Jephthah is a minor player in the Bible who reveals a major aspect of God’s character.
Although he eventually rose to become judge of Israel for six years, he had a very rough start in life. According to Judges 11, he was the son of a prostitute, and his father’s “legitimate” sons drove him out of the house so he would not share their inheritance.
The Bible says he “fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him.” Nice start: eh? Outcast son of a prostitute and leader of a gang of thugs, probably by the time he was a teenager.
His leadership qualities and tough-guy reputation were noticed and eventually the elders from his town asked him to return and lead them in battle against the Ammonites.
He tried to reason with the Ammonites, but they wouldn’t listen to him. It was at this point that “the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah” and he “advanced against the Ammonites.”
…but not before he made this vow to God:
I don’t know how many times during my years as a Christian I heard, “Nobody is beyond salvation. No matter how bad you are, you are not beyond God’s forgiveness.”
Recently I attended a Christian gathering and saw this poster on the wall:
Although some might question the particulars of those characters’ stories, the sentiment pervades the evangelical church.
How about you? Do you believe that nobody is beyond God’s reach?
You’re no doubt familiar with this portion of the Ten Commandments:
You shall not make for yourself an [idol] … for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the parents to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me, but showing love to a thousand generations of those who love me and keep my commandments. (Exodus 20:4-6)
When Moses had to make new tablets a few chapters later, having broken the first set in anger over the people’s worship of the golden calf, God camped even harder on the theme of jealousy:
Do not worship any other god, for the Lord, whose name is Jealous, is a jealous God. (Exodus 34:14)
After the golden-calf incident, who can blame God for being peeved? As Dr. Paul Copan puts it in the book we have been considering for the last few posts, Is God a Moral Monster?,
Israel’s idolatry was like a husband finding his wife in bed with another man — on their honeymoon! The reason God is jealous is because he binds himself to his people in a kind of spousal intimacy. (page 36)
Continuing the marriage analogy, we have this on the next page:
God is a wounded husband who continually tries to woo his people back into harmony with him.
If God’s jealousy were always of this sort, then there could be no objection. However, there comes a point where jealousy becomes abuse.
President Obama has built a reputation as an incrementalist. Before he was elected in 2008, liberals had high hopes that he would turn the ship of state 180 degrees and sail in their direction. But as Howard Kurtz put it in the Washington Post as early as 2009, “Anyone who’s spent two weeks in Washington would know that Obama’s yes-we-can idealism would run smack into the capital’s no-we-won’t culture.”
As we reach the end of president Obama’s second term, he has become more assertive with the liberal aspects of his agenda, using the powers of the executive branch to bypass congress and get things done.
Did the God of the Bible follow a similar course as he brought his people from ignorance to salvation? Did he start by meeting them where they were — in the moral harshness of the Bronze Age — and bring them along incrementally until, finally, he made a full revelation in Jesus Christ?
Faced with evidence for an old universe such as starlight that has clearly taken billions of years to reach us, young-Earth creationists say, “God created the universe about 6,000 years ago, but in a mature state. Your conclusion that it is old is a matter of faith in naturalistic, uniformitarian assumptions. How do you know the speed of light or the passage of time have always been the same as they are now?”
Faced with evidence for evolution such as what we saw in the last post, creationists often reply, “You see evidence for evolution, but this could equally be the work of a Designer. Your conclusion of ‘evolution’ is a matter of faith just as much as my conclusion of ‘creation’.”
Is this true? Is the choice between mainstream science and creationism just a matter of choosing one faith or another?
At one level, yes. But let’s keep going.
If you’re just joining my story, here’s a quick catch-up. Once upon a time, I was an evangelical Christian. Although I was not a die-hard creationist, I considered creationists to be “my team” and evolutionists to be the godless “other team.” I trusted creationists because they were fellow Christians, and conservative ones at that. A decision my wife and I had to make forced me to investigate the creation/evolution issue more closely.
I hope the last few posts have given you a window into why I was appalled at how dishonest the creationist arguments turned out to have been. Now I’d like to give just a glimpse into the sort of arguments that I discovered on the side of evolution.
Most remarkable was the way completely independent lines of evidence all pointed to the same conclusion. This graph is an example. It’s from the book that opened my eyes to the power of the evolutionary explanation for life, Scientists Confront Creationism.
I’ll walk you through it, and then I’ll say why I found it so compelling.
This is a post I did not want to write. First of all, it requires me to speculate on what’s in other people’s heads, which I don’t like to do. Second, it requires me to use a mild cuss word, which makes me uncomfortable even in print. I’m posting anyway because on the first count there comes a time where you just have to say that a waddling, quacking, duck-like animal is, in fact, a duck; and on the second count the word “bullshit” happens to have no adequate synonym.
What is bullshit, and how does it differ from an ordinary lie? Princeton philosopher Harry Frankfurt gave a good answer in his famous essay, On Bullshit.
The bullshitter may not deceive us, or even intend to do so, either about the facts or about what he takes the facts to be. What he does necessarily attempt to deceive us about is his enterprise. His only indispensably distinctive characteristic is that in a certain way he misrepresents what he is up to.