Sermon: Silent and Inactive God? – Judges 10:6 -11: 33 – Apostle Larry J. Morris III

Preached February 28, 2021

For the public reading: Judges 10:10-16, 11:1, 29-33. 

10 So the Israelites cried to the Lord, saying, “We have sinned against you, because we have abandoned our God and have worshiped the Baals.” 11 And the Lord said to the Israelites, “Did I not deliver you[a] from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Ammonites and from the Philistines? 12 The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites, and the Maonites, oppressed you; and you cried to me, and I delivered you out of their hand. 13 Yet you have abandoned me and worshiped other gods; therefore I will deliver you no more. 14 Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” 15 And the Israelites said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you; but deliver us this day!” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them and worshiped the Lord; and the Lord could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.

1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite, the son of a prostitute, was a mighty warrior. Gilead was the father of Jephthah…29 Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whoever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return victorious from the Ammonites, shall be the Lord’s, to be offered up by me as a burnt offering.” 32 So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand. 33 He inflicted a massive defeat on them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty towns, and as far as Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

Happy last day of Black History Month! We have heard preaching this month on establishing and maintaining Black Habits; we don’t have to give up our Blackness to follow the Lord Jesus Christ. Teacher Toni preached us through the Sounds of Blackness and reminded us to Keep Our Heads Toward the Sky, because we’re Gonna Be Free, if we remain Optimistic. Last week Prophet Anita preached on Watchmen and challenged us with the question, “who are you called to keep watch over?” 

All month as we celebrate the beauty, brilliance, and resilience of Black folk, I keep hearing this question, “how long, Lord, how long?” Yes, we’re celebrating freedom and yet, we still ain’t free. Are Black folks really liberated without reparations? The other day, I heard the lament, “God where are you and why haven’t you done anything to really help us?” I cannot judge the person or this lament, because truth be told, I’ve said the same thing this week. “Lord, where are You? Do you see my struggle? Are you going to intervene? Are you going to change this particular situation? Now, whether you tell the truth today or not, I know I am not the only person with these questions. And if I can’t get a witness here, there are some folks willing to testify in today’s text. 

If you’re familiar at all with the Old Testament, you know Israel had this habit of abandoning the Lord. And the Lord had the habit of giving Israel over to do whatever they wanted to do. Teacher Toni, mentioned God’s gift of free will, that we have the freedom to choose what to do. God ain’t gon’ force us to love and serve God. Israel often used their free will to abandon the Lord. When things got madd tough for Israel because they were out of right relationship with the Lord and did not have the Lord’s care, provision, and protection, they had the habit of saying, “Lord, we have sinned against You. We’re sorry. We’ll give up all the other things. Please take us back.” I know we say the Lord was an OG in the Old Testament, but the Lord had the habit of taking Israel back. The Lord would raise a leader or judge that would defend Israel and defeat whatever enemy Israel was facing. In our reading today, things are a little different. 

Israel, the people of God, go about their routine of repentance. “God, we’ve sinned. We abandoned You and we’re sorry.” God was like, “Heard it all before…Didn’t I already deliver you from those who oppressed you? Yet you have abandoned me and worshiped other gods; therefore I will deliver you no more. 14 Go and cry to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.” The people of God completed their routine of repentance. They appealed to the compassion of God and cleaned house. The end of verse 16 says, “and the Lord could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.” The text does not record God saying or doing anything. Simply, “the Lord could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.” God did not promise Israel Divine help so the community got to work to find some help.

Walk with me through the story…

Jephthah enters the narrative. The text says Jephthah was a mighty warrior and-but-comma the son of a prostitute. Jephthah was a mighty warrior, a man of valor – but his mama was a prostitute, some would call a ho. The Hebrew word and phrase for prostitute in this text could also be translated as “a woman who commits fornication” or as “someone who is unfaithful to their lover.” Israel was often accused of being unfaithful to the Lord. I’m just saying…The Hebrew word and phrase for prostitute in this text could also describe a woman who is divorced. It is possible that Jephthah’s mama, let’s call her Diamond, it’s possible that Diamond was a sex worker – a woman who survived and sustained herself using the resources she had that people paid her for. It’s also possible that Diamond was married and divorced from Jephthah’s dad or that she simply had Jephthah when she wasn’t married. We don’t know for sure. But these are possibilities and the text wants us to know that this mighty warrior, who would be used by the Lord to deliver the Lord’s people, did not come from what some call a “traditional” or “favorable” home. 

Jephthah’s father was Gilead. If it’s possible that Diamond was a sex worker, it is also possible that the name Gilead could be a substitute for any man in the town of Gilead. It’s possible Jephthah grew up not knowing exactly who his father was. And as he grew up he came to know who his father was. Maybe he grew up hearing, “You look just like one of them Morris’s are ya’ll family?” or maybe Diamond was like, “this has to be Ray Ray’s son. They look alike and act alike.” Or maybe Diamond and this man Gilead had a love affair but marriage wasn’t on the menu. Maybe they were young and in love but the timing was right and they went their separate ways. Maybe all the family secrets came out when Gilead died. We all know how funerals can be. We don’t know for sure. Again, these are possibilities and the text wants us to know that this mighty warrior, who would be used by the Lord to deliver the Lord’s people, did not come from what some call a “traditional” or “favorable” home. 

What we do know is Gilead married another woman and had sons. When it was time for the inheritance, Jephthah’s brothers told him, “nah bro. You’re not getting any of this money because you are the son of another woman.” And they ran him out of town. They didn’t pay him or bribe him to go away. The text says that Jephthah fled for his life and lived in the land of Tob. In the land of Tob, Jephthah, the mighty warrior and-but-comma son of a prostitute – found community with outlaws. We can’t miss this, the text says, “outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him.” Jephthah was rejected by his family, community, and those on the inside of the establishment, the proper folk, but the gift that he was – was still active and alive. The folks who were also rejected by their families, communities, and the establishment followed this mighty warrior. They saw the gift and honored the gift. 

Israel is still in trouble and the Lord is still silent and inactive. 

The elders of Gilead go to Tob to find Jephthah. Mind you, the elders didn’t say or do a thing when Jephthah’s brothers ran him out of town, but they knew where he was. They go to Tob to convince Jephthah to come back and help them live. Jephthah says to them, “ya’ll drove me out of town and now you come to me when you’re in trouble?” Jephthah didn’t just hold his brothers accountable for driving him out of town, he held the elders accountable as well. One would think the elders intervene at the site of injustice and abuse. These elders didn’t even apologize but simply said, “nevertheless, we’re here now, come with us, and lead us.” Jephthah is the one who invokes the name of the Lord in the conversation saying, “if the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head.” Maybe Diamond taught Jephthah some things about the Lord and living. Maybe Diamond told him that is the Lord who grants success and victory. Maybe Diamond taught him about the power of forgiveness and to only reconcile if he chooses to do so. The elders and Jephthah make an agreement and they head back to Gilead. The end of verse 11 says, “Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.” We can see Jephthah takes his relationship with the Lord seriously and honors his words. He went to the sacred place and worshipped. 

Then Jephthah gets to work. He tries to use his skills of negotiation with those oppressing Israel – he tries the nonviolent route, but it doesn’t work – so he went to war. 

Verses 29 reads, “29 Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh. He passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites.” The Lord shows up on the scene. The Lord is a visible part of the action now. In the Old Testament, the Spirit of the Lord came upon folks to get things done. The Spirit of the Lord on a person was a sign of approval and acceptance. This silent and seemingly inactive God comes upon Jephthah and gives him momentum to get things done, to defeat the oppressors and to lead the people of Gilead into victory. We will get into the consequences of the unnecessary vow Jephthah made next week. Don’t make any vows between now and next week. But don’t miss today. The text is showing us, that the Lord affirmed and anointed and appointed, Jephthah, the mighty warrior and-but-comma, the son of a prostitute, before Jephthah made the vow in verse 30. God had been silent and seemingly inactive for forty-one verses. The last words God spoke to Israel were, “Go and cry to the gods you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” in chapter 10:14. But at the end of 10:16, the text says, “the Lord could no longer bear to see Israel suffer.” Just because God is silent and seemingly inactive, does not mean that God does not notice or care about our suffering. “How long, Lord, how long?” 

Unlike the Israelites in this text, we have the benefit of knowing about and experiencing the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of the Lord Jesus Christ. Some would call that the good news. When we experience God as being silent and seemingly inactive, we can call to mind the reality of the life, death, burial, resurrection, and ascension of Jesus Christ. When life is challenging and we don’t seem to have what we need, in his life, Jesus taught us to “ask, and it will be given; search, and we will find; knock, and the door will be opened for us. For everyone who asks receives and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. If we can give good gifts, how much will God give good things to those who ask God.” The death of Jesus Christ wipes away all of our sins – sins against God and each other – and opens the door for reconciliation. The burial of Jesus reminds us of our baptism and death to our old nature of rebellion toward God and each other, and the resurrection of Jesus Christ gives us the power to live resurrected and liberated lives. Lives dedicated to righteousness, joy, and peace in the Holy Spirit. The resurrection power allows us to do the right and holy things, even when our old nature doesn’t want to. Jesus ascended to sit at the right hand of God where Jesus lives to make intercession for us. Praying that we do the right thing. Praying that we use every gift God has given us for the work of reconciliation and liberation. Before Jesus ascended, Paul reminds us that Jesus gave gifts to the church. Some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, some teachers, and some shepherds…for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry…work of reconciliation…the work of liberation.

Apostle Larry what are you saying, what does that have to do with this Judges text. 

Beloved I am saying, that just because God is silent and seemingly inactive does not mean that God is not at work. God feels the same way about us as God felt about Israel – God cannot bear to see us suffer. It grieves God to see us suffering. The difference is that at this point in the redemption story, at this point in history, God has provided what we need to do the work. In Jesus Christ God is reconciling the world to Godself and has given us this work of reconciliation. The Israelites in our text were without the full revelation and power of God as revealed in Jesus Christ. They had to wait for the Spirit of God to descend on them; God has given us the Spirit which lives in us. We don’t have to wait for the Spirit. We have God’s Spirit. The question is, “does the Spirit of God have us?”

Beloved, I am saying, that God has called you to a great work and if you have been rejected by family, community, and those on the inside of the establishment, you are in good company. If you grew up in a nontraditional family or if you have nontraditional faith, so did Jesus, and you are part of a powerful tradition. 

Beloved, I am saying, Do the good that’s evident in this text and avoid the bad. Keep on keeping on. Talk to God even when God is silent and is seemingly inactive. Find community even if it’s with the outcasts and the outlaws. Be about the work of liberation and freedom. Try the nonviolent route, but if nonviolence does not lead to liberation, be liberated “by any means necessary” or if you wanna quote the bible, “take it by force.”

Beloved, I am saying, When God is silent and seemingly inactive do not give into discouragement. Do not faint. 

28 Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of God’s understanding.

29 God gives power to the faint; and to them that have no might God increases strength.

30 Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young folks shall utterly fall:

31 But they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; and they shall walk, and not faint.

Beloved, I am saying, when God is silent and seemingly inactive, I exhort you to follow the good in this text: Ask, Seek, Knock and Wait. Wait on the Lord and be of good courage! Place your hope in our God, Compassionate Deliver! For the Lord delights in you and rejoices over you with songs of deliverance! 

In Jesus Christ, God has liberated us from death. In this God, we place our hope that God will continue to deliver us and to liberate us. And that we may be part of the liberating work of God. 

We have God, “how long, Lord, how long?” Might it be that God is silent and seemingly inactive because God is waiting for us to get to work?

Amen and Asé

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