Judges 11:1-8 The son of a prostitute

JUDGES 11:1-8
Jephthah Becomes Israel’s Leader
11 Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant hero. He was the son of a prostitute, and Gilead was his father. 2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You will have no inheritance in our father’s family, because you are the son of another woman.” 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Then some worthless men began to join up with Jephthah and went on raids with him.
Meet Jephthah. His father had a traditional family name: Gilead. We often meet people in the Bible named for a famous ancestor. How many Jospehs, Judahs and Simons (= Simeons) are there in the New Testament? So although Jephthah’s father had a good name, Jephthah did not, since his mother was a prostitute. What’s more, his father’s wife had plenty of sons of her own, and they didn’t like their half-brother very much. 
Some Jewish commentators (Kimchi, Cohen) have said that their tradition is that this woman was Gilead’s concubine, but that’s not what the Hebrew text says. She was a zonah, a prostitute. Her profession was a sin, just as a “wayward wife” committing adultery with another man is a sin. They are equivalent to one another in Proverbs 23:27 (and in 23:28, where they are combined into a single pronoun “she”). This and other passages of Scripture tell us that God’s will is that sex is to be enjoyed within a marriage and not outside that marriage—or even before a marriage takes place. Faithfulness is faithfulness, without the boundaries of time. This is how “the marriage bed is to be kept pure” (Hebrews 13:4). Only death ends that union: “A married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage” (Romans 7:2). Because this was generally understood by the Israelites, there was a stigma against children born outside of marriage, although Jacob treated the sons of the servant girls he slept with (Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher) as sons and heirs on an equal footing with his other eight sons (Genesis 46:16-17, 23-24). 
So Jephthah was mistreated and driven away, and he accepted this mistreatment and took it in stride. He found a place to live in the north of Gilead, a place called Tob (“good”), which is one of several connections between Jephthah’s story and David’s (more about that later). 
The Hebrew for “worthless men” (NIV “adventurers”) is ’anashim reyqim, “men (who are) empty, worthless.” These were renegades, and the verb choice tells us that they joined up with Jephthah as their captain gradually, one or a few at a time.
4 It was some time later when the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5 When the Ammonites made war with Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 They said to Jephthah, “Come, be our leader so that we can fight the Ammonites.”
Well! Things had changed quite a bit since verse 2. Years had gone by, and Jephthah and his band had obtained a reputation as a good fighting unit who had the knack of surviving. Since this is what the Israelites of Gilead wanted, they swallowed their pride and asked him to help. Notice that they didn’t just send him a letter. The elders actually went to Tob to get him. 
7 But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why then have you come to me now when you are in trouble? ” 8 They answered Jephthah, “That is true. But we are turning to you now. Come with us and fight the Ammonites, and you will be the leader of all who live in Gilead.”
At least some of these elders were Jephthah’s half-brothers. There is no other way to correctly account for his question, “Didn’t you drive me out of my father’s house?” The reply they gave was the adverb laken, “thus, that being so,” which I have translated, “That is true… but.” This fits the Hebrew use of the adverb and its preposition, and its use in other passages like Genesis 4:15, which says literally “That being so, everyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times” (most translations make this a little more idiomatic in English). 
The offer is now increased: If Jephthah will lead them against the Ammonites (and win, of course), he can be ruler of all Gilead during the battle and also after the battle. This is effectively where Jephthah is offered a crown. “You will be the rosh (head) of all who live in Gilead.” 
To their credit, the Gileadites didn’t deny what they had done in the past. To their discredit, they didn’t apologize, either. They just acknowledged that they had done one thing, and now they were doing something else. This isn’t the kind of repentance God wants from us. If we confess a sin, he wants us to ask forgiveness, and then he wants us to turn away from it, now and in the future. We can do this only with the help of the Holy Spirit. He enables us to say, “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin” (Psalm 38:18). Paul said to the Ephesians, “Turn to God in repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). This faith isn’t just faith that God might be merciful and let us off the hook, but faith that Christ took our sins to the cross—all of them—and suffered the penalty for sin in our place. More than a century ago, our WELS dogmatician Adolf Hoenecke gave this definition for repentance: 
Repentance means that through God’s converting grace man recognizes his sins and regrets them and through faith grasps the merit of Christ to attain justification and eternal life. (Ev. Lutheran Dogmatics, Volume III p. 287).
May God ever lead you to a stronger faith in your Savior Jesus, through whom you have forgiveness and a place with him forever in heaven.
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

God’s Word for You - Judges 10:17-18 We need a leader!


JUDGES 10:17-18
17 After the Ammonites assembled and camped in Gilead, the Israelites were assembled and camped at Mizpah. 18 The rulers of Gilead said to each another, “Which man will begin the fight against the Ammonites? He will be the leader of all who live in Gilead.”
Battle lines formed. First the Ammonites appeared in force in Gilead, the highlands to the east of the Jordan. Next, the Israelites gathered together at a place called Mizpah. We don’t know which “Mizpah” (“watchtower”) this was—probably not the city north of Jerusalem (2 Chron. 16:6). This seems to have been a place in Gilead itself, north of the Jabbok (see verse 29 below). So the people of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh (all from across the Jordan on the east side) were in danger, and prepared to face that danger together. 
Each tribe had its leaders, but there was no one to take over the whole combined force. It is well worth our attention that the words of the Israelites here show that the people were really at a loss. They were all but begging for a leader. They offered to make whoever would take on the responsibility into the leader “of all who live in Gilead.” This was once again something approaching a kingship. They weren’t just looking for a commanding general, but a monarch like the kings that the Ammonites and Philistines all had. Gideon had been offered the kingship over Manasseh, and Abimelech had tried to claim kingship over a couple of villages, but this was different. This was more. This would have been a kingship over all of Israel on the east bank; a Transjordan King.
Sometimes looking for a leader is more of an “I don’t want to do it” attitude than a “who would be best for it?” attitude. Each of us needs to realize that the Lord might just be training me for a certain task or role in his kingdom. What are my gifts? My skills? My strengths? There’s not much point in dwelling on your weaknesses. What God is going to cultivate are the things you’re good at. What you and I need to do is ask, how can I best serve my Savior? Maybe I’ve been avoiding a committee or a choir for too long. Maybe it’s time to roll up my sleeves. Without a doubt, the time to serve your Savior is today.
Would asking for a king have been a wise idea? God had warned his people about asking for a king, but what kind of leader he would be remained to be seen. My estimate is that the year of this Ammonite crisis was about 1086 BC. Within ten years, a boy would be born in Benjamin, who would answer all of the questions that Israel had been chewing over regarding a king. Would he be faithful to the Lord? How would he treat the Lord’s priests and prophets? How would he react if the Lord raised up a worthy successor? Would he make Israel sure that by asking for a king, they had made the right choice? That boy would grow into a remarkably tall, natural leader, the head of a large family. He would prove himself in battle. He would be famous—but would he be a good king? His name was Saul.
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 10:11-16 Can the changeless God change?

JUDGES 10:11-16
11 The LORD said to the Israelites, “When the Egyptians, Amorites, Ammonites, Philistines, 12 Sidonians, Amalekites, and Maonites  oppressed you, and you cried out to me, did I not deliver you from their hands? 13 But you have forsaken me and worshiped other gods. So I will not deliver you again. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them deliver you when you are oppressed.”
Earlier in the chapter we were told that the Israelites bowed down to the gods of five foreign nations and to two false gods especially, Baal and Ashtoreth (10:6). Here the Lord lists seven nations, perhaps balancing the list of seven (only the Ammonites and Philistines appear in both lists, the two nations that were now troubling Israel).
Maon was a small kingdom, perhaps we would say “earldom,” consisting of one guard tower for protection of the surrounding fields and a village (or perhaps more than one). It was located in the hill country of Judah. Maon is best known as the home of Nabal, the bitter farmer who refused to help David and whose widow Abigail later married David before he became king (1 Sam 25:2). Although some Greek manuscripts propose “Midian” for this place (see footnote), I think that Maon is probably correct. They were just one more group of Canaanites who gave Israel problems. 
God is hard with Israel here because he needed them to repent and not just ask for help. God is not just one more deity in the pantheon of possible helpers in the sky, so that if the LORD doesn’t help, maybe Baal will, or Dagon, or Thoth, or somebody else. God is the only god, the only one who will hear our prayers, and he is jealous of our worship. 
Hearing that God is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5) startles some people, but let me illustrate what that means. Last night, my wife made ice cream cones for two of our sons. How would she have felt if they had run out into the street to thank Mrs. Wiechman or Mrs. Markgraf or Mrs. Otterstatter, some of the other neighborhood moms, for what their own mother had done? Shouldn’t she want them to give her, their mom, a thank you for the ice cream cones, and not to go thanking someone else for something she did? And the difference is that those other moms are all real people, wonderful mothers, and they’re even members of our church. The false gods that the LORD warns us about are myths. They are imaginary. When God gives us gifts, he doesn’t want us to say prayers of thanks to imaginary, unreal gods who are masks for demons (Deut. 32:17). He is jealous of our worship because it doesn’t belong to anyone else except him.
He wanted Israel to learn that.
15 But the Israelites said to the LORD, “We have sinned. Do whatever you think best with us, only please rescue us today! ” 
Here was some repentance. Israel is often accused of never really repenting during the time of the judges, but that isn’t fair. We can’t judge the whole nation by saying that if one generation came to faith and the next one fell away, that nobody had faith. That’s judging by the whole group, and “any man who judges by the group is a peawit.”  This is a problem in our nation’s political scene today, because we who don’t want to be represented by a few extremes only have a couple of extremes from which to choose. Forcing us to join one side or the other at election time stirs up bitterness and anger—not only at the other side, but the pitiful, faulty side to whom we ended up tossing our votes in exasperation. We must not judge one another for these difficult choices. In politics, if some voter has a different opinion from me, that doesn’t necessarily mean that I or they are evil men. We might be brothers. We might even be married. But we don’t judge one another because of a group.
In the same way, we must not judge one another because of the way that we show our repentance for sin. Two men might commit identical sins, repent on the same day, and yet show their repentance in very different ways; and both of them can be accepted by God. It isn’t for us to grumble like the brother in the parable of the Prodigal Son, but it is for us to rejoice with the angels at the repentance of each returning sinner (Luke 15:7).
16 So they got rid of the foreign gods among them and worshiped the LORD, and he could not bear Israel’s misery.
The repentance of Israel at this time included getting rid of their foreign gods and returning to the right worship of God. Seeing this, hearing their prayers and smelling their sacrifices, God “could not bear” their misery. This is an interesting and difficult phrase. The verb qatsar (קצר) means either to cut short (harvest, Ruth 2:9; Psalm 102:23) or to be short (Prov. 10:27). Here it means that the Lord became short (impatient?) with Israel’s misery. It’s not the way we speak in English. Being short with someone in English is a negative term, but in Hebrew, it’s an expression that comes closer to our way of saying that we “drop” a thing (a subject, an argument or a grudge) as a sign of a change of mind. 
God saw their repentance and appears to have changed his mind about them. Can the changeless, immutable God change? He does not change, and his plans to do not change. “The plans of the LORD stand firm forever” (Psalm 33:11; Prov. 19:31). Moses said: “God is not a man, that he should lie, not a son of man, that he should change his mind” (Numbers 23:19). But here God used his word to bring about a change in Israel. His firmness brought about their repentance. His attitude toward their sin remained the same, but because they repented, he was able to treat them according to his loving compassion, which was his will all along. Not only does God promise this for us, but he demonstrates it in his attitude toward our own sins.  
If it were not possible for the Father to change his verdict about the punishment of sinners, then Jesus’ sacrifice would count for nothing, Jesus would never intercede for us, and all mankind would be condemned for eternity for our sins. But Jesus Christ does intercede for mankind. He prayed for unbelievers when he was nailed to the cross (Father, forgive them, Luke 24:34), and he prays for believers even now in heaven: “Jesus Christ, who died—more than that, who was raised to life—is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us” (Romans 8:34). When the Father hears and grants the Son’s prayer for unbelievers, he sends the gospel to them to convert their unbelieving hearts and offer forgiveness (some reject him, but it does not lessen the power of the gospel). When the Father hears and grants the Son’s prayer for believers, he sends the very same gospel to strengthen our faith, deepen our understanding of the Scriptures, and to firm up our faith in Christ. 
Thank God for the gospel of your forgiveness. Intercede on behalf of the people in your life, believers and unbelievers alike, and when the time comes for you to share the gospel, let the word of God do the work. 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Ruth 2:17-19 The man who noticed her was…

RUTH 2:17-19
In the Hebrew language, there is often a climax at the end of a sentence to stress an important point. When we translate Hebrew into English, some of these emphatic points are missed, but not always. One good example is in the story of Jonah. When Jonah was aboard the ship and the sailors cast lots to see who was responsible for the terrible storm, the lots are cast and we find out in the very last word of the sentence that the lot fell on… Jonah (Jonah 1:7). Here in Ruth chapter 2 there is another example. As Ruth tells her mother-in-law about her day and describes the one “at whose place she had been working,” the writer of the account leaves the name of the man until the very end of the verse so that we will notice the man’s name and remember him. We will come across this emphasis again in the last verse of the book.
When God chose Hebrew to be the language of the Old Testament, that choice was magnificent. For one thing, Hebrew poetry uses little or no rhyme except in parts of Isaiah and not much meter. The emphasis is on parallelism, or saying something two different ways (as I have just done in this sentence). This means that the content of the Old Testament can be faithfully translated into virtually any language without loosing vital factors such as rhyme. Sometimes some wordplay, puns and so forth, must be explained in a footnote, but not nearly so much as when Shakespeare is translated out of English into another language. Remember to thank God today for using the beautiful Hebrew language to give us his word in the Old Testament; his word which endures, today and always.
17 She gathered fallen grain in the field until evening. Then she threshed what she had gathered, about two-thirds of a bushel  of barley. 18 She carried it back to the village; and her mother-in-law saw what she had gathered. Ruth also brought out what was left over after she had eaten all she wanted. 
Ruth’s harvest was quite a lot more than expected. She came home with an ephah of threshed grain—picture a five-gallon pail with some room left at the top. It was full enough to have been a pretty heavy load for her to carry home to the place where she and Naomi were staying. 
We can safely say that Boaz’ servants had done everything he had asked them to, letting her glean wherever she wanted, leaving her alone when she made a mistake, and even pulling out some of their harvest for her to take. The result was she had enough, more than enough, for her and Naomi to live on for a long time. They might even have been able to sell some of it. Besides her harvest, Ruth even had leftovers from her midday meal!
19 Her mother-in-law said to her, “Where have you gathered fallen grain today? Where did you work? May the man who noticed you be blessed!” Ruth told her mother-in-law the man in whose field she had worked, and she said, “The name of the man I worked with today is Boaz.”
Naomi asked two questions, but since they are virtually the same question (the same answer would be given for both), we can see that they are a form of emphasis. Naomi didn’t want the questions to go unanswered. It was important to know how this had happened, because it meant that someone had noticed Ruth. Someone was looking out for her.
Ruth’s answer reveals the story for her mother-in-law. She had worked in a field—she immediately sets aside any suspicion that she might have gotten this grain some other way. In fact, she had worked with the man—the very man—who owned that field. Therefore Ruth’s bounty was given freely by the man who could lawfully give it (it wasn’t stolen for her). And what is more, the name of the man she worked with today was… Boaz.
The drama is simple, but we want to hear every syllable. This is a romance and a story of grace and salvation. Ruth is reaching out like a drowning victim, and there is the hand of the man she will marry, reaching back for her! The story of our own salvation also holds our attention, and we do well to hang on to every syllable. We were lost in our sins, drowning in the shame of our guilt, and a hand reached down to rescue us just when we were closing our eyes in death. The hand belongs to our Savior, our Lord, who wants us to join him in his heavenly mansions for all eternity. Eternal life is his to give; the blessings he offers come from the King of kings and the Lord of lords. Don’t hurry through the story of your salvation or shrug it off as unimportant. It’s how you were saved! Cherish it. It’s the word of truth, “the gospel of your salvation” (Ephesians 1:13). It’s the story of “our great God and Savior, Jesus Christ, who gave himself for us to redeem us from all wickedness and to purify us for himself” (Titus 2:13-14). 
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota

Judges 10:6-10 And they sinned again

JUDGES 10:6-10
Israel’s Rebellion and Repentance
6 After this, the Israelites again did what was evil in the eyes of the LORD. They worshiped the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Aram, Sidon, and Moab, and the gods of the Ammonites and the Philistines. They forsook the LORD and did not worship him. 7 So his anger burned against Israel, and he sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites. 
We could list all of the deities of Aram to the north, Sidon to the northeast, Moab and Ammon to the east across the river, and Philistia southwest and due west. But it’s more important to see how the author’s hand sweeps around the compass to show us that Israel was surrounded by pagans. God had warned them not to fall into this trap of idolatry, but his people showed again and again that they were willing to try anything except for the truth. So God sold them once again into the hands of an enemy. We hear the other side of this story once or twice in the Bible, such as when God offered the kingdom to Solomon’s architect, Jeroboam, if he would only be a faithful king and be true to the Lord (1 Kings 11:29-39). But Jeroboam turned immediately away from the Lord and fell into his own brand of idolatry (mentioned over and over again as “the sins of Jeroboam” or “the ways of Jeroboam”). We don’t know how the Lord “sold” Israel to Ammon and Philistia, but he certainly gave them victories over his people.
Philistia had not given Israel much trouble since the time of Shamgar. Now the Lord used them and the Ammonites to bring his people to repentance. For the people of the west, east and south, from Galilee to Beer Sheba, there was terror on every side.
8 They shattered and crushed the Israelites that year, and for eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites who were on the other side of the Jordan in the land of the Amorites in Gilead. 
That year—about 1104 BC—the Philistines and Ammonites attacked from both sides and devastated Israel. Although not mentioned in the Bible, there was a lunar eclipse during 1104 BC that would have darkened the night sky over Israel on October 16th. Perhaps the Lord used it as a special sign for the attackers since it occurred during the first full moon of their year (Rosh Hashanah, the Hebrew New Year, was on October 2nd in 1104).
After that year of constant war, the attackers dominated Israel exacting tribute from them and probably subjecting them to additional bullying for seventeen more years—enough time for a boy in Gilead on the border of Ammon to grow into full manhood knowing nothing but war and hatred for the Ammonites.
This verse is marked in the margin of our Hebrew Bibles as the center of the book of Judges.  This seemingly inconsequential detail tells us that the scribes who copied the book word by word and verse by verse took great care to be sure that their work was correct; that they had not accidentally omitted anything. 
9 The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin, and the house of Ephraim. Israel was is great distress, 10 so they cried out to the LORD, “We have sinned against you. We have abandoned our God and we have worshiped the Baals.”
Once again we see the hand of God using Israel’s neighbors to bring his people to repentance. They returned to the Lord in prayer during this generation. Some of them certainly returned to the Lord with their sacrifices, remembering to take the lambs for the morning and evening sacrifices, along with the grain, the oil, the salt, the wine and the other things. Eli the new high priest whose ministry started about the same time has the Ammonite oppression, tended the lamps in the tabernacle faithfully (1 Samuel 3:3). Did the other priests bring out the scrolls to read the Law of Moses? Did parents sit their children down to teach them the Ten Commandments? Did travelers pause at the ford at Gilgal to see Joshua’s twelve stones to remember that the whole nation of Israel had crossed the river on dry ground? 
It is easy to become unfaithful to the Lord. All it takes is the first weekend back to the college to get out of the habit of going to worship. Christian families look to their fathers for leadership and for help in remaining faithful to the Lord. All it takes from some young people away at school is for one strong-willed friend to say, “Let’s all go to church together.” Pray that God would give you strength to persevere and to be faithful. Pray that God would help you to love David’s words: “I rejoiced with those who said to me, ‘Let us go to the house of the LORD’” (Psalm 122:2). Consider helping in some way at your church, whether you are at home or away at school at this time in your life: “Praise the LORD, all you servants of the LORD who minister by night in the house of the LORD” (Psalm 134:1). If volunteering to help will help keep you faithful, that’s nothing to be ashamed of or embarrassed about. Join the choir (even if your voice is not perfect). Usher. Teach Sunday school. Help set up for communion. Join a clean-up committee, or make the coffee for Bible hour. Christian instruction and godly wisdom “is more precious than rubies” (Prov. 8:10). God’s holy word “is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold” (Psalm 119:72). If something as silly as pride or self-esteem is keeping you away, throw it out with the banana peels and the old tissues and put your feet back inside the house of the Lord. His gospel will do all of the work.
Remember, the Ammonites and other resources that the Lord has to call you to repentance don’t only live across the Jordan three thousand years ago. Some of them are in your phone, on your web browser, and in the next commercial you’ll watch. Don’t let them be temptations. Let them be calls to turn back to your Savior.
In Christ,
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota


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