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Distorted Images of God

Charlie Boyd - 3/20/2022


A.W. Tozer once said, “What comes into our minds when we think about God is the most important thing about us.” So, what comes into your mind when you see or hear the word “God?” If we asked 15 random people in downtown Greenville that question, no doubt we would get several different answers. How we answer that question has to do with how we were raised and influenced all through our growing-up years. Cultural and religious experiences, good and bad, can also shape the answer to that question. What we need most is to see God as He really is. In the Bible, God reveals to us who He is and what He’s like. Also, Scripture shows us how distorted images of God can lead us down a path to ruin. And, nowhere is that more evident than in the story of Jephthah found in the book of Judges.

SCRIPTURE: Judges 10:6-12:7


We need to give careful thought and attention to how we think about God. We need to root out distorted images of God and replace them with an accurate, Scriptural understanding of who God is and what He’s really like.  

Read Judges 10:6-10 —This is very much like what we’ve seen previously in the “Downward Spiral” of the book of Judges—The Israelites forget Yahweh—they sin against him by worshiping the gods of the pagan nations surrounding them—then—God disciplines them by bringing the nations of the gods they worship to conquer and oppress them—then—in their distress, the people cry out for God to save them—and the next thing we typically see is that—God sends a deliverer. That’s the pattern we’ve seen, but not this time. This time Yahweh says, “Go to the gods you worship and ask them for help.” …And then, we’re introduced to the main character in the story.

Read Judges 11:1-3 — Jephthah is a bad guy. He’s an outlaw. The mafia-like head of a gang of ruthless, reckless, bandits and thieves. So, here’s the question you’ve had since day one: How does all this talk about how bad these judges were square with Hebrews 11 where these very same men are commended for their faith? (See Hebrews 11:32-34)

Here’s the thing—you must not read Hebrews 11 back into judges in a way that sanitizes the lives of these Canaanized Israelites. They were bad men. The author of Hebrews is not saying that these men were “faithful” men. He’s saying that when these men “acted in faith,” God was able to do great things through them. “By faith” they overthrew kingdoms and put whole armies to flight. Yes, by faith, even Gideon ruled with justice for a while before falling back into his Canaanite ways. These men are being commended for their acts of faith, not for how they lived their lives. That’s the point.

In Judges 11:1-3, the author includes a lot of details about Jephthah’s growing up years, and to say the least, he came from an extremely dysfunctional family. His father was not a faithful Israelite. His mother was a Canaanite temple prostitute. His half-brothers taunted him and chastised him. It got so bad that he ran for his life to the hill country of Tob. The outcast became an outlaw.

Read Judges 11:4-11—What you see here is that Yahweh is completely absent from the story. The Lord doesn’t raise up a deliverer so the elders take matters into their own hands. They recruit Jephthah to be their leader. After a covenant is established, Jephthah immediately tries to negotiate peace with the king of the Ammonites, but it goes nowhere (11:12-28). But what we do see in this passage is that Jephthah knows ‘about’ Yahweh. He knows that in the past, Yahweh has delivered the Israelites in mighty ways. He knows ‘about’ Yahweh. He knows stories ‘about” Yahweh. But he doesn’t know Yahweh.

Read Judges 11:29—"At that time, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah” and he went through the land gathering troops to go up against the Ammonites. And it’s right here, we see that the best thing that judge Jephthah ever did and the worst mistake he ever made came within moments of each other.

Read Judges 11:30-31—Jephthah makes a vow to Yahweh—the same kind of vow that any good Canaanite would make to one of their gods. He vows to make a human sacrifice to Yahweh if Yahweh gives him victory in battle. He’s bargaining with God. He wants to force Yahweh’s hand by offering as a burnt-offering, a human sacrifice. Now, there are very good commentators who just cannot accept this and they do all kinds of exegetical gymnastics in an attempt to interpret this story so that Jephthah was simply offering an animal sacrifice. But there are simply too many details in the story that do not add up to an animal sacrifice (See if you can find them. It’s not hard).

Read Judges 11:32-35—You have to wonder who he thought would come out of his house? Like, an old servant or maybe crazy uncle Hiram who he despised. Clearly, he never thought it would be his only child, the daughter he dearly loved. Had he known Scripture, he would have known that Yahweh abhorred and prohibited the Canaanite practice of human/child sacrifice (Lev18:21, 20:1-5). He also would have known that according to Lev27:4), he could have paid a priest 30 shekels of silver to get out of the stupid, rash vow he made. But he didn’t know the God of his Hebrew Bible. He knew about God, but his view of Yahweh was deeply distorted by his Canaanite background and culture.

This is a different kind of idolatry than we’ve seen in the book of Judges so far. Jephthah didn’t go to worship a pagan idol god. No, the idolatry we see here is the most deceptive and subtle idolatry there is. Jephthah constructed a Canaanite version of Yahweh. He blended his cultural background and beliefs with what he knew about Yahweh and it ultimately led to his own ruin. The worst form of idolatry is making the One, True God into someone He is not.

This story challenges us to think about our own ideas of who God is. It challenges us to think about where distorted images of God may have come from.

A distorted image of God is a lie that keeps us from knowing God as He really is. Distorted images of God always disappoint and often destructively so. They never fail to fail us. Our distorted images of God color the way we look at God and life and even in how we interpret Scripture.

Here are seven of the most common distorted images of God.

  • The distant, impersonal god (Jesus is the God-who-sympathizes-with-our-weakness)
  • The “lightning-bolt” god (Jesus is the God-who-forgives-and-extends-grace)
  • The ‘god-wants-me-happy’ god (Jesus is the God-who-is-truth)
  • The unreliable god (Jesus is the God-who-is-faithful-and-trustworthy)
  • The health and wealth god (Jesus is the God-who-gives-you-everything-you-truly-need)
  • The culturally relevant god (Jesus is the God who-is-the-same-yesterday-today-and-forever)
  • The ‘let’s-make-a-deal’ god (Jesus is the God-who-rules-over-everything-from-galaxies-to-governments)

Here’s the thing: You may be able to recite and give mental assent to sound doctrine and the fundamentals of the faith. But your “functional”/day-to-day image of God may be a distortion of your professed theology, and that will radically affect how you view and live your life. Do you now see why Tozer said—"What you think about God is the most important thing about you?” 

The bottom line is—until you've grasped the God who is revealed in the life and the death and the resurrection of Jesus, you haven’t come to understand what the Word “God” really means.

*We are a church located in Greenville, South Carolina. Our vision is to see God transform us into a community of grace passionately pursuing life and mission with Jesus.