Today’s reading: Judges 11&12 and Luke 14:25-25
Our Old Testament reading for today would make a wonderful movie script. We have a man, Jephthah, whose mother was a prostitute being driven away by his brothers that were born under the covenant of marriage in order to exclude him from any claim of inheritance. While living in exile he was later called upon to come and rescue the very ones who had treated him so cruelly. It seems that Jephthah’s leadership ability was recognized by a group that had gathered around him. And now that his homeland was under attack his leadership was desperately needed. Jephthah doesn’t appear to be overly confident in his abilities but he accepts the task once he realizes that victory would place him in a position of leadership over the very ones who had treated him so badly. After a failed attempt at a negotiated peace Jephthah set out to do battle with the Ammonites. Verse 29 tells us that the Spirit of the Lord had come upon him but apparently he was unaware of God’s provision because in verse 30 he makes a vow he soon regrets. We can’t be overly hard on Jephthah for failing to recognize the Lord’s presence in this circumstance because that’s often how the Lord operates. Matthew Henry wrote, “Whom God employs he also empowers” meaning that the empowerment to perform occurs simultaneously to the execution of the task. I know that in my life while traveling through the ‘valley of decision’ I too have felt alone and fully cognizant of my limitations and shortcomings. I may have prepared and trained to the very best of my ability only to recognize at the time of challenge that it is not my skill, strength or wisdom that will be sufficient to stand the test. Many profess faith but only that which has withstood the trials is proven faith. It is not until I have stepped out fully trusting the outcome to God that I’ve recognize that God is with me, and that it is his strength, his ability that comforts me. Faith is strange like that. We do not have it until we need it. It does not seem to be present before the trial but it shows up immediately when needed. Jephthah failed to recognize that. He thought he could better his position with God by offering to sacrifice the first thing that stepped through his doorway when he returned home. It’s not uncommon for people to barter with God. If you just help me find a job, or if you’ll just heal me from, or if you’ll just get me through this, then I will…. You know the drill. You’ve heard it all before. God is more desirous of our obedience than our sacrifice. But don’t be misled. Sacrifice is a requirement if you bear the title of Christian. In our New Testament reading large crowds were following Jesus but few could continue after they learned of the cost of discipleship. Multitudes will come to be fed, many more will come to witness the miracles and some to hear the teaching, but only a few are willing to take up their cross and follow.