We continue the look at the depths that the tribes of Israel had sunk to. But at last Jephthah brings some light in the darkness! But beware – the gloom returns.
Perhaps people could take it in turn to read, but allow time for comments or questions.
Read Judges 10:6-10
6 Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord. They served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, and the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and the gods of the Philistines. And because the Israelites forsook the Lord and no longer served him, 7 he became angry with them. He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites, 8 who that year shattered and crushed them. For eighteen years they oppressed all the Israelites on the east side of the Jordan in Gilead, the land of the Amorites. 9 The Ammonites also crossed the Jordan to fight against Judah, Benjamin and Ephraim; Israel was in great distress. 10 Then the Israelites cried out to the Lord, ‘We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.’
Who was crying out?
There was no national identity, no king.
Was it the priests in Shiloh trying to maintain the tabernacle?
Or was it a groundswell of the people who had distant memories of better times when they followed God?
Or was it just the tribes on the eastern side of the River Jordan that were now under attack from the Ammonites?
Read Judges 10:11-14
11 The Lord replied, ‘When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, 12 the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? 13 But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. 14 Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!’
As before, the Lord was quick to answer, but not to act. He simply pointed out the ineffectiveness of the gods they worshipped.
Read Judges 10:15-16
15 But the Israelites said to the Lord, ‘We have sinned. Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.’ 16 Then they got rid of the foreign gods among them and served the Lord. And he could bear Israel’s misery no longer.
Again, this was no nationwide repentance, but it was obviously a number of people involved in a local revival – and the Lord responded to that.
Read Judges 10:17
17 When the Ammonites were called to arms and camped in Gilead, the Israelites assembled and camped at Mizpah.
Gilead was a geographical mountainous region to the east of the River Jordan, divided among the tribes of Reuben, Gad and Manasseh. Mizpah (in Gilead) is hard to locate (see v39). Jephthah’s father, Gilead (see chapter 11:1) may have been named after the region where he was born.
Read Judges 10:18, 11:1-3
18 The leaders of the people of Gilead said to each other, ‘Whoever will take the lead in attacking the Ammonites will be head over all who live in Gilead.’
1 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. ‘You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,’ they said, ‘because you are the son of another woman.’ 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a gang of scoundrels gathered around him and followed him.
(Tob was possibly to the north of Gilead, southeast of the Sea of Galilee.)
Read Judges 11:4-11
4 Some time later, when the Ammonites were fighting against Israel, 5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 ‘Come,’ they said, ‘be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.’
7 Jephthah said to them, ‘Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?’
8 The elders of Gilead said to him, ‘Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be head over all of us who live in Gilead.’
9 Jephthah answered, ‘Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me – will I really be your head?’
10 The elders of Gilead replied, ‘The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.’ 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.
At last we appear to have someone who is prepared to admit that any victory he may have, should be acknowledged as the Lord’s. Then the elders of Gilead called the Lord to witness their agreement and then – what does the last phase of v 11 mean? Where is Mizpah?
Mizpah was near Gilead and was the place where Jacob and Laban built a pillar of stones as a witness to the covenant between them (Genesis 31:43-55)
It was probably still treated as a ‘Holy place’
For Jephthah it was obviously important to involve the Lord in his subsequent actions.
Read Judges 11:12-13
12 Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: ‘What do you have against me that you have attacked my country?’
13 The king of the Ammonites answered Jephthah’s messengers, ‘When Israel came up out of Egypt, they took away my land from the Arnon to the Jabbok, all the way to the Jordan. Now give it back peaceably.’
Was that right? No
Read Judges 11:14-22
14 Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, 15 saying:
‘This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. 16 But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Give us permission to go through your country,” but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh.
18 ‘Next they travelled through the wilderness, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border.
19 ‘Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, “Let us pass through your country to our own place.” 20 Sihon, however, did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. He mustered all his troops and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.
21 ‘Then the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and his whole army into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, 22 capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan.
This section of land was then assigned to the tribes of Gad and Reuben
Note the confusing names – Amorites / Ammonites: quite separate people groups.
Read Judges 11:23-27
23 ‘Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? 24 Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess. 25 Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? 26 For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time? 27 I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.’
A brilliant factual, historical account of the right for Israel to occupy the land.
(Three hundred years (v26) may have been a guess but Gill states: ‘Joshua governed Israel twenty eight years, Othniel forty, Ehud eighty, Deborah forty, Gideon forty, Abimelech three, Tola twenty three, Jair twenty two, and eighteen years Israel was oppressed by the children of Ammon, which with the six years of Jephthah make just three hundred’.)
Read Judges 11:28-29
28 The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.
29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.
Jephthah knew ‘Right’ was on his side, and that the Spirit of the Lord was with him – he confidently marched against the enemy. Really? No – not yet.
Read Judges 11:30-31
30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: ‘If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’
Making a conditional vow to the Lord bears all the hallmarks of mistrust.
Why did he think it was necessary?
Would the outcome have been any different if he hadn’t made the vow?
Read Judges 11:32-35
32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, ‘Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.’
What is more, if he had stopped to think, it was an offering and a sacrifice which the Lord could only reject as an abomination.
Read Judges 11:36-40
36 ‘My father,’ she replied, ‘you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request,’ she said. ‘Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.’
38 ‘You may go,’ he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.
From this comes the Israelite tradition 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.
A terribly sad story, and so unnecessary.
It seems sensible to read chapter 12 now – not because it’s enlightening, but we can then get on with the story of Samson!
Read Judges 12:1-3
1 The Ephraimite forces were called out, and they crossed over to Zaphon. They said to Jephthah, ‘Why did you go to fight the Ammonites without calling us to go with you? We’re going to burn down your house over your head.’
2 Jephthah answered, ‘I and my people were engaged in a great struggle with the Ammonites, and although I called, you didn’t save me out of their hands. 3 When I saw that you wouldn’t help, I took my life in my hands and crossed over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave me the victory over them. Now why have you come up today to fight me?’
Again it seems more a petty tribal squabble leading to civil war – quite unnecessary.
Read Judges 12:4-6
4 Jephthah then called together the men of Gilead and fought against Ephraim. The Gileadites struck them down because the Ephraimites had said, ‘You Gileadites are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh.’ 5 The Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan leading to Ephraim, and whenever a survivor of Ephraim said, ‘Let me cross over,’ the men of Gilead asked him, ‘Are you an Ephraimite?’ If he replied, ‘No,’ 6 they said, ‘All right, say “Shibboleth”.’ If he said, ‘Sibboleth’, because he could not pronounce the word correctly, they seized him and killed him at the fords of the Jordan. Forty-two thousand Ephraimites were killed at that time.
What a totally unnecessary loss of life.
Read Judges 12:7-15
7 Jephthah led Israel for six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in a town in Gilead.
A sad epitaph, it seems the author didn’t care where he was actually buried.
8 After him, Ibzan of Bethlehem led Israel. 9 He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He gave his daughters away in marriage to those outside his clan, and for his sons he brought in thirty young women as wives from outside his clan. Ibzan led Israel for seven years. 10 Then Ibzan died and was buried in Bethlehem.
11 After him, Elon the Zebulunite led Israel for ten years. 12 Then Elon died and was buried in Aijalon in the land of Zebulun.
13 After him, Abdon son of Hillel, from Pirathon, led Israel. 14 He had forty sons and thirty grandsons, who rode on seventy donkeys. He led Israel for eight years.
15 Then Abdon son of Hillel died and was buried at Pirathon in Ephraim, in the hill country of the Amalekites.
Again it seems that none of them were very memorable: ‘died and was buried’.
How would we like to be remembered?
What can we learn to avoid from the lives of these men?
What is there positive to take away from the story of Jephthah?
Despite his poor start in life (v1 & 2), and his poor choice of friends (v3), he was acknowledged as a mighty warrior (v1) and was chosen to lead the army (v6).
He had a personal relationship with God, involving him and relying on him to lead him (v9-11). He acknowledged how the Lord had led his people in the past (v14-23) and trusted that the Lord would give the victory now (v27). He then acknowledged that the victory was the Lord’s (12:3).
Thank the Lord that he still uses flawed servants today!