The Faith of Jephthah

Posted by Worldview Warriors On Sunday, February 4, 2018 0 comments

by Logan Ames

I try not to write about sports all the time, but I think I am contractually obligated to do so today. With the Super Bowl kicking off in just a few hours and the Winter Olympics beginning later this week, two of the most popular sporting events are upon us. What makes these two events so great is not merely the games themselves but all the mental, physical, and even spiritual preparation leading up to them and the stories of triumph and perseverance that are told in the lives of the participating athletes. In the Super Bowl, we have the New England Patriots and the Philadelphia Eagles. Though I hate to admit because I can never root for them, the Patriots are better than any other team in the NFL at taking players who have been rejected, used up, or overlooked by other teams and making them into key contributors and stars. The Eagles are a significant underdog in this game, but continue to win despite their damaging injuries. They move forward with a backup quarterback that no one else wanted. Likewise, the Olympics are full of participants from all over the world who have continued to get back up after injuries, rejection, and failures. Even if you hate sports, these events teach us important life values.

One of the things that is required to go from the bottom to the top in the world of athletic achievements is FAITH. If you’re competing in an individual sport, you have to have faith that your hard work and ferocious training will eventually yield results. You have to accept delayed gratification. A team sport requires not only that same faith in your training and practice but also faith in your teammates to do their jobs while you do yours. Because each of these areas of faith are not foolproof, meaning they occasionally fail an athlete, we often hear stories and professions of faith in the only One who does not let us down - the Lord Almighty. For those professional and amateur athletes who trust in Jesus more than their own abilities, even the darkest moments of rejection and failure in their sport cannot defeat them for good.

As we continue in the series on our heroes of the faith, we come to a man who was despised and rejected through no fault of his own, but put his trust in the Lord to win a great victory. In Hebrews 11:32, we are told of someone named “Jephthah." His name may be one of the hardest to say, but there is no doubt that the honor bestowed upon him by the writer of Hebrews was well-deserved. Like the others before him, Jephthah was commended for his faith despite his imperfections. Hebrews 11:33 tells us that the aforementioned group of faithful ones “through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised." All three of those faithful accomplishments certainly fit the life of Jephthah.

Judges 11 tells us the story of Jephthah. We learn some important things about Jephthah right off the bat in verses 1-3. We see that he was considered a “mighty warrior," but that he was the illegitimate son of his father, Gilead, because he was born of a prostitute. Clearly, Jephthah had nothing to do with this and was the product of his parents’ sinful choice to commit adultery. Yet, as was often the case in those days in Israel, his status was held against him. His half-brothers (the legitimate sons of Gilead and his wife) drove Jephthah away and said he would not get any of the family’s inheritance because of his birth to the prostitute. In other words, they rejected him completely and had no use for him. But we know God loves to use those who are of no use whatsoever to others. While human beings often only want us when they need us, our God has a plan for us from before we are even in our mothers’ wombs (Psalm 139:13-16).

Jephthah came along during a time when the Israelites had once again worshipped idols and made God angry enough to allow them to fall into enemy hands. They were ruled and oppressed by the Ammonites and the Philistines. Just as we saw last week that God used Samson to confront the Philistines, he was about to use Jephthah to take out the Ammonites. It’s interesting how the Israelites’ relationship with God mirrored the relationship between the people of the town of Gilead and Jephthah. In Judges 10:10-14, we see that the Israelites as a whole cried out to God to rescue them, and after constantly rescuing them before, he tells them this time that they are on their own and should cry out to the false gods they’ve been worshiping to save them. But, after they humbly submit to him and choose ACTUAL REPENTANCE by getting rid of the false gods in verses 15-16, God has compassion on them again.

Once God’s plan to rescue the Israelites is in full swing, the people of Gilead are looking for someone to lead them into battle in Judges 11. The wise choice is the “mighty warrior," Jephthah, so they go to him. Like God, he first reminds them of how they rejected him. Like God, he recognizes that they only want a relationship with him when they desperately need him. Like they did with God, the people humble themselves and offer to make him head over all of Gilead. Now, it’s important for us to see the difference between God and man. God waited for true repentance from the Israelites but needed nothing else after that and longed to rescue them because of his compassion. When it came to Jephthah, the people needed to sweeten the deal to get him to come to their aid. Jephthah then makes them basically take an oath that they will truly let him be their leader at a place called Mizpah (v. 11), which not coincidentally is the same place that Jacob and Laban made a binding agreement in Genesis 31:49. The name of the place meant “watchtower," and it was thought that one did not go back on his word there because the Lord would see it.

The next part of Judges 11 records Jephthah’s conversation with the king of the Ammonites and shows that his faith was in the Lord to bring the victory. He explains to the enemy king that any land that the Israelites possess was given to them by the Lord God of Israel. In verses 23-28, Jephthah recognizes that this battle is a spiritual one first and foremost. He encourages the king of the Ammonites to take whatever land their pagan god gives them, and Israel will take whatever land their God gives them. He declares that they will let the Lord, the Judge (with a very intentional capital “J”), decide their dispute over the land. Since the king of the Ammonites does not listen, Jephthah then leads an army and overtakes them. God gives this despised and rejected man from birth a great victory, proving that no one is “illegitimate” in HIS eyes.

Jephthah shows his weakness and imperfections with first making, then stubbornly keeping, a foolish vow to the Lord in the rest of the chapter. I have an opinion on those verses that is in line with some scholars, and if you want to hear about it I’m happy to share it. For now, I’d rather leave you with what is not my opinion, but God-breathed Scripture. “Isn’t it obvious that God deliberately chose men and women that the culture overlooks and exploits and abuses, chose these ‘nobodies’ to expose the hollow pretensions of the ‘somebodies’?” (1 Corinthians 1:27-28 [MSG]) We know for a fact that God used Jephthah, a faithful man who was considered “illegitimate” by his own family, to defeat one of Israel’s oppressive enemies. No matter how others in your life have treated you, is there anything that God can’t also do in your life? Leave the opinions of others in the past and start trusting, following, and obeying the Lord today!

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