Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Say what ?!?

"Those who bring thanksgiving as their sacrifice honor me..."
(Psalm 50:23)
One of the most bizarre stories in all of the Bible occurs in Judges 11. Jephthah was shunned by his half-brothers because his mother was a prostitute. But because he was a strong warrior, while living in the wilderness, many "outlaws" gathered around & went with him on raids. One day his kinfolk sought him out and begged him to come back and lead them in battle against the Ammorites. He agreed. When "diplomatic negotiations" failed (v. 12-28), he prepared for battle.
In verse 29, the author states "the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah." As he was traveling to fight with his men, he decides to make a vow to God (v.30-31) - namely, that if God grants him success in battle, he's sacrifice to God whatever comes out of his house to greet him when he returns home. He was successful. But disaster struck when he got home. His daughter came out of the house to meet him first. Now, commentators say that ancient near eastern homes often had courtyards in them for their domesticated animals... so presumably, Jephthah expected one of THEM to greet him, not his daughter.

Why did this story make it into the Bible (especially considering the tragic ending of his daughter's willing sacrificial death)? I'm not sure. God never consented to human sacrifices in the OT. Never. He condemned the people of Israel for even thinking about following the child-sacrifice customs of their surrounding neighbors. What about Abraham & Isaac, you ask? Well, Abraham was halted from harming his son, and the author remarks that it was merely a question of Abe's faith at the time.

Maybe this is a caution against us trying to use/manipulate God. Think about it... the Spirit of the LORD was already with Jephthah. He didn't need to make that vow! But evidently, he wanted a greater assurance, so he tried bargaining with God. God doesn't want our bargains... He wants our thanksgiving (Psalm 50:23). We're so used to having to convince, cajole & talk people into doing stuff for us... .we've mistakenly assumed that God works the same way. WRONG!

So the next time I'm tempted to try and "get God on my side" for something... maybe I should stop and think for a moment first. Do I really need that? Or should I instead give thanks for all that God has already done for me (and leave whatever's going to happen to happen)?


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