Introduction. Read Judges 10 to 12.

I admire Jephthah. In my opinion he was one of Israel's finest judges. There are six positive things that can be said about Jephthah and as such he sets us a good example to follow.

Jephthah was:

(1) A resourceful man.

Jephthah was the bastard son of Gilead by a prostitute. His father had the same name as the clan in Gad to which he belonged. This suggests he was a leading member of the clan.

It appears that Gilead somewhat unusually recognised Jephthah as his son and so long as he lived Jephthah was included in the family. However, when Jephthah's brothers grew up they expelled him. They were not prepared to share their inheritance with a prostitute's son.

Jephthah moved well away to Tob, a semi-desert region to the north east of Manasseh east of the Jordan. There he built up a force of mercenaries and adventurers just as David did in the cave of Adullam. I expect Jephthah and his men lived like David by extorting protection money and hiring themselves out to the highest bidder. Within his own fiefdom Jephthah acquired a reputation as a mighty warrior. Jd11v1.

Gideon's illegitimate son thrived on adversity and like so many other men and women of character succeeded against the odds. He was in good company. Joseph, Moses, David, Daniel and Paul all experienced rejection, survived it and were the stronger because of it.

Many Christians, men like Adonirum Judson, John Wesley, William Booth and Lord Shaftesbury, were refined, purified and strengthened by adversity. Malcolm Muggeridge wrote: Contrary to what might be expected, I look back on experiences that at the time seemed especially desolating and painful with particular satisfaction. Indeed, I can say with complete truthfulness that everything I have learned in my 75 years in this world, everything that has truly enhanced and enlightened my experience, has been through affliction and not through happiness.

On February 22nd 2012 I read the obituary of the Right Reverend John Sperry in the Daily Telegraph. Here is an extract that illustrates how a relatively modern missionary needed great resourcefulness: In 1950 Sperry left England for Coppermine a tiny mission in the central Arctic where only seven Inuit families and 12 "southerners" lived all year round. The native people had little experience of Western technology, and spoke little English. Their homes alternated between snow houses and tents, and they survived by hunting and fishing.

Towering over his flock at 6ft 4in, and aided by his sense of fun, Sperry made himself not only much loved but also admired for his self-reliance and willingness to learn. As well as conducting his ministry, at first he had to spend some eight hours a day on chores. He had to import wood from the south to build his mission house, and learn how to hunt and skin caribou, lay fishing lines under the ice and saw off ice blocks to be stored for drinking and cooking.

Each winter he would visit small hunting communities spread over 3,000 miles while driving a team of 13 dogs, covering some 50 miles a day; once, when the dogs were struck by illness, he had to take the lead harness of the 18ft sledge himself for 200 miles.

At the same time Sperry was preaching the Gospel and delivering packages and medical supplies. He was ready to meet any emergency: when the only dentist gave up, Sperry took on the task himself, despite having no training in extractions.

Since few members of his scattered flock spoke English, Sperry learned the Copper Inuit dialect, into which he translated the Gospels, the Acts of the Apostles, the Book of Common Prayer and some 200 hymns.

Sperry, like Jephthah, responded positively to adversity. So should we, because if we do, it will ensure that we become more and more effective in service.

(2) A reconciled man.

Gilead, the southern part of the Gad tribal area, was threatened by an Ammonite incursion from the east. Gad shared a border with the Ammonites and disputes were likely to be common. The leading men of Gilead managed to assemble an army at Mizpah to fight the Ammonites but lacked a suitable commander in chief. In desperation a deputation, doubtless including some of Jephthah's half-brothers, travelled to Tob to invite Jephthah to lead their army into battle.

Jephthah could easily have refused out of pique. He was only wanted in time of trouble. He was relatively safe at Tob and taking on the Ammonites with inexperienced volunteers would put his life at risk.

Some commentators criticise Jephthah for making leadership of clan Gilead a condition for taking up the challenge. I don't blame him. He had been cruelly used by his brothers and rejected by his clan. Joseph tested his brothers before being reconciled to them and Moses needed a deal of persuading from God himself before he set off for Egypt. It is to Jephthah's credit that he was reconciled with his brothers and returned to Gilead to assume command of the army and win recognition as one of the heroes of faith.

There are several examples of men who have spent time in the political wilderness returning to power. Such was the case for Winston Churchill in the Second World War, Charles de Gaulle after the war and Nelson Mandella in South Africa with the collapse of apartheid. Mandella in particular showed a remarkable lack of bitterness and a willingness to be reconciled to his enemies. Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese dissident leader, appears to following the same path.

I think the Jerusalem church cold shouldered the apostle Paul. They put him out to grass in Tarsus for 8 to 10 years. When the little apostle was invited by Barnabas to help at Antioch Paul did not refuse out of pique but gladly accepted the opportunity to get involved.

Perhaps someone reading this has been rejected for a post in the church and left out in the cold for years. If a time comes when you are needed, be reconciled, be glad - your time has come, doubtless it is God's time too - seize the opportunity to be useful at last.

(3) A reasonable man.

I think for someone who was an outlaw and a mighty warrior Jephthah was remarkably reasonable. He tried his best to convince the Ammonites that they had no right to the territory east of the Jordan between the Arnon and Jabbok rivers. It had never belonged to the Ammonites. Israel under Moses had captured this land from the Amorites before Joshua took over. See Nu21.

Jephthah claimed that God gave the Israelites the land. They had occupied it for 300 years and no one, neither Moabites nor Ammonites, had ever disputed the fact.

It goes without saying that Christians should try and resolve disputes in the church reasonably. Battles and casualties occur when pride displaces reason. When people just want their own way and then people take sides based on family loyalties, ties of friendship or who is liked best, mayhem will be the result.

We have a good example of what should happen when disagreements arise in the Acts. Trouble blew up in Antioch when Judaisers from Jerusalem argued that circumcised Jews should not take communion with uncircumcised Gentiles. Paul strongly disagreed. The matter was threshed out at the council of Jerusalem and it was agreed that Gentile Christians need not be circumcised. See exposition on Acts15v5to21.

I am afraid that far too often disputes in the church are not settled amicably. What frequently happens is that 'one side' wins and the 'other side' leaves. Rarely are the disagreements over anything that matters very much! Some years ago a young man caused unrest in a local church known to me by removing all the pictures of Bible scenes hanging in the school room. He thought that they smacked of idolatry. A church meeting was called. Did it proceed reasonably? The young man began to make his case whereupon one elderly member could contain himself no longer, jumped to his feet and said, "I've heard enough. If you don't return those pictures by Sunday I will inform the police." The young man returned the pictures and left the church. It would have been better if the young man had been persuaded to return the pictures and the church had agreed not to hang them up if they offended his conscience so much. Paul said that we must try not to offend the 'weaker brother'. See the end of my exposition on 1Cor10v14to33.

(4) A righteous man.

We now have to address the vexed issue of Jephthah's vow and the fate of his daughter.

The commentators I consult for these expositions, with the honourable exception of Warren Wiersbe, blithely accept that Jephthah put his only, much loved daughter foully to death. He made a vow to the LORD that if the Ammonites were defeated the first thing that came out of his house to greet him would be given to the LORD and sacrificed as a burnt offering. See Jd11v30and31. Consequently on returning in triumph to his house in Mizpah and being greeted by his lovely daughter dancing to the sound of tambourines Jephthah decided for his vow's sake he had to go ahead and sacrifice her as a burnt offering.

I don't believe for one minute Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering. He was an intelligent man conversant with Israel's history. He would either have known about God's prohibition of child sacrifice or in the two months his daughter was in the hills someone would have told him. No priest would have sacrificed a child to God. See Dt18v10.

It is surely significant that Jephthah's daughter spent two months in the hills with her friends mourning the fact that she would never marry. They didn't weep because she was going to die young. They wept because she would remain a virgin and not bear children. It is surely highly unlikely that the young women of Israel would spend four days in the hills each year to commemorate such a dastardly deed as child sacrifice - one anathema to God.

There is surely a hint in the behaviour of the young women of Israel that they were commemorating something noble on Jephthah's daughter's part.

I think it is possible that Jephthah intended his household to send out animals fit to sacrifice when he returned home. Perhaps, his sweet, young daughter thought she was a more appropriate gift to God than any animal. Her response to Jephthah'a great sadness suggests that she was aware of his vow. See Jd11v36.

Jephthah knew he would not please God by keeping the second half of his vow but he could keep keep the first part: "Whatever comes out of the door of my house ... will be the Lords." Jd11v31. His daughter would be given as a young virgin to the service of God at the Tabernacle in Shiloh. See Ex38v8.

This decision distressed Jephthah because his daughter was his only child. He would be separated from her. There would be no hope of grandchildren. Jephthah had only six years to live - years that would have been happier for the company of his daughter - a daughter who danced with music and joy to honour her dear father and the LORD who gave him the victory.

Jephthah could have argued that his whole vow was null and void because it was impossible to please God by sacrificing his daughter. He could have offered his daughter to God and then paid money to redeem her - buy her back. See Lev27v1to8. No, Jephthah was a righteous man, an honourable man, and he kept his promise hard though it was and sad though it made him. He made a commitment and he kept it even though he could have got out of it.

There are plenty of people who make a commitment and keep to it until it begins to prove inconvenient or costly. This is true in marriage, team sports and teaching. It is easy to be loyal to a team so long as it keeps winning and is successful. Not all will prove loyal in failure. Lots of young folk start out on a teaching career with high hopes but then problems with discipline and pressure of work result in them dropping out.

Sadly, it is also true when it comes to church commitment. When our last pastor left a group of younger Christians left as well. They couldn't face buckling down and working hard without him.

A Christian's commitment to Jesus can also falter when discipleship proves too costly. A young man may desire a career in sport. This conflicts with church attendance on Sunday. A young lady wants to marry the man she loves - who isn't a Christian. A thrusting, ambitious executive wants promotion after promotion. He hasn't time to work for the church and attendance at services becomes increasingly irregular. An army recruit finds he is ridiculed for his faith and decides he can do without it.

I love the words of George Herbert:

            Only a sweet and vertuous soul,
            Like season'd timber, never gives;
            But though the whole world turns to coal,
            Then chiefly lives.

(5) A resilient man.

Jephthah was a tough, rugged character. So when the Ephraimites got uppity - as they did with Gideon - and threatened to teach him a lesson for going to war without them, Jephthah refuses to be intimidated. The leader of Gilead is not conciliatory like Gideon. He told the Ephraimites that they had been asked for help but it had not been forthcoming. Instead, they left him to risk his life in battle with the Ammonites.

So Jephthah recalls his army flushed with success against the Ammonites and gives the men of Ephraim a thorough hiding. Thousands are caught fleeing home across the Jordan incognito. This does not save them. Their inability to pronounce 'shibboleth' betrays them and they are slaughtered in great numbers.

There are commentators like Daniel I. Block who cannot say much good about Jephthah. We should not forget that he was a hero of faith to the writer of the epistle to the Hebrews. There comes a time when we need, like Jephthah, to stand up to the bullies in the church.

Jesus stood up to his opponents and denounced them for their greed, self-righteousness and hypocrisy. See exposition on the six woes. Paul attacked the enemies of the truth. He even confronted and spoke sharply to Barnabas and Peter over the issue of circumcision. The great apostle exposed and condemned the false "super-apostles" that were leading the church members at Corinth astray. See exposition on 2Cor11v1to15.

I am afraid some Christians are so weak and spineless that they are not prepared to stand up to the bullies that disgrace the church. They certainly exist: intimidating, authoritarian and unreasonable figures - men and women full of pride intent on crushing those who disagree with them. I used to sing in Sunday School, 'Dare to be a Daniel'. I think there ought to be another song entitled: 'Dare to be a Jephthah' - a leader robust in the defence of his people.

(6) A religious man.

I am sure that Jephthah, like David after him, was, despite being an outcast and an outlaw, the LORD's man. Some commentators hardly give him credit for being so, but such was the case.

For instance Jephthah:

    (a) Gave the LORD the credit for past deliverances. He acknowledged: The LORD, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel. Jd11v18.

    (b) Consulted the LORD over decisions. Jd11v11.

    (c) Relied on the LORD for victory in battle. Jd11v30.

    (d) Believed God would vindicate the Israelite cause. Jd11v27.

    (e) Gave the LORD credit for the successful outcome of the campaign against the Ammonites. Jd12v3.

These evidences of Jephthah's piety are another reason I do not believe he could have thought the slaughter of his daughter would in any way please God.

Surely Jephthah's dependence upon God is a good example to us. It is so easy to serve in our own strength, to make decisions without much prayer for God's guidance, to take for granted that all we do is in God's will and to take the credit for such blessing as God gives us.

It is not easy to be truly humble, to rely absolutely on God and to credit him in sincerity of heart for every success in service.

Too many Christians beat their own drum and use their work for the church for self-gratification.

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