Spiritual and stupid from the Book of Judges in the Old-Testament, chapter 11, reminds us just how utterly crazy good religious people can become.
Sadly we need look no further than Martin Luther for an example. The father of the reformation he became embittered when he was unable to convert Jews to Christianity, sponsoring the pogroms against them. With statements like set fire to the synagogues or schools, and "I advise their houses also be razed and destroyed," his teaching underpinned the holocaust.
If I had been amongst that select group of men given the responsibility of selecting the canon of scripture, I would have made sure that they omitted Judges 11, the story of a religious but very stupid man. His name was Jephthah, son of Gilead.
But he is not atypical of spiritual and stupid folk today; in fact it lurks not far below the surface of every Christian.
I am resolved to ask of God each morning, is there something of Jephthah lurking in me today?
It would seem that one can be very spiritual, yet utterly without wisdom. I would submit that there is a bit of Jephthah in each and every one of us; that's why this story has been included in scripture, to warn us of the sheer stupidity that lurks.
The belief in a supernatural source of evil is not necessary; men alone are quite capable of every wickedness.
So why did they keep the story of Jephthah? Finally the penny dropped. So that we could firmly grasp the fact that it is possible to be spiritual yet very stupid; that God might choose to work through a man, and perhaps even you and me, for His higher purposes, yet find me unwilling to allow Him into my own consciousness.
The Spirit of God came upon this very stupid and stubborn man; yet the Lord chose to use Jephthah for His own purposes despite the fact that the fool would not allow Him into his own life, giving him freedom of choice.
History is littered with religious leaders who went on to commit ridiculous, crazy and really quite evil acts; Judges 11 is a sort of forerunner of things to come.
Jim Jones was another such man; in his younger days a sincere and conscience civil rights preacher, he went far beyond being just stupid. He coerced his congregation into a mass suicide of 918 believers.
"Jephthah, the Gileadite, was a mighty warrior."
"The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah ..."
Yet, a spiritual and stupid man.
Who was Jephthah?
"His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute."
Jephthah's father was also a spiritual and stupid man. His name means 'hill of testimony' but sadly Gilead is only a witness to what happens when a man goes in to a prostitute; trouble.
So, here is the story so far.
Because Jephthah's mother was a prostitute, the rest of the family evicted the lad so that he would not inherit. So he fled from his brothers to the land of Tob, where he was joined by a band of adventurers. Soon he became known as a mighty warrior with the cunning of a general.
So when they came under attack, the elders of Gilead invited Jephthah to come back as supreme commander. He accepted and went on to negotiate in an astute manner with their enemies, but to no avail; no difficulties so far.
The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.
Difficulty no. 1
We have to assume that Jephthah was a spiritual man. After all, had not the Spirit of the Lord come upon him? But is Jephthah a wise person? Or is the Lord simply using him for His own purposes without working in his life?
Stupidity no. 1
"If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord's, and I will sacrifice IT as a burnt offering."
What was the stupid man thinking? That his dog would come barking out of the door, at hearing his master's voice? That God could be bribed?
But no, ...
"When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child."
Stupidity no. 2
Jephthah does not grasp the deep importance of the Scriptures, even in their limited availability. He would have been steeped in the Ten Commandments:
"You shall not murder."
How could Jephthah possibly have thought that keeping an ill-conceived bribe of his God, took precedence over that Lord's very commandments?
Of the world?
In today's terms, we would reflect on our Lord's call that we are inevitably in the world, yet we should constantly take great care not to be of it.
In Jephthah's world, he was surrounded by people for whom human sacrifice to appease a god was common place.
But how could he have stooped so low as to think that Yahweh, the Lord of heaven and earth, the only true God, would be pleased at the sacrifice of his only daughter, or any human for that matter?
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You can read the rest of the sorry tale for yourself in your own Bible. Was Jephthah's daughter a very spiritual young woman, sincerely not wanting to prevent her stupid father's pledge from being fulfilled?
Or was she, like her father and grandfather before her, equally spiritual and stupid? You be the judge. I am inclined to think highly of her, yet why did she not make a run for it?
Given the opportunity to roam the hills for two months with her friends, she must have had the chance to escape and join her grandmother in the House of the Rising Sun. Instead it seems she chose to be burnt alive to appease her father's God, my heavenly lord and your Yahweh too.
"After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed."
Difficulty no. 2
Why didn't God intervene? Bring Jephthah to his senses. Move the elders of Israel to go and speak forcibly to this spiritual and stupid man? Open the heavens to put out the fire on which the poor young woman was sacrificed, alive if it was in keeping with the times?
The rock on which Chris stumbled
Jephthah, that very spiritual and stupid man, perhaps evil might be a better word to describe him, is the rock on which my good friend Chris has stumbled. How can anyone believe in such a Jephthah's God? How can I trust my life to the teaching of such a book as the Bible that tells this story?
Like I said, at first I would have made sure this passage was omitted from the canon. But on second thoughts, I realise this story does not reflect on God. It reminds us of the Jephthah in each of us. That which is spiritual and stupid. Root it out.
Ultimately, the inclusion of many happenings in the Bible that are disturbing and uncomfortable, to my mind, adds to the authenticity of scripture. Those responsible for the canon could have so easily sanitised them, carefully omitting that which they did not like, or thought we would not benefit from. Or which did not fit with their pat theories and doctrines. But they did not. So, even Judges 11, the story of a man supposedly filled with the Spirit, yet very, very stupid should be accepted and is there for a reason.
"ALL Scripture (including Judges 11) is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness."
2 Tim 4:8
The are few more lovely stories that this conversation between a pair of twins, in utero, written by a Dutch gynaecologist: You must be born ...
I like to write books about controversial subjects; there's no substitute for the Christian but spending time in the scriptures. But Christian fiction, well written, gives us cause to stop and ponder. There's so much evil in the world, and it creeps insidiously into us too, just like it did into Jephthah.
There are many subjects in scripture that are difficult. Judges 11 is one of them. Our sexuality is another.
In A Family Affair, I have been pondering, come to no conclusions, and leave it to you to work it out between you and your Lord.
A Family Affair is a trilogy of intrigue and deception by Bernard Preston.
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