Honor Culture

The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house over you with fire.” And Jephthah said to them, “I and my people had a great dispute with the Ammonites, and when I called you, you did not save me from their hand. And when I saw that you would not save me, I took my life in my hand and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?” Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim. And the men of Gilead struck Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.” And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell. Judges 12:1-6.

Ephraim had pulled this stunt with Gideon. He won a battle. They heard about it and showed up later to threaten him for not calling them out to join him. Gideon could have just told them God had chosen the 300 men and take it up with God. But hebought them off with some of the spoils and peace was had for many years.

Jephthah wasn’t having any of this. He had just lost his daughter and the rest of the tribes treated him like an outcast until they needed him. He went to war and God was with him, and Ephraim paid dearly.

Jephthah only judged Israel for 6 years. He was a most undiplomatic leader who got things done. He was not a long term solution. He was a bit like our present oval office occupant. Even if you like what he’s doing, he’d be hard to take for many years.

The Vow

Then the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord‘s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord gave them into his hand. And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel. Judges 11:29-33.

This vow, which is always described as a great tragedy, or is retold in such a way that there is no real sacrifice, is one of the great cringeworthy episodes of the Bible. Jephthah makes this vow, and his only child comes out at the worst possible time. Did God plan this? Did Jephthah blunder? Did his daughter really become a burnt offering?

I could join the hair splitters and say that she suffered banishment and perpetual virginity instead of death. But she is too much of a Christ figure to take that shortcut. When her father laments his vow, she willingly submits to it’s fulfillment. She is a virgin, and dies in her purity. And when Jephthah made this vow, the spirit of the Lord was upon him. And even though the law prohibits human sacrifice, Jesus was also a human sacrifice. So I am going with the plain account. She was made a burnt offering.

As horrible as this is, I believe it is important to remember God’s perspective. The daughter was not a victim. She insisted on giving her life. She lives eternally. Jepthah has long ago gone to be with her.

You Made Your Bed

And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baals.” And the Lord said to the people of Israel, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you. Only please deliver us this day.” So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord, and he became impatient over the misery of Israel. Judges 10:10-16.

This has always been a favorite passage of mine. God’s people have gone whoring after other gods…again. And now they are in trouble and have used their one phone call to get daddy to bail them out. And he says no. Classic dad move.

The second classic dad move is to give in and help after he thinks you’ve suffered enough. It helps that even after being refused, the recalcitrant children started mending their ways.

The Lord will let you stew in your juices. But don’t give up! Except those other gods; give them up.

A Wicked, Ruthless Ruler

Now Abimelech the son of Jerubbaal went to Shechem to his mother’s relatives and said to them and to the whole clan of his mother’s family, “Say in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, ‘Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you?’ Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.”

And his mother’s relatives spoke all these words on his behalf in the ears of all the leaders of Shechem, and their hearts inclined to follow Abimelech, for they said, “He is our brother.” And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself. And all the leaders of Shechem came together, and all Beth-millo, and they went and made Abimelech king, by the oak of the pillar at Shechem. Judges 9:1-6.

Gideon had rejected the offer to be Israel’s ruler. And there is no indication that Gideon’s sons were given titles, but they were a prominent family. Gideon had 70 sons by many wives, and his son by a servant girl he kept in Shechem was deeply envious of them. He held a secret campaign against them to become ruler of Shechem, getting tribute from the elders of the city and using it to raise an army.

A concubine’s son was not due the same inheritance as the son of a wife. The bitterness this caused Abimelech caused him to plot against and murder his half brothers. And he stirred up others to do this by referring to his father as Jerubbaal instead of Gideon to remind them that he had destroyed the altar of Baal, their God. And he referred to himself as “brother” to the rulers of Shechem. This did not bode well for the rulers, considering how he was about to treat his real brothers.

Abimelech was an early practitioner of identity politics. He campaigned as “your brother” to overthrow the innocent. It was us versus them when there was no actual conflict. It was created from envy and a false narrative. Then, both he and his coconspirators die horribly after they start to hate one another. They were mere allies in the moment, a moment created by a bitter man with an agenda.

What is a Nationalist?

According to Wikipedia: “Nationalism is a political, social, and economic system characterized by the promotion of the interests of a particular nation, especially with the aim of gaining and maintaining sovereignty over the homeland.”

This seems like a reasonable way to approach your citizenship. You promote the interest of your own country. If you live in a country and you promote the interest of other nations at the expense of your own, that can be called many things, some of them derogatory. And I can see how this would set people at odds with one another. It’s like being a member of the world’s largest homeowners association. If you promote the neighborhood and its safety, health and general well-being,  and you have neighbors who jeopardize those things, this can be a problem. It is especially vexing to the neighborhood if those people who want to compromise the neighborhood’s safety or well-being are calling the other neighbors mean and racist and Nazis for wanting to protect the neighborhood.

When the President, who is well known for his desire to protect America from illegal immigrants, calls himself a Nationalist, it causes an uproar. His critics immediately attach the modifier “white” to it and accuse him of having the KKK in the White House. To be sure, there are things called white nationalists, just as there are black nationalists. But those modifiers are necessary to give an accurate description of the thing you are criticizing.

If you cannot accurately criticize someone, you can always claim that the word used is a “dog whistle.” It is a secret code word for something evil. The problem with these mysterious dog whistles is that only the accusers can hear them. That makes the accusation more about the accuser than the accused.

For several years, before Donald Trump was elected, I had dropped out of political discussions. They seem to be futile and useless. To me, the only thing that really matters is eternal salvation, and reaching children with the Gospel through Good News Clubs. That continues to be what really matters to me. If we want to change the future, we need to change the people, and that cannot happen early enough in our lives.

Unfortunately, very few Christians even care about this. They are caught up in the political fury of this moment, and I can see how this has happened. The church does not send the Gospel into the neighborhoods. It defends it inside its buildings. And a defensive church becomes increasingly sensitive to criticism, being accused of being bigoted, racist, homophobic, mean, and selfish. It starts trying to improve its public relations instead of standing firm on the truth. And the truth is that the Gospel is not an accusation; it’s an invitation. Paul wrote that, “In Christ God was reconciling the world to himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and entrusting to us the message of reconciliation.” (2 Corinthians 5:19).

Unfortunately, we live in a culture of accusation. The accusation is a steady drumbeat against neighbors you want to destroy or overpower. The accusation does not have to be true.It just has to stick. This was the essence of the French Revolution and its Reign of Terror, during which 40,000 people were executed on the strength of an accusation that they were enemies of the people. Many of them were religious people. The French Revolution was quite hostile to religion, even approving a new calendar which rejected all dates AD, Anno Domini, years of our Lord.

We may not be beheading people, but Americans do seem to be losing their heads, figuratively speaking. They accuse their neighbors over their political affiliation, their position on immigration, their right to free speech, and they disassociate from their friends and family over it. It didn’t start with Trump. It didn’t start with Obama. It has been growing over time as politics has grown like a cancer in the hearts and minds of too many of our neighbors. This Tuesday there will be a meeting of the National Homeowners Association, and the early voting is record breaking for a midterm. Have people had enough of their neighbors’ accusations? Or do they want more of it? Whatever the result, our sins will be forgiven by the final arbiter of all things if we will repent and put our faith in Him.