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June 18 lesson: Jephthah Answers the Call

June 09, 2017
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Jephthah Answers the Call

Summer Quarter: God’s Urgent Call
Unit 1: Called to be Strong

Sunday school lesson for the week of June 18, 2017
Rev. Denise Walton

Lesson Scripture: Judges 11:4-11, 29-31
Background Scripture: Judges 11

Key Verse: “And Jephthah said to Gilead’s elders, “If you bring me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them over to me, I alone will be your leader.” Judges 11:9

Purpose: To affirm that people who disagree on many issues can still work together to accomplish common goals.

Desperate Measures in Desperate Times

Judges 11:29-31
“God’s Spirit came upon Jephthah. He went across Gilead and Manasseh, went through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there approached the Ammonites. Jephthah made a vow before God: “If you give me a clear victory over the Ammonites, then I’ll give to God whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in one piece from among the Ammonites – I’ll offer it up in a sacrificial burnt offering.”

What is going on now?
If you have ever been a part of a set of circumstances that included a lot of “drama” then you may have stopped to ask, “What is going on now?” Honestly, my friends, that is how I felt reading this week’s lesson in the Adult Bible Studies. There certainly is a lot of drama ensuing with the newest leader of the Israelites, Jephthah. In some ways, Jephthah’s humanity and his level of maturity in the faith may speak volumes to us this week. He (Jephthah) is a man of many complex and sinful realities but he is called to deliverer the Israelites.

Judges, Chapter 10, helps the reader understand circumstances have continued to deteriorate for the Israelites. In fact, Gideon, Abilemlech, Tola, and Jair all served as judges prior to Jephthah. In each case the Israelites continue to move through the cycle of sin, oppression, repentance and deliverance.

Let’s refresh our memories from the last lesson (Gideon’s Call: Judges 6:11-18) as we recount what biblical scholars refer to as the literary cycle and the cycle of the shophet (judge):

There are four major pieces to the writer’s understanding of the literary cycle found in the books of Joshua, Judges, Samuel, and Kings. Each part of the cycle should be viewed as matters of the relationship between God and God's people. Also, there are relational issues within Israel and between other groups of individuals.
  1. Apostasy – The Israelites fall away from Yahweh (God).
  2. Oppression – Yahweh (God) permits enemies to fall upon the Israelites.
  3. Repentance – Under oppression, the Israelites repent and call upon Yahweh.
  4. Deliverance – Yahweh (God) calls out a leader and delivers the Israelites.
  5. The cycle then begins all over again. This is the central theme running through the book of Judges.
As you read Joshua, Judges, Samuel and Kings, the shophetim of Israel has a basic cycle with some variations to details in the story from one person to the next person. The cycle for the shophet taken from “People of the Covenant: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible:”
  1. Dire oppression of sinful Israel by a non-Israelite enemy
  2. A commoner appears endowed with the spirit of Yahweh (God)
  3. The charismatic leader summons one or more tribes in Yahweh’s battle
  4. Yahweh delivers the Israelites from their oppression
  5. The ultimate proof of the shophet then becomes Yahweh's victory in the battle.
What is different about Jephthah’s Call story? Teachers: One way to explore the themes of sin, oppression, repentance, and deliverance found in the text this week is to review carefully God’s call and Jephthah response to God.

Who actually called Jephthah?
What was the nature of that call?
Where is God and when does God enter the story?
What did Jephthah do in response to accepting the call of God?
What conditions did Jephthah apply to his call?
What lessons might you learn from Jephthah’s success as a military leader and his choice to bargain with God?
Why was there no intervention or help for Jephthah’s daughter as with Abraham’s son (Genesis 22:11-12) or Jonathan (1 Samuel 14:44-45)?

The scriptural text in Judges, Chapter 11 ends in a tragic way as Jephthah sacrifices his daughter after believing the vow he offered to Yahweh (God) was legitimate and needed to be carried through. The authors of “People of the Covenant: An Introduction to the Hebrew Bible,” refer to Jephthah actions with his daughter, with God and with the Israelites as abuse of his leadership:

The Jephthah story is particularly tragic and disturbing. Jephthah, who was abused as a child, as a man becomes an abuser. When he bargained with God and made his tragic vow; he abuses the tradition and law of Israel because human sacrifice was prohibited (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 18:10). Yahweh himself is abused by the implied belief that Yahweh was a deity who would be party to such an agreement. Jephthah’s daughter was abused when he sacrificed her as payment of his vow to Yahweh. The integrity of the Israelite community was abused by the failure of anyone to protest or even question Jephthah’s action. The failure to question applies not only to the characters in the story, but also to the editor or redactor who included it in Judges. The action of both Jephthah and his daughter abused all the women of the Israelite community by implying that women should willingly accept such treatment from both man and God.

As I sat with the description of Jephthah from many perspectives, it dawned on me that one significant part of the call from God is confirmation from the community of faith. As leaders in the faith, the church or local community of faith recognizes and affirms in many cases the call of God through the life of the believer.

How might Jephthah’s call story have been different had he been nurtured and not rejected by the Israelite community? Do you think Jephthah’s understanding of human sacrifice could have been better informed by the community getting involved and responding to his actions?

What responsibility do we have as leaders to persons who seem to be confused or misinformed about the call of God on their lives?

I must admit, beloved, the lesson this week leaves me thinking about Jephthah, his success and tragic failure in his leadership. As we continue with the call of God in our lives, we need the community of faith to help us hear and understand God’s call on our lives.

May we all continue to hear, clarify, and respond to God’s call.

Denise Walton

Rev. Denise Walton serves as the Assistant to the Bishop for Connectional Ministries. Contact her at denise@sgaumc.org.

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