Those of you following our series through the book of Judges will know by now that God calls and uses some rather interesting characters, who were products of their time – by that I mean people shaped by the culture in which they grew up – people broken, scarred, sinful and yet chosen and used by God to bring about deliverance of his people. Remind you of anyone?
God in his grace still uses broken people today. He uses you and me for example – what grace! In today’s story God uses Jephthah - someone who was rejected by men but chosen by God.
- THE SUBTLE INFLUENCE OF THE WORLD INTO WHICH WE ARE BORN (10:6-18)
Jephthah was a product of his time. He lived in a time when once again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord (v.6). Now for the sixth time in our series they served the Baal’s. They turned their backs on the Lord and each time they did evil, they sank lower and lower until our section today is probably one of the bleakest spiritual times in the nation’s history. They worshipped almost anything or anyone rather than the Lord. The seven pagan gods named represent some of the most perverted and depraved practices ever known to humanity (v.6f).
The Lord became angry with them (v.7-16). He handed them over to the nations; the Philistines and Ammonites, whose gods they worshipped and they oppressed the Israelites for eighteen years. Israel was in great distress and then cried out to the Lord (v.10). The Lord replied that he would no longer save them. “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” (v.14). But Israel replied…
Read Judges 10:15-16
True repentance seems to take place here (v.15-16). “We have sinned…please rescue us now.” Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And the Lord could bear Israel’s misery no longer. What grace! The Israelites now search for a deliverer.
Jephthah comes onto the scene now in chapter 11. This is the world into which he is born and lives and no doubt the pagan background influences how he behaves later in the story, in more than likely offering his daughter as a human sacrifice (11:29-40) and further on in the story the unnecessary slaughter of the arrogant Ephraimites (12:1-7).
Culture shapes us more than we care to realise, including our Christian beliefs and expressions of faith. I recently was with someone who should have known better but was expressing doubts about heaven and hell, saying that surely everyone will eventually be in heaven. I was shocked and very disappointed! It reminded me that the church’s stance and teaching on hell and condemnation is one of the main issues in NZ that block people’s interest in Christianity.
The other two issues are the church’s teaching on homosexuality and on suffering – how could a good God allow so much evil and pain? And so the subtle tendency is to water down these so-called blockages to Christianity; to make them more acceptable, appealing, less offensive. On the other hand neither do we want to become legalistic, arrogant, isolating ourselves. Jephthah too was influenced by the pagan world he lived in.
Read Judges 11:1-3
- REJECTED BY MEN BUT CHOSEN BY GOD (11:1-28)
Jephthah is described as a mighty warrior (11:1;cf.6:12). However because his mother was a prostitute, Jephthah was regarded as and treated like a social outcast. Gilead’s wife also had sons and they drove Jephthah away (v.1-2). And so circumstances beyond his control forced Jephthah away from his family and into a life as an outcast.
These are very unfair circumstances for Jephthah but perhaps surprisingly this story provides for those who feel rejected today, a dose of inspiration. Yes, he was rejected by family but nevertheless he was chosen by God. God is able to use you even if you feel rejected by others – and rejection is a real experience for many people today.
So Jephthah fled to the land of Tob (v.3). The years in the wilderness were not a waste of time but an investment. God never wastes anything in one of his children’s lives. It was there in the wilderness that he learned leadership skills that would help him immensely in the future. He learned to know something of God. His zeal for God was real but his knowledge of him was weak.
The elders of Gilead went to Jephthah and asked him to be their commander (v.5-6). And so he became not only their commander but also head of that entire region (v.7-11). This proposal of the elders was ratified before the people (1Sam.11:15;1Kgs.12:1,20). Jephthah made himself available to the Lord. And he begins his new role by taking the diplomatic approach; by sending a letter to the Ammonite king asking why he had attacked Israel, to which the king replied that Israel had taken his land away in the past (v.12-13). Jephthah responds in his letter by: Stating that Israel took it from Sihon, king of the Amorites, not from the Ammonites (v.15-22); and that the Lord had given the land to Israel (v.23-25); and finally that Israel had possessed it for a long time, 300 years (v.26-27).
Jephthah tried to solve the problem through peaceful means but the king of Ammon ignored his message and prepared his troops for battle. Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah (v.29).
- THE SPIRIT OF THE LORD CAME UPON JEPHTHAH (11:29-12:7)
Read Judges 11:29-33
In the OT, the unique empowering of the Spirit was given to a person primarily to enable them to carry out a special task that God had given them. That the Lord graciously empowered Jephthah for war on behalf of his people does not mean that all of this warrior’s decisions reflected God’s wisdom. His rash vow is an example, that if he was victorious he would offer whatever came out of his front door as a burnt offering to God (v.30-40). It was his daughter, his only child, who came out dancing (v.34). When he saw her come out he tore his clothes in extreme grief (v.35). Jephthah’s rash vow brought his unspeakable grief.
The rash vow (v.30-40). Verse 31 seems to indicate the promise of a burnt offering and leads to the conclusion that Jephthah probably offered his daughter as a human sacrifice (v.31,39). His vow, made in the heat of the moment, was an attempt to manipulate God. It highlights the extent to which Jephthah was influenced by his pagan background. He was speaking here as a pagan and not someone who knew God’s truth. He had a false view of God. His ultimate problem was ignorance of God’s Word. He had a zeal for God but zeal without knowledge is dangerous. Ignorance of God is the greatest ignorance of all. He was conditioned by the world he lived in.
This sad story of Jephthah highlights the danger of spiritual ignorance. To be ignorant of God and of God’s Word is the pathway to spiritual disaster. He did not adequately know the Word of God or the God of the Word, and the price he paid for his ignorance was very high.
Ephraim’s jealousy of Jephthah’s victory (12:1-7). As in Gideon’s time (8:1), Ephraim was jealous of Jephthah’s success and possibly wanted to share in his spoils. Jephthah, as with his response to the king of Ammon (v.14-27), was to try the diplomacy route (v.2-3). Again this failed so he fought against the Ephraimites and struck them down (v.4-6). Jephthah led Israel for six years (v.7).
Rejection is something that can scar us for life. But just because certain people may reject us, that does not mean that God rejects us. We can all too often live with a sense that unless we have certain skills or personality traits or qualifications, or we be like someone else - we fall short. Or perhaps we measure ourselves by our family background, our social standing, or by our past. The result can be discouraging. We feel that without the proper credentials, we are not the kind of people the Lord can or will use – and so we become prisoners of our past and open ourselves up to the influences of the world. But we need not be prisoners of our past, no matter how difficult or dysfunctional that past might have been. God delights in taking the weak and making them strong. There is no such thing as ‘damaged goods’ in his eyes! Words of Jesus…
“The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour.” (Lk.4:18-19)