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"...if anyone makes the assistance of grace depend on the humility or obedience of man and does not agree that it is a gift of grace itself that we are obedient and humble, he contradicts the Apostle who says, "What have you that you did not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7), and, "But by the grace of God I am what I am" (1 Cor. 15:10). (Council of Orange: Canon 6)

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  • « My Journey into Grace | Main | TULIP (2) »

    Images of the Savior (13 - Jephthah)

    And the Spirit of Yahweh was upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead and Manasseh, and he passed over to Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over to the children of Ammon. And Jephthah vowed a vow to Yahweh, and he said, “If you will certainly give the children of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that the one who comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, he shall be Yahweh's, and I will offer him up as a burnt offering”. And Jephthah crossed over to the children of Ammon, to fight against them; and Yahweh gave them into his hand. And he smote them from Aroer even unto when you come to Minnith, twenty cities, and unto Abel-Keramim, a very great slaughter. And the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel. – Judges 11:29-33

    It is in keeping with the central burden of the book of the Judges that, immediately after one of the most gospel-instructive events of all, in Gideon's surprising victory over the hosts of Midian, there should come one of the most devastating times imaginable, and there should rise to the throne one whose wickedness seems, in a figure, to look ahead to that Man of Sin of whom the apostle would later speak (2 Thes. 2:1-12). Consider the ways in which this Abimelech is cast, in the account, as the quintessential son of perdition, who in shameless trickery and hypocrisy should set his hand to the destruction of those whom he purports to save; thus does the downward spiral of the people plunge them into an era even more desperate than any they had known before, thereby demonstrating yet again how great was their need of a true Messiah and King, who could save them once and for all.

    This Abimelech is, to outward appearances, a very fitting person to be the ruler of the people. He arises from the line of Gideon, that great judge – he is his son, in fact – and his name, which means, “my father is king,” particularly designates him as a fitting heir of the throne. Here, surely, is one uniquely fitted to save the whole people, and make them a kingdom of priests unto God!

    But no, as soon as he has set himself up to be king, his first act of treachery is to kill all seventy of his brothers upon one stone. Now, if you remember from previous histories, seventy seems, in a way, to be a number symbolic of the people of God in all their fullness; for first of all, when Jacob went down to Egypt to be made into a nation, it was with a household of seventy persons (Genesis 46:26-27); thus seventy was the number of the people when they first became a nation. Then, when they wandered in the wilderness, the people camped at Elim, with twelve springs and seventy palm trees, symbolizing the entire nation that had sprung from the twelve springs of the patriarchs, as we observed in a different place (see Exodus 15:27). Moreover, when Moses called out elders, who would be anointed with the Spirit as representatives and leaders of the whole people, it was seventy whom he chose (Numbers 11:16-30); thus, seventy seems to be a number representative of the entire people.

    So then, when Abimelech came to the throne and at once smote his seventy brothers, it was as if, in a figure, when he came to save the whole people of God, he would instead destroy them all – and this was all the more grievous in that they were his very brothers whom he so murdered! He who came with a lying offer of peace and protection became a fire that devoured and consumed.

    And is this not the point of the parable that Jotham, the last remaining heir of Gideon, spoke before the people (Judges 9:7-21)? When the people desired a king, and neither the good olive tree, nor the fruitful fig tree, nor the vine full of pleasant wine consented to reign, then they turned to a bramble, madly thinking they could find shelter and protection in its shade; but instead, a fire came out and consumed them all. So, too, when Gideon and the other judges had not consented to reign as king, understanding that a Messiah must come, then the people madly set up this Abimelech as king, thinking they could find shelter in a bramble-bush; but instead of protecting, he destroyed.

    You will notice, in this account, how the elders of Shechem, when they had once acted so foolishly in crowning Abimelech, could not thenceforth rid themselves of their terrible burden; for even when Gaal, seeing the misery he had brought upon the people, thought to get rid of Abimelech, yet his plot was turned upon his own head, and Shechem was utterly destroyed and sown with salt by this furious king, whom, having foolishly submitted to, he could never again be freed from (Judges 9:22-57). But take especial care to note how Abimelech's downfall finally came about: for a weak, despised woman cast a millstone from a tower, which crushed the head of the monster, so that a young man had to pierce him through with a sword.

    Now, it takes very little imagination to discern how this fantastic devastation points ahead most poignantly to what we learn of the Antichrist, from the apostle; for just as Abimelech came claiming to be the heir of Gideon, that type of the Savior, and a son of the true king, so the Antichrist will arise claiming to come from Christ, and he will set himself up as the son of the Most High King, in the very Temple of God. And just as we have seen, when he has offered to protect the people, making with them a covenant of peace, he will instead most perfidiously set his hand to destroy them all. And in this further respect, too, he is like the Antichrist: whereas, the good trees did not consent to exalt themselves as king, so that it was finally a little bramble that boasted such great things, so too, all those who are truly great in the Kingdom of Heaven, and as fruitful as a good olive tree, do not exalt themselves, but rather become the servant of all (Mat. 20:25-28); and thus, they who are least in the Kingdom of Heaven are really the greatest (Mat. 18:3-4; 19:30); but they who exalt themselves will be abased (Mat. 23:12), as this Abimelech was.

    We must make this point of application, before we proceed to the life of Jephthah; and that is, that they who once submitted to Abimelech, thinking that they would be powerful in his kingdom, when they had later thought to escape from him were only destroyed; but instead, it was a contemptible woman who, in weakness wielding a mighty Stone from a tall Tower, wrought the final victory. So, too, they who submit to the religion of Antichrist will never escape the punishment reserved for the devil and all his hosts; but in thinking they will be mighty in his kingdom, they will enmesh themselves in certain destruction. Who, then, may overcome? Only those who resort for defense to the only High Tower of our deliverance, and who hope in the Rock of our salvation for the destruction of all our enemies. This is the true Church, which in the eyes of the world is weak and despised, as this woman was; but in the end, she will be vindicated before all her proud foes. Let the reader consider well; for the religion of Antichrist is already at work in this world, and all who bow down to his throne, and take his mark upon their foreheads, will never escape his judgment; and the end of Gaal illustrates this solemn truth most poignantly.

    Thus, after the most amazing victory, the people were plunged again into a most hopeless morass of despair, signifying the insufficiency of any mere judge, however instructive his deliverance might be, to save the people fully and finally. Ah, how the people must have yearned for a Savior indeed! And they would have to yearn all the more, as the years passed by, and one judge arose after the other, first Tola and then Jair (Judges 10:1-5), and still no Messiah appeared. How inadequate were all these judges; they were but shadowy promises of something more substantial, that seemed to tarry forever. The people still had no king, no security, no peace in the land; and their hard-hearted rebellion was to show itself once more, as they plunged themselves, yet again, into the stinking cesspool of idolatry and apostasy (Judges 10:6-18). How immense beyond all utterance must be the lovingkindness of the God of Israel, that he would hear their cries yet again, after so many judges had saved them, and so many times they had turned again to their vomit and wallowing in the filth of idol-worship!

    Thus has the stage been set for the entrance of our next great judge, Jephthah; and he is already become a fitting type of the Savior in respect of his coming unto the people after so many years of sorrow and despair, which they had brought upon themselves by their incorrigible wickedness.

    In these other respects, as well, was Jephthah qualified to be a type of the Christ: first, he was a mighty warrior, and yet despised by all his brothers (Judges 11:1-2). Second, worthless and despised outcasts gathered themselves around him (Judges 11:3), just as the despised disciples, not the proud and mighty, gathered themselves to Jesus. Third, although Jephthah's brothers hated him, yet when they were in distress they came to him for help, and he was importuned to help them – just as the fickle crowds were ever bringing their sick and oppressed to Jesus, who healed them all, even knowing what was in their heart (Judges 11:4-11). Fourth, when this mighty warrior set out to deliver the people, he first spoke the truth of God's great redemptive works in history, and offered a way of peace; but his message of truth was hated and despised (Judges 11:12-28). Fifth, he was filled with the Spirit, and thus enabled to win a great victory (Judges 11:29-33).

    Sixth, after he had won the victory for his people, against their enemies, then he smote the wicked tribe of Ephraim, who were angry and jealous. And this is the way he did it; he asked every person who would pass over the Jordan to pronounce the word “Shibboleth,” which signifies “streams of water”. But the tribesmen of Ephraim, as they had continued some time in a location separate from the majority of the people, had developed a distinctive accent, and could not pronounce the word aright; and so, inasmuch as their speech revealed them for who they were (cf. also Mat. 26:73), they were not hidden from Jephthah, and he put them all to death (Judges 12:1-6). This, too, looks ahead to the Savior's work, and is a most distinctive typological feature of Jephthah's ministry. For we learn, by this means, that after Christ has saved his people from their enemies, then he will certainly purify and judge all the outwardly-designated people of God, gathering the chaff into the furnace and the wheat into his barn (Mat. 3:11-12); separating the goats from the sheep (Mat. 25:31-46); uprooting all the tares but preserving the wheat (Mat. 13:24-30, 36-43). Just as the Ephraimites wished to cross over the Jordan into the promised land, but were unable because they could not pronounce “Shibboleth” aright; so too many falsely-named Christians will desire to pass over, after death, into the eternal kingdom; but they will not rightly know the streams of water gushing up into everlasting life (cf. John 4:13-14), that is, the Holy Spirit whom the Savior pours out upon all his own (John 7:37-39); and since they only seem to have these streams of water within, but do not indeed, they will be destroyed with eternal fire. In this way did Jephthah's discernment and destruction of the impostors from Ephraim, after he had won the victory for the people, look ahead to the final judgment seat of Christ, when, having won the victory for his people, he will purge out the chaff from among them.

    We have often said that, even while the judges portrayed Christ in typological fashion, so too in their own failings they signified just as clearly that they were not the Christ indeed, but only looked ahead to him; and their failings thus underscored the need for Christ even while their successes portrayed what the longed-for Christ would do. This is likewise true of Jephthah; for he, too, displayed a remarkable and tragic shortcoming in the midst of his triumph. Even while he was filled with the Spirit, and in the midst of working a mighty, Spirit-wrought victory, he uttered a most unseemly vow, that he would offer up as a burnt offering the first one that came to greet him after the battle. When he had won the battle, and his only child came out to greet him, being as yet a virgin maiden, then he put her to death to fulfill that foolish vow; and this became a cause of great sorrow all throughout Israel (Judges 11:29-40).

    Does this not show, in a figure, how utterly insufficient Jephthah's salvation was? For the true Savior would vow a vow, and fulfill it by the power of the Spirit, that he would save the true virgin daughter of the Almighty, even the Church, although it would require of him that he offer himself up as a burnt offering to the Lord. Gideon vowed a vow and offered up his virgin daughter to God as a holy sacrifice; and she was forced to bear the brunt of the burden. Later, the true Christ would likewise vow a vow and thence offer up his virgin daughter, the Church, as a holy Sacrifice to God; but unlike the judge, he would bear the brunt of the burden himself, and pass with her through the fire, so that all the flames kindled upon himself, and all the wrath and judgment fell upon his own strong shoulders and blameless head. Thus, when she passed through that fire and became holy to God, it was not to death, but to life; it was not to her own destruction, but to her salvation through her substitute and representative. Gideon made this type of the Church a holy offering to God; but he could not do what the Christ did, and by suffering in her place free her from all the sting of the holy requirement of the Law, and make her alive to its blessing. Thus, in this one act, most of all, did mighty Jephthah show the need for a mightier Savior yet, who could vow to make the Church a holy offering to God, and then do so without harming her and putting her to death (except a death to sin and the curse, in union with himself), no, but by saving her and making her alive. What a strong Savior must it be, who could perform so great a deliverance!

    Praise be to God, that a Savior has been found to bear the fire of God's wrath so that we might be made a holy sacrifice to him, and yet not be destroyed by the fierceness of his anger against sin!

    Posted by Nathan on January 10, 2011 02:43 PM

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