Jephthah

Hovering over Judges 11 this morning. Noodling on Jephthah, deliverer and judge of Israel. And honestly, not sure what to do with him.

He was a man of disreputable beginnings, the son of a prostitute. He was rejected by his family, his half-brothers running him out of town so that he would have no part in their father’s inheritance. Ends up in a foreign land and gains some level of notoriety as an outlaw leading a gang of “worthless fellows.” Out of sight, maybe, but not off the radar.

Such was his reputation that when the Israelites need a military leader to battle the Ammonites, they actively seek out and recruit Jephthah. “If I come back to be your deliverer,” Jephthah says in essence, “then I need to be your leader as well” (11:9).

And at this point, there’s a sense of type of Christ here. Controversial birth. Rejected by His brethren. Eventually recognized as the only hope for deliverance. Rightfully demanding that He be both Savior and Lord.

And Jephthah continues to impress. Though confident in his abilities, he recognizes that he will only defeat the Ammonites if “the LORD gives them over to me” (11:9). And not only does he look to the God of the Scriptures but he also seems pretty familiar with the Scriptures of God. Before entering battle with the Ammonites he tries to negotiate a settlement with them first. And his case is based on the record of Moses and of how Israel came to possess the land. The son of a prostitute, friend of worthless fellows, and he knows the word and will of God (11:12-28).

What’s more, he trusts in God:

“I therefore have not sinned against you, and you do me wrong by making war on me. The LORD, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.”

(Judges 11:27 ESV)

And the happy ending that I so want is so close to playing out . . . “Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah” (11:29) . . . “So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand” (11:32).

Good! Stop there! Let him serve Israel without notable incident for the next six years and we’ve got the sort of story I find myself so wanting.

But . . . ugghhh . . . I need to wrestle with the rest of the story . . . the parts I would just as soon skip over.

And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If You will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORDs, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” . . . So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel. Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.”

(Judges 11:30-31, 33b-35 ESV)

Dummy!!! That’s what I want to say. What’s that about? Why mess things up?

Commentators fall on both sides as to whether Jephthah’s vow resulted in an actual human sacrifice or whether his daughter was given to be a perpetual virgin in service for Jehovah. Either way, Jephthah was rash with his vow and broken by its consequence. And I’m bummed because of the cloud it hangs over what might have otherwise been a pretty positive story in a generally negative era.

So, like I said, don’t know exactly what to do with Jephthah’s story.

Doesn’t fit in a nice neat category of either “good or bad” . . . “victory or defeat” . . . “God honoring or not.”

But maybe that’s the point. God uses less than perfect people (Paul calls them “jars of clay” in 2Cor. 4:7) to accomplish His perfect purpose. While we might look to men to lead us, we trust in God to love us and work all things “together for good, for those who are called according to His purpose” (Rom. 8:28). Though our stories don’t always have a neat and tidy, happy ending, they always reflect an ever-present and sovereign, heavenly hand upon us.

And, if along the way, we see glimpses of the Savior, then we rejoice with the reminder that we are His. And, if along way, we are reminded of our clay feet, then we praise Him for His finished work on the cross, knowing again that we are more than conquerors not because of who we are, or what we can do, or how well we can avoid being caught up in sin’s snare, but because of Him who loved us and gave Himself for us.

Such is the blessing of grace. To Him be all the glory.

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