I think it safe to assume that we all have been in crisis at some point in our lives. I am talking about those times when we reach a point of true desperation. I am talking about those times when we feel most exposed in relationships, raising our children, or suffering from things beyond our control like cancer or profound loss. In those times when we have lost control and have run out of answers to right the ship, or we see things in ourselves we didn’t think existed, we either spiral further out of control or we turn to God. When we turn to God we often do one of two things: We choose to trust God or we try to manipulate Him. This is not unique to those who are lost or immature in their faith. It can happen to us all, but it is a symptom of forgetting the heart of God and/or setting our expectation on our own will rather than His.
In the book of Judges in chapter 10:6-12:7 we can learn a lot about bartering with God and the danger of not investing time in knowing God from Jephthah. Jephthah rose up as a judge at one of the darkest periods in Israel’s history. Israel had fallen into worshipping the gods of the nations surrounding them to the North, South, East, and West. They were worshipping 7 different sets of gods. As a result, Yahweh allowed them to be crushed and oppressed by the Philistines, Ammonites, and Amorites in the tribal areas of the North, South, and territory to the East of the Jordan. Unlike in the past, the Israelites not only cried out to God, but they also confessed their unfaithfulness to God. In response to their confession, Yahweh recounted how He delivered them from all the nation whose gods they had begun to worship. He went further by doing the most frightening thing God can do – He said to Israel, “I will save you no more…go cry out to the gods you have chosen”. Israel, in response to this heartbreaking word from Yahweh, confessed again, repented and they put away their false gods and began to serve Yahweh.
True to the character of God, He became “impatient” with their suffering and extends His grace and mercy to Israel. At this point, we meet Jephthah. The text describes him as a mighty warrior, but also the son of a prostitute that was driven out of the tribal territories in Gilead east of the Jordan to the land of Tob where he essentially became a gangster surrounded by worthless men. Israel was faced with an army of Ammonites amassing in the tribal area of Gad and they begin to organize at Mizpah in the same territory. They were looking for a leader and they sent messengers to fetch Jephthah – the greatest warrior they can think of to deliver them from their predicament. Jephthah agreed to return and to lead Israel if Yahweh will deliver the Ammonites into his hand.
For the first time, a judge was raised up that was chosen by the people without hearing from God. The Spirit of the Lord was with Jephthah, however, Jephthah (who did know Yahweh or His character) made a critical error and bartered with God. He vowed to sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house when he returns home if the Lord allows him to return in peace secured by victory. God does, in fact, give him victory, but the first thing to leave his house is his one and only daughter rejoicing that Jephthah has been victorious. While she rejoices, Jephthah tears his clothes in grief because the future of his house will end. Jephthah, at the encouragement of his daughter, keeps his vow after allowing his daughter to leave for two months to go up a mountain and grieve her virginity. The Jephthah cycle ends in tragedy as his daughter is sacrificed due to his rash vow, he turns on the tribe of Ephraim and wipes out 42,000 of his countrymen, and he dies with no children.
The account of Jephthah is really less about his victory over the Ammonites, and more about his character and lack of understanding Yahweh. In fact, in Genesis 22 we see a similar account of Abraham who was asked by God to sacrifice his one and only son Isaac. What is different is that Abraham was told by God to sacrifice Isaac in order to test Abraham’s faith. God stayed the hand of Abraham and assured the future of Israel. Unlike Abraham, Jephthah was never told by God to sacrifice his daughter. Jephthah’s vow was rash and intended to test the faithfulness of God. There is the difference between bartering with God and trusting God. Abraham responds to God in faithful obedience, trusting God. Jephthah put God to the test in his moment of crisis.
We are no better than Jephthah when we enter into crisis or we become desperate and we begin to make deals with God. We can do this overtly or covertly. We barter with or try to manipulate God overtly when we try to enter into a contract with Him saying to God, “Lord if you do ________, then I will do __________.” This is essentially is an appeal to God to allow us to continue to worship idols we have in our lives, which can fall into categories like Religion, Relationships, and Riches. The idols we can worship can be identified as things or people in our lives that allow us to have power, control, comfort, and/or approval. An appropriate response to God in crisis is to trust God as Paul did in 2 Corinthians 12:9. Paul recognized that, despite his appeal to God that he relieved him of his suffering, God’s grace was sufficient and God’s power was made perfect in his weakness.
So when we are in crisis, how do we trust that God’s grace is sufficient? The answer is our knowledge of God and ability to remember that we have a deliverer that, like Jephthah, was unwanted and unlikely. Isaiah tells us Isaiah 53:2-3 in his prophecy about Jesus that “He had no form or majesty that we should look at Him…He was rejected by men…He was despised”. Jesus was brought into the world in shame, c.f. Matt. 1:18-19. Jesus was the Son of a carpenter from nowhere, c.f. Jn. 1:45; 6:42. Jesus was taunted even as He died, c.f. Matt. 27:40. Yet in one of the most profound passages of the Bible, Matthew tells us that Jesus cried out on the cross as the day sky was covered in darkness, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” God the Father turned His back on Jesus as He was receiving the wrath of God due to all of us for us. Jesus may have been rejected and an unlikely deliverer, but He is the God/Man and the only one Who could truly deliver us. You see, thousands of years before the cross, Abraham’s hand was stayed by God because He would fulfill a promise through Abraham to give Him an offspring, a descended Son, that would be sacrificed for us and for our salvation from a far darker and more sinister enemy than any nation that surrounded Israel…Satan, sin, and death!
Quite simply, we need Jesus because we have nothing to barter with, nothing to offer God that would save us. We, however, do not have to suffer the silence of God when we are surrounded by sin and suffering. We do not have to make deals with God, because Jesus suffered the silence of His Father as He poured out His wrath on His Son for us and turned His back on Him on the cross. We can now trust that God will always be with us and that His grace is sufficient for any crisis because He suffered more than we ever could suffer in order to have relationship with those that repent as Israel did and trust Him for deliverance.
How have you tried to barter with God?
What gods do you need to set aside?
Think about Who Jesus is, His character, what He accomplished.
How can the character and finished work of Jesus change how you view and do life?
Our Altamont campus is currently going through the series Judges: Magnifying the God of Righteousness in an Unrighteous Culture.
Join us for our Sunday services @ 10am at our Altamont campus in Livermore (6749 Southfront Rd. Livermore 94551).