Summary: Part of a series based on the heroes of faith from Hebrews 11. This sermon is expository and alliterated.
Do I need to give more examples? I do not have time to tell you about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, and the prophets.
— Hebrews 11:32 NCV
James Braddock was down on his luck. A once successful amateur-turned-professional boxer, a broken hand and the stock market crash of 1926 left Braddock destitute—struggling just to keep food on the table for his young family. Then, all of a sudden, Braddock’s luck began to change. Thanks to a last minute cancellation by another boxer, Braddock got a second chance. Out of shape and past his prime, Braddock was pitted against the number two contender in the world by promoters who saw Braddock as nothing more than a punching bag. Then, in one the greatest upsets in boxing history, Braddock stunned both experts and fans with a third round knockout of his formidable opponent. Fighting with permanent injuries to his hands, Braddock continued to win and before long he came to represent the hopes and aspirations of the American public coping with the Great Depression.
On June 13, 1935, in Long Island City, New York, Braddock, as a 10 to 1 underdog, won the heavyweight championship of the world from the seemingly invincible Max Baer. His fairytale-like rise from a poor local fighter to the heavyweight boxing champion of the world earned James J. Braddock the nickname “Cinderella Man.”
Both life and literature are overflowing with these “Cinderella Stories,” timeless tales about downtrodden, discarded outcasts who eventually go from rags to riches. Whether it’s Abraham Lincoln going from a log cabin to the White House or Michael Jordan who was cut from his high-school basketball team and went on to win six NBA Championships, the story of the triumphant underdog is one that will always be in style. It’s always more fun to root for the little guy, isn’t it? We just like to see losers become winners.
The story of Jephthah is that kind of a story. Once again set against the backdrop of the Israel’s oppression by foreign enemies, the first episode in Jephthah’s historical narrative highlights his…
Jephthah had it pretty rough. The Bible says, “Now Jephthah was a great warrior from the land of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute” (Judges 11:1 TLB). Jephthah was what you might call an unplanned pregnancy—a surprise. Jephthah’s father, Gilead, was a fairly prominent member of society—in fact, the town was actually named after him because he and his family were its pioneers and chief residents. So, you can imagine the scandal that must have broken out as result of this little incident.
On the bright side, at least Gilead did the right thing—he acknowledged the boy and raised him in his own house as his own son. Gilead may have been an adulterer, but at least he was a responsible and caring father. The other members of Gilead’s household, however, weren’t quite as open and accepting. Understandably, Jephthah almost certainly reminded Gilead’s wife of his adulterous affair and Jephthah certainly didn’t win the approval of his half brothers and sisters either. Actually, the Bible says, “Gilead had several other sons by his legitimate wife, and when these half brothers grew up, they chased Jephthah out of the country. ‘You son of a whore!’ they said. ‘You’ll not get any of our father’s estate.’ So Jephthah fled from his father’s home and lived in the land of Tob” (vs. 2-3 TLB).