Religion, Rebellion, and the Gospel of Christ: Judges 9-12

Judges 9-12 is one of the harder passages in the Bible to preach.  In fact the events surrounding Jephthah’s life in Judges 11-12 are some of the hardest texts to interpret in the Bible, let alone draw helpful application for the people of God.  It was my privilege to work and wrestle through this text for my sermon in our preaching series at Risen Life Church entitled, “When God Reigned in Israel.”  I encourage you to take a few moments and listen to the sermon below, but here is a quick summary.

Bon Boullogne - Jephtha's Daughter - WGA02936
In the book of Judges we get a picture of 12 judges: 6 major, 6 minor, and 1 guy who wants to be king.  Judges 9-12 presents 7 of these 12 judges.  There is Tola, Jair, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon who are minor characters riding out on donkeys like the cowboys of Tombstone that get one or two sentences in the Bible.  Then we also have Abimelech who wants to be King and Jephthah who is considered a righteous judge despite some major flaws.

The main point of the book of Judges is really the main point of every story that is included in the book.  Through the cycle of sin that Israel and its judges demonstrate God makes our own cycles of sin plain.  God’s desire for His people has always been and still is that they would find life through the grace of the good shepherd, the perfect ruling king, the righteous judge, Christ.  The question is will we submit to Him as Lord?

Instead of submitting to Christ as Lord and experiencing His grace and righteous reign we usually forgo His grace by outright rebellion, rejecting God’s rule in our life, or by striving to prove our righteousness to God through religion.  In each case we totally miss the Gospel.  This is exactly what we see in Judges 9-12.  Abimelech gives us a picture of missing the Gospel through rebellion in Judges 9 and Jephthah gives us a picture of missing the Gospel through religion in Judges 11-12.  Right in between these two stories in Judges 10 we get a review of Israel’s heart before the Lord and it is here we see the Gospel.

Abimelech rejects God as King and tries to set himself up as the King of Israel.  His sinful desires drives him to have his mom spread gossip around about how awesome he is and then he kills 70 of his brothers to put his plan to be king in affect.  Jotham his brother reminds him and the people of Shechem through a parable about trees that Abimelech as king is a bad idea.  At the end of Jotham’s parable he pronounces curses upon the people and Abimelech, which come true.  We see in Abimelech that when we set aside God’s rule in our life it will always end in destruction for our self and the people around us.  Abimelech teaches us that as Christians we must submit every part of our life to Jesus as Lord.  How are you doing with that?

Jephthah gives us a picture of how we miss the Gospel through religion.  Jephthah is considered in Hebrews 11:32-32 to be a righteous faithful judge.  This is because of his belief in God’s faithfulness to fulfill his promises to the people of Israel to protect the land He has given them.  Jephthah’s faith in God is what propels him to fight the Ammonites trusting God to bring about the victory.  Jephthah’s major sin is that he makes a rash vow on his way to war to further procure the favor of the Lord in battle and to prove himself worthy.  Jephthah is considered a half-breed by his brothers and much of Israel.  He is the son of a prostitute and it seems that he as a grudge on his shoulder because of his humble beginnings.  Jephthah wants to prove himself as a leader before God and man.

To this effect, in Judges 11:30-31 Jephthah vows to sacrifice whatever comes out of the doors of his house as a burnt offering to the Lord if God will ensure his victory.  To Jephthah’s surprise, his only daughter comes out of his house after winning the battle against the Ammonites.  To the reader’s surprise, Jephthah fulfills his vow in Judges 11:39 and sacrifices his daughter.  The Bible is silent on this sacrifice and offers no commentary on Jephthah’s actions and we often wonder why not.  I think the answer is that Jephthah sacrifice should stand out as so heinous, that no commentary is needed.  Jephthah’s actions are obviously contrary to what God has called His people to do.  In fact, God has specifically banned his people in the Law from any sort of human sacrifice.  What we learn from Jephthah’s sacrifice is that if we want to receive God’s grace it requires nothing on our part but a confession of Him as Lord and a repentant heart.  Religion tells us we must earn God’s favor, but this is not the Gospel.  Again the question is will you submit to Christ as Lord and repent of your sins?  The Gospel says you never have to prove yourself to God or procure his favor, Jesus proved it all!

In Judges 10 we get an amazing picture of the Gospel.  Here we see God turn Israel over to their selfish desires and the gods of their own liking, and yet they cry out to God in true repentance.  When Israel repents God fights for them.  This is exactly what God promised in Deut 30:1-3.  The amazing part of the Gospel is that God says He will cause His people to repent and follow his Law (Deut 30:6) through His Spirit!  This is why we as Christians should always be experiencing a positive spiral in our cycles of sin.  Where Israel and the judges were trending down, we trend up.  In fact, God’s Spirit is the only reason any of the judges were faithful.  With the advent of Christ, all of God’s people receive the Spirit of God, a new heart, and the ability to actually follow the Lord by His grace!  Praise God! 

For us as Christians to break the cycle of sin in our lives, whether our sin is rebellion like Abimelech or religion like Jephthah, this can only be done by the Holy Spirit working in our hearts once we accept the grace of God that comes through Christ.   God’s desire for His people has always been and still is that they would find life through the grace of the good shepherd, the perfect ruling king, the righteous judge, Christ.  The question is will you submit to Him, confess Him as Lord, and repent?  It is only then that we will experience the grace of God in Christ.


*The image above was used in accordance with the licensing agreements of WikiCommons and in no way reflects the views of the artist that produced the image.
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