The Spirit Doesn’t Protect You From Stupidity

If there is one thing the book of Judges teaches, it’s this:  God’s Spirit doesn’t prevent you from doing something stupid.


Which turns out to be really good news.

But we’ll get to that.

To see what I mean, consider Jephthah. This Hebrew Hero is explicitly empowered by the Spirit to do battle against Israel’s oppressor (11:29), but ends up making a less-than-smart vow to God promising to burn as an offering the first thing which walks out of his house upon his return. In what is probably the most awkward and violent text of the Bible, Jephthah’s heart is broken to see his daughter’s face in the doorway.

Even the text itself seems to know that this story is awkward, because Judges doesn’t go on to use explicit wording; it employs an embarrassed “he did what he said he would do” (11:39) to describe the outcome instead.

Setting aside for a moment the really important questions about misogyny and Israelite child-sacrifice, Jephthah’s story is at least a glaring example of how the Spirit does not necessarily protect people from their own stupidity.

The Spirit did not protect Jephthah from making that vow.

Nor from the idiocy of fulfilling it.

Neither did the Spirit protect Sampson from basically violating his Nazarene vow-from-birth at every turn in the plot, or Gideon from going too far and starting an intra-Israelite civil war that would press the narrative at a feverish pace all the way to its final, horrific conclusion.

Over and over in Judges (and in various other biblical texts), humans are filled with the Spirit of God to do great things, but end up in failure as often as not.

Which means that being filled with the Spirit, or appointed by God for some act of service, is never permission to turn your brain off. You are still responsible for the things you do.

As Jon Acuff once put it…

Sitting on Cliffs

However God’s sovereignty, activity, control, etc. works in the world, it never precludes our own responsibility for using our brains.

There are no blank checks in the kingdom of God.

The combination of Spirit and stupidity in Judges also tells us that failure doesn’t negate everything a person does, even when we sometimes wish that it would.

That one Christian leader who is tanking at the moment, [insert your favorite last-name-turned-curse-word here] for instance, isn’t necessarily all wrong. Maybe God has used them. Or is using them. Or will possibly use them in the future. This fact doesn’t make what they did/do/will do right in any sense (because things like child-sacrifice are NOT RIGHT), it simply means that these people might have been, at one time or another, chosen and used by God.

And this goes for anyone connected with God. So if that happens to be you, please allow me to encourage you:

Don’t be stupid.

And, though you’ve failed, don’t count yourself out just yet; the Spirit still falls on failed and failing people.

Allen Marshall O'Brien

Allen Marshall O’Brien is the pastor of a UCC church in Northern California and co-host of the Irenicast. He believes in the importance of education, peace, and ecology, throws things to his border collie Sonata, and writes for multiple platforms.

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