Saturday, July 21, 2018

Judges: Oh, Shibboleth!

I'm supposed to be moving on to Samson soon.  But here's the part of Jephthah's story that gets forgotten by me and others, but it also introduced the term "shibboleth" into out culture.  In our culture, "shibboleth" means, "a custom, principle, or belief distinguishing a particular class or group of people, especially a long-standing one regarded as outmoded or no longer important."

It's not a good thing.  

But anyway, this story goes back to Jacob's family.  Jacob had two wives and two concubines.  Their soap opera is found in Genesis 29-30.  Jacob loved Rachel more than he loved Leah, but Leah was the older one, the first wife, and the one who bore six of his 12 sons and one daughter.  Rachel finally had two sons.   Her first was Joseph.  Jacob loved Joseph the best and adopted his two sons, Ephraim and Manasseh, as his own.  They became tribes in Israel.  Apparently, those two tribes must have had bad blood or something.  Or possibly it was the two Joseph tribes versus Gilead, which was a clan of Manasseh who stayed on the east side of the Jordan river.  Jephthah was from Manasseh and fought to save Israel from the Ammonites.

Ephraim came late and said, "Why didn't you call us to help with the Ammonites?  We're going to burn down your house."  Jeph replied that he did call, they said no, and he won.  Why are they causing this drama now?  So conflict brewed and a battle was fought.  Gilead won.  And then, if ever an Ephraimite tried to cross the river, a guard would tell him, "Say 'Shibboleth'".  Ephraimites could only say, "Sibboleth."  If he said it without the "sh" sound, then the guard would kill him.

Sometimes I wonder about Jephthah.  Did losing his daughter over his foolish vow tip him over the edge?  It seems many men after some personal tragedy usually do something to ruin their reputations forever.  It seems like the incidents that got Bill Cosby in trouble with sexual assault happened after he lost his son to a murder.  It seems that RC Sproul, Jr. kept falling off the wagon with vices after he lost his first wife to cancer.  It shows two things.

1) When people suffer a loss, don't let them be alone.  They are suffering and need Christians around them to remind them of God's promises and his commands.  They need support.  If hurting people go unsupervised for long, their wounds will explode into further trauma.

2) If you suffer a loss, look to the past mistakes of others and never say, "this won't happen to me."  Keep going to church or start going.  Endure the awkward conversations and the dumb things that people say.  And remember, although life is hard and people fail you, God has never made a mistake and will never change.  He has not stopped loving you, and he will keep you until he calls you home.  Believe in him.  Don't be alone, and don't just lay down and die.  Do what Switchfoot says, "I dare you to move.  I dare you to life yourself up off the floor."  

I experienced a really bad job loss in October.  I didn't stop even though I wanted to.  It turns out my life was not over.  I got a job at a restaurant, and in the new year I began running for my sanity and volunteering for a pregnancy center.  I also go involved with Celebrate Recovery and my music skills have improved much.  I still feel very alone as some tragedies have more stigma than others, although that should not be the case.  We all have problems and we all need God's grace and to show God's grace.  But I also need to beware that I have to work harder not to make the same mistakes as before.  I don't know how I'll do it but I must move forward.

And Israel moved forward with three judges before Samson: Ibzan, Elon, and Abdan.  

Tuesday, July 10, 2018

The basement and the God upstairs

Years ago I read some book by Francis Schaeffer.  I can't remember the title but I was fresh out of seminary wondering what to do with my life.  In that book, Schaeffer had described people in this house and God was supposed to be on the roof.  In today's terms, we would see the people in a basement or ground floor and God on the first floor.  It can also be said that we are in some machine and God is outside the machine.

Pre-modern people believed that people could escape the ground floor and go up to the first floor where God is.  Either that or God could come to the ground floor and bring us up.  But they believed in God and could have some kind of access to him.

Modern people believed that God was upstairs but that we couldn't get to him and he wasn't going to try to get to us.  The underlings in the basement had to make a utopia based on that belief.

Post-modern people don't believe in anything outside the basement.  This ground floor is all there is.  Even if there is a staircase or elevator, they've blocked it up and can't get upstairs and God can't get to us. 

I read that book and wrote a song that I hope to upload again someday called "God in the Machine."

Last week I read an article entitled, "When Ground Floor Projects Are Pushed One Floor Up."  It is based on the same house/machine assumption.  Stephen McAlpine is looking at the sexual revolution.  Whether its the ability to have lots of heterosexual sex without restraints, or the LGBT agenda, or abortion rights, or the wish to have children without having sex, it has all become a religion.  And it confirms my beliefs that if there is no God upstairs, then there is nothing else to live for.  We must live for our pleasures and our whims because it is all we have.  And its a poor substitute for the perfect and holy God, so it must get wilder and wilder as we get bored with it.

And it makes me thing of the women at the pregnancy center that I volunteer for and the one I volunteered for in the past.  They all are in sexual relationships outside of marriage and having children but at the same time they think that they are Christians.  They think they can serve both God and the sexual culture.  But we must find a loving way to tell them that they cannot do so.  Either you believe that there's a God outside the machine who you must serve or your go against what he has revealed in Scripture and have unmarital sex which leads to pregnancies, some pregnancies to abortions, and all of it to broken relationships and struggling to make ends meet. 

Is it judgmental for me to say all this?  Maybe.  I know I'm not perfect either and am also struggling to make ends meet.  But the main thing that kept me from having sex before I got married to Tim was my belief in God and that he has commanded to not commit adultery.  In fact, the main thing that kept me from pursuing same-sex relations is my belief in God and that he has made marriage and sex to be between a man and a woman with no room for questions.  And I'm in a healthy relationship now that is not entangled by previous relational baggage.

And I have had many people say, "well, 'adultery' simply means that you can't have sex with someone other than the one you are married to, but if you are both unmarried than you are fine."  But if you are unmarried and having sex and then break up and marry someone else, then you've already cheated on your spouse.

And I've heard just about every argument for people trying to reconcile Christianity with LGBT identity.  "God made me this way."  "That was only a cultural command."  Look, from creation, God made man male and female (binary) and commanded them to get married and have children.  He commanded sex within a male and female marriage and forbid it outside that context.  And he would not forbid you to do something and then make it impossible for you to carry that out.  1 Corinthians 10:13 says he will always provide a way out for you if you are tempted.  I can understand having strong emotions for someone, but that is not a call to be in a romantic relationship with them.  It could just simply be a call to a really good friendship.  People simply do not know how to be friends anymore because they live in a basement, have blocked up the stairs to the first floor, and have found no substitute for God other than this meaningless thing called sex.  And there is no way out of this machine until God breaks in and rescues you.

And he did that by sending Jesus to die for your sins.  There was no way to approach this holy God and live because you would die with your sins.  But God send his Son to die for your sins.  Jesus also lived the only perfect life and credits it to all who will believe in him.  It is only that way you can come upstairs and meet your God. Will you choose today between sexual perversion and serving Jesus?  You can't serve both.

Tuesday, July 3, 2018

Judges: The story of Jephthah

At last I get to the story of Jephthah.  I finished Gideon.  I lightly touched upon Gideon's son Abimelech, but I'm not going to do a blog about him because it's painful for me to read Judges 9.  It's very detailed and rather confusing.  He was not a true judge or king of Israel.  He rose up after Gideon died, killed all his brothers, and tried to rule Israel.  Eventually, they all turned against him and he died. 

Then Israel had peace and worshiped the Lord again.  Tola came from the tribe of Issachar.  Then Jair came from Gilead from the part of the tribe of Manasseh that lived east of the Jordan river outside the promised land.  Jephthah would come from this same clan.

Abimelech was the son of a concubine and was ridiculed by his brothers who were born do Gideon's wives.  Gideon was from Manasseh's tribe, but from the west side of the Jordan.  Jephthah was born to a prostitute and was ridiculed by his brothers through his dad's wife.  They disowned him and he moved out into the wilderness.

But then, Israel began to worship the false gods again, and God send the Ammonites to oppress them.  Jephthah had joined a band of ruffians who wreaked havoc around the country.  He must have done a good job with the thug life.  When the nation of Ammon rose up, his brothers finally found a use for him. 

Jephthah had many flaws, as we will see toward the end of this blog, but he proved to be a godly man.  Much godlier than Abimelech.  He did not seek leadership.  He sought the Lord when he was asked to lead.  And he made his brothers repent of their sins against him before he would say yes.  But he never sought revenge against them.

Despite God's mercy on Jephthah, you can still see that he was influenced by his wayward culture.  Before he went to fight the Ammonites, he made a vow to the Lord that if God would give him a victory, then he would sacrifice the first thing that came from his house as a burnt offering.

The fact that he made a vow in the first place is a problem.  God called him to leadership.  He should have had faith that God would give him the victory without having to make a rash vow.

But here's the bigger problem: the first thing to come out of his doors was his daughter.  His only daughter.  Apparently, when Jeph made his vow, a burnt offering would include a human life.  Not just his dog or a sheep, but his own daughter and only child.  If there had been proper education in Israel, Jeph would know that God abhors human sacrifices and that he drove the pagan nations out of Canaan because they burned their children as sacrifice to their gods.  Why would he do the very thing that broke the camel's back in causing God to say, "It's time," when he drove out the pagans?

Some commentators, including my Old Testament prof from Erskine George Schwab, and one of my favorite bloggers David Murray, conclude that Jeph didn't actually kill his daughter.  They suppose that the story was open ended enough that the girl convinced her dad to not kill her but to let her live as a virgin the rest of her life and serve God in the tabernacle. 

I want to believe that.  I really do.  I love Jephthah and consider him a great guy.  He apparently learned from his father's error and had only one wife.  He tried his best to follow the Lord.  Anything good about him is purely God's grace, which is true for all saved people.  But I somehow think, and Matthew Henry agrees, that Jephthah went through with it and sacrificed his daughter.  Many people were dedicated to the Lord such as Samson and Samuel, but they didn't remain virgins.  Samuel had sons and Samson was a player.  Prophetesses such as Huldah and Deborah were married.  Virginity is not necessarily next to holiness, though it's required if you are unmarried.  Perhaps Jephthette (the Bible doesn't say her actual name) decided to never marry in exchange for her life, leaving Jeph without an heir.  But maybe Jeph actually did kill her.

And one more thing: atheists like to use this story to explain that the God who they don't believe in approves of human sacrifice.  "See, he's a monster after all."  To them, God doesn't exist and he's a monster and they hate him.

But God hates human sacrifice and murder.  He did tell Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, but stopped him at the last minute and provided a lamb as a substitution.  That showed Abraham that a sacrifice would be provided for our sins one day in Jesus.  But God did not stop Jeph for some reason, and his daughter seemed willing to go along with it.  But at this time, people had mostly stopped following the Lord and those who did were terribly compromised.  It also seems quite pagan that the Israelite girls would go off for four days every year to mourn Jephthette as a tradition.  Girls that never knew her. 

But God left the story open ended to perhaps conclude that Jeph did the right thing and spared his little girl.  Or maybe God didn't tell us because he didn't want the Israelites thinking that human sacrifice was alright.