power for the battle
Jesus gives everyone who trusts in him the Spirit. God is with us and gives us a personal presence. You can do with the Spirit’s help whatever needs to be done to help you fight. Fighting against the values of the world is hard.
Where have you stopped fighting? You, with him, can fight.
God stands on those who are weak and against those who are clever.
Eglon was fat. It meant you were greedy and lazy. He is self indulgent. He’d got people who hated each other together to fight against Israel. He was clever but also wicked. He was brought to power by God. He didn’t acknowledge that but the writer does.
Ehud means ‘the glory has departed’. The word for ‘left handed’ literally means he was unable to use his right hand. Some kind of disability. He is weak.
It begins with a tragic setup. The people had worshipped Eglon’s gods. Ehud had made himself a small dagger and hid it in his right side. He was unlikely to be searched. Ehud kills him and the king dies in his own faeces. Ehud locks the door from the inside and sneaks out the back. He gets the people down from the hills and acknowledges the Lord’s victory. The story appeals to us as it’s the weak taking on the strong and winning. The pattern expresses the character of God.
God uses the weak to shame the strong
God brings the devil down by sending a quiet revolutionary. He sends this man to a people that had been hated. Who would’ve thought he would start a worldwide movement with some fishermen? Satan is on his way to a humiliating end. Paul describes how God will destroy the wisdom of the wise.
Jesus is amazing
Isn’t there beauty in what he did? The ultimate weak breaks strong story.
Beware of siding with the strong
If you find yourself on the side of power, you should be careful.
Don’t back out because you’re ‘too weak’
God uses the weak on purpose. No matter how weak you feel, God can and will use us against the largest intimidating enemies.
Is Deborah going to be the hero? It looks like that from the beginning. She speaks God’s words. She has nothing to do with the battle. She seems to tell Barak off. Later we discover there was a flash flood. The Lord did the fighting, not Barak. Is Jael the hero? We don’t know what her motivation was. Nothing to do with God. She wasn’t one of his people. The honour for the victory belongs to God.
Deborah: a woman of the word
It’s strange to find anyone doing their job sitting under a tree. She is a reflection of the state of chaos that had brought the people to no tent of meeting. The people’s rebellion had got worse. She says to Barak that The Lord has commanded and that things can change if he’s obedient.
Barak: a man of little obedience
His obedience is half hearted. There is no attempt to paint his obedience in a good light. It’s scary to him. In the end, he doesn’t do any fighting. God has a great history of taking the obedience of desperation and putting his hand round it and doing something amazing.
Jael: a hero without knowing
Sisera runs off. Jael almost seems provocative. Sisera is a horrible man. God is so good and so determined to redeem wickedness in the world that often he does significant things that help spread the gospel through evil people. God is the hero. He’s such a great hero that eventually he came in the form of a person to fight our enemies (sin, death and the devil) for us.
If God wins the battle, if God can even take wickedness and use it in his grand plan to win the world back from evil, shouldn’t we trust him?
Gideon is basically a little bit stupid. He’s stuck in a wine press.
Gideon is a wimp, not a hero
God says ‘I will be with you’. He knows that Gideon doesn’t understand everything. That’s enough. Even if it’s just him. Gideon needs to get rid of the false gods. He needs to solve the problem closer to home. He’s scared of what the town would think of him. He obeys but in the least heroic way possible. He gets rid of the idol at night.
Obedience, not heroism
Get out of the wine press and begin to show God to the world knowing that you live in this relationship of peace. Gideon doesn’t need guidance. He needs reassurance. Giving your life to display what God is like isn’t a waste.
Trust God and he will be with you. That is enough.
Related Bible Studies:
God is making the numbers low and making the army weak. When we believe we deserve credit, we don’t point to God’s greatness.
2 Cor. 4:7-11. We have this treasure in ‘jars of clay’. God’s nature was most revealed when Jesus humbled himself to death.
God gives reassurance so worship him. He gives us the help that we need. He’s not an all or nothing God. He knows our weakness and loves to help.
The Lord caused the men throughout the camp to turn on each other with their swords. God can do miracles with weak words. God has a great history of taking simple words and causing them to turn the lives of people who don’t know him into chaos. It brings them to know him.
Like Gideon, all God asks is for your words and speech, speech about him that he can take and cause spiritual upset.
In the end, God will win, so where can you join in now, with your words?
Related Bible Studies:
This is the story of what people become like when they steal God’s glory.
Gideon knows it wasn’t him who won the victory. He and his tiny army chased the Midianites out of town. They meet Succoth and Peniel and wanted bread. They’d rather wait and see who wins before they back Gideon. Gideon chases the Midianite kings down and captures them. Someone who is aware of their own failure should be kind enough to others. Gideon had said these people he had killed were his brothers. That’s unlikely. It seems he’d made up this story in order to justify killing them. The people love the new Gideon and want him as king. They make a god. Gideon gains the power he feels he deserves but it ends the way it always does.
We all really want to take the work of God and make it our own. It starts gently and looks justifiable. You want some of the credit.
It’s tough to finish well
Church history is littered with people who started well. They ended up like Gideon worshipping themselves. If you think you deserve the praise, you will drop the ball. We don’t really want God to have the glory. You’ll then want the glory. You’ll end up rejecting God and saying that you’re not.
The enemy within is worse than the enemy without
As you look back, you see the things that God has done. If you treasure feelings of pride and superiority, you’re on the way to dropping the ball and giving up. It starts so small. God is not fooled.
There is a leader you can trust to defeat the enemy within
Jesus can conquer the enemy within. If you see yourself in Gideon, as you find Jesus as he really is, you’ll find that you’re secure and loved. Be ready to cut off your glory seeking before it leads somewhere terrible. This warning of Gideon is here to warn you when you begin to push for praise from others
Our sin isn’t just our biggest problem, it’s the biggest problem in the world. The natural tendency is for our sin to spiral downwards.
This is our life:
Repeated sin spirals down (10:6-9; 11:1-4)
It gets worse every time. The writer makes it obvious. We accumulate false gods. We worship anything and everything else. The result is judgement. The life of Jephthah demonstrates the consequences of sin. His brothers are wicked and wrong to drive him away from his family. He’s rejected and excluded. We think we’ll be better off without him.
Minimal repentance (10:10; 11:6)
What’s their response? They’re sorry for the state they’re in. They repent minimally. It’s what they always say. The person they get to help them was Jephthah. They don’t really want him to rescue them. We offer God a small bargain.
A saviour sees through us (10:11-14; 11:7-9)
The Israelites knew deep down that those gods couldn’t save them. They allowed them to do what they wanted. Don’t be deceived. God knows your heart. He knows when you think your repentance is sincere but really it isn’t. Like Jephthah, God sees through shallow people like us.
We come to deeper repentance (10:15; 11:10)
They realise they’d messed up. They up their offer. God is perfectly entitled to do with us as he pleases.
Our saviour relents (10:16; 11:11)
Jephthah came to their aid because he gave them what they needed. God could bear their misery no longer. We’ve got to turn away from the false gods. Repentance is essential. God saves people because he has compassion on us and shows us mercy. He sent Jesus who taught us how to say sorry.
Most of us think we’re better than average. Jephthah thought the same and yet he fell. He did something wicked but he convinced himself it was spiritual.
How to be a really stupid Christian:
Imagine your anointing exempts you (v29)
Jephthah is the one the Spirit of The Lord came on. Hebrews lists Jephthah as one of the heroes of the faith. It’s easy to think the fact that you’re a Christian means you won’t commit a terrible sin.
Make your ambition central (v31)
It’s not clear whether he intended to make a promise of a human sacrifice. He must’ve known there was a good chance a person would come out to greet him. He makes the vow because of his ambition. He hated the people he was meant to be leading. He was fighting the battle for himself. He has to return in safety and triumph. What’s the central ambition of your life?
Blame everybody else (v35)
Jephthah’s innocent daughter was worthy of a party. He responds by blaming her even though she’s innocent. She mourns with her friends and Jephthah keeps his mourning for himself. The real cause of our sadness is what we have chosen to do.
Keep your foolish word (v39)
The text is clear. The writer says Jephthah did to her as he had vowed. He sacrificed his own daughter. He could’ve broken his vow. That would’ve meant repenting and confessing it was stupid. The worst thing that would’ve happened was that he would’ve had to take the curse of death on himself. He wants to be remembered. His daughter doesn’t have a name but is honoured each year. We can end up doing something bad by promising something stupid. It is better to break your word than to sacrifice someone else in your pride.
We need a saviour who has humility, gentleness, love, compassion and wisdom. We need a saviour whose ambition is to give glory to the Father. We need a saviour who is willing to take the blame. We need Jesus. He died because of his own vow. We need to thank God that he has made provision in sending a saviour who gives perfect forgiveness for us forever.
Everyone doing what they think is right doesn’t just affect individuals.
A godless people:
Won’t rejoice in the victory of others (v1)
They send a fully loaded army ready for war because Jephthah didn’t invite them for the fight.
Can’t give a soft answer (v2-3)
Jephthah isn’t Gideon. He’s determined to get the minimum acknowledgment of God and the maximum glory for himself. The word ‘house’ can either mean the place you live or your family. He wanted glory so much he was prepared to sacrifice his only child. We’re not meant to think that the conflict that follows was inevitable. Jephthah is unable to diffuse the situation. Church leaders speak harsh words. The cause is the same as in Jephthah’s life. Everyone doing as they see fit.
Become racist (v4)
The groups vary according to time and place. We create groups that exclude. It can result in war for no reason. In a church it’s more subtle. Listening to God will make our vision of the world larger.
Won’t let things go (v5-6)
To get home the Ephraimites had to cross to the other side of the bank. They said the word differently. 42,000 died. It wasn’t war. It was murder. Jephthah almost wipes them out. A whole tribe of his own nation. What kind of leader is that? He was meant to protect, not destroy. He had to hold a grudge until everyone else was dead.
Is still ruled by God (v7)
God’s invisible hand is still quite present. Jephthah was a rubbish believer. He messed up and made miserable his own life and thousands of others around him. He is the judge with the shortest rule. The constant theme of the book is that God is at work even as people do what is right in their own eyes. He rules people who do right and he rules people who do wrong. In the end, God works his purposes out through every person in the world. We suffer when we do what’s right in our own eyes. When we submit ourselves to God’s rule, we bring blessings to others and the world.
What do we need? We need to pray daily for the invention of the true judge, Jesus.
Final part of the story of Jephthah. Last week we saw how he made a vow that resulted in him killing his daughter.
1. What are the Ephraimites doing at the start of the passage? (What are they seeking?)
Talking big after the battle is won, suffering from wounded pride because they want the greater glory.
2. What do you notice about what the Ephraimites say?
Their words were untrue. They accused Jephthah of not giving them an opportunity to join the battle. He did summon them but they didn’t answer the call.
Violence was threatened. They threatened to burn down Jephthah’s house. Prone to anger.
3. How does Jephthah deal with them?
He is polite and speaks the truth. He’s willing to back it up with military if necessary.
4. How did the Ephraimites respond?
There was a deeper rift between the Ephraimites and Jephthah and the Gileadites. We know that Jephthah was a Gileadite. The land of Gilead was east of the Jordan and was possessed by Ruben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The Ephraimites spoke disparagingly of Jephthah’s people, who were of the tribe of Manasseh. The Ephraimites spoke of Jephthah’s people as renegades, people who fall short of the high standard set by the “blue bloods” of Ephraim and Manasseh (verse 4).
5. What went wrong? Could the 42,000 deaths have been prevented?
If the Ephraimites had learnt from the past and recalled history correctly, they may have been saved.
6. What can we learn from the story of Jephthah?
- God is still at work even when we mess up. He works out his purposes through everyone.
- Jephthah is commended in Hebrews 11.
- Words matter.