Growing up, one of my favorite television shows was Let’s Make A Deal hosted by Monte Hall. With the help of his lovely assistant, Carol Merrill, Hall made deals with his contestants in order for them to win more money. In the pilot episode, the grand prize totaled US$2005!
We love making deals. In fact, our love for making deals has transformed garage sales into an art form. Years ago, Donald Trump wrote a book called The Art Of The Deal.
But can we make deals with God?
Please join me in today’s reading and find out.
INSIGHTS AND EXPLANATIONS
Judges 11:1-12:15. The story of Jephthah begins hopeful and ends tragic. The son of a prostitute, Jephthah is kicked out of his family by his siblings but then they beg for him to return because he’s a strong military leader. He agrees to deliver his family from the Ammonites, but in the heat of battle, makes a bargain with God: If God gives him the victory, he will sacrifice whatever comes out of his door to greet him.
Tragically, his daughter greets him, and true to his word, he sacrifices her. Because she was his only child, he forfeited his land to another family after his death. This would have been seen as tragic.
While trying to make heads or tails of this story, The New Bible Commentary added an interesting observation. PLEASE READ:
In context it can be seen as nothing other than a mistaken attempt to bargain with God. Jephthah the master negotiator overplayed his hand and paid a tragic price. The second half of this episode reads like a grim inversion of Genesis 22, the story of another father and another only child. But Jephthah was no Abraham, and in his case there was no voice from heaven, only a punishing silence. We can only conclude that the Lord was as angry with Jephthah’s vow as he was with Israel’s ‘repentance’…It is worth considering how often modern prayers contain elements of bargaining with God. Jephthah’s example makes it clear that God is not to be bargained with in this way.
Later on, Jephthah faces more stress as the men of Ephraim show their jealousy for not being asked to join in battle. My hunch is, they were angry because they had no right to the spoils of battle. The New Bible Commentary also explains “the Ephraimites regarded themselves as the natural leaders of Israel and were not willing to acknowledge as judge anyone outside their own tribe, least of all a Gileadite.”
Notice that God plays a minimal role in Jephthah’s leadership and in the squabbles between the tribes. Earlier in their history, they would have consulted the Urim and Thummim, or at least a prophet.
John 1:1-28. I love the gospel of John. When I studied Greek in seminary, it was the first book we examined because it was written with clarity and simplicity. It’s also the most theological of the four gospels. As we read together, you may notice that John only shares seven miracle stories, each with spiritual significance.
You’ll also notice that the book is quite different from the first three gospels. Legend has it that after the first three gospels were compiled in written form, an angel appeared to Andrew in a dream and told him to tell John to write a fourth gospel in order to cover material that wasn’t covered previously. It might not be true, but it’s an interesting story, nonetheless.
The word “Word” appears 3 times in chapter one. The Bible Background Commentary explains John’s purpose in using it:
The Greek term translated “word” was also used by many philosophers to mean “reason,” the force which structured the universe; Philo combined this image with Jewish conceptions of the “word.” The Old Testament had personified Wisdom (Prov 8), and ancient Judaism eventually identified personified Wisdom, the Word and the Law (the Torah).
By calling Jesus “the Word,” John calls him the embodiment of all God’s revelation in the Scriptures and thus declares that only those who accept Jesus honor the law fully (1:17). Jewish people considered Wisdom/Word divine yet distinct from God the Father, so it was the closest available term John had to describe Jesus.
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THE WORD MADE FRESH
The story of Jephthah is quite disturbing. The son of a prostitute kicked out of his family, his family later begs him to come back in order to lead them in battle against the Ammonites.
But most disturbing is Jephthah’s bargain with God. It seems to me that God saved Israel, not because of Jephthah’s bargain, but because of his mercy. Really, Japhthah placed God in a bind. If he won the battle, Israel would be saved and Jephthah’s daughter would be lost. If he lost the battle, Israel would be destroyed but his daughter’s life would be saved.
In my life as a pastor, I’ve seen countless people bargain with God:
- If I give to the church, I want God to bless my business.
- If I go to church, I want God to get me out of my drunk driving charge.
- If I live a holy life, I expect a life without pain.
Jephthah’s story tells us that God doesn’t bargain. What does our bargaining with God say about God? Probably that we don’t trust him.
But even more so, what does it say about us?
- What spoke to you in today’s reading?
- Have you ever tried to bargain with God? What happened? When we bargain with God, what does this say about us?
- What does John 1 tell you about Jesus?
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Michael co-pastors The Neighborhood Church in Littleton, Colorado