Jephthah – Truth Telling, Commitments, and Christian Fellowship – Judges 11

Judges 11:1 )NASV) Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior, but he was the son of a harlot. And Gilead was the father of Jephthah. 2 Gilead’s wife bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him. 4 It came about after a while that the sons of Ammon fought against Israel. 5 When the sons of Ammon fought against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob; 6 and they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our chief that we may fight against the sons of Ammon.” 7 Then Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” 8 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “For this reason we have now returned to you, that you may go with us and fight with the sons of Ammon and become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 9 So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the Lord gives them up to me, will I become your head?” 10 The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord is witness between us; surely we will do as you have said.” 11 Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and chief over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.

I want to begin with a few observations about Jephthah. First, “Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior.” It does not appear that he was a shining pillar of righteousness in the land of Tob since he gathered worthless fellows around him. Regardless of his lineage and his lifestyle, the Gileadite people sought him out in a time of great need when the army of Ammon was attacking his people. He must have possessed valuable characteristics that were recognized by his Gileadite brothers.

When the Gileadite elders came to Jephthah, he confronted them with the truth about their behavior by asking, “Did you not hate me and drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” They ignored his truth-telling and they did not repent for their earlier behavior or apologize for the brashness of their current appeal. Instead, they just confirmed the fact that they were in trouble and needed his leadership. Jephthah didn’t immediately forget the past and cave-in to their urgent appeal for help by saying something like “sure I’ll go — you guys aren’t really so bad.” He apparently did not trust them to be commitment-fulfillers and to make him their chief after the war was over. As a result, he withheld his commitment until they became willing to make a commitment to him with God as their witness.

Jephthah began to fill his new role as chief by confronting the king of the sons of Ammon with the truth regarding the history of their forefathers. After his strong truth-telling messages were rejected by the King of Ammon, Jephthah realized that war was inevitable and he threw down the gauntlet.

Chapter 11:23 (NASV)
‘Since now the Lord, the God of Israel, drove out the Amorites from before His people Israel, are you then to possess it? 24 ‘Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the Lord our God has driven out before us, we will possess it. 25 ‘Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive with Israel, or did he ever fight against them? 26 ‘While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time? 27 ‘I therefore have not sinned against you, but you are doing me wrong by making war against me; may the Lord, the Judge, judge today between the sons of Israel and the sons of Ammon.’ ” 28 But the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him. 29 Now the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon.

From this point forward, Jephthah is accompanied by the Spirit of the Lord. It is the Holy Spirit who leads Jephthah into battle with the sons of Ammon.

As He considers the approaching battle, he makes an ill-conceived vow, which in this case has the quality of a bargain. If you do “A”, then I will do “B.” As we will soon discover, trying to bargain with a sovereign God is a really bad idea.

Chapter 11:30 (NASV)
Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, 31 then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” 32 So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand.

The consequences of Jephthah’s imprecise and open ended vow must have flashed into his mind and heart with the power of a nightmare when he returned to his home.

Chapter 11:34 (NASV) When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.” 36 So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” 37 She said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.” 38 Then he said, “Go.” So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity. 39 At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made;”

Thus far, we have seen that Jephthah sought commitments from others and from God, but will he fulfill the exact words of his vow and be a commitment-fulfiller in the case of his own daughter? He is faced with the decision either to forsake his vow (commitment to God), or to give up his precious daughter who was his only child.

So, what did Jephthah decide, and what happened to his daughter? The text states, “39 At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made;” Does this mean that Jephthah killed his daughter and then burnt her body as a sacrifice to God? The text does not answer this question directly. Before we make any assumptions, it is necessary to examine related scriptures, which will shine God’s truth on the situation.

First, God makes it clear that He will not accept human sacrifice. In the following passage, God is telling the Jews to not do what the pagan religions do.

Deuteronomy 12:31 (NASV) You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.

We do not know the extent of Jephthah’s scriptural knowledge, but we do know that the Holy Spirit was with him. The Holy Spirit brings truth and brings scriptures to mind when we are faced with difficult decisions. On the one hand, Jephthah unintentionally promised to kill and burn his daughter as a sacrifice, which would be an abomination to the Lord, but on the other hand Jephthah was a man of truth-telling and a man who valued commitment. It was a basic teaching of the Hebrew Scriptures that people were to honor their commitments to God.

Numbers 30:1 (ESV) Moses spoke to the heads of the tribes of the people of Israel, saying, “This is what the Lord has commanded. 2 If a man vows a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.

Deuteronomy 23:21 “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, you shall not delay fulfilling it, for the Lord your God will surely require it of you, and you will be guilty of sin.

Despite the preceding scriptures, God offered options for people who made vows involving people’s lives that they, for one reason or another, could not keep or did not wished to keep.

Leviticus 27:1 (ESV) The Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 2 “Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the Lord involving the valuation of persons, 3 then the valuation of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. 4 If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels. 5 If the person is from five years old up to twenty years old, the valuation shall be for a male twenty shekels, and for a female ten shekels.

If Jephthah knew of this option, he could have paid 10 shekels or 30 shekels to the temple and exchanged the money for his daughter. We don’t know if he knew about this, but it was an option. Perhaps he did know, and perhaps he was unwilling to buy his way out of a vow. Perhaps he believed that “a commitment is a commitment,” and nothing should get between a man and the commitment that he has made to God. Perhaps he was truly a commitment-fulfiller as well as a truth-teller.

As we might expect, the correct interpretation of Judges 11:34-40 has been debated by Hebrew language scholars, because everyone wants to know what Jephthah did to his daughter. Scholars focus on the word “and” in this phrase, “it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” Some scholars say that the Hebrew word that has been translated “and” in some situations can be translated “or.” Thus the vow of Jephthah could be paraphrased as follows.

“then the vow was twofold: Whatever met him when he returned home would be dedicated to the Lord (if a person) or sacrificed to the Lord (if an animal).” (Bible Exposition Commentary, Electronic edition)

I don’t know whether this alternative translation is valid, but I am not willing to rest my understanding on this interpretation. I think there is still more we can learn from scripture that will help us determine what may have happened to Jephthah’s daughter. Let’s go back and look at the text in Chapter 11 again.

Judges 11:39 (NASV)

At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, 40 that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

The reference to “and she had no relations with a man” suggests that her life continued beyond the two months, and she was not killed and offered as a burnt sacrifice after her grieving. Of course, if Jephthah’s daughter had been killed, then it would have been unnecessary to state that she did not know a man after that point. To me, the words “and she had no relations with a man” speaks to the continuation of her life. Perhaps this is a reference to his daughter being placed into permanent service at the tent of meeting. It appears that such women were not to marry or to have children, and by definition, this means they should not be sexually active.

Based on this possibility, the two months of wailing in the mountains over her virginity was not about physical death. Rather, it was about her grief over the realization that she would never have a husband or children. She would have grieved over the death of everything that she was looking forward to as a young woman. When we consider God’s plan for womanhood and family life as it was understood by the Jews of that time, Jephthah’s daughter had a very appropriate reaction.

In Jephthah’s time, a woman understood that her position in family life was centered on being the keeper of the home for her husband and being the mother of children. She would have understood that this role was not a matter of social preference, but was divinely ordained by God and represented her fulfillment as a woman.

I can imagine this young woman going up into the secluded mountains with her girlfriends to mourn. She would be able to scream, yell, cry, roll in the dirt, tear her clothes, cut her hair, and cry out her distress to the Lord. Her friends would be there to witness her grief and to be supportive. She would have done all of this until her sorrow, anger, and depression were exhausted. When she was fully depleted and had no more tears to cry, then she could accept her new life, and she could return to her father with a heart and mind that had been cleansed. The Jews understood the importance of grieving over what was lost so that they could accept the future. In our time, it seems that most everyone just wants to quickly move on to the new thing or the new life before mourning over what has passed away.

The next scripture establishes the fact that there was a place for women to serve God in the life of the tent of meeting and likely points to the future life of Jephthah’s daughter.

Exodus 38:8
He made the basin of bronze and its stand of bronze, from the mirrors of the ministering women who ministered in the entrance of the tent of meeting.

The next scripture further confirms the ministry of women, and the evil behavior of Eli’s sons toward the women who had been set apart for the Lord.

1 Samuel 2:22 Now Eli was very old, and he kept hearing all that his sons were doing to all Israel, and how they lay with the women who were serving at the entrance to the tent of meeting. 23 And he said to them, “Why do you do such things? For I hear of your evil dealings from all the people.

Finally, the scripture describes the establishment of a custom among the women of Israel where they would spend time each year commemorating the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite. Did they commemorate the fact that she died as a human sacrifice, which would have been against God’s law, or did they commemorate her being set apart for service to God? Based on what I could learn about this situation, I have concluded that Jephthah probably placed his virgin daughter in permanent service to the Lord and did not offer her as a burnt sacrifice. However, others who have studied this question have concluded that she was in fact killed and offered as a sacrafice. Both positions can be reasonably supported.

Even though the parents of Jewish children had the right to do as they wished with their children within the context of the law, we see that Jephthah’s daughter displayed a high level of maturity through her submission. She was willing to become a living sacrifice to God by giving up the heart and soul of earthly womanhood. She obeyed her father and returned to him after two months as she said she would do. Her submission and commitment to the Lord was worthy of recognition by the women of Israel and remains worthy of recognition by all of us today.

APPLICATION

Truth-telling and commitment-fulfilling are quite relevant to our lives as Christians today.

When one awakens to the realization that he or she is a Christian, many things should begin to unfold in our lives. First of all, we should begin a lifestyle of repentance for sin. We are to admit our wrong doing, and make a commitment to a different way of life. This commitment is not a New Year’s resolution that we make with ourselves, but is a binding commitment that we make with the Lord. We should commit ourselves to turn away from our sinful practices and to adopt a new way of life that is empowered by the Holy Spirit. In this new life, we are to respond to God’s commitment to us by committing ourselves to His plan to make us holy as He is holy.

When we were born of the Spirit, most of us were not taught to measure the full value of our redemption, and we were not taught to measure the cost of being born again. We were not encouraged to stop and grieve over what must be left behind as we began to submit our lives to God. In short, we were not taught to be commitment-fulfillers.

When we were children of the world, we had many dreams and aspirations. We worshipped many false Gods, the greatest of which were money and power. We may have had many friends who shared our prideful worship of worldly pleasures, and together we shared the common satisfaction and comfort of a sinful lifestyle. Our self-worth and fellowship was largely based on worldly values and on shared sin.

As Christians, we are now being challenged by God to let go of the worldly dreams, the worldly lifestyles, the lusts of the flesh, and the friendships that were centered on the practice of sin. Our old dreams, our old ways of living, our old morality, and our old friendships with the people of the world must be set aside so that we can obtain Christian maturity. We are to do this out of a desire for greater intimacy with God and with His other children, and not because of any legalistic rules from men.

Jephthah’s daughter was very wise. She understood the need for letting go of dreams, family, and friends before she could move onto her new life. She set aside two months so that she could grieve over her many losses. She grieved over the death of her life as she knew it. She grieved until she could grieve no longer. She then was ready to enter her new life without being haunted by desires of being a wife and mother. She made herself available for serving God by letting go of the past. Of course, she was human, and may from time to time have experienced temporary longings for what she left behind, but her period of grieving gave her the strength to focus on serving God. She was living with God in the present, rather than living in the past with her old dreams and memories.

There are many people who attend church, who believe it is not necessary to let go of worldly desires. As a result, they are never able to serve God with a full heart. Jephthah’s daughter shows us a key step that is needed for making ourselves available for service in God’s kingdom.

The making of a new Christian into a servant of the Lord takes time and must be subject to God’s plan to prepare and refine us. In the case of Jephthah’s daughter, grieving was a central part of her preparation. Our preparation may look different. Some of us may need to grieve. Some may need to repent. Some may need to forgive, some may need to place their burdens on Jesus and ask for Him to heal their brokenness, and some may need to learn to listen to the voice of the Holy Spirit. Regardless of how God is preparing and refining us at the present time, each of us must invite God to loosen our attachments to worldliness, and teach us to submit to God and to our Christian brothers and sisters. Truth-telling and commitment-fulfilling in the Body of Christ depends on our ability to submit to one another, and as we will see, is part of God’s process for refining and pruning our fleshly character.

TRUTH-TELLING

Jephthah spoke the truth to his countrymen when they came to recruit him as their chief, and the Holy Spirit helped him speak truth to the king of Ammon. In the world of Satan, truth-telling is becoming a crime. Few people want to know the truth and even fewer people want to be confronted about the truth. Nevertheless, truth-telling is a form of Christian service that every Christian is called to do. We are to speak truth to our brothers and sisters in Christ, and we are to speak the truth of the Gospel of Jesus to those who live in the world that is ruled by Satan.

People of the world do not want to hear the truth about Jesus. The world hates Jesus and the world will hate us when we speak the truth about our Lord. This is as it should be.

Matthew 10:22 (ESV) and you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved.

There is another form of truth-telling that is just as important as our sharing the gospel with the lost. It has to do with truth-telling to our brothers and sisters in Christ. Neither form of truth-telling is easy, but both are essential. Truth-telling in the Body of Christ is about the application of scripture and doctrine to our lives and to the lives of other Christians. None of us can fully appraise our shortcomings when it comes to comparing our life to biblical standards. I believe true Christians will try to live in ways that are worthy of the name Jesus, however, we all have impaired perceptions. Each of us must contend with the power of our flesh, which loves itself much more than God, and we must wrestle with lies that have been planted in our minds and hearts by Satan. As a result, every one of us lives with a certain level of self-delusion.

Guess what? God wants to break through our self-delusion. He wants us to be spirit empowered truth-tellers. His plan is to prune and refine us until we are capable of telling the truth about ourselves, about God, and about our brothers and sisters in Christ. He will do whatever it takes to conform us to His nature so that our fear of Him will overshadow our fear of men. Our usefulness in God’s Kingdom grows with our capacity to be a truth-teller and a commitment-fulfiller.

COMMITMENT-FULFILLING

Jephthah could have paid money to escape the nightmare of placing his daughter into the service of the Lord. However, he made a commitment and he stuck with that commitment despite the pain. On the day that we realized we were a Christian, we began to comprehend the commitment that God made to us. God saved us from eternal torment in hell through the sacrificial deed of Christ Jesus. He gave us His Holy Spirit as a commitment and as a seed, which is systematically transforming our lives while we are on this Earth.

God’s commitment to us is clear; but what is your commitment to God? Does your commitment go beyond attending church services on Sunday and the practice of reading the Bible?

Every Christian man and every Christian woman must face certain questions, which will inevitably make the flesh uncomfortable. Do you have a commitment to the overpowering of your flesh so that you can love God with all of your heart, soul, mind, and strength? Have you made a commitment to let God overcome the power of your flesh, which still loves itself and hates God, so that you can love your neighbor as yourself? Are you willing to take the next steps that God deems necessary to serve Him in the fullness of your strength? If not, then is there credible evidence in your life, based on the existence of Godly fruit, that you are in fact a true Christian?

In the most practical ways possible, Paul describes the characteristics of how one should live as a true Christ follower. Chapter 12 of Romans sets the standard for Christian living, and verses 1 and 2 are the fundamental standard out of which everything else flows. If we are not willing to fully subject our lives to the command that Paul describes in the following two verses and in the rest of chapter 12, then we need to closely examine whether we are truly born again. Let us all heed this command and cry out to God for greater willingness to become conformed to the nature of Christ.

Romans 12:1 (ESV) I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. 2 Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.

Jephthah’s daughter prepared herself to become a living sacrifice during her two months of mourning. It was a beginning point for her new life. We should not be content with last year’s level of commitment and sanctification. We should not be content to stay at the beginning point of Christian life. God never stops working in our lives. We should expect to be continually refined and prepared. His school of preparation never goes into summer vacation mode while we are living on this Earth. We may decide to ring the recess bell once and a while, but God will not leave us on the playground too long before He calls us back to class.

We are constantly being called to become more holy, to serve Him, and to serve our brothers and sisters. We no longer can serve Him at the doorway of the temple of meeting, because God now dwells in us. We serve Him in our homes, in the workplace, in our contact with lost sinners, and through true Christian fellowship with our brothers and sisters in Christ.

TRUE CHRISTIAN FELLOWSHIP

How do we serve one another through Christian fellowship? True Christian fellowship occurs when two or more Christians gather together and lovingly open their hearts and minds to one another, so that we may help one another deepen our relationship with God. True Christian fellowship requires truth-telling and commitment fulfilling. First we must be lovingly committed to the spiritual health of one another as brothers and sisters in the Kingdom of God. Second, we must be willing to be truth-tellers.

I cannot over emphasize the importance of truth-telling in the Body of Christ. Most every church I have attended in years past seems to have specialized in truth-hiding. That is to say, one was never to speak the truth about one’s own struggles as a Christian, and most certainly one was never to speak truth into the life of a Christian when we observed his or her struggles. There were rules for socially appropriate church behavior and these rules were to be followed in order for a person to be socially accepted. These rules had nothing to do with the Gospel or the Bible. These unspoken rules discouraged truth-telling and seem to have sprung from one of the pop psychology books of the 1970s such as “I’m OK Your OK.” In this philosophy of universal tolerance, which is now being promoted throughout the world and in most church buildings, there is no place for truth-telling. The world says that sin is OK as long as it doesn’t interfere with my right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. In other words, your sin is OK as long as it does not interfere with my sin.

Healthy Christian fellowship cannot exist without truth-telling. Life within the church will be dry and lifeless as long as people refuse to speak the truth to one another and as long as people refuse to listen to the truth-telling of others. It is a lie of Satan that we should act as if everything in a church community is just fine when it is not. Truth-telling represents a high standard of Christian conduct through which we learn to trust one another. It is how we can lovingly communicate important biblical matters with one another. Truth-telling allows us to move far beyond superficial conversation so that we can actually begin to know the hearts of our brothers and sisters in Christ.

Jesus was a truth-teller and he was hated for it. He was hated by the Jews to the point of their demanding his death. He prefaced many of his teachings by saying, “Truly I tell you…” I experience the frequent use of the word “truly” by Jesus as a way of saying, “wake up, I am telling you the truth here, this is not just my opinion! I am telling you this truth, because I love you.”

When we withhold the truth about ourselves, and speak in ways that are contrary to what we know in our hearts is true, then we are lying. When we know the truth about others and the Holy Spirit confirms our knowledge through scripture and we do not speak this truth to our brothers and sisters in Christ, then we are lying and we are resisting the Spirit. When we make excuses for avoiding truth-telling, we are walking away from true Christian fellowship and we are walking away from intimacy with God.

True Christian fellowship does not end with truth telling. It begins with truth-telling!

True Christian Fellowship requires us to submit to truth-telling. Without the willingness to submit, there will be no fellowship. Each of us must be willing to open our ears and open our hearts to the words of others, whether they are disclosing secrets hidden in their own hearts or are attempting to deliver God’s truth to us. If we reject biblically based truth-telling without careful examination, then we may be repelling the very hand of God that is being raised to prune and refine us. If we do not carefully listen to the personal disclosures of others in the Body of Christ, even when we become uncomfortable with their experiences and history, then we are not honoring God’s refining work in the life of that person and we are not making ourselves available for God’s purposes. We must learn to love the truth and desire the truth regardless of how it makes us feel. No Christian man and no Christian woman should dismiss the words of a Christian truth-teller without introspection. In fact, an attitude that encourages us to share the grimy and unkempt aspects of our life for the purpose of transformation will bring life and growth into the lives of all members of God’s family.

I will end this lesson with a sober warning. It is a very dangerous practice to refuse to be a truth teller or to refuse to listen to a truth teller, because God is truth —– as much as he is light and love.

John 14:6 (ESV) Jesus said to him, I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.

John 8:32 (ESV)
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.

John 18:37 (ESV) Then Pilate said to him, “So you are a king?” Jesus answered, “You say that I am a king. For this purpose I was born and for this purpose I have come into the world-to bear witness to the truth. Everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice.”

John 16:13 (ESV) When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.

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One Response to Jephthah – Truth Telling, Commitments, and Christian Fellowship – Judges 11

  1. justin says:

    “Every Christian man and every Christian woman must face certain questions, which will inevitably make the flesh uncomfortable.” Certainly you express and questionning deeply enough to make the flesh uncomfortable too :-)

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