Jephthah

Judges  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  40:01
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Text: Judges 11
By: Samuel Lindsay

Intro

Greeting
Judges
Historical Context
Judges is set against the backdrop of the continuing settlement and establishment of Israel in the Promised land. God had delivered them from Egypt and led them through the wilderness around the back of Moab and into the Promised land from the East. Joshua led the conquest of Canaan. When Joshua kicked the bucket a lot of hard work had been done, but Israel had not fully conquered the land promised to them.
They continued the conquest for a while after Joshua, but then gave up. They were satisfied with the partially purged land and a partial submission to Yahweh. Like many of us who start out so well in the Christian faith in fervor of spirit and passionate desire to slay sin wherever it may be found, after a time, we grow weary with the battle and relax into a state of partial submission to God; following when it suits us or when we find ourselves in a bind.
We fall into a cycle of submission for a time, and then wander off into the lusts of the flesh and the desires of the heart before returning to God in a moment of crisis.
This kind of cycle is a theme in Judges, where time after time this refrain comes up “Israel did what was right in its own eyes” or “Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord”. They wander off, and God sends judgement upon them in varying ways, usually by allowing their neighbors to oppress them for a time.
When Israel grows weary of the yoke of their enemies, they cry out to Yahweh and turn from the gods of the people they were supposed to drive out. God then raises up a Judge; a leader to save them out of the hands of their enemies. After their great salvation they will serve God for time, usually the life of the Judge, before falling back into sin once more and the cycle continues until eventually a king is appointed in Israel.
Redemptive History Context
So this book serves as a helpful and enlightening history of Israel prior to the reign of Saul, David & Solomon, but why is it considered important? The purpose of the book can be derived from that refrain “the people of Israel did what was evil in the sight of the LORD” (Jdg 2:11). It happens time and again. This book show us what happens when people, even the chosen people of God run off after their own desires. This book shows us why the People of God need Jesus.
Judges shows us the degeneration of humanity in their sinfulness to an awful point that at the end of the book that I’m not looking forward to discussing. Judges charts the story of what happens when we try to help ourselves instead of following God and it ends in trauma, violence, wickedness.
This book shows us time and again mankinds’ need for salvation and Godly leadership, but not just a leader who will deliver us and die after a few years, but rather it reveals our need for a complete deliverance from our enemies and our own sinfulness that is everlasting.
It also shows us time and again how God is providentially working through all circumstances. Even the vilest of circumstances and men can be used for God. God uses the Unlikeliest of Men & Women as Saviors for his people.

The Prologue

Local Context
Rebellion & Rejection, judgment of God (Ch 10)
So with that background in mind, we turn to Jephthah. I’m going to call him Jeff, because Jephthah is too hard to pronounce, and as an Aussie I am programmed to shorten words as much as possible.
As we covered last week, Judges 10 sets the scene for the story that was read just before. The last Judge in Israel has died, and the people have once again turned to serve other gods and done what was right in their own eyes. In response to this God allows the Ammonites from the East to come in and oppress the Israelites in the Transjordan region and even make incursions across the Jordan into the very heart of Israel. On top of this the Philistines were coming in from the west.
Amon in Power, God “grows impatient over their misery”
Realising the circumstances that they are in, and their helplessness, Israel cries out to God. He responds; “You’ve chosen to serve other gods, so let them save you!”. The Israelites repent and put away their idols and chose to serve Yahweh. God responds to this repentance, and we learn that God “became impatient over the misery of Israel” (Jdg 10:16.).
Looking for a saviour
The scene closes with Gilead having been oppressed for 18 years by the Ammonites and the men of Gilead serving Yahweh and looking for a Saviour amongst their people; “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” (Jdg 10:18.)

The Origin Story

Jephthah
Mighty Warrior. From Gilead. Prostitute mother.
Now the stage is set for our protagonist’s origin story. We cut to Jeff, who is a mighty warrior in Gilead, and the son of a man named Gilead. Even though he is a mighty warrior and the son of a well-to-do man, his mother was a prostitute. These two things are played off against each other, on the one hand he is a might warrior, on the other, he’s a whore-son.
His father married and had other sons who, when they were old enough and had the chance, banished Jeff from the family because they didn’t want to share their inheritance with their father’s illegitimate son. As you can see he carried the shame of his parentage with him, despite him having no choice in the matter; ““You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” (Jdg 11:2).
Jeff finds himself in a position that many of us find ourselves in. We can be victims of our circumstances, where we are looked down upon because of our parentage, or the colour of our skin, or where we went to school. You may have relatives who’ve committed great crimes, or other shameful deeds that hang over us. But as we soon see, God can use anyone he likes, regardless of their circumstances. You may likely never be able to shake the shame associated with your circumstance or even some of the things you have done, but our God is bigger than our shame, and does not see it as a roadblock to union with him. Shame is a part of this broken world, but shame will not separate us from God.
Retreats to the wilderness.
As for Jeff, forced out by his family, he goes to find a place for himself elsewhere and ends up in Tob which is out to the east (blue line). Here he begins to gather a posse of bandits. The text simply says he “lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him.” (Jdg 11:3) but we can imply from this passage that he basically led a group of “adventurers” who likely went raiding or were paid mercenaries. These guys are “rough around the edges” to say the least, but it seems Jeff has been raised in his father house with a bit of culture and discipline, so along with his skills as a warrior he is their natural leader.
Amon Oppresses Gilead (Transjordan),
So while Jeff is off in the wilderness for years, the Ammonites are oppressing Gilead, his home soil. They’re building their forces and trying to make incursions into Israel west of the Jordan. (on map, red line)
Gilead seeks an Unlikely Saviour,
Jeff’s rellies are still in in Gilead, and they are feeling the pinch from Amon. They are old enough now for some of them to be considered “Elders of Gilead” and they’re looking for someone to lead a rebellion against Amon. Strangely enough they look in the most unlikely place, they look to their brother the illegitimate son who is operating as a bandit in the west. They have heard of his exploits in the West, and they know that he is a mighty warrior, so they go in person to plead with him to help them out.
We see this awkward exchange take place between the Elders and Jeff; “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.” 7 But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” 8 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 9 Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.” (Jdg 11:6–9).
Jeff agrees
Jeff is obviously a bit taken aback, but he does not act out of malice. He could tell them to get stuffed and sort it out themselves, but instead he agrees to come back and lead them. Perhaps it’s simply because he is offered power and restoration, but I’d like to think that he was genuine in wanting to help out his family and kinsmen, to be reunited with his people. But see how he is careful to note that the LORD is the one who will decide the victory?
So Jeff travels back to Mizpah in Gilead, and it appears they entered a covenant in “God’s presence” so-to-speak, and begins preparations to take on the Ammonites.

The Diplomacy

Jeff’s first tactic: Talk to them
As Jeff prepares, he wants to start with diplomacy. He sends off messengers to ask “What’s the deal? Why do you want to take us out?”
Amon’s Claim on the land
Amon soon responds “You stole the land from us! And we want it back!” Amon goes on to outline their claim. They reckon they had a whole heap of land right out to the Jordan river (on the map).
Israel’s Claim:
The land was not yours to begin with!
Then Jeff responds with some firm arguments. Firstly “The land was not yours to begin with! In fact, as we journeyed up from Egypt we politely asked to go through Edom and were refused, so we went around. We politely asked to go through Moab and were refused, so we went around. we politely asked to go through Amorites land and they attacked us! So God gave us the land of the Amorites. (Remember the Amorites were different to the Ammonites. Where the Amorites were lumped in with the Canaanites, Edom, Moab and Amon were all distant rellies of the Israelites and so by God’s grace were generally left alone). So God gave Israel the land of the Amorites, which Amon is now trying to say Israel took from them!
God gave it to us, triumphing over your god.
Next Jeff points out that the land was given to Israel by divine right. The God of Israel; Yahweh gave it to them. If the land is really yours won’t your god Chemosh give it to you?
Here Jeff clearly believes the god Chemosh to be an actual being with authority and power, but Jeff knows that the Yahweh is the great God, and the real power in these places. Like the other biblical writers, Jeff knew there were other powerful spiritual beings, but Yahweh was Lord of all.
We were told at Babel;
“8  When the Most High gave to the nations their inheritance,
when he divided mankind,
he fixed the borders of the peoples
according to the number of the sons of God.” Dt 32:8.
We were told God forsook the other nations, taking Israel to be his special people, putting the other nations under the care of “lesser gods” or the “Sons of God”. God would later judge them for doing a very poor job in their ruling over the nations. But here we see how when God decided, he would throw out a people when they rebelled against him, showing the powerlessness of the divine beings who were worshiped as gods in the pagan nations. Jeff says; “…all that the LORD our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess.” Jdg 11:24. God’s people will the receive the inheritance that he has promised them. Jeff is clearly proving to be a follower of Yahweh. He understands who is in control, and who is worthy of praise and honour. But this also makes it all the more confusing when we get to some of his actions later.
But here we can be reminded that God is the ultimate power in this world, nothing can stand against him. SO when he makes promises to his people about their inheritance, you can be sure that he will fulfil said promises!
Amon won’t listen.
Yet, despite Jeff’s well reasoned argument, Amon is not interested. Don’t let truth get in the way!! I think Amon needed a bit of a story to build up the support and confidence of the people. Kinda like what we see in the middle east today. Everybody has a story about their claim to whatever piece of land they are interested in. For ISIS they have a story about a great Caliphate that they must reclaim. For Jews they believe they still have the right to the inheritance of the land of Israel, for Palestinians they claim an ethnic tie to the land. And so on…
For Amon, they believed they had a right to the land, despite not having a historical claim to it and were willing to go to war over that perceived right, despite being proved to the contrary.

The Triumph & Tragedy

Jeff is off to war, with the Spirit of the Lord
Now having exhausted the diplomatic routes, Jeff is left with no choice but to go to war to free his kinsmen from their oppression. Presumably these events between coming home and going to war have taken some years; Jeff has come back to Mizpah and been installed as leader, then gathered fighting men from Gilead and prepared to go into battle. These things take time. As this is happening we read, “the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah” (Jdg 11:29). This clearly shows us that as unlikely as it was, the whore’s son come bandit ringleader was the chosen saviour of Gilead, being led by God to victory.
Makes a rash vow – He want to bargain with God
Yet, even though he had the Spirit of the Lord, Jeff makes a horrible mistake. In a bid to secure God’s favour he makes a rash vow. A promise that he would come to regret in time. He promises “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, 31 then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Jdg 11:30–31).
What Jeff is doing here is trying to twist God’s arm. He’s trying to manipulate God into blessing him with victory. He may not have expected this to be a human sacrifice, but it was certainly brash to promise “whatever” came through the door. God does not respond, and Jeff trundles off to make war,
Triumph – Amon is defeated
(Show on map, Yellow) God is with Jeff and his forces and they drive the Ammonites out, city by city. “32 So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand. 33 And he struck them from Aroer to the neighbourhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.” (Jdg 11:32–33).
Tragedy – he goes through with his vow (against God’s Law, also Lev 27)
But when he is returning as the Triumphant Saviour to his house, who should come out to meet him? It is his only daughter! She come out with joy, celebrating her father’s great victory, but he remembered his vow, and is brought to mourning as he realises he has to sacrifice his own daughter.
Now Jeff is caught between a rock and a hard place. He has made a rash vow that has landed him it hot water, not only from externally with what people will think of him, but especially internally; he would be distraught in spirit.
He is faced with the option of either dishonouring his word (much greater issue than today), or killing his own daughter.
One thing is clear, God’s word clearly states that you must not sacrifice people, (let alone your own kids!) and you must keep your vows. So what is he to do?
Here Jeff’s own daughter come in with humility and love saying “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” (Jdg 11:36).
She had more piety than her father!! She was willing to give up her own life, and the prospect of ever being married and having kids, so that she could help her father keep his word.
Have you ever come here to teach how to “Honour thy Father and Mother”? If ever there was a woman who could say they have done this, it is Jeff’s daughter. It is uncomfortable, but it is admirable that in her submission to her God given authority, she would give up her life, even like Isaac as he was laid on the sticks to be sacrificed by Abraham.
Jeff ran off his mouth, and now it ends in tragedy and horror.
Men, this is an apt time to remind you of the responsibilities on your shoulders as leaders of families and churches. And for anyone who is in a position of authority, at home, at work, in society. If you have been given authority, be careful what you do!! Your actions have consequences that affect those under you, especially those you hold dear! You do not get to run off and make brash choices without it affecting those around you! Your sin may destroy lives.
We can only assume that in the state the Israel was in, that God’s Law was not well known, and that their intermixing and serving foreign gods had left the people of that time thinking it was ok to sacrifice a human being.
This is true even this day! Our culture degenerates as it turns from God’s ways, and our minds are warped to think it is ok to sacrifice a human life so that I might have prosperity, this is the awful truth behind abortion. It is a sacrifice of an innocent to further my future goals. But who is the one who suffers most? It is the one who loses their life.
Leaders; I hope and pray that you would be soaked in God’s word, so that you would not be warped into the evil of this world, so that you may lead wisely and show them the way to life rather than death!
As we know, Jeff allows his daughter a time to mourn, but then he carries out his vow.

The Internal Conflict

Jealousy & Pride fuel conflict
A short time later, the fellows from Ephraim rock up and are incensed! “How come you didn’t take us with you to beat up the Ammonites?”. One of the other Judges, Gideon has had trouble with the Ephraimites before, and now it’s Jeff’s turn. Jeff tries to push it back on them saying “I asked you guys to some, and you didn’t want to, I had to risk my own life and take them on, and God gave me victory”. So not only did they refuse to come and help the first time, God blessed Jeff anyway.
Bittersweet victory – Defeated his own countrymen
This sounds familiar, this kind of thing happened with Gideon! Gideon was able to keep them onside, but not this time.
The Ephraimites unfortunately didn’t care about the facts either, and decided that they were going to take on Gilead. Gilead had victory over them, and drove them across the Jordan. (show on screen) Once they had taken control of the ford they would have some Ephraimites trying to sneak across, so the Gileadites would ask them to say “Shibboleth”, but the accent of the other guys was distinct enough the they couldn’t say the “SH” sound. Thus when they tried to say it, it came out “Sibboleth” and the Gileadites knew they were from Ephraim.
This was a bittersweet victory; after all who wants to be able to say “I slaughtered 42,000 of my countrymen”? As much as we have a go at NSW and like to rile them up, Queensland does not want go to war with NSW, but in the case of Jeff, his kinsmen across the river were so offended that they battled each other.
This shows us once again how the state of affairs in Israel had descended so far that the tribes were warring against each other, slaughtering thousands. Ephraim should have said; “Thanks for fending off our invaders, we owe you one”, instead they sought the blood of their protectors.
Now brother was turned against brother. Now instead of being a united 12 tribes warring against God’s enemies, they’re caught up on infighting, causing pain and hurt to the ones they should respect and appreciate.
Comment on internal strife among God’s people today
It is important to “name & shame” false confessions, but we’re not on a continual “witch hunt”
For those who share a true confession, lets get on with the important task of facing the Commission God gave us, not squandering our strength and talent on inter tribal warfare.

The Later Years

Ruled for a further 6 years
After Jeff’s unlikely rise as the Saviour of Gilead (and Israel), he reigns as a Judge in Israel for another 6 years, and dies.
Hebrews says he was a fellow of Faith
As with many of the characters that pop up in Judges we are left wondering “was he a good guy?”
Is he “Christian” in the modern parlance? Well the writer to the Hebrews certainly thought so! Jeff is listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11 where it says:
32 And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets— 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. 35”
Despite his poor choices and questionable background, God used Jeff as his tool and an icon of what it looks like to follow Yahweh in faith. If Jeff, with all his baggage can be used of God, why can he not use you too? Is there anything bigger in your life than taking the life of your own child or being a prostitute’s son and gangster?
Imagine the modern day equivalent a filicidal underworld crime-boss. If God can save and use that guy, why can’t he save and use you?

Our Unlikely Saviour: Christ

Ultimately though, while there are great object lessons to be learned from Jeff’s life and actions, the key message that we should take from this story, and the rest of Judges is that God’s people need something more than a human Judge who will save them and rule them for a time. Jephthah the Judge reminds us of our need for a better Judge.
Like Jeff, our Unlikely Saviour was an “Illegitimate” Son, born to a poor regional family,
Our Unlikely Saviour was Not accepted by his Family for some of his life
Our Unlikely Saviour went out into the wilderness
Our Unlikely Saviour gathered around him a band of misfits and “sinners”
Our Unlikely Saviour appeared to have Triumph into Tragedy when he went up to Jerusalem in a royal procession, but was crucified.
Our Unlikely Saviour was ultimately Victorious, over our enemies within and without
But unlike Jeff, our Judge has no end to His rule.
That Unlikely Saviour is Christ!
He came on behalf of our father in Heaven, to save his people. Unlike Jeff, our Father in heaven has no filicide in his family, come to him in repentance and faith! Nothing can separate his people from him! Give yourself to Him and his rule! Do not be found to be oppressing God’s people, for your destruction is sure! Christ will overcome all of God’s enemies!
As God’s people, we need no longer offer up the physical sacrifices to assuage God’s wrath, rather Christ is our once for all sacrifice. Now we offer up spiritual sacrifices out of love and devotion, not trying to earn our place as his people, or like Jeff trying to manipulate God. Our spiritual sacrifices come out of a changed heart that seeks God’s Kingdom and His Righteousness rather than the passions of our own sinful desires.
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