Friday, June 17, 2011

The Book of Judges - Jephthah

Today we are getting back into the judges.  When we last left off three weeks ago we saw a prolonged period of God's chastisement on Israel.  We saw that this time when Israel cried out, God told them that perhaps the false gods that they were following could save them.  We left off where Israel repented of those sins and God was set to deliver them once again.
Then the people of Ammon gathered together and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled together and encamped in Mizpah. And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, "Who [is] the man who will begin the fight against the people of Ammon? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead."   Judges 10:17-18 NKJV
And so with the battle set, Israel is looking for their leader.  It is now when we meet the next judge.
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he [was] the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah.  Gilead's wife bore sons; and when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, "You shall have no inheritance in our father's house, for you [are] the son of another woman." Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out [raiding] with him.  Judges 11:1-3 NKJV
Jephthah was a mighty man of valor.  He was also rejected by his people.  He was the son of a harlot and therefore an illegitimate child of Gilead.  He was driven away from his family and left with no inheritance.  If you ever think God has no use for you because of his past or his heritage you should take great comfort in Jephthah.  He was the progeny of a sinful relationship and his entire family rejected him.  He made his living as a sort of ad hoc military leader, leading a band of poor men living sort of an A-Team kind of life.  They probably protected local villages in return for money and sustenance as they repelled marauders set to rob the villages. 
It came to pass after a time that the people of Ammon made war against Israel. And so it was, when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. Then they said to Jephthah, "Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon." So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father's house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?" And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead."  Judges 11:4-8 NKJV
When times were peaceful, the people had no use for a mighty man of valor so it was rather easy to expel someone they found displeasing.  Now that war has come, Jephthah is suddenly useful again.  It must have been interesting for Jephthah.  He even questioned why they would call upon someone they hate only now when they need him.  They basically replied saying that of course we are only calling on you now when we need you.  At least they were honest!  Think about that though when the person you tend to avoid suddenly comes to the top of your phone book when he can do or has something you want or need.  Perhaps we should be as honest as the Gileadites and just admit to that person that we are using him and if not for what he can provide you would be ignoring him now just as your always did.  Even better, perhaps we can ask God to change our hearts to not even have such attitudes towards people. 
So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the LORD delivers them to me, shall I be your head?" And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "The LORD will be a witness between us, if we do not do according to your words." Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.  Judges 11:9-11 NKJV
Jephthah now makes clear his terms.  If he is to lead the army and the Lord gives him the victory, he is to be their leader.  The elders of Gilead agree and so he takes his place as commander over the army.
Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, saying, "What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?" And the king of the people of Ammon answered the messengers of Jephthah, "Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore those [lands] peaceably." So Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, and said to him, "Thus says Jephthah: 'Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the people of Ammon; 'for when Israel came up from Egypt, they walked through the wilderness as far as the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, "Please let me pass through your land." But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not [consent]. So Israel remained in Kadesh. And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon [was] the border of Moab. Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, "Please let us pass through your land into our place." But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. Thus Israel gained possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited 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. And now the LORD God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it? Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God takes possession of before us, we will possess. And now, [are] you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel? Did he ever fight against them? While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover [them] within that time? Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the LORD, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.' "   Judges 11:12-27 NKJV
Basically Jephthah questions Ammon as to why they are attacking the land.  Ammon replies that it is not, in fact, their land but land stolen from them.  Jephthah then gives Ammon a history lesson showing how Israel took nothing from the Ammonites, but tried to come to them in peace and was attacked.  God gave Israel the land in question due to the war that was started against them.  This sounds very familiar to what we see today with the Palestinians and the disputed territories.  Just like those times, Israel was given those lands by God as part of their victory in the war that was initiated against them.  And so Jephthah calls for God to judge who should lay claim to the disputed territories of his day.
However, the king of the people of Ammon did not heed the words which Jephthah sent him. Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced [toward] the people of Ammon. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, "If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering."   Judges 11:28-31 NKJV
Did you ever make a promise in haste that you would later regret?  Jephthah did that here.  He was advancing towards battle, the Lord was upon him, and in the moment he makes a vow he would later regret.  Be careful with the promises you make. 
So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands. And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith--twenty cities--and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.  Judges 11:32-33 NKJV
And so the Lord gives Israel the victory once again and the enemy army is slaughtered. 
When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she [was his] only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it." So she said to him, "My father, [if] you have given your word to the LORD, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon." Then she said to her father, "Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I." So he said, "Go." And he sent her away [for] two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. And it became a custom in Israel [that] the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.  Judges 11:34-40 NKJV
And now the hasty promise made by Jephthah comes back to haunt him.  His only child, his beloved daughter, was the first to come out to greet him.  He promised to make a burnt offering out of whatever came out to him first when he returned home.  Please note that God did not condone this action regardless of the promise made by Jephthah.  Human sacrifice was strictly forbidden by God.  A promise to sin is not a promise we need to keep.  If that were so, how can we ever repent?  For example, if I make a date with a woman to cheat on my wife and the Lord convicts my heart of the sin I am going to commit, can I then not repent?  I made a date and a commitment to be with that other woman.  Should I then go to my wife and tell her that I made a promise so even though I do not want to, I am bound by my promise to commit adultery?  Of course not, that would be ridiculous.  What Jephthah should have done was to repent and offer a valid sacrifice in her place.  What he did was murder.  You can never obligate yourself to sin because you first obligation is always to God. 
Then the men of Ephraim gathered together, crossed over toward Zaphon, and said to Jephthah, "Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!" And Jephthah said to them, "My people and I were in a great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands. So when I saw that you would not deliver [me], I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the people of Ammon; and the LORD delivered them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?" Now Jephthah gathered together all the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. And the men of Gilead defeated Ephraim, because they said, "You Gileadites [are] fugitives of Ephraim among the Ephraimites [and] among the Manassites." The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites [arrived]. And when [any] Ephraimite who escaped said, "Let me cross over," the men of Gilead would say to him, "[Are] you an Ephraimite?" If he said, "No," then they would say to him, "Then say, 'Shibboleth'!" And he would say, "Sibboleth," for he could not pronounce [it] right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites. And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in among the cities of Gilead.  Judges 12:1-7 NKJV
Jephthah's trouble was not over yet.  The people of Ephraim decided (and we have seen this before) after the battle that they should have been part of the battle and were going to burn down the house of Jephthah to show they were serious.  Ephraim started a fight it could not win and paid dearly for their wrong actions.  After that, Jephthah judged Israel for six years (not a very long time at all) before he died. 
So we learn a couple of things today.  First we see the feud of Israel and her neighbors have gone on for a very long time.  Then and now, Israel had disputed territory that was a spoil of a war Israel did not start.  Then and now, people with no legitimate claim to the land were trying to make claim to the land.  God did not allow it then.  God will not allow it now.  Israel can not be at peace with her neighbors because her neighbors reject the true God.  If they reject the true God, they will certainly reject Israel as His chosen people.  Just as it was then, it still is now where Israel's neighbors did not want to live in peace with Israel but they want to live in peace without Israel existing any longer.  God will defend His people and His promises to them.  Any nation today (including ourselves) must take heed the warning of what happened to the Ammonites and anyone else who has ever attempted to fight against God's chosen people.
We also learn not to make hasty promises.  Many times we may agree to something in haste without any prayer at all.  These promises may take us away from where God wants us to be or affect what God has planned for us.  Whenever faced with a decision or making any kind of commitment, we must take the time to pray about it first.  There is never an excuse to commit ourselves to something without an adequate amount of prayer.
Finally, we can never obligate ourselves to sin.  We can never stand before God and tell him that whatever sin we committed we did so because we were upholding a promise.  We must look at life in terms of our obligation to God always coming first.  If you make a promise to sin, you are speaking in authority you do not have.  While we can sin, we do so at our own peril and with no permission or blessing from God to do so.  Sin is always wrong, period. 
[It is] a snare for a man to devote rashly [something as] holy, And afterward to reconsider [his] vows.  Proverbs 20:25 NKJV

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