Super Mario is an iconic video game from the 1980s and 90s. Thanks to its creator, Shigeru Miyamoto, millions of gamers (children and adults, alike!) can take control of a plumber named Mario and hit the blocks, jump off platforms, and ride up and down pipes to save the Princess from the evil villain, Bowser. If successful, the Princess is freed and the final victory scene is unveiled. While Mario is displayed as the victor on the final screen, we all know it was really the player behind the controls that deserved the credit.
Up to this point in our sermon series, the history of the judges has followed a similar trajectory. God chooses an unlikely hero to save His bride from the clutches of the enemy. God never fails to rescue His bride when He sets out to save her (Judges 2:18), but frequently the reset button is pushed on the Nintendo controller. Mario gets old and dies, the Princess goes missing, and the next time the game is turned on, the Princess is held captive by Bowser. Worse still, it seems as though the Princess has willingly gone back to live as a prisoner in Bowser’s castle. Yet again, God will need to raise up another judge, but something different happens in Judges 11.
In the case of Othniel, Deborah, and Gideon, to name a few, God had chosen these judges specifically to rescue the Israelites. This time, however, God doesn’t choose his judge. He, instead, is presented with Jephthah, a man presumptuously chosen by the elders of Gilead. It is tantamount to the Princess telling Shigeru Miyamoto the best way to play the game, rather than relying on the expertise of the designer, himself. Instead of getting the character selection screen when the game turns on, Donkey Kong is waiting in Level One, ready to go. Donkey Kong is an iconic character in his own right, even developed by the same designer who created Mario, but he’s not the hero of the Mario series. He may exemplify the mighty-warrior persona, but he actually started out as a bit of an antagonist, like Jephthah. If this happened to me, I would probably have reset the game and tried again, chocking it up to a glitch in the system. In fact, there was a glitch, but God used it anyways to rescue the same people who planted the glitch.
When we are successful without consulting God, our tendency is to applaud our own efforts, and to credit our own ingenuity and foresight. The other pitfall is to give credit to God for something He did not sanction, using His name to validate our own choices. It’s likely the Gileadites didn’t even realize they acted independent of God. Our response to the story of Jephthah should prompt some personal reflection:
- Are we aware of the times we make decisions on our own and justify them based on success?
- Are we in danger of relying on our own voice when God takes longer than we want to speak?
- Are we guilty of talking about Jesus, but not to Him?
The remedy for independent ambition is to be in conversation with God; praying for wisdom and discernment, reading the words He has revealed through the Scriptures, and confessing the times we act according to our will, rather than His.
The cycle of rebellion and repentance repeats itself throughout the remainder of Judges – the Princess continually becomes a prisoner in Bowser’s castle. To break the cycle, the designer Himself needs to enter the game, not just to rescue His bride, but to destroy the castle and powers that held her captive.