The Fourteenth in a Series of Sermons on the Book of Judges
We can all think of cases where people do the wrong thing for all the right reasons. The story of Jephthah is just such a case. After the death of Gideon, and the reign of terror brought upon Israel by Gideon’s son, Abimelech, the people of Israel enjoyed a relative period of peace. But during this time of peace, the people of Israel once again turned their backs upon YHWH, and were worshiping and serving the gods of the same seven nations that Israel was to defeat, and then cast from the land of Canaan. Exasperated by Israel’s continuing unbelief, God stirred up two of Israel’s fiercest opponents–the Ammonites and the Philistines–who are described as crushing and oppressing the Israelites. And so the cycle we see throughout the Book of Judges appears yet again in chapters 10-12. The people of Israel have turned their backs upon YHWH. YHWH sent several oppressors, so the people of Israel cry out for deliverance. YHWH then sends Israel another “judge” (a deliverer) who will rescue Israel from its current predicament. This time, the judge is a man named Jephthah, who is one of the most puzzling and perplexing men in all the Bible.
We are continuing our series on the Book of Judges, as we make our way through the balance of Judges 11-12. The context for this particular episode (the account of Jephthah) is given in Judges 11:7, when the author of Judges informs us that two of Israel’s long-standing enemies–the Philistines and the Ammonites–were bringing great distress to Israel. This declaration sets the stage for the final two major judges in this period of redemptive history, Jephthah and Samson. Jephthah will deliver Israel from the Ammonites (the ancestors of the modern day Jordanians), while Samson will deliver Israel from the Philistines (the sea peoples). We will finish up the account of Jephthah. And then we’ll turn to the story of Samson.
As we saw last time, Jephthah was the son of Gilead, and a prostitute. His family (half-brothers and Gilead’s other wives) completely disowned him, cutting him off from the rest of the family, as well as from his inheritance. We were also told that Jephthah left the area and had surrounded himself with a band of thugs. This sort of a personal history makes Jephthah a wild-card. But when a large Ammonite army gathers across the Jordan River from Israel–obviously preparing to cross the river and invade the land of Canaan–the Israelites respond by assembling an army of their own at Mizpah (in the land of Gilead). The problem they faced was that there was no one with the skills to lead the assembled army.
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