4 Warnings From a Broken Savior

Every now and then I catch myself telling my kids some story without fully remembering the end of that story. And I’ll look up at my wife, who is frantically shaking her head “no,” because she remembers that story. And her internal filter is saying, “Not age appropriate!”

There are certain stories in Scripture that seem to scream “not age appropriate.” For very good reasons, they aren’t the ones chosen to be in children’s Bibles … because they’re deeply unsettling. The story of Jephthah is one such story.

Jephthah was one of the judges in Israel, but what makes his story so disturbing and tragic was the way he mixed some of God with some of his own ideas. He saved Israel from their oppressors, but in the process, he sacrificed his own daughterliterally, put her on an altar and burned her alive.

It can be hard to know just what to do with a story as heinous as this. We may be inclined to rush past it. But we had better not, because Jephthah has four timely warnings for all of us.

1. We are far more influenced by our culture than we realize.

Jephthah didn’t realize it, but most of his outlook on God and life was shaped by the culture he was in. He knew enough from God’s Word to lead Israel boldly into battle, but he also didn’t flinch to promise human sacrifice as a way of ensuring military victory.

Jephthah was desensitized to violence, so much so that killing his own daughter seemed like the obvious price to pay for success. It wasn’t some idea Jephthah cooked up in his own head, though: Child sacrifice was precisely what the surrounding nations did to please their gods. So right there, mixed in with real devotion to the one true God, is a practice indebted to pagan worship.

We might shake our heads at Jephthah, but we have to realize that we do the exact same thing. We mix a little bit of the gospel with a little bit of our culture, and the result—though natural to us—is just as toxic as Jephthah’s faith. Our culture is not as advanced as we might think. We just worship different gods.

2. Our idolatry has devastating effects on those around us.

The impurity of Jephthah’s faith cost a lot of people, including his daughter, dearly. And while our idols of choice are different, our idolatry has equally devastating effects. Sadly, the ones that suffer most are usually the most vulnerable and weak among us.

Consider, for instance, that 1 in every 3 kids in the U.S. grows up in a single parent home. Why? Because one of the parents—or both—decided that their desires were more important than what was best for the family.

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J.D. Greear, Ph.D., is the President of the Southern Baptist Convention and pastors the Summit Church in Raleigh-Durham, NC. Tagged by Outreach magazine as one of the fastest growing churches in America, the Summit has grown in the past 8 years from 400 to over 5,000 each weekend. The Summit Church is deeply involved in global church planting, having undertaken the mission to plant 1000 churches in the next 40 years. J.D. has authored Breaking the Islam Code and the upcoming Gospel: Recovering the Power that Made Christianity Revolutionary.