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Small ambitions

Tola… was followed by Jair of Gilead, who led Israel twenty-two years. He had thirty sons, who rode thirty donkeys. They controlled thirty towns in Gilead, which to this day are called Havvoth Jair. When Jair died, he was buried in Kamon. (Judges 10:3-5, NIV)

What would you like to be remembered for?

This obscure corner of the Bible carries the obituary of Jair, perhaps the least well-known of the judges (or leaders) of Israel eleven centuries before Christ.

He ruled for 22 years.  That is actually a significant stretch.  No UK prime minister has ever managed so long.  But what is he remembered for?  Just his neat life, controlling thirty towns, and having thirty sons, who rode thirty donkeys.

Isn’t there something a little disappointing about this man?  The thirty donkeys seem faintly ridiculous, and maybe they point us to the greater ridiculousness of being remembered only for accumulating these sons, villages – and donkeys.

The disappointment of Jair’s epitaph is all the more striking when we consider his predecessors and successors.  For this account is in the book of Judges – the narrative of the leaders God used to save His people from their enemies.  Here are the heroes who make the book of Judges so exciting: Ehud, Deborah, Gideon, Samson and others.  Even Jair’s immediate predecessor, Tola, rose to save Israel (10:1).  That’s what they are remembered for!

But Jair?  Just his prosperous, neat life: thirty sons / villages / donkeys.

Yet before we are too quick to condemn him, what are ambitions which drive us?  For the world about us, it is accumulation of family and property.  But is that REALLY how we’d like to be remembered?  Is that how we’d like God to remember us?

The rescuers in Judges all point us to the great Rescuer – the Lord Jesus Christ, who died to rescue us from sin and judgment.  He calls us to share in His work of making disciples of all nations.  He was the leader whose sole concern lay, not in the accumulation of power or wealth, but in the welfare of His people.  How wonderful it would be to be remembered for our share in that work!

Years ago Michael Griffiths wrote a book to encourage people to think of missionary service.  His title: Give up your small ambitions.  The alternative?  To be remembered only for those.

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