Jephthah: Rejection and Restoration. Israel’s Ninth Judge (Part 2).

The Gileadites were facing the superior army of the Ammonites. After eighteen years of oppression the Gileadites had little hope of victory. The one hope was to find a capable leader for their army. And this brought them to look for Jephthah who became the ninth judge of Israel mentioned in the book of Judges. Jephthah was a Gileadite. His father was named Gilead, probably not the founder of the clan in Manasseh but a leading man in this clan. Looking at this half of his parentage we can say Jephthah had a noble birth. The problem was looking at the other half, Jephthah’s mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s legitimate children drove Jephthah out, refusing to share the family inheritance with him. (Judges 11:1-2) This helps explain why it took many years and a most dire situation before the elders of Gilead would even consider Jephthah as a potential leader for the tribe.

There are certain repeated themes in the Bible that give a breadth and depth to our reading and study. Certainly one of the themes involves rejection and suffering and then exaltation. Israel’s prophetic history tells of the nation itself being despised and suffering but one day will be exalted among the nations. King David himself was rejected and suffered life on the run from King Saul. But then one day, he was exalted to the kingship and was honored historically and prophetically. Judges 10 even applies this theme to the Lord whom Israel has forsaken for other gods. (Judges 10:6,9,13) It is not strange in light of this that Israel’s messiah also was rejected and suffered before his exaltation. (Isaiah 53:3,11; Acts 3:13-16) But this is no mere literary or Bible theme. It is a life principle we need to be mindful of in the various overwhelming and unfair things that can happen to us in life.

There are elements of the life in which we find ourselves that really aren’t fair. It wasn’t Jephthah’s fault what his mother and father did, but he suffered for it. We have adopted a number of special needs kids. Some of their moms drank heavily or used drugs during the pregnancy. A couple of the kids are seriously impacted with fetal alcohol effects. It isn’t the fault of our kids, but they suffer the consequences. And while it is sad, the best response isn’t to lament and complain but to do what can be done where they are. Our self-image should not be formed by our birth or our comparative natural abilities. Some people waste years and inflict self torture over their birth or their body or their capabilities or lack of certain capabilities. Whoever we are, however we are made, whatever we have, God can use in special ways if we present ourselves to him like a living sacrifice. In fact, it seems that God has a special interest in those people who might easily be overlooked by the “got-it-all-togethers” of the world: For consider your calling, brethren, that there were not many wise according to the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble; but God has chosen the foolish things of the world to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to shame the things which are strong, and the base things of the world and the despised God has chosen, the things that are not, so that He may nullify the things that are, so that no man may boast before God. (1Corinthians 1:26-29)

We soon see Jephthah leading men. They weren’t the noble knights which we might desire a Bible hero to lead. They were the men around Jephthah, the men who would gather and be led and thus led, would be changed. Jephthah may have led this motley brigand band in many raids against the Ammonites for those eighteen years they oppressed Israel. Similarly, when David was rejected and fled from Saul, men gathered to him and he led them on many military raids. From among the men who had been characterized as distressed, debtors and the discontented came men who were mighty men, transformed through being led by David. (1Samuel 22:2; 2Samuel 23:8-39) Whether you find yourself in an unfair or terribly difficult situation, the thought needs to be on what you can do where you are rather than what you would do if only you could be in some other, better place. And then start doing what you can where you are and see where God, at the right time, takes you.

I can imagine the discussion among the elders of Gilead as they try to figure out what to do in the looming battle against Ammon. They have to find a leader. But after eighteen years of trying to find a leader who can bring victory, they have reached the bottom of the barrel and are willing to consider people they probably had rejected out of hand before. While they had been stumped, Jephthah was leading men. Finally the “search committee” proposes a candidate who might really be able to lead them. Whatever their previous objections had been, circumstances have led them to pursue Jephthah and offer him leadership over the armies of Gilead. And in the briefly presented negotiations we can see interesting principles which apply to many kinds of negotiations.

Try to imagine the attitude and the expectations the elders of Gilead may have had when they came to Jephthah to bring him the offer, “Come and be our chief that we may fight against the sons of Ammon.” (Judges 11:6) Do you see who will get the credit for a victory in the way they state their offer? The elders of Gilead know they were giving Jephthah the very thing that Jephthah would desire and appreciate, being restored to Gilead society and leading the tribe’s army. What possible objection or counter-offer could possibly be raised? Jephthah responded to their offer with, what we can call, the step back. Good negotiations can take time. There is more going on here than just stepping forward to lead the army. Sometimes, before you can go forward, you have to go backwards; the path to the future is often found in reconsidering the past. Jephthah was not going to take the job of an army captain, working for wages in the task before them. So he asked, not eager but not sulking, “Did you not hate me and drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” (Judges 11:7) Can you picture the confident smiles fading from the elders’ faces as they are forced to answer him? The elders’ answer clarifies their position and presents their second offer. They increase his participation and his role after the fighting: “…you may go with us and fight with the sons of Ammon and become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” (Judges 11:8) Jephthah needs to make a serious clarification before he can accept to serve with Gilead. He has already seen their treachery. Those who put a high value on appearances often hide their real motives so you cannot trust what you do see. “If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the Lord gives them up to me, will I become your head?” And to this, the elders agree. (Judges 11:9-10) Jephthah recognized he was brought to do a job, lead the people in battle. And it is based on Jephthah’s effectiveness (which only came through what God would do in the battle) that the reward would be given of being leader over the them. Jim Rohn liked to emphasize that profits are better than wages. Wages will make you a living but profits can fund a lifestyle. Profits are the rewards of an effective outcome in the difficult project before you that brings a value to many. The reward Jephthah asked was appropriate to the task the elders asked of him.

Israel, even in their apostasies, was a religious nation. It would have been an appropriate cultural form to confirm an agreement before the Lord at a holy site. But Jephthah was a man of faith. He truly believed God exists and is a rewarder of those who seek him. He believed a word given before God was to be kept and that failure to keep such a word would be much worse than merely breaking a civil agreement with conmensurate fines or punishments. The agreement made before the Lord brought God into the agreement and brought God’s wrath on those who would threaten to break the agreement. And so, Jephthah “spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.” (Judges 11:11) The agreement was bigger than a contract with the Gileadites, it was a covenant with the Lord.

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The Making of Israel’s Ninth Judge, Jephthah

A while back, a friend of mine, Lloyd Phillips who heads Fellow Laborers International, wrote an email which told of churches in Africa which make a terrible application of the story of Jephthah. Apparently, some churches Lloyd was visiting had praise songs which extolled Jephthah the man of faith who literally sacrificed his daughter. And unfortunately this was misunderstood by some to support the cultural practice of killing infant daughters. Lloyd prophetically taught to reprove their error. And while I agreed with this need for prophetic correction, I questioned how the account of Jephthah should be understood and applied. At various times I have studied this passage and am now ready to dig into a multi-part study of Israel’s ninth judge, Jephthah.

The Book of Judges saddens me every time I read of Israel’s seven-stepped descent into depravity. The wonderful success Joshua won through an obedience in faith followed the true Darwinian course of “devolution.” The people did not follow God’s plan for Israel, revealed in the Law. They instead turned to what was right in their own eyes and to what seemed like better answers for life’s questions which they found in false gods and the surrounding cultures. (Oh, that Israel today would recognize that the gods and cultures of the modern world are far inferior to what they received thousands of years ago!) Through Israel’s desperate times and God’s merciful interventions, there is an down and up and down path Israel pursued until the time of the Judges came to an end. This is sad to me both for what Israel had to go through (especially when compared to the blessings that they potentially could have enjoyed) and what it says about our own country and the downward spiral that seems to be leading us in a down-up-down course to desperate times.

In Judges 10:6-18 we read of the descent into desperate times which took place in the day of Jephthah. The sons of Ammon were coming against Israel. There were 18 years of oppression and suffering. The things that seemed to work in better times, seemed, in the light of their helpless suffering, to be worthless lies. Israel at these times of despair called on the Lord, “We have sinned against You, for indeed, we have forsaken our God and served the Baals.” (Judges 10:10) This is a good first step, saying honestly what we have done and where we are. But it isn’t adequate in itself. Those deep in sin tend to see their sin as insignificant personal choices that really are not that bad when compared to other sins which are much worse. But God’s reply to Israel points to the seriousness and significance of their sin. (Judges 10:11-15) He points to his effective help in the past, in the exodus, in the wilderness and in entering Canaan. Since Israel turned from God’s historically proven effectiveness to chose other gods, God tells Israel to look to their new chosen gods and ways to solve their current problems. But of course, those things could not help, they in fact had been part of the life dynamic which got them in their current problems. Much like government programs of today which try to address a social problem but end up reinforcing and enlarging the problem, and then as the problem deepens, the cry goes out to expand this program to really solve the growing societal problem. At some point perhaps we will recognize we are actually feeding the problems and not funding the solutions. Anyway, at this point Israel moved from words to actions, “they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord.” (Judges 10:16) I have wondered how today in the church there can be so many good preachers and teachers yet our country seems to continue to be in a serious downward slide. Perhaps, like Israel, we are in the place where we are talking about what is wrong rather than taking the real steps of action which manifest true repentance.

With Israel’s words and actions of repentance we are told that the Lord “could bear the misery of Israel no longer.” (Judges 10:16) This is great news. At this point we can rightfully expect a solution. What may be surprising, however, is that this path of God’s mercy, which Israel had to walk, took them into a place of greater difficulty. Our expectation is that if God hears our cry, our solution should be there, the problem solved, things are better, the sun sets beautifully and peacefully and all is again right with the world. But rarely do things work according to this expectation. And it did not work this way for the Israelites. “Then the sons of Ammon were summoned and they camped in Gilead. And the sons of Israel gathered together and camped in Mizpah. The people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, ‘Who is the man who will begin to fight against the sons of Ammon? He shall become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.'” (Judges 10:17-18) Things were getting worse before they could get better. Their repentance seems to have spurred a great armed conflict. The battle lines are drawn up and war is set to begin. For eighteen years Israel had not held its own. It was even less likely on that day as they did not even have somebody to lead their army, such as it was. Things looked very grim for the sons of Israel. If we are working with somebody who is in the process of truly turning from sins or addictions, we need to warn them that the path of repentance may lead to an intensification of the battle. This is normal. There are things we may need to do or things we need to pass through that we will avoid until pushed by unpleasant circumstances. The last place the Gileadites wanted to look for a leader was now the place they were willing to look, they were willing to look for Jephthah.

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a Reminder

After reading Deuteronomy 30:11-14, i was convicted that my experience with our Lord’s call to righteousness (His Commandments) has been very difficult. Moses states, “These commandments are not too difficult and are not far from you (you have the ability to keep them).” I was confused. i fail regularly. Moses statement indicates to me that i am missing something.

When Moses states, “These commandments are not too difficult and are not far from you”, do you think he means just keep the commandments or is he saying, just please God. Is it less difficult to try to please God versus trying to be perfect?

It could be, that i am too hard on myself; that it’s me trying to be righteous when it should be by faith in Jesus. I remember what Jesus said about the Pharisee who claimed he kept all the commandments while putting down the tax collector who was on his knees pounding his chest asking for forgiveness, he said the tax collector had it right. So should i be humbled, or troubled by my imperfection?

Jesus says He will take my burdens and He says his load is light and His yoke is easy.
Could it be that my difficulty in keeping the Lord’s commandments are because i am trying to do them as works?

I saw a movie about a priest who was on trial for negligent homicide because of a young girl’s death because she was possessed. The exorcism failed and she died for lack of medical attention. The priest said the young girl was filled with faith and gave him the courage to stand up to the six demons in her. Even though the priest’s effort failed, the young girl claimed she would be saved by the Lord. She was right, because He took her home. The last scene was her tombstone which read, “…work out your salvation with fear and trembling…”.! So, is it necessary to tremble and be scared out of your wits in order to keep his commandments?

These four questions should lead to a conclusion:

To ‘work out your salvation with fear and trembling’ is to have respect for who God is and what He has done for you. Salvation is an eternal gift, it requires gratitude. Fear is the respect of recognizing that your God loves you and died for you and that he saved you from His wrath. Tremble in His presence. Taking Him for granted will make keeping His commandments very difficult, He dwells in you!

If i decide to ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling’ by concentrating on God’s qualities (like the Fruit of the Spirit), obedience is the result. No wonder i was finding Moses statement difficult, i had fallen into a pattern of striving for perfection outside the New Covenant. The verse after ‘work out my salvation with fear and trembling’ is for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure. Phil 2:13

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Brief counsel on an important topic

A friend in church wrote a more mature believer asking help to better listen to the Lord:

So, I would like to be not so up in the air about knowing when God is talking to me. Or, be a better listener. Could you give me a little guidance on that?  I think it is a start that I’ve reconized some of the times the Spirit is speaking to me. But, I still question some.  Are there some Bible passeges I could study to further my recognition of this or some obedience that would make it more clear. Sincerely, Your Brother in Christ

This mature believer asked me what I thought. I thought I would share here what I wrote. Perhaps it is helpful to others. Perhaps I am off target and one reading here can give further insight.  Continue reading

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Baptism of the Holy Spirit

“Now the apostles and the brethren who were in Judea heard that the Gentiles also had received the word of God. So when Peter went up to Jerusalem, the circumcision party criticized him, saying, “Why did you go to uncircumcised men and eat with them?” But Peter began and explained to them in order: “I was in the city of Joppa praying; and in a trance I saw a vision, something descending, like a great sheet, let down from heaven by four corners; and it came down to me. Looking at it closely I observed animals and beasts of prey and reptiles and birds of the air. And I heard a voice saying to me, ‘Rise, Peter; kill and eat.’
But I said, ‘No, Lord: for nothing common or unclean has ever entered my mouth.’ But the voice answered a second time from heaven, ‘What God has cleansed you must not call common.’ This happened three times, and all was drawn up again into heaven. At that very moment three men arrived at the house in which they were, sent to me from Caesarea. And the Spirit told me to go with them, making no distinction. These six brethren also accompanied me, and we entered the man’s house. And he told us how he had seen the angel standing in his house and saying, ‘Send to Joppa and bring Simon called Peter; he will declare to you a message by which you will be saved, you and all your household.’                                                        As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, ‘John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit.’ If then God gave the same gift to them as he gave to us when we believed in the Lord Jesus Christ who was I that I could withstand God? When they heard this they were silenced. And they glorified God saying “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance unto life.”                         (Acts 11:1-18 RSV)

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You can’t judge a prayer by circumstances

I was recently thinking on the time Abraham sent his son Ishmael away with Hagar who was the boy’s mother and Sarah’s maid. I believe Abraham loved Ishmael greatly and only capitulated to Sarah’s demand that the two be sent away because God said, “Do not be distressed because of the lad and your maid; whatever Sarah tells you, listen to her, for through Isaac your descendants shall be named.” (Genesis 21:12. Interesting to note this solution brings to mind the source of the problem with Hagar where “Abram listened to the voice of Sarai” (Genesis 16:2) even as Adam listened to the voice of his wife (Genesis 3:17).)

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A surprising example for ministry

For years I have liked 2Kings 5, the story of Naaman the Leper. Recently I saw something I hadn’t noticed before, the role of the slave girl in this story. There are only a few verses in the chapter which mention her. We don’t even get to know her name. In spite of this, as I have reflected on her role in this story, I have come to think that this slave girl may be an important model for powerful Christian ministry. Continue reading

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Should exciting church growth be typical?

The Lord is really blessing Meadow View Church. (Not pictured here.) A number of people pray to receive Christ each service. And a few weeks ago, there were 24 baptized. The attendance is continuing to increase (up about 1000% since Pastor Craig Liscom has come to the church), and it looks like it isn’t done increasing. There is quite a bit of excitement about what the Lord is doing. The leaders have outlined what they believe the Lord is going to do with the church as its growth continues and the logical need to start a building expansion. I believe the wind of the Spirit is really blowing at the church right now. My point here is not to find a criticism with Meadow View but rather to end an implied criticism at other churches in town which are not experiencing these winds of change. Continue reading

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Some thoughts on tattoos

A friend emailed me asked me my take on tattoos. It does amaze me that tattoos have grown in popularity and seem to be widely accepted. I have an association of tattoos with people who have done prison time or are in gangs. But a number of people have them now who don’t fit either of those two cases. When I see young people with tattoos, I think of what they will look like as they get older. “Body modifications” seems a foolish fad to me. On this level, one’s like or dislike of tattoos would seem to be cultural or individual preference. Continue reading

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Time to stay and a time to go

Recently I was reading in Genesis. I saw an example of a useful principle concerning staying in or leaving a situation we find difficult. One lesson I saw was that we cannot create a fixed rule which says to stay no matter what. There is a time to stay and a time to go. True and useful counsel must combine the principles of God’s word with the insight from God’s Spirit for those particular circumstances. Continue reading

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