Judges 11

This post follows the Bible reading plan available at oaktreechurch.com/soap.

Chapter eleven tells the story of Jephthah and his battle against the Ammonites (beginning in Judges 10:17). Like Abimelech, Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute, so he did not have a good relationship with his brothers from his father’s wife (Judges 11:1-3). They kicked him out of the house, and he formed a gang of “lawless men.”

“Some time after this” the Ammonites and Israel were at war, and the leaders of Gilead (Jephthah’s clan) requested his help (Judges 11:4-11). When he refused, citing their past disdain for him, they begged him, promising to make him their leader, if God granted them success in battle; he agreed to those terms. His first act as commander was to engage the Ammonites diplomatically (Judges 11:12-28). Asking why they were attacking Israel, he received the response that Ammon believed Israel had taken their land, and they wanted it back. Jephthah returned a message, detailing the true historical record – how Israel had defeated the Amorite king, Sihon, but they never attacked Moab or Ammon. This was true even though these nations tried to use Balaam to curse Israel (Numbers 22-24). If God had protected Israel so far, how did Ammon think they could defeat Israel now? 1 However, “the Ammonite king disregarded the message sent by Jephthah.”

With Ammon’s response, God led Jephthah to take action against them (Judges 11:29-33). However, before going into battle, Jephthah vowed to God that, if God granted them success, whoever was the first to greet him at home would become a burnt offering to God. God did grant them success, but Jephthah was crushed when, returning home, his only child – a daughter – ran out to greet him first (Judges 11:34-40).

Much has been written about whether Jephthah fulfilled his vow or if his daughter simply remained a virgin in God’s service for the rest of her life (and even why he made that vow at all!). Those who reject that he followed through with his vow literally insist 1) that human sacrifice was always an abomination to God; 2) that the girl’s friends (and future generations) bemoaned her virginity, not her death; and 3) that God had established in the law a way to redeem a person who had been dedicated to him (Leviticus 27).

On the other hand, the natural reading of the passage seems to indicate that he did follow through with the sacrifice: 1) He said that he could not break his oath to God; 2) the special time to mourn her virginity with her friends was meaningless if they could mourn it the rest of her life; 3) the annual memorial feast is more appropriate for her death. Most importantly, the text states that, when she returned, “he did to her the vow which he vowed” (literal translation).

Notes:

  1. Judges 11:26 contains a rare time reference in Judges. According to Jephthah, Israel had been living in those areas “for three hundred years.” If this refers to when they entered that area approximately 1405 B.C., before the conquest of Canaan, Jephthah lived around 1100 B.C.

Acts 2

Chapter two records the event that has set the tone for the past 2,000 years of human history. The apostles waited for ten days in Jerusalem for the baptism of the Holy Spirit that Jesus promised, until the Day of Pentecost (Acts 2:1-3). While the Twelve 1 were celebrating the Feast of Weeks together (Leviticus 23:15-22), the Holy Spirit entered the house where they had gathered, coming in the form of a singular flame of fire which divided itself and “CAME TO REST UPON EACH ONE OF THEM.” This signified that his presence was not only general but individual.

Immediately the men (Acts 2:15) began praising God in other languages (Acts 2:4). Quoting the prophet Joel, Peter explained that this miracle was the manifestation of the Holy Spirit in them (Acts 2:14-21), which began to fulfill God’s promise that the Spirit would come upon people again. We should note that this is the clearest passage in Scripture on the subject of what “tongues” are; they are human languages previously unknown 2 to the speaker. Additionally, it is important to observe that the preaching was done in the common language, not in the other languages. The other languages were used to give praise to God, not the gospel message or new revelation or prophecy. This was the pattern in all three occurrences of speaking in tongues/languages in Acts (Acts 2:1-13; 10:44-48; 19:1-7).

After explaining how the Twelve could miraculously speak these other languages, Peter preached to the captivated crowd, highlighting two key points, each prefaced by “David said.” First, Jesus was God’s prophet, whom they publicly crucified, but he was resurrected (Acts 2:22-32). Second, Jesus was God’s Messiah, and he ascended to heaven to wait until he can receive his kingdom (Acts 2:33-36). This was the crux of the matter: “GOD HAS MADE THIS JESUS WHOM YOU CRUCIFIED BOTH LORD AND CHRIST” (LORD = Jehovah, CHRIST = Messiah).

Under the conviction of the Holy Spirit, the crowd asked the apostles how they should respond to the message (Acts 2:37-41). Peter’s reply was that they should repent – the same message given by John the Baptizer, Jesus, and the apostles over the previous several years. Upon repentance, they would gain forgiveness of their sins and the Holy Spirit as God’s gift. Each one who believed should also be baptized as a public indication of this new belief. 3

Out of the thousands in Jerusalem for Pentecost, “ABOUT THREE THOUSAND PEOPLE” joined the little band of Christians that day (Acts 2:41-47). Fully expecting that Jesus would return shortly, especially after that show of acceptance, they gathered together regularly, both in the Temple and in their homes. They began selling off their possessions and sharing what they had with each other, knowing they would not need anything in the Kingdom, because the prophets promised that Messiah would provide for them. They listened to the apostles teach, probably what they had learned from Jesus about the Kingdom (Acts 1:3). They were a happy, excited group, constantly sharing their joy with their neighbors. As a result, many others joined their group expecting to see Messiah again any day.

Notes:

  1. Whether it was only the Twelve or the entire group of believers gathered on that day is debated, but the evidence seems to lean toward only the Twelve.
  2. “Previously unknown” does not mean that the men were able to speak these languages fluently again. It means that, at the time of their speaking, they knew what they were saying, although they had not learned that language before.
  3. Most English translations make it seem as if water baptism was required in order to be forgiven and receive the Holy Spirit. While it is a command in the sentence, the structure of the Greek language separates baptism from the rest of the sentence, not putting it on the same level as repentance but subsequent to repentance.

1 Corinthians 15

Chapter fifteen concludes the teaching portion of Paul’s letter. The final topic he needed to address was the resurrection. His opening statement, that he wanted “to make clear…the gospel,” reminds us that some of these believers were still “infants in Christ” (3:1) and that they were uncertain on the basic doctrines of the faith. It was also a good time to remind them of the gospel that they needed to preach in their meetings, so unbelievers could be convicted and believe (1 Corinthians 14:23-25). The basic message of the gospel is simple: Christ died for our sins and was raised on the third day. Both of these events were prophesied in the Hebrew Scriptures, and they were confirmed by his public burial and post-resurrection eyewitnesses, respectively (1 Corinthians 15:3-11). Not only did he appear to individual apostles and small groups, including Paul himself, Jesus appeared to “more than five hundred of the brothers and sisters at one time.” For anyone who thought that could not possibly be true, Paul challenged them to visit these eyewitnesses, “most of whom [were] still alive” at the time of his writing, twenty years after the fact. Circling back to his theme from chapter one, this is the only message Paul had, and this is what the Corinthians had originally believed.

This simple, verifiable message did not stop people from trying to lead the believers astray, though. Even though Paul said they could talk to eyewitnesses of Jesus’ resurrection, those people were almost 1,000 miles away, and some of the Corinthians were beginning to believe that the concept of a resurrection was a hoax (1 Corinthians 15:12-19). Paul countered that, if that were true, three other truths would be certain as well. First, no resurrection at all means that Christ was not raised. Second, a dead Christ means that our faith is empty, we are false witnesses, and we are still in our sins. Third, no resurrection means no hope for those who have already died.

Against this false teaching, Paul pointed them back to the Old Testament Scriptures, noting that death has been common since Adam and that their belief in Christ was a belief that he undid what Adam did; thus, a resurrection from the dead is both theologically and logically sound and necessary (1 Corinthians 15:20-28). He also pointed to the prophecies of what Christ is supposed to do: rule in his kingdom until all his enemies are eliminated, including death itself. None of this is possible if Christ is still dead.

Paul’s comment about people being “baptized for the dead” (1 Corinthians 15:29-34) has found its way into Mormon theology, where living people can be baptized in the place of their dead relatives to create a retroactive salvation for them. This has caused a great debate in Christianity as well. It is possible that these Corinthians had been including the pagan practice of baptism for the dead because they had begun to disbelieve the basic gospel (which does not include baptism at all) and the truth of the resurrection. This view fits the context of Paul’s comments about their human thinking, bad company, and command to stop sinning. 1

Paul anticipated a further question asking for more detail about the resurrection: “How are the dead raised? With what kind of body will they come?” (1 Corinthians 15:35-49). His response indicates that this was not a line of honest questioning but one of defiance. His answer was simple: the resurrection body will be similar but different than our current bodies. Humans were meant to live in physical bodies, and we will live forever in physical bodies, except that they will be better. Some people believe there is a difference between “flesh and blood” and “flesh and bone” (1 Corinthians 15:50-58). 2 Regardless of the details, Paul was clear that our resurrected bodies will become imperishable and immortal. This will happen in an instant, at the Rapture, both for dead saints and those still alive. At that time, “death [will be] swallowed up in victory.” This truth should cause us all to live in victory, “knowing that [our] labor is not in vain in the Lord.”

Notes:

  1. Another option is that some had come to believe because of Christians who had died, and their baptism was due to the others’ martyrdom. This is more palatable and has a lot of support from conservative scholars, but it does not seem to be the natural reading.
  2. Paul here said that “flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God.” Some compare this to Adam’s statement that Eve was from his “flesh and bone,” indicating that they did not have blood at that time. Since physical life is connected to blood (Genesis 9:4; Leviticus 17:11, 14), their conclusion is that spiritual life does not need blood. For an explanation of this position, see Henry Morris, “Flesh and Bones”, https://www.icr.org/article/5946 (accessed 10/23/2015).