Archive for November, 2014

Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering….

When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.” So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” She said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.” Then he said, “Go.” So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity. At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had make; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year. (Judges 11:30, 31, 34-40)

This unusual story about a woman in the Old Testament has caused more controversy than any other. What are we to make of a story of a possible human sacrifice of a victim of a foolish vow? Did Jephthah’s daughter really get burned alive as some historians seem to think?

Jephthah was the eighth judge in Israel. Recall that this is a time in Israel’s history before God gave them a king. For about four hundred years the Israelites would go through cycles of obedience to God and blessing, then falling into idolatry and cursing. God would send a nation to oppress them as punishment. The people would eventually repent and cry out to God. God would graciously give them a leader, known as a judge, to lead them out of the trouble they were in.

In this story, the Israelites were having trouble with the Ammonites. They were a fierce and wicked enemy. The Israelites went to Jephthah and begged him to lead them against the Ammonites.

Apparently Jephthah had faith in God’s promises to deliver His people, but for some reason he made a foolish vow to ensure God’s blessing on the battle. He said that if God gave him the victory he would offer a sacrifice of thanksgiving to God in return. He would offer the first thing to come our of his home to greet him. Jephthah must have thought that the first thing he would see arriving at home was some sort of animal, because he intended to make a burnt offering out of it.

Jephthah's daughterTo his dismay, the first one to greet him was his daughter, his one and only child. In those days vows were taken very seriously and he knew that he could not break it.

Many scholars believe that Jephthah actually sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering to fulfill his vow. I think they are way off base. There is no need for them to assume such a horrible thing. Neither customs in Israel nor the text calls for such an interpretation.

Throughout the Old Testament there is an abhorrence against human sacrifice. Nowhere does God allow this. It is pagan to the core. Instead there was a way to fulfill the vow without breaking God’s law against human sacrifice. This is the principle of dedicating your life as a service to God. Hannah gave her son Samuel to God’s service in thanks for allowing her to have a child. In the New Testament, Anna the prophetess dedicated her life to serving in the temple. By serving God for the remainder of one’s life, one has in a sense sacrificed their life for the Lord.

It is more likely that Jephthah fulfilled his vow by dedicating his daughter to the service of the Lord for the rest of her life according to the Israelite customs. There are many reasons right in the text itself that would show this:

1) Jephthah himself was well aware of God’s laws and the history of the Israelites. We see this in his dealings with his brethren and the Ammonites. Jephthah wrote a long letter to the Ammonites recounting all of the things that God had done. In this letter we see that Jephthah has confidence that God will drive the Ammonites out. The mystery here is why Jephthah made such a foolish vow.

2) In order for Jephthah to make a public sacrifice of this nature he would have needed a priest to officiate. No priest in Israel would have done such a horrible thing.

3) The Bible text itself puts emphasis on the reaction of Jephthah’s daughter. Her reaction was to first of all insist that Jephthah keep his vow. Would she have done this so calmly if she knew it meant that she was to be burned alive? Surely Jephthah’s daughter knew that there was another way to fulfill the vow.

4) Jephthah’s daughter also knew what that other way to fulfill the vow was – she must dedicate her life to God. She tells us plainly that she needs time to mourn “because of my virginity.” In other words, she will never marry and have children. If she had dreamed of marrying and having children like other women, those hopes were now dashed. She was a good daughter and she made the sacrifice.

5) Jephthah’s daughter does not say “I need two months off to think about my horrible death.” She and her friends go away to mourn her virginity not her death. That her lifelong virginity is the cause of her sorrow is made plain in four places in the Bible. (See verses 37, 38, 39, and 40) Her women friends are going to hold her up in prayer and meditation to God on the mountains. They can sympathize with her and offer whatever consolation and comfort she may need for the lonely days ahead.

6) The Bible does not say that the Israelite women go every year to mourn Jephthah's daughter and friendsJephthah’s daughter’s death. It plainly says that they go to honor her for her sacrifice of lifelong service to the Lord as a virgin forsaking marriage and family.

So why did all of this even happen this way? I believe that God is sovereign. He could have sent an animal out of the door first. He did not. Perhaps though He knew what a sacrifice Jephthah’s daughter was making, He also was punishing Jephthah. Remember, our text says that his daughter was Jephthah’s only child. When Jephthah had to dedicate her to the Lord’s service as a single woman, he was giving up all chance of continuing his line in Israel. There would be no grandchildren to carry on his name.

What a wonderful servant of the Lord Jephthah’s daughter was. Notice how right away she knew what her father must do the obey God. Though she was a victim of her father’s foolish vow, her attitude was one of humble submission. She asked for a reasonable amount of time to think about the new and unexpected circumstances in her life. Then she courageously went on to serve the Lord for the rest of her life.

We can remember Jephthah’s daughter as an example to us of faith and courage when we are faced with trials in life, especially those that seem unfair. We should trust God as she did that He knows what is best.


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Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4,5)

Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day saying, “That the leaders led in Israel, that the people volunteered, Bless the Lord! … In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath; in the days of Jael, the highways were deserted, and travelers went by roundabout ways. The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel. … Awake, awake, Deborah; Awake, awake, sing a song! … Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord; But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.” And the land was undisturbed for forty years. (Judges 5:1, 6, 7,12, 31)

Last week we began the story of this amazing woman that God’s Holy Scriptures devotes two whole chapters to (Judges 4 and 5). Just as Sarah, Hannah, Ruth, Mary and many other godly women did, Deborah made herself available to follow God’s calling in her life. Deborah has the honor of being called “a mother in Israel” and that is a special honor like being called a patriarch. God chose this remarkable woman to lead His people in their time of trouble.

God called Deborah to be a judge and a prophet. These were special positions. The judges were leading in Israel until the time that God would give them a king. Judges did not only decide cases but they were also spiritual, political, and in most cases military leaders. As a prophet, Deborah was called on by God to speak His word to His people. Deborah would be the one that the people looked to in order to hear God’s will for their lives.

Deborah sat under a special palm tree where anyone who wanted to come to her for deborah judgeadvice or for adjudication could find her. Though she was a married woman, this was the job God called her to do. We know that her husband’s name was Lappidoth but the Bible says nothing more about him. In those days the husband’s family name identified the household. It is important to see that though Deborah was the one called to be a judge, and not her husband, she in no way was going against the traditional roles for women as wives. Because of her godly example, both she and her husband were honored. This amazing woman found time to be a wife, a judge, and a prophet.

There were two ways in which Deborah was different from the other judges in Israel. First, she was a prophet. Other than Samuel who was a judge, priest, and a prophet, none of the other judges were prophets. If you look at the lives of some of the other judges, there is a clear difference in the godly way Deborah lived. Just look at Samson’s behavior with Delilah for example. Gideon showed less than stellar trust as well. Deborah’s life showed her complete trust in God, and the Israelites recognized her as a spiritual leader. They honored her recognizing that Deborah’s other special calling besides judge was as prophet.

Secondly, Deborah was not a military leader. Some writers assume that she was because all of the other judges were. Yes, she went with Barak to war, but notice that Barak was the military commander, not Deborah. Her place in God’s plan was as the spiritual leader to appointed Barak at the command of God. When Barak showed less than perfect faith in God, Deborah the prophet foretold that the victory over the leader of the Canaanites, Sisera, would go to another woman – Jael.

Deborah was with Barak to witness the victory over their enemies. She could not help but burst into song to praise God as the One Who really brought the victory.

Song of DeborahEven today Deborah’s song is considered second only to the song of Moses. In the first part of the song, Deborah tells of God’s might from the time of the Exodus and Israel’s wanderings in the desert. God gave them the law at Mount Sinai and brought them to the Promised Land. Deborah recounts how much the Israelites have suffered since being in the land. Of course we know that their suffering was due to their disobedience to God, especially when they turned to the idols of the surrounding pagan people.

Deborah tells how beginning with the days after Shamgar, the judge who immediately preceded her, the Israelites were under such oppression that they could not even walk on public roads safely. “Travelers went by roundabout ways” (Judges 5:6). The people had no weapons with which to defend themselves. The people seemed to be helpless.

Then God chose Deborah, a mother to her people in Israel. Deborah appointed Barak to lead the Israelites in battle against the Canaanites. Men from the tribes of Ephraim, Benjamin, Zebulun, and Issachar came to fight in the war (Judges 5:14,15).

In poetic fashion, Deborah then describes the battle and gives the victory to the Lord.

“The stars fought from heaven, from their courses they fought against Sisera” (Judges 5:20). This is obviously a metaphor for the Lord. She goes on to describe the miraculous way in which the Lord defeated Jabin’s mighty army. “The torrent of Kishon swept them away” (verse 21). Once again God delivered His people in a miraculous way by sending the flood that bogged down their chariots.

Her song goes on to praise Jael, the woman to whom God chose to give the honor of the defeat of Sisera. The story is gruesome but true.

Most blessed of women is Jael, the wife of Heber the Kenite;
Most blessed is she of women in the tent.
He asked for water and she gave him milk;
In a magnificent bowl she brought him curds.
She reached out her hand for the tent peg,
And her right hand for the workmen’s hammer.
Then she struck Sisera, she smashed his head;
And she shattered and pierced his temple.
Between her feet he bowed, he fell, he lay;
Between her feet he bowed, he fell; where he bowed, there he fell dead. (Judges 5:24-27)

Deborah’s song next makes an interesting comparison with her identity as a mother in Israel and another mother’s story. While Deborah the mother in Israel is rejoicing, the mother of Sisera is lamenting. “Why does his chariot delay in coming? Why do the hoof beats of his chariots tarry?” (Judges 5:28) While Deborah has witnessed the Lord’s victory, this other mother will be waiting in vain. Her son was defeated by the Lord.

Deborah concludes with a prayer:
Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord;
But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might. (Judges 5:31)

The land had rest for forty years after this. The Lord’s victory with His servant Deborah was complete.

How many leaders can claim to have done so much for their people?


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Now Deborah, a prophetess, the wife of Lappidoth, was judging Israel at that time. She used to sit under the palm tree of Deborah between Ramah and Bethel in the hill country of Ephraim; and the sons of Israel came up to her for judgment. (Judges 4:4,5)

Then Deborah and Barak the son of Abinoam sang on that day saying, “That the leaders led in Israel, that the people volunteered, Bless the Lord! … In the days of Shamgar the son of Anath; in the days of Jael, the highways were deserted, and travelers went by roundabout ways. The peasantry ceased, they ceased in Israel, until I, Deborah, arose, until I arose, a mother in Israel. … Awake, awake, Deborah; Awake, awake, sing a song! … Thus let all Your enemies perish, O Lord; But let those who love Him be like the rising of the sun in its might.” And the land was undisturbed for forty years. (Judges 5:1, 6, 7,12, 31)

When the Israelites arrived in the Promised Land after the Exodus, they were supposed to rid the land of the Canaanites. They succeeded to a large extent. We saw in the last post that the land was then divided up according to the tribes of Israel. (“Daughters of Zelophehad”, November 4, 2014)

However many pagan nations did not get driven out and these became a snare to the children of Israel. Over the next few centuries the Israelites would fall to the temptation to serve the false gods of the Canaanites. God would send persecution at the hands of one of these nations and the Israelites would have to serve these pagans. Eventually the people would repent and ask God to forgive them and save them from their oppressors. This “cycle” in the book of Judges would be repeated over and over again. The people would sin with idolatry, God would send oppressors against them, the Israelites would cry out to God, God would forgive them and send a judge to lead them out of their bondage, the people would have rest for a few years, while at ease they would fall back into idolatry, and the whole cycle would start over.

Deborah was the fourth judge in Israel. Two chapters in the Bible tell her story – Judges 4 and 5. The oppressor that God sent against the Israelites this time was a king of Hazor – Jabin. Jabin had a very strong army that included 900 chariots of iron. The commander of his army was the formidable Sisera. The Israelites did not master the craft of ironworking until much later during David’s time. So these Canaanite oppressors were able to take over the Israelites and dominate them completely with their superior advantage of iron weaponry and chariots.

Notice in Deborah’s song that the “highways were deserted, and travelers went by in roundabout ways” (Judges 5:6). The Israelites had no matching weapons with which to fight Sisera’s army. The people were hiding out in fear avoiding the main roads that were full of soldiers. Things were looking really dire for them.

Deborah and BarakThe Lord heard their cry and was merciful again. Judge Deborah selected an Israelite commander, Barak, and went with him to battle against Sisera and his 900 iron chariots. Deborah told Barak to place himself on the high ground of Mount Tabor and wait for Sisera’s army to come to him. Barak chose 10,000 men to go with him. Then Barak said to her, “If you will go with me, then I will go; but if you will not go with me, I will not go” (Judges 4:8).

Many people think that Barak said this because he was a coward. But note that 10,000 men from only two tribes, Zebulun and Naphtali were willing to go with him. Barak would not have gotten this following if he had the reputation of a coward. A mere 10,000 men against the formidable army of Sisera would never have followed a weakling. They had faith in the Lord and in Barak. Barak was willing to go and fight as long as he had some assurance.

Barak was merely seeking to have Deborah, God’s spokesperson with him in the battle. Deborah was not only the judge, but also recognized as a prophetess. All Israelites honored Deborah as the one who spoke for God. Barak’s faith in his own strength was weaker than Deborah’s, but he was no coward. Nevertheless for his weak faith in God, Deborah told him that he would not get the glory of killing the leader, Sisera. That honor would go to a woman.

The Israelites went to battle and they were successful with a lot of help from God. The battle took place near the Kishonbarak battle River. God sent heavy rains that made the ground soft and muddy, causing the heavy iron chariots to sink. The frustrated Canaanite soldiers lost their advantage.

Deborah told Barak, “Arise! For this is the day in which the Lord has given Sisera into your hands; behold, the Lord has gone out before you” (Judges 4:14). Barak realized that the Canaanites were struggling in the mud and took advantage of that to go down with his 10,000 men and fight with them. All of the Canaanites were killed except for their commander, Sisera.

jael and siseraSisera fled on foot to the tent of Heber the Kenite. Heber was away but his wife Jael was there. Jael bravely killed Sisera. Indeed, as predicted by Deborah the victory of the conquest over the leader of the enemy would go to a woman – Jael. (For the complete story along with more details see the posting on March 30, 2010, “Jael”. It is interesting that in this story in Judges, God used two women to accomplish His purposes.)

Another reason why we should not think so little of Barak is that he, along with Deborah, sang the song of victory. In this song Barak is praised for his part in leading only 10,000 men against the mighty Sisera. Barak was the military leader that led Israel to victory with God’s help.

After this victory Israel had peace for forty years. We do not know how much longer Deborah lived. Eventually she died and unfortunately the Israelites would do evil in the sight of the Lord again. The next judge would be the famous Gideon.

Next week, we will look at Deborah as a person whom God used. The Lord does gift women for leadership often. This is not because there are no men available. There are plenty of men available to do the work of the kingdom, but the job that Jesus gave the Church to evangelize the world is a huge task. Men and women are both needed. Let us seek God’s guidance and be willing to serve in whatever calling He has given us.

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Then the daughters of Zelophehad, the son of Hepher, the son of Gilead, the son of Machir, the son of Manasseh, of the families of Manasseh the son of Joseph, came near; and these are the names of his daughters: Mahlah, Noah and Hoglah and Milcah and Tirzah. (Numbers 27:1)

The Israelites had to wander through the desert for forty years because of their disobedience. Ten out of twelve spies who went into Canaan at the end of what was supposed to be an eleven day journey to the Promised Land came back with a fearful report. The people did not trust God to help them defeat the Canaanites even after what they’d seen God do to the Egyptians. This angered God and the Israelites were condemned to wander until all adults had died except the two faithful spies – Joshua and Caleb.

Now before entering the Promised Land at last Moses took a census of the people. This was because the land was to be divided according to the size of the tribes.

Moses numbered the people according to the number of families in each tribe, headed by a male descendant of the twelve sons of Israel, Reuben, Simeon, etc… There were male heads of households for all of the families except for the family of Zelophehad, a descendent of Manassah, son of Joseph. When Moses numbered Zelophehad’s family, his five daughters, Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah were included in the census (Numbers 26:33).

When Moses passed out the inheritances he only gave them to the male descendants. daughters of ZelophehadMahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah all showed up at the door of the tent of meeting and asked why they had been overlooked in the apportioning of the land. They reminded Moses that they were numbered. These women were not asking for selfish reasons; something very important was at stake here. The inheritance was supposed to be passed down in the families forever. There were no males in their family. How was their father’s inheritance going to continue? Why shouldn’t Zelophehad’s family be provided for? Yes, like all of the other people, Zelophehad had died during the forty-year wandering. But he had not been part of Korah’s rebellion against God (Numbers 16). In other words, Zelophehad had not done anything to disqualify him from receiving his inheritance.

Moses took their case to the Lord. God assured Moses that the daughters of Zelophehad were correct. Moses wrote a new case law which the Israelites followed ever after that. When a man died leaving no son, his inheritance should pass to his daughter.

Moses continued to divide the land according to God’s commands. The tribes would be settled in certain places except for the tribe of Levi. The Levites were to be given cities among all of the tribes in order to continue in their work of priestly duties.

“Now the chief fathers of the families of the children of Gilead the son of Machir, the son of Manassah, of the families of the sons of Joseph, came near and spoke before Mosess and before the leaders, the chief fathers of the children of Israel.” (Numbers 36:1) They agreed that the daughters of Zelophehad had a right to marry and raise up children for their father’s inheritance, but they had a legitimate concern. What if Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah married outside of their tribe? Wouldn’t this confuse the inheritances? If Mahlah, for example, married a Benjamite, would her property then become the property of her Benjamite husband? Would this take away from the property of the children of Manassah and Joseph?

Moses again went before the Lord and received instructions. “What the tribe of the sons of Joseph speaks is right (Numbers 36:5). The Lord commands that the daughters of Zelophehad may marry whom they with as long as the men are within the family of their tribe. The inheritances may not change hands between the tribes; “for every one of the children of Israel shall keep the inheritance of the tribe of htis fathrs. And every daaughter who posesses an inheritance in any tribe of the children of Israel shall be the wife of one of the family of her father’s tribe, so that the children of Israel each may possess the inheritance of his fathers” (Numbers 36:7,8).

Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah saw the reasonableness of this. All of the daughters married sons of their father’s brothers. In other words they married cousins and kept the property in the family of their tribe.

Now the Israelites had to go into the land of Canaan and dispossess the pagan inhabitants before they could settle down and live there. Under the leadership of Joshua the Israelites defeated some Canaanites east of the Jordan river. Several tribes decided that they liked the land there and wanted to settle on the east side. An agreement was made whereby the Reubenites, the Gadites, and half of the tribe of Manassah could settle in that land after they helped the other tribes conquer the land west of the Jordan River.

Zelophehad’s family was part of the other half of the tribe of Manassah that settled on the west side of the Jordan. When the boundaries of the land were being settled Mahlah, Noah, moses and daughtersHoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah again had to make sure they would get their inheritance. “And they came near before Eleazar the priest, before Joshua the son of Nun, and before the rulers, saying, ‘The Lord commanded Moses to give us an inheritance among our brothers.’ Therefore, according to the commandment of the Lord, he gave them an inheritance among their father’s brothers.” (Joshua 17:4). And so, then shares fell to the descendants of Manassah on the west side of the Jordan because the daughters of Zelophehad were included.

This incident should not be overlooked as trivial. It was very important for several reasons. In the first place, it showed that men and women could bring their complaints to Moses at the tent of meeting. God was concerned for all of His people and He executed justice according to HIs commands. In this case the Lord had specified how the land was to be divided. He commanded Moses to give the daughters of Zelophehad a portion in the inheritance in order to fulfill His plans for the land He had promised to Abraham many years before.

Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah were intelligent, forthright young women who just wanted to see justice done. They were not asserting their rights as militant feminists. They wanted to see justice done according to God’s will. They are a good example for us when we feel that there has been prejudice against us. We should not go in to a bad situation looking for trouble or to start a fight. We can be reasonable and present the facts and pray that the Lord’s will will be done.

God’s decision to give daughters and inheritance when there was no male heir has been established as the law of the land for centuries. What the daughters of Zelophehad did was to set the precedent. Before this court case, women did not inherit. Even to this day daughters may inherit the family home or business and carry it on for the next generation. We can be thankful that Mahlah, Noah, Hoglah, Milcah, and Tirzah had the wisdom and courage to seek God’s justice.



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