Day 90: Judges 10–12, Psalm 76, John 10 – The Rev. Dr. A. Katherine Grieb

Judges 10–12, Psalm 76, John 10
By now the literary structure of Judges is clear: minor characters like Tola and Jair the
Gileadite (at the beginning of chapter 10) and Izban of Bethlehem, Elon the Zebulunite,
and Abdon, son of Hillel (at the end of chapter 12), serve as judges of Israel without major
incident. But after the repeated refrain “the Israelites again did what was evil in the sight
of the Lord” (see 10:6; 13:1), we hear how God gave the people into the hands of a foreign
power—the Ammonites in Judges 10–11—and Israel was cruelly oppressed until God
raised up someone to deliver them. Here it is Jephthah, a son of Gilead who was driven
out by Gilead’s other sons—a good thing for him, since they were all slaughtered by
Abimelech (9:5).
Now, in the time of Israel’s danger at the hands of the Ammonites, the elders of Gilead
are eager to patch things up with Jephthah: they promise that if he rescues them from
the Ammonites, he will rule over them. In chapter 11, we have a lengthy account of the
diplomatic arguments Jephthah attempts with the Ammonites, but when diplomacy
fails, Jephthah prepares for war. The narrator tells us that the Spirit of the Lord falls on
Jephthah as he travels toward the battle. We are also told that Jephthah makes a vow
so foolish that it has prompted generations of Jewish and Christian sages to wonder
whether he should have broken it. He promises that if God gives the Ammonites into his
hand, he will sacrifice whatever or whoever first greets him upon his return home. God
gives him the victory, and when he returns home, his little daughter, his only child, comes
dancing out to greet him. We hear how she prepares for death and is duly sacrificed to
fulfill his foolish vow.
Psalm 76 praises the God of Israel who puts an end to war and dwells in Jerusalem, the
city of peace. The “human wrath” that serves only to praise God in verse 10 may refer to
Israel’s enemies; but it is unlikely that the sentence “make vows to the Lord your God and
perform them” (v. 11) refers to vows like Jephthah’s because God is described as the One
who rises up in judgment “to save all the oppressed from the earth” (v. 9), which surely
includes young children like Jephthah’s daughter.
In John 10, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd who watches over the sheep
and protects them from wolves and thieves. Unlike the hired hand who does not care
and runs away, the good shepherd lays his life down for his sheep. He knows them all
and calls them by name. We are reminded of this passage later in John 20 when Jesus
calls Mary Magdalene by name. It is only then that she recognizes the risen Lord and
greets him joyfully.

When, if ever, is it right to break a vow
made to God or to others in the presence
of God? (This question arises even for
vows that were not made foolishly, such
as marriage vows or vows taken by those
in religious orders.)
What is your first memory of Jesus the
Good Shepherd? How has he called you
by your name? In what ways has God
shepherded you through difficulties or
Day 90, continued
Dear Lord, watch over us now as you have
watched over us in the past. Keep us from
all harm and bring us safely to places of
rest and refreshment. Watch especially over
the children of the world, who are so often
sacrificed to human greed, ambition, and
violence. Amen.
Day 91: