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Letting Go, and Letting God

Sermon passage: (Judges 10:17-11:11, Judges 12:1-7) Spoken on: May 11, 2009
More sermons from this speaker 更多该讲员的讲道: Pastor Wilson Tan
For more of this sermon series 更多关于此讲道系列: Judges

Tags: Judges

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About Pastor Wilson Tan: Pastor Tan served as a youth executive at the Presbyterian Synod, and as a pastor in Jubilee Church. He continues to serve in church as a cell leader in zone ministry.

Sermon on Judges 10:17-11:11; 12:1-7

Some of us may have heard of this old idiom, a “chip on one’s shoulder”. This English idiom originated during the 19th century in the United States, where people wanting a physical fight would carry a chip of wood on their shoulder, daring others to knock it off. Carrying a chip on one's shoulder was a form of challenge in the same spirit as a medieval knight throwing down his gauntlet. If an opponent picked up the glove, or knocked the chip of wood off their shoulder, the challenge was accepted and the fight was on. Wolverine is the perfect example of someone with a chip on his shoulders! He is always ready to take someone one: All right, you freaks -- just hold it! If you really want to tangle with someone -- why not try your luck against -- the Wolverine!

But over time, such a meaning has also somewhat, changed. In Britain and Ireland, it also has a meaning of somebody who has a self-righteous feeling of oppression or inferiority which they never miss an opportunity to flaunt. (This feeling is sometimes called 'chippiness' or 'being chippy'.) The implication of looking for a fight is less strong. It more implies trying to gain the upper hand through second-hand moral superiority. And there’s even a joke about the well-balanced Irishman having a chip on both his shoulders! This is someone who has an endless supply of current and, more often historical, socio-political injustices to complain about. Just like the man in our story today. Jephthah the Gileadite was indeed a man with a huge chip on his shoulder. Some may call him an opportunist with a huge emotional baggage!

1. Who is Jephthah?
At the beginning of chap. 11, the author starts off by telling us that Jephthah was a mighty warrior. His military leadership was what made him stand out above the rest in Israel. He came from the tribe of Manasseh. It follows to tell us that his father is Gilead, who shares the same name as the region. It is possible that Gilead is of a rich and noble descent. Jephthah’s birth was no fault of his own. He was Gilead’s illegitimate son and his mother was a prostitute, whose name is not mentioned. The passage does not tell us if Gilead had more one wife, but we can only assume so from reading of v.2.

We also do not know exactly when Jephthah was taken away from his mother, but he was eventually brought into Gilead’s family and raised together with his half-brothers. And when they were grown up, they drove him away. However, the reason for his expulsion was not the shame of being a bastard child, but the division of their father’s inheritance. We can only assume that this took place after Gilead had passed away, as this was customary of their culture then.

Technically, what the half-brothers did to Jephthah was wrong. Even though he was the son of another woman, he is still entitled to his inheritance as one of Gilead’s male heirs. But for reason of greed, fewer hands in the pot would allow more inheritance for each legitimate brother. And so, Jephthah was rejected as an outcast, driven away by his half-brothers and was left on his own for survival. This was to be the chip on his shoulders for the rest of his life: his emotional baggage of rejection and injustice. With neither a penny to his name nor a roof above his head, this may have driven him to become a mighty warrior eventually.

Since then, he went on to live in Tob, a desolate region which is probably 15 miles east of Gilead. Here is where he made his name known as a mighty warrior, with a group of adventurers who gathered around him and followed him. The NIV rendering of these “adventurers” has been too kind. The original Hebrew word would refer to these men as “good for nothing”, or “useless bums”. They were a band of bandits and Jephthah was their leader. They probably made several successful attacks on the Ammonites, and soon Jephthah’s reputation travelled afar to the ears of the elders of Gilead who came knocking on his door.

2. Jephthah’s bargain vs. God’s silence
The next few verses recount Jephthah’s bargain with the elders. Before meeting him, in Judges 10.17-18, the leaders of Gilead said to each other that “whoever will launch the attack against the Ammonites will be the head of all those living in Gilead.” The Hebrew word for head is ros which means president, or the highest honor of leadership given to man. But when they met, what was first offered to him was merely the position of a military commander, which in Hebrew is a different word, qasin. They held back from offering him the highest leadership role.

Remembering his expulsion from his hometown, he knew that this was a rare opportunity presented before him, a chance to get back at them. Jephthah asked them a sarcastic question in Judges 11.7, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?” Not to be outwitted by Jephthah, the elders’ response was not too bad either, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.” To paraphrase, “what you say is true, but that’s not as important as us here seeking your help now.” They laid down their final trump card and offered him to be their head, and to lead them to fight against the Ammonites. Only then did Jephthah accept their request. In the end, he was both their head and commander and Jephthah served as a judge of Israel for a period of six years.

Interestingly, Jephthah’s bargain with the elders parallels the conversation between God and Israel in Judges 10:
i. The Ammonite oppression (10:7-9) - The Ammonite oppression (11:4)
ii. Israel appeals to Yahweh (10:10) - Gilead appeals to Jephthah (11:5-6)
iii. Yahweh retorts sarcastically (10:11-14) - Jephthah retorts sarcastically (11:7)
iv. Israel repeats the appeal (10:15-16a) - Gilead repeats the appeal (11:8)
v. Yahweh refuses to be used (10:16b) - Jephthah seizes the moment opportunistically (11:9-11)

Both events begin with the Ammonite oppression, but their difference is in their final response. While Yahweh refuses to be used no longer by Israel, in Pastor Siow Hwee’s words, it was “the day God gave up”; on the other hand, Jephthah seizes the moment opportunistically to be used by them as their leader. Frankly, to have God give up on anyone seems a little harsh, as if God is at His wit’s end and does not know how to deal with them any longer. Does God also give up anyone? If He did, He would not have sent His Son to die on the cross for our sake. But if God never gives up on us, why does He seem so silent in Jephthah’s story? When the Ammonites camped in their hometown, Gilead, the Israelites were forced to retreat and camped at Mizpah instead. Where is God in the midst of all these? Why does He seem so silent?

While some translations use God’s impatience or misery to describe God’s emotions, I would personally prefer to call it “When God seems silent”. In fact, I was very tempted to name my sermon today as such but chose another instead. God intentionally remained silent in regards to the affairs of Israel. From not directly raising a judge like how he chose Gideon or Barak, to being the silent witness during Jephthah’s inauguration ceremony, God kept his distance from Israel during this period of apparent silence. But even though God seems silent, He is still largely at work behind the scenes.

Even though God seems silent, the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah. Only four judges share this honor: 1) Othniel (3:10), 2) Gideon (6:34), 3) Jephthah (11:39), and 4) Samson (13:25, 14:6, 14:19, and 15:14). Yahweh ceases to be a passive witness and becomes actively involved in Jephthah’s life. Many times, Jephthah acknowledges that it was God who gave him victory. That’s was his faith. He knows very well that God is in charge even though He does not say much!

3. The significance of Jephthah’s story: the ills of emotional baggages
But what is the significance of his story? Isn’t he just another unlikely hero used by God to save Israel as judge? What can we learn from the story of Jephthah? In Heb. 11:32, his name was listed as one of Israel’s heroes of faith, alongside Gideon, Barak, Samson, David and Samuel. A mighty warrior he is, a hero of faith he may be, but he is not a man of wisdom. As a father, he is plain rash and stupid. In his later story, he made an unnecessarily rash vow that led to the sacrifice of his only child (see Jephthah's Rash Vow, Jud. 11:30-31). I’ll leave it to Pastor Yook Cing to tell you more about this.

Jephthah was deeply hurt by the rejection of his half brothers and even though the elders of Gilead were not responsible for his expulsion, he somehow pinned the charge on them too. This was his emotional baggage. He seized the opportunity to regain his status as a full Gileadite and to be their head and commander through his bargain with the elders. Jephthah was a man who knew his history well, maybe too well.

A later incident involving the Ephraimites again showed the ill effects of emotional baggages. The men of Ephraim were brothers to the Israelites. It was recorded in Judges 1:29 that Ephraim did not drive out the Canaanites who lived in Gezer, so the Canaanites lived in Gezer among them. Deborah the prophetess came from the hill country of Ephraim (Judg. 4:5). Jephthah may have remembered that the Ephraimites similarly also accused Gideon of not calling them for help to fight against the Midianites (Judg. 8:1). Fortunately for them, Gideon was able to pacify them, but not Jephthah. You may refer to Judges 12.1-7 for more details.

When they confronted Jephthah as to why he fought the Ammonites without their help, they threatened to burn his house down. His bitterness was revealed when he replied that when he and his people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, he called for their help but they did not come to his rescue. Jephthah declared that it was the Lord who gave him victory. They had no part in the victory. Not only did they not respond to Jephthah’s call for help, they turned the table around, accused and threatened to burn his house down instead. For this, Jephthah called together his men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim and killed them. Forty-two thousands of them were killed at that time. What was that about? All because of their emotional baggage? In this case, their pride. The Ephraimites were upset because they did not share in Jephthah’s victory. Violence begets violence.

What about Jephthah? What was his chip with the Ephraimites? Although his military feats confirmed him as “commander” and “head” over the Transjordanian highlands, but not all in Israel accepted his leadership. He was rejected by his half-brothers when he was young. He was driven out from his hometown, Gilead. He found his identity as leader of a group of misfits. He found success against Ammonites. But yet again, he was rejected by his own people, the Ephraimites. His fear of rejection drove him to kill forty two thousands of his own brothers! Jephthah’s origin may not be as complicated as Wolverine’s but his rage to kill is definitely on par with him!

4. Conclusion: The modern Jephthahs…letting go, and letting God
We may not fully understand Jephthah’s anger or fear of rejection, but surely, many of us can identify with the concept of emotional baggages. Some events or relationships in the past may still be haunting us today. Many of us carry within us these emotional baggages throughout our lives (e.g. broken families, past relationships, sibling rivalry, insecurities, rejection, hurt, betrayal, disappointment, deceit, abuse and violence, failures, etc.). Sometimes these emotional baggages take a serious toll on our lives. Emotional baggages often weigh us down, preventing us from truly doing God’s will in our lives. Over time, they become our stronghold and our Achilles’ heel, and sometimes causing our downfall.

We lose our trust in people. We lose our faith in God. We used to say that the cup is half full, now we say it is half empty. We complain more than we give thanks. We compare our weakest attributes with the strongest of our neighbor. We are never satisfied. We fight for not what it is worth, but for revenge. When we win, we win small; but when we lose, we lose more than we can bear. We blame our parents and our past for who we are today. We take no responsibilities for our actions. It is always the other person’s fault. He started it. He pissed me off! I can go on, but I think you get the picture.

How many chips are you carrying on your shoulders today? And if you are Irish, how many chips are on both your shoulders? In conclusion, I leave with you one final thought, in just one phrase, “Letting go, and letting God.” “Come to me all of you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light (Matthew 11:28-30). Christ offers you eternal peace and He will give you rest. Just come to Him. Take his yoke and his burden for it is easy and light.

If there is anything that is preventing you from truly finding rest in our Lord, I pray that we will learn to let go of our baggages and let God take care of our needs. Even when it seems that God is silent in our lives, let us learn to trust in Him for He is faithful and always working behind the scenes. We can pray for the Spirit of the Lord to be upon us and give us victory over all the strongholds in our lives. When we come to church every Sunday to worship, we should not leave our burden at the door but instead, we should leave them at the feet of Jesus when we meet Him. Sometimes those baggages we leave at the door, we pick them up again when we go home.

Let us learn to let go of our struggles, our strongholds and our sins, and let God come into our lives where He rightfully belongs. Lao Tzu may have said that “when I let go of what I am, I become what I might be.” A Christian twist to this quote might read, “When I let go of what I am, I become what God wants me to be”. And as Christians, my hope for all of us is, none other than, to be like Christ.