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Scripture reading – Judges 11-12

Our ongoing chronological study of the Book of Judges brings us to Judges 11-12, as Judges 10 concluded with Israel turning to the LORD. Repenting of their sins, the people had put away their idols and committed themselves to serve the LORD (10:15-18).

Once again, as the Ammonites gathered against Israel, and in the absence of a judge in the land, the people who lived in Gilead (the ground on the east side of the Jordan River) asked among themselves, “What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead” (10:18).

Judges 11 – The Rule and Judgeship of Jephthah the Gileadite

Jephthah’s Low Birth (Judges 11:1-3)

At that time, a man was living in Gilead named Jephthah. He was known among his people as “a mighty man of valour” and was the son of a man named Gilead; however, his mother was a harlot (11:1). The same Gilead also had sons of his lawful wife, and when they were grown, they rejected Jephthah as an illegitimate son and heir. His brethren thrust him out of their household (11:2). Jephthah then retreated to the desert, where he was joined by “vain” [lawless; worthless] men (11:3).

Jephthah’s Promotion to Commander (Judges 11:4-11)

When the Ammonites began to wage “war against Israel,” the leaders of Gilead sought a leader among themselves (11:4-5). They sent a message to Jephthah and said, “Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon” (11:6).

Jephthah did not miss the opportunity to confront the irony of their invitation to be the leader of Gilead, nor did he immediately accept the leadership role over them (the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh). It is possible some of his brothers, who cast him out as an illegitimate son, were among the elders that requested his leadership (11:7-10).

The elders of Gilead vowed an oath to the LORD that Jephthah would be their ruler if he were victorious (11:10). Jephthah then acknowledged God’s providence and assumed the leadership of his people (11:11). Thus, Jephthah became the eighth judge of Israel.

Jephthah’s Accord with the Ammonites (Judges 11:12-28)

After assuming his role as the leader and captain of Gilead, Jephthah endeavored to negotiate a peace accord with the king of Ammon (11:12-24). He rejected the Ammonite king’s claim to the land (11:25) and noted that Israel had possessed the land for three hundred years. Jephthah asserted that the LORD had given the children of Israel the land for their inheritance (11:26-27).

Jephthah’s Ill-advised Vow and Victory (Judges 11:29-33)

After being assured that the “Spirit of the LORD” was with him, Jephthah vowed to the LORD, “and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 31Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30–31). So, the LORD gave Jephthah and Israel a great victory (11:32-33).

Jephthah’s Consternation and Sorrow (Judges 11:34-40)

When Jephthah returned from the battle his daughter met him, and he remembered his vow to the LORD and was overcome with sorrow (11:34-35). He accepted that his sacrifice to the LORD would be his daughter (11:35). Loving and humble, Jephthah’s daughter accepted the consequences of her father’s vow and requested two months to mourn that she would never bear children (11:36-37).

In his zeal, Jephthah had made a rash vow to give as an offering the first one who came out of his house to meet him (11:31). Human sacrifice was the way of the heathen nations; however, it was contrary to God’s law and nature. So, Jephthah’s sacrifice was that his daughter would live a celibate life, never know a man, and therefore never bear a son or daughter to be her father’s heir (11:39-40).

Judges 12 – The Tribe of Ephraim and a Fool Twice Over

Do you remember how the tribe of Ephraim confronted Gideon when he returned victorious from battle? At that time, the Ephraimites complained they were slighted, for they had not been invited to war against Midian (Judges 8:1).

Again, in Judges 12, we find the men of Ephraim making the same disingenuous protest when Jephthah returned victorious from his battle with the Ammonites.

Jephthah’s Dispute with the Ephraimites (Judges 12:1-6)

Still grieving his daughter’s celibacy, Jephthah was confronted by the men of Ephraim who, true to their nature, complained they were slighted. Incredibly, Ephraim gathered to war against Jephthah. They threatened to burn his house and implied he had failed to call on them to go to war (12:1).

Jephthah’s answer revealed the Ephraimite’s hypocrisy, for they had been summoned to war but refused (12:2-3). When he could not come to terms with Ephraim, Jephthah roused his army to battle, warred against Ephraim, and slew forty-two thousand men of that tribe (12:4-7).

The closing verses of Judges 12 gave a brief account of the rule of three judges that succeeded Jephthah: Ibzan (12:8-10), Elon (12:11-12), and Abdon (12:13-15).

Closing thoughts:

Jephthah, the son of a harlot, was an unlikely hero! Like Joseph, who was rejected by his brothers and sold as a slave (Genesis 37), Jephthah suffered the rejection of his brethren. Yet, with the Spirit of the LORD, he became a hero in Israel. What an amazing story of God’s grace and power! He knew the sorrow of rejection, but when God called him, he rose to the challenge and was used mightily!

For some, Jephthah was undoubtedly the last man they would have chosen to lead them. Yet, he proved to be God’s man for such a time.  In the words of the apostle Paul:

1 Corinthians 1:26b-29 – “Not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not many noble, are called: 27  But God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty; 28  And base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are: 29  That no flesh should glory in his presence.”

What is keeping you from trusting and serving the LORD?

Copyright © 2023 – Travis D. Smith

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