Character and Integrity Part 5

September 25, 2009 at 5:03 pm | Posted in character and integrity | 4 Comments
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Last time, we looked at character and integrity in the life of Daniel. Daniel was not slothful in business. (Romans 12:11) When the Babylonians undertook to increase his education, he and his friends learned the lessons better than any of the others. Daniel knew that his flesh would want to follow the ways of those around him (Jeremiah 17:9), so he maintained his separated position. When Daniel was forced to disobey authority he tried to do it as graciously as possible, not being puffed up with pride. (James 4:10) Daniel was faithful to God in the test of whether he would eat the king’s defiled food, so God gave him a position of great authority. (Luke 16:10)

Lesson number 5 begins, not with Daniel, however, but with the strange subject of animal butchery. Personally, I have never skinned or gutted a deer, although I have seen it done. It is a gruesome sight. I think of it when I read about some of the requirements for preparing the Levitical sacrifices.

If this offering be a burnt sacrifice of the herd, let him offer a male without blemish: he shall offer it of his own voluntary will at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation before the LORD. And he shall put his hand upon the head of the burnt offering; and it shall be accepted for him to make atonement for him. And he shall kill the bullock before the LORD: and the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall bring the blood, and sprinkle the blood round about upon the altar that is by the door of the tabernacle of the congregation. And he shall flay the burnt offering, and cut it into his pieces. And the sons of Aaron the priest shall put fire upon the altar, and lay the wood in order upon the fire: And the priests, Aaron’s sons, shall lay the parts, the head, and the fat, in order upon the wood that is on the fire which is upon the altar: But his inwards and his legs shall he wash in water: and the priest shall burn all on the altar, to be a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, of a sweet savour unto the LORD.

Leviticus 1:3-9

The offering was a burnt offering. It was prepared in a very hands-on way. The priest had to physically touch the animal himself. He had to kill it himself, not from far away, with a rifle, but right up close with his own hands. There would have been a great deal of blood since it was a “fresh kill” – spurting blood, blood everywhere, a “blood bath.” The priest flayed it open, and cut the guts out. Then, there was even more cutting – cutting through the skin, through the muscle, through the sacs around the organs, maybe through some bones, some tendons and ligaments, sawing, slick with blood, guts, bits of raw meat, and nerves. He would cut the head off, and slice the fat from the muscles. Then he would wash out the guts, and various parts and pieces, and take the legs, and burn them up. Frankly, it grosses me out to think about it, and you’re probably wondering what it has to do with character and integrity, but we’ll come back to it later.

For now, let’s skip over to the Book of Judges, which describes a very dark time in Israel’s history. God’s chosen people were rebelling against Him, worshiping false idols and false gods. Sadly, they believed, like many of the people around them (the Amalekites, the Philistines, the Amorites, the Ammonites), that God was just one of many gods. And it seemed like they were constantly under attack. The “Judges” were rulers or military leaders or deliverers. They were supposed to protect God’s people or rescue them or punish God’s enemies.

Judges Chapter 10 tells the account of Jephthah. He was the son of Gilead. Gilead was married, and had sons, but Jephthah was the result of a mistake he made with a prostitute. Therefore, Jephthah’s brothers really didn’t like him. When their father died they chased Jephthah away.

The Bible says that Jephthah left home and became a mighty man of valor. That is an encouragement to people today who believe that, because their parents did not intentionally conceive them, they are a “mistake.” Whatever your background, or the facts of your birth, you were never a “mistake” to God. Some people go through their whole childhood, and even much of their adult lives, believing that, if their parents had not made the “mistake” which brought them into this world, their lives would have been better and easier. Please remember that God was not surprised when you were born. He planned some great things for you before you were even conceived. Maybe your parents really let you down, but God will never let you down. We must live our lives in a such a way as to please HIM.

Jephthah had to learn how to take care of himself. In fact, he was so good at fighting and surviving that he attracted a group of followers, but Judges 11:3 calls them “vain men.” They were men without a purpose – outlaws, brigands, adventurers – and Jephthah was their leader.

When the Ammonites attacked Israel, the Israelites pretended to repent for God’s help, but God told them no.

Yet ye have forsaken me, and served other gods: wherefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation.

Judges 10:13-14

The Israelites knew they would have to fight, but they needed a leader. Someone suggested Jephthah.

Jephthah might not have realized it, but his response is his own echoed version of God’s response.

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?

Judges 11:7

However, the Israelites promised him that he could be leader of Gilead if he helped them, so he agreed.

Imagine how embarrassed and mad his brothers must have been – they ran him off, and now he was coming back as the ruler of their land! Jephthah did not rub it in, though; he gave the credit to God.

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head?

Judges 11:9

Jephthah’s first plan of action was to start out trying to reason with the Ammonites. He was no hothead. He knew his Bible, and he knew his Bible history. He informed the Ammonites that Israel had not “stolen” the land – they had “captured” it. He told them that Israel’s God had given Israel the victory. In effect, he told the Ammonites that, if they had any complaining to do, they should have done it 300 years ago. He went on to explain the futility of their fighting against the true God.

However, they wouldn’t listen. So Jephthah went to war.

Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah…

Judges 11:29

In our previous studies on character and integrity, we have seen this same statement about David and Mary: the Spirit of the Lord came upon them.

And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,

Judges 11:30

The worst word in Judges 11:30 is the word “if.” Jephthah was a man of faith (Hebrews 11:32), but he failed the test of faith at a crucial time, and he tried to make a bargain with God.

Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering. So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands …Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

Judges 11:31-33

When Jephthah came home victorious, what do you think came out of his house to meet him?

And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.

Judges 11:34-35

What came out of his house to meet him was not a “what” at all! It was a “who:” his beloved daughter!

Now, if we believe that Jephthah was under a vow to make his daughter a burnt offering, and if we review the details of what that meant in Leviticus 1:3-9 described above, we have to gasp in horror. I want to be very fair at this point and state that I believe that Jephthah did believe he was under such a vow. Most modern Bible scholars and commentators disagree with me. Even the best Bible teacher I know believes that Jephthah’s vow only resulted in his daughter being forced never to marry. There are quite a few older (by decades or even centuries) theologians and Bible scholars who do agree with me. I have studied most of the arguments for and against, and I truly believe that Jephthah did the unthinkable due to his fear of the Lord in light of the vow he had made. Obviously, you are free to disagree.

To return to the narrative, though, what do you think Jephthah’s daughter said when he told her the tragic news?

“It’s not fair!”
“I’m going to run away!”
“Can’t you pay some money and get me out of this?”
“I wish you weren’t my father!”
“I don’t love you anymore!”
“None of my friends have to do this!”
“I don’t have to listen to you!”
“I need to know why??!!”

None of those are correct. Instead, we read:

And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

Judges 11:36-37

Jephthah had done a terrible thing. His vow, his bargain with God, was a mistake – worse, it was a foolish sin. We must be very careful about what we say. “I swear…” “God, I promise, if you get me out of trouble this time… I’ll never do it again.” Vows to God are a serious thing.

What about the integrity, though, of Jephthah’s daughter? Could Jephthah trust his daughter?

And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.

Judges 11:38

If you are reading this, and you are someone’s teenaged daughter, can you be trusted? Can you be trusted to take take out the trash? To keep your room clean? To be respectful even when your parents are not around? To be home on time?

Jephthah’s daughter had true integrity, and Jephthah knew her character. He knew he could trust her to obey – even in something like this.

And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

Judges 11:39-40

God is not going to require your parents to offer you up for a burnt offering. We don’t live in the days of Judges. But God is serious about your obedience. We all need to remember this story – when children feel like saying, “But why can’t I do this..?” or “It’s not fair, all my friends get to do it.”

Remember Jephthah’s daughter the next time your parents tell you they can’t afford to pay for something or they don’t want to spend the money for something. Maybe God wants them to stay within their budget to give that money to the church or to missions. You have no room for whining or complaining.

“And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father…”

Can you be trusted? If you won’t even do your homework, if you won’t study, if you won’t help clean up without being asked – then your parents shouldn’t trust you to even go next door, much less to a friend’s house. You have free access on your home computer to the most evil garbage in the world – only a mouse click away. If you can’t be trusted not to curse or gossip in a text message or an email, then you shouldn’t even be allowed to touch it.

Your parents, I pray, are trying to protect you. God has great plans for some of you. Don’t settle for just being popular, being cool, just getting by in school, even for having a great career, or falling in love. Those things are going to pass away. Worldly fun, fleshly fun, the kind of fun that pleases Satan and grieves the Spirit of God now mortgages the good things in life that God has in store for you later. Some of the people I knew who had the most fun when they were teenaged kids are completely miserable now: divorced, in jail, on drugs, can’t get a job. They had a blast for 7 years, but they’ve been miserable for 20 – and they’re looking at another 30.

Lord God, thank You that you haven’t put us in the same predicament as Jephthah’s daughter. But please let us be as obedient, as trustworthy, as she was. Let us be content with what we have. Let us be thankful, and let us spend our time getting ready for the good things You have planned for us. Help us to do the simple things: read our Bibles; pray every day; be obedient; be a blessing to others. In Jesus Christ’s Name, Amen.

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