SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 23 May 2021
Sermon Text: Judges 12:1-7
Sermon Series: “Judges” (#17)
I. A trial after a victory
II. Clash of jealous hearts
III. A bitter truce
IV. Called to do the works of reconciliation
With this sad story of tribal conflict, the life and ministry of Jephthah, Israel’s 8th judge, ends. In a sense, this ending is a summary of his contentious life. From birth, as you remember, he contended with his own family which was soon escalated to a struggle with his own tribe. Then, having been invited to the headship of his tribe, he fought against the enemy. Then, another contention followed as we read today from the first seven verses of ch. 12, and this time it was with another tribe of Israel. What a difficult life he lived! As pointed out in the beginning of ch. 11, he was a ‘mighty warrior’ who faced struggles and fights and contention wherever he turned his eyes.
‘So what?’ you might wonder, seeing no connection, no relevance to you and your life in this 21st century world. But, let me remind you of the important principle and truth of reading and meditating on the word of God, that is, every word recorded is ‘profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness that God’s children may be competent, equipped for every good work.’ In a word, what we read in the Bible is designed for our good in righteousness.
Especially this story of Jephthah gives us a warning and a commendation. As a warning, it alerts us to be nether proud, nor arrogant, nor jealous toward each other in the Lord’s church. As a commendation, this story urges us to envision the joy that comes with a perfect unity among the members of the Lord’s house, and desire to have this joy of unity in the church we belong to. This is what the Apostle John says in 1 Jn. 4:7, “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God.” After all, Jesus came to reconcile us both to the Father and to one another in Him, and by His death on the cross, enabled it.
So, Jephthah’s sad ending turns our eyes to repent from our human arrogance and jealousy, and seek the joy of unity in the Lord’s house, His Church.
I. A TRIAL AFTER A VICTORY
Now, let us turn to our text and see briefly how Israel, the OT church, in Jephthah’s time experienced a bitter disunity. And the first thing we observe is a recurring pattern of facing a trial after a success or victory.
Jephthah’s army defeated the enemy that was mightier than them, and it was a sweet victory. They destroyed twenty cities of the enemy and finally subdued the Ammonites who had oppressed Israel for 18 years. The war is over and Israel is freed from the Ammonites. Then, a severe trial rises, and it comes from an unexpected direction – that is, from one of the tribes of Israel.
In fact, this has been a recurring pattern in the history of the Lord’s church. Whenever the Lord’s church rejoiced with a great victory, a dreadful challenge, trial, follows. For example, the NT church was granted religious freedom from the Roman Empire in 313 AD and became the state religion of the Empire from 380 AD onward. No more persecution, no more hiding at places like Catacombs. All believers rejoiced. But not too long after that great spiritual victory, the church faced all kinds of worldly and doctrinal challenges from within, and finally lost her first love for the Lord. Having spent centuries in spiritual darkness, another victory was granted to many souls through the 16th century Reformation. The first love once lost for centuries was recovered and numerous souls relished the Lord’s blessings. Yet, soon various challenges arose from within.
How true this is for both individual churches and Christians! A church’s success in her ministry is always followed by a great trial. Mostly this trial comes from within than without. The pattern for individual believers is not different. So, we’re warned in 1 Cor. 10:12, “Therefore let anyone who things that he stands take heed lest he fall.”
II. CLASH OF JEALOUS HEARTS
The worst form of such a trial or challenge is from the clash of jealous or resentful hearts, and this is the common distress churches and individuals face. The clash we find in our text passage is a typical case.
The men of the tribe of Ephraim came to challenge Jephthah, accusing and threatening him for a fault they believed Jephthah had committed – that is, not calling them when Jephthah went out to war against the Ammonites. With this, they ridiculed Jephthah and his men of Gilead. In fact, this seems to be a habit of the Ephraimites because they had done the same earlier to Gideon in ch. 8, accusing fiercely and saying to Gideon, “What is this that you have done to us, not to call us when you went to fight against Midian?”
The Ephraimites were jealous people, being one of the biggest tribes of Israel dwelt in the choicest piece of land in Canaan. For this reason, some centuries later they were often referred to as the representative of the northern kingdom in contrast to the southern kingdom of Judah. The men of Ephraim thought, they had to be the first one leading every victory march in the nation; they thought they deserved to sit in a place of honour before others. So, they armed themselves and came to Jephthah.
Unfortunately, Jephthah was not gentle or humble enough to face such arrogant men. Unlike Gideon of ch. 8 who had appeased the proud Ephraimites and quenched their fire, Jephthah shook his feasts toward the Ephraimites and butted his head against them. And this caused a massacre in Israel and 42,000 Ephraimites were fallen in the clash! What a tragedy! The unity in Israel was shattered, and no longer was there a mutual trust.
Guess what. 42,000 means a lot; it means a fatal wound and a deep scar to all in that nation. This number is 15,000 more than the total Australian casualties during the Second World War. Truly it was a national disaster!
What does this mean? A clash of jealous and proud hearts in God’s church incurs a dreadful damage and it usually breaks many hearts. It also severs unity among members and leaves deep spiritual traumas. No wonder why the Bible talks much about quarrelling and strife in church and urges to strive for peace with everyone as in Heb. 12:14 and live peaceably with all as in Rom. 12:18.
III. A BITTER TRUCE
However, living peaceably with all people must not be a bitter truce. Coming back to our text passage and we read in v. 7 that, after a dreadful internal strife and massacre, Jephthah judged Israel six years. In this, we read no hint, we find no evidence of a national reconciliation or mutual forgiveness afterward. This means no restoration among tribes and people ever happened. It was a truce in bitterness, if not hatred.
A church could quiet down any internal trouble and conflict, and achieve a truce among members. All could seem to be normal and quiet. But if there’s no biblical reconciliation, if there’s no restoration of love among believers, that church is going to die in silence because a truce in bitterness is not peace whatsoever and any church whose heart is cold with no love for one another in Jesus will not last.
Australians don’t like conflict or trouble, and this is especially so in churches. We avoid any strife. So, if anyone faces a trouble with another, instead of trying reconciliation and restoration of relationship, people usually and generally leaves one church for another.
Both cases – that is, a church that quietens down a trouble without a biblical resolution and an individual who simply leaves his church without restoration of broken relationship – are not different from those Israelites living under Jephthah’s unresolved truce. No peace will ever be established in both cases. Instead, bitterness will bite back the church and the individual again and again.
IV. CALLED TO DO THE WORKS OF RECONCILIATION IN GOD’S CHURCH
Let me emphasise that you and I and all true worshippers of God through Jesus Christ are not called to live in a bitter truce or to walk away from broken relationships with others in the Lord’s church. Instead, we’re called to resolve any strife, called to restore any broken relationship, and unite with one another in the Lord Jesus. His blood was shed for our unity in Him. No wonder why 1 Jn. 4:7 says that we must love one another because whoever loves is born of God and knows God. If you reverse what this verse teaches, then, you see why this verse says in its beginning that we ‘must’ love one another because, otherwise, if anyone hates another, that person is not born of God and does not know God!
So, if anyone in church starts a problem, like the case of the proud Ephraimites in our text, you and I must seek restoration rather than escalation in tension. To this, Gal. 6:1 counsels, “Brothers, if anyone is caught in any transgression, you who are spiritual should restore him in a spirit of gentleness.” This verse speaks to ‘you who are spiritual,’ and this person who is spiritual is the one ‘who loves, thus, is born of God and knows God’ in 1 Jn. 4:7. Simply put, every Christian born again through faith in Jesus is ‘spiritual’ and everyone who is ‘spiritual’ must desire unity with one another, and seek restoration of fellow believers.
In this sense, Jephthah is a bad example. We often learn a better lesson from a bad example, don’t we? Hearing the arrogant words of the Ephraimites, Jephthah exploded, and they clashed hard, and both were quickly combusted in jealousy and anger, and a long-lasting wound they had to bear till their death. And you and I cannot follow that path.
Consider Jesus and learn from Him. While He was on earth, His disciples one day argued with each other about who was the greatest. Knowing this, Jesus sat down and called the twelve to Him and said this, “If anyone would be first, he must be last of all and servant of all.” On another occasion, the mother of James and John came to Jesus and asked Him that her two sons might sit on both sides of Jesus when His kingdom came. The other ten disciples were ‘indignant’ at the two brothers as Mt. 20:24 tells us. Jesus called them and calmly and kindly said to them, “whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many.” Jesus demonstrated in those occasions what the Word says in Prov. 15:1, “A soft answer turns away wrath.”
Later on, when Jesus was arrested and tried at the high priest’s courtyard, Peter followed and remained among the crowd. Then he denied Jesus three times there. Immediately after his third denial, the rooster crowed and – as Lk. 22:61 testifies – the Lord turned and looked at Peter. Picture that moment in your mind and what do you think Peter saw in the Lord’s eyes? I believe it was not a look of accusation but of care, not a look of condemnation but of restoration in love which led Peter to outside of the courtyard to weep bitterly in repentance. Even in that moment of trial, Jesus restored Peter, His beloved disciple!
And as you know, Jephthah is listed on the hall of faith in Heb. 11 and he stands alongside Peter, James and John. God restored them all through forgiveness and faith. He still restores many souls through the name of Jesus and, in His works of restoration and reconciliation, you and I are invited to work with and for our Lord!
This is one of the important reasons for all Christians to be members of a local church because, apart from the Lord’s church, no one is able to fulfil the purpose of his/her call. Listen to the Apostle Paul delivering the Lord’s message to us in Eph. 4:1-3, “I therefore, a prisoner for the Lord, urge you to walk in a manner worthy of the calling to which you have been called, with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love, eager to maintain the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Because of this, we’re urged to not neglect in meeting together but encourage one another all the more to meet with one another.
Then, how far we’re to reconcile and restore one another? Let me give you an example as the conclusion of this message. This example of reconciliation happened in New Guinea many years ago. On the Lord’s day a missionary was worshipping together with the believers and they were going to observe the Lord’s Supper that morning. A man came late and, as he sat down, the missionary recognised a young man next to him suddenly shivered greatly and then in a moment became quiet again. The missionary whispered, ‘What was it that troubled you?’ The young mand replied, ‘Ah, the man who just came in killed and ate the body of my father. But he has come in to remember the Lord with us. At first I didn’t know whether I could endure it. But it is all OK now. He is washed in the same precious blood of Jesus.’ The Communion they shared together that day was a feast of Christ’s blessing of unity!
Brothers and siters in the Lord Jesus, we’re called to do the works of reconciliation to have the joy of unity in Christ. ***