by Pastor Mark Hudson
Prof. David Murray suggests the following outline for the book of Judges
1 failures of the tribes of Israel
2-16 failures of the judges
17-21 failures of the Levites
The Key verses are 17:6, 18:1, 19:1, 21:25 – there was no king in Israel, everyone did what was right in their own eyes. For our devotional, we will concentrate on how this chapter sets up the story of Jephthah. But brief mention is made of Tola. Nothing of substance is said of Tola except where he lived, how long he judged Israel and that he died and was buried in Shamir. After him we are told of Jair, the only additional information is that he had thirty sons who rode on 30 donkeys, and they had 30 cities. Suggested in v. 4 is wealth, prestige, and multiple wives. Yet, we are left only to surmise those observations. The account is not only brief but absent an evaluation from God. Yet, both are cited, and their work given scant depiction.
First, we find the context of Jepthah’s ministry so bad that there are 7 gods the Israelites served (10:6). Does 7 signify a complete or full number? Meaning things had run amok? So, God allowed them to be oppressed by the Philistines and Ammonites (v. 7). For 18 years, almost 2 decades, Israel, beyond the Jordan, was oppressed because of their idolatry. Not only was the land to the east of the Jordan troubled, but v. 9 says Benjamin and Ephraim also had to fight the Philistines and Ammonites.
Here is how bad it is. They are active and proliferate idolaters – 7 gods. They forsook the Lord and did not serve Him (v. 6). This is not insignificant. Forsaking God is extremely serious. God is angry with them and sells them into the hand of the Philistines and Ammonites. These nations “crushed and oppressed the people who lived east of the Jordan River for 18 years. 18 years is a long time. Again, the word oppressed is repeated in v. 8. The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan and fought against Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim, the major tribes. As if we didn’t understand how bad it was, the author adds, “so that Israel was severely distressed” in v. 9.
But the pattern we have witnessed in earlier chapters is no longer followed. This time when Israel asks for help, God has a few ques-tions for His people in v. 11ff. God is inclined to help, but wonders about the pattern He witnesses. God reminds them that every time they ask for help, He saves them. And every time He saves them, they go right back to idolatry. So, in v. 14 God responds with, “Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.”
This is a change from the pattern or cycle we have followed. It is a signal to the reader that things are about to change. No longer is God seemingly jumping in and rescuing at the first sign of danger. He is weary of being rejected. They never really sustain any sort of repentance or renewal. The pattern is cycling downward.
If the nation of Israel had storage units back then they would put their gods in storage units so after God helped them, they could retrieve the gods and leave God . Israel did not destroy the idols. Maybe Israel put them downstairs or in a closest, but they put them where these gods could be quickly brought out and served. They were not going to finally and completely rid themselves of idols.
Israel promise to return to the true and only God and God “became impatient over the misery of Israel (v. 16). This is self-imposed misery remember. This misery they were warned not to go back to. This misery that is a deadly and reocurring pattern in their lives.
So, the Ammonites prepared to fight, and Israel gathered at Mizpah to talk about finding a leader in the last few verses of this chapter.
The people of Gilead seem to have no idea who will fight for them. But they are already offering that this deliverer will be both the deliverer and the political ruler or head. Chapter 10 sets up the godly, cautious Jephthah
Lord, You are indeed more patient than we can fathom. We may not act the people of Israel during the time of the Judges, but we still are guilty of our sin. And we often cry out to you when we face the consequences of our decisions. We often reject Your ways and Word, choose our own sinful ways, and ask You to help us out of our predicament. Thank you that we do not look for temporary relief in a judge, but we look to our eternal, sinless Savior Who lives to make intercession for us. Keep us from scandalous sin and fill us with the power of Your Holy Spirit. In Christ’s gracious name. Amen.