Why the Old Testament?

* Old Testament – Judges 11 & 12

Poetry – Psalm 112

New Testament – Luke 12

The last week of readings for Seek, Grow, Love has quickly taken us through the first half of the book of Judges, introducing new rulers of Israel, highlighting their good and bad actions, and then moving on to the next. The ultimate point and purpose of Judges is not always obvious; God clearly called up leaders of Israel and empowered those leaders through His holy spirit, but their track records may leave us asking, “Why did God want us to remember this person?” or, “How does this part of the O.T. relate to me as a Christian, 2000 years after Jesus’ death, resurrection, and ascension?” We could ask the same questions about many parts of the Old Testament.

God has many purposes for the Old Testament, for both its original audience and for us as Christians today. Judges, in particular, is part of the narrative that establishes a cultural and national identity for Israel. Think back just a few weeks, when today’s Jews celebrated Passover: before its exodus from Egypt, Israel probably did not view itself as a nation on par with the surrounding tribes and kingdoms. The first Passover and subsequent Exodus firmly established Israel as separate from its neighbors, with a special relationship with God. It is both a spiritual and national ethnogenesis. The Book of Judges continues the historical and spiritual narrative that reinforces Israel’s identity. Every character and every judge adds another element to that identity.

Today’s reading in Judges takes us to Jephthah. Overall, Jephthah is completely consistent with the pattern established earlier: in a period of danger and spiritual decline, God calls an Israelite, of ordinary stock for the most part, to lead Israel through the present struggle. Through this, God demonstrates His continual love for Israel and preserves the nation. The narrative purpose of Judges is also captured in Jephthah’s letter to the Ammonites in 11:12-28; this is essentially a short-form summary of God’s actions in preserving Israel and bringing it into the promised land. Jephthah’s message to the Ammonite king is recorded for Israel to remember. Then, there is the record of the victory over the Ammonites – with the specific attribution, ‘the LORD handed them over to him’ (11:32). Yet again, God leaves a record of His care over Israel.

Another purpose of the Old Testament is to establish the context for the coming of Jesus and the patterns that prefigure him as God’s Messiah. One part of today’s reading from Judges 11 that stands out is the specific circumstances of Jephthah’s life. Jephthah was “the son of a harlot” (11:1) and later in life his half-brothers drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.”’ (Judges 11:2b NASB). Despite this, Jephthah must have had a charismatic personality, with some natural leadership ability, because ‘worthless men gathered around Jephthah, and they went wherever he did.’ (11:3b NASB). Jephthah, due to the circumstances of his birth, was not naturally destined for leadership or respect. Yet, God uses this man to lead Israel in its struggle with and later victory over the Ammonites. In this manner, Jephthah is another pattern for who Jesus would be: of “questionable” birth (perspective matters, of course), with leadership abilities and purpose that did not fit the typical expectations of a man from an unimpressive town. God’s calling Jephthah to be leader over Israel is another instance of God selecting the unexpected, the cast-off, as the instrument of His purpose. It is entirely in congruence with the description of Jesus as

‘A stone which the builders rejected,

This has become the chief cornerstone;

This came about from the Lord,

And it is marvelous in our eyes’?”

(Mark 12:10b-11 NASB; cf. Psalm 118)

Jephthah, rejected by his half brothers, and yet the leader that Israel needed, is an example that points us to Jesus as the one chosen by God to be king over His kingdom.

Whenever you read a portion of the Old Testament, consider the two purposes discussed here: remembrance and prefiguring. Look for the examples, the records, of God’s ongoing care for Israel as He promised; those examples give us confidence that his promises of the Age to Come, the Kingdom of God, will be fulfilled. Then, examine the text to see if you can find characters that prefigure Jesus, shadows of the Messiah (then) to come. You will find him in surprising places!

~Dan Siderius

Reflection Questions

  1. Judges can be a hard book to read. Why?
  2. How are you at remembering how God has cared for His people through all of history and also during your lifetime? What is the danger when we don’t remember? For what do you give God credit, thanks and praise?
  3. What similarities do you see between Jephthah and Jesus? What differences do you see?
  4. What can we learn about God and His plan of salvation through His Messiah Jesus throughout the Old Testament and more specifically in our Bible reading today?

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