"So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead. The people put him over themselves as leader and commander, and Jephthah repeated all his terms in the presence of the Lord at Mizpah." (Judges 11:11 HCSB)
Oxymorons are figures of speech that express opposites. A few examples would be: jumbo shrimp, the same difference, act naturally, seriously funny, and political promise. It's sad that we associate politicians with broken promises. Today, we consider a politician who kept his word--a man named Jephthah.
His life, however, was a big oxymoron. On the one hand, we find him listed in Hebrews 11, included in "Faith's Hall of Fame" with people like Noah, Abraham and Moses. Yet, Judges reveals a man with glaring character flaws. His is a story of triumph and tragedy. How apropos, for that is the portrait of the era of the Judges.
We see Jephthah's PAST in 11:1-3. It can be summarized in one word: bad!
He had a bad start. "Jephthah the Gileadite was a great warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute, and Gilead was his father." (Judges 11:1 HCSB) Since his mother was a prostitute, he carried the stigma of illegitimacy. It is sad that so many children suffer due to the folly of their parents. We see so much of this today.
He had bad siblings. "Gilead's wife bore him sons, and when they grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, 'You will have no inheritance in our father's house, because you are the son of another woman.' " (Judges 11:2 HCSB) Not only did Jephthah have to endure taunts outside the home, but inside it! In the place where he ought to have found shelter and acceptance, he only found strife and anger. Finally, he was driven out. Talk about a dysfunctional family!
He was in bad surroundings. "So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Then some lawless men joined Jephthah and traveled with him." (Judges 11:3 HCSB) Despite the rejection of his family, others were drawn to his leadership qualities. A group of renegades were attracted to him and soon a group of mercenaries formed. We would call them soldiers of fortune. His environment was not a positive one. Yet, Jephthah would rise above this. Our past does not have to ruin us.
We see Jephthah's POSITION in 11:4-11. We may rest assured that when times are dark, God is still at work, accomplishing His sovereign will.
There was a call. "Some time later, the Ammonites fought against Israel. When the Ammonites made war with Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. They said to him, 'Come, be our commander, and let's fight against the Ammonites.' " (Judges 11:4-6 HCSB) Jephthah's resume would have been cause for rejection by most organizations. But, God delights to reach into the trash dump and find an abused and discarded item, clean it up and turn it into a thing of beauty! Ponder this: "Brothers, consider your calling: Not many are wise from a human perspective, not many powerful, not many of noble birth. Instead, God has chosen what is foolish in the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen what is weak in the world to shame the strong. God has chosen what is insignificant and despised in the world-what is viewed as nothing-to bring to nothing what is viewed as something, so that no one can boast in His presence. But [it is] from Him that you are in Christ Jesus, who became God-given wisdom for us-[our] righteousness, sanctification, and redemption, in order that, as it is written: The one who boasts must boast in the Lord." (1 Corinthians 1:26-31 HCSB) There is hope for any of us to be used by God.
There was a condition. "Jephthah replied to the elders of Gilead, 'Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why then have you come to me now when you're in trouble?' They answered Jephthah, 'Since that's true, we now turn to you. Come with us, fight the Ammonites, and you will become leader of all the inhabitants of Gilead.' So Jephthah said to them, 'If you are bringing me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me, I will be your leader.' The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, 'The Lord is our witness if we don't do as you say.' " (Judges 11:7-10 HCSB) They were going to pay a price to get a leader. Jephthah was more interested in ruling than he was interested in those whom he would rule over. He was typical of many self-serving politicians in our day, primarily getting elected and retaining power, rather than serve people. The fact is, people often get the leaders they deserve. That's why we have the plethora of pathetic politicians governing us. David Jackman put it like this, "We cannot expect God to raise up quality leadership, at the drop of a hat, to airlift us out of the pits we have dug through our sinfulness."
Next, there was a coronation. "So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead. The people put him over themselves as leader and commander, and Jephthah repeated all his terms in the presence of the Lord at Mizpah." (Judges 11:11 HCSB) Had you told anyone, including Jephthah, that he would one day lead his kinsmen, it would have brought a laugh. This wasn't a position he applied for, but God in His timing opened the door. We are responsible to make the most of our opportunity and it is God's responsibility to make the opportunity. Spurgeon, as a young man considered his future and education. God spoke to His heart from Scripture, "Seekest thou great things for thyself? Seek them not!" He then decided not to go to Cambridge, and resigned himself to the obscurity of preaching to a small congregation. Only six months later, Spurgeon was preaching to 2500 each Sunday, in London, as a nineteen year old! God knows where we are and can get us where we need to go.
We see Jephthah's PROBLEM in 11:12-28. Don't expect to hold a position unless you want to have some problems. It is the price of leadership.
There was rebellion. "Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites, saying, 'What do you have against me that you have come to fight against me in my land?'
The king of the Ammonites said to Jephthah's messengers, 'When Israel came from Egypt, they seized my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok and the Jordan. Now restore it peaceably.' " (Judges 11:12, 13 HCSB) The Ammonites had declared war. Jephthah was restrained in his response to the rebellion. He chose to send messages rather than the military.
There was recollection. "Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites to tell him, 'This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. But when they came from Egypt, Israel traveled through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, 'Please let us travel through your land,' but the king of Edom would not listen. They also sent [messengers] to the king of Moab, but he refused. So Israel stayed in Kadesh. Then they traveled through the wilderness and around the lands of Edom and Moab. They came to the east side of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of the Arnon but did not enter into the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab. Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon. Israel said to him, 'Please let us travel through your land to our country,' but Sihon would not trust Israel to pass through his territory. Instead, Sihon gathered all his people, camped at Jahaz, and fought with Israel. Then the Lord God of Israel handed over Sihon and all his people to Israel, and they defeated them. So Israel took possession of the entire land of the Amorites who lived in that country. They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. The Lord God of Israel has now driven out the Amorites before His people Israel, and will you [now] force us out? Isn't it true that you may possess whatever your god Chemosh drives out for you, and we may possess everything the Lord our God drives out before us?' " (Judges 11:14-24 HCSB) Jephthah gives them a history lesson, showing the injustice of their actions. It was at the root a spiritual conflict. Jephthah's weapon was truth. It is the Spirit's sword--the Word of God. Do we recognize that our struggle, at its core, isn't against sinners, but spiritual forces?
There was rejection. "But the king of the Ammonites would not listen to Jephthah's message that he sent him." (Judges 11:28 HCSB) God's enemies would not make peace. They are intransigent.
We hear Jephthah's PROMISE in 11:29-40. He was a politician who kept his promise, but it was a promise that should have never been made.
It is about opportunity. "The Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah, who traveled through Gilead and Manasseh, and then through Mizpah of Gilead. He crossed over to the Ammonites from Mizpah of Gilead." (Judges 11:29 HCSB) Who knows what Jephthah might have accomplished by the might of the Lord? That same Spirit indwells us and gives us the opportunity to make an impact for God.
It is about impetuosity. "Jephthah made this vow to the Lord: 'If You will hand over the Ammonites to me, whatever comes out of the doors of my house to greet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites will belong to the Lord, and I will offer it as a burnt offering.' " (Judges 11:30, 31 HCSB) How foolhardy! Why would he make such a rash vow? Jephthah had a faulty view of God. He did not trust the Lord, but sought to manipulate Him. You can't bargain with God! But, Jephthah tried.
This is about victory. "Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the Lord handed them over to him. He defeated 20 of their cities with a great slaughter from Aroer all the way to the entrance of Minnith and to Abel-keramim. So the Ammonites were subdued before the Israelites." (Judges 11:32, 33 HCSB) Despite all his flaws, Jehovah rewards Jephthah's faith. It wasn't a great faith, but it was genuine faith in a great God! That God uses wretches, like Jephthah--and like us--is grace!
This is about tragedy. "When Jephthah went to his home in Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with tambourines and dancing! She was his only child; he had no other son or daughter besides her. When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, 'No! [Not] my daughter! You have devastated me! You have brought great misery on me. I have given my word to the Lord and cannot take [it] back.'
Then she said to him, 'My father, you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me as you have said, for the Lord brought vengeance on your enemies, the Ammonites.' She also said to her father, 'Let me do this one thing: Let me wander two months through the mountains with my friends and mourn my virginity.' 'Go,' he said. And he sent her away two months. So she left with her friends and mourned her virginity as she wandered through the mountains. At the end of two months, she returned to her father, and he kept the vow he had made about her. And she had never been intimate with a man. Now it became a custom in Israel [that] four days each year the young women of Israel would commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite." (Judges 11:34-40 HCSB)
Some have tried to explain this horror away. God did not condone it. If there was ever a politician's promise which should have been broken, it is this one. As children we sing and as adults shouldn't forget, "Oh, be careful little lips what you say." Pray this, "Lord, set up a guard for my mouth; keep watch at the door of my lips." (Psalm 141:3 HCSB)
We see Jephthah's PUNISHMENT in 12:1-7. His leadership was challenged.
It was challenged by insinuation. "The men of Ephraim were called together and crossed [the Jordan] to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, 'Why have you crossed over to fight against the Ammonites but didn't call us to go with you? We will burn your house down with you [in it]!' " (Judges 12:1 HCSB) Victory can sometimes be harder to handle than defeat, especially when those victories belong to another. This is jealousy--plain and simple. They hadn't wanted to get involved, but they didn't mind to criticize.
His leadership challenged was confronted by indignation. "Then Jephthah said to them, 'My people and I had a serious conflict with the Ammonites. So I called for you, but you didn't deliver me from their power. When I saw that you weren't going to deliver me, I took my life in my own hands and crossed over to the Ammonites, and the Lord handed them over to me. Why then have you come today to fight against me?' Then Jephthah gathered all of the men of Gilead. They fought and defeated Ephraim, because Ephraim had said, 'You Gileadites are Ephraimite fugitives in [the territories of] Ephraim and Manasseh.' " (Judges 12:2-4 HCSB) We should be patient with problem people in the church. But, sometimes they need to be confronted for the problems they cause.
Then there is this indication. "The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim. Whenever a fugitive from Ephraim said, 'Let me cross over,' the Gileadites asked him, 'Are you an Ephraimite?' If he answered, 'No,' they told him, 'Please say Shibboleth.' If he said, 'Sibboleth,' because he could not pronounce it correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 from Ephraim died. Jephthah judged Israel six years, and when he died, he was buried in one of the cities of Gilead." (Judges 12:5-7 HCSB) The vengeful spirit of Jephthah indicates he was an extremist. That occurs when there is zeal without knowledge. It is the stuff of fanaticism and is wrong, even when masquerading as faith.
God wants committed people. He doesn't want crazy people. He wants people who will stand by their word, but not those who speak rash words. We do not have to be enslaved to our past, but must recognize the effect of the past. God sets before us opportunity, but we must possess it. To look at Jephthah is to see a mixed bag. Don't let your life be a living illustration of an oxymoron.