FROM BEING JUDGED TO BEING A JUDGE (JUDGES 11:1-33)
The closest I was caught up in chaos was when the MTR in Hong Kong suddenly closed all the rail system at 430 p.m. (October 6, 2019) because of the battle between protesters and the police. I was having high tea near church with four young men when church coworkers broke the news in our chat group. After finishing our meal we made sure the non-native young man living furthest away from church could get to the bus depot and get in line.
The street by then was filled with protesters and pedestrians trying to get away just in case the police were coming. The buses were full and the passengers were moody, so the last young man and I walked as fast as we could to the next major shopping center (Mei Foo) to board a bus that took us to our destination another two train stops away, where we boarded a bus safely to my island residence. It was a harrowing and unforgettable experience!
The young man who lived furthest away got home two hours later because of the crowded streets and passengers. Another two young men with us walked one and a half hours home. A church staff in our department took four hours to catch a bus home. A person in a different fellowship walked more than five hours home!
The book of Judges was the scene of the most chaotic, cruel, crippling, catastrophic and calamitous period in Israel’s history. One of the judges featured in the book was Jephthah, who was one of the saddest, strongest but “sickest” characters in the Bible. Bullied at home in Gilead that was east of the Jordan and north of the Ammonites, he bonded with outsiders, battled Ammonite foes and brought outright victory to Israel. Like other judges, however, he was as unruly, unpredictable and unwise as it comes, and it caught up to him at home, where it all began.
While we are not immune to society’s upheavals, how are we to safeguard our sanity in an upside down world? What are the values we hold to? Why are we to do what is right in the Lord’s eyes, and not in our own eyes?
Survive Your Setbacks
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 group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.
It is related that Michelangelo, the famous Italian sculptor, painter, and poet, once stood before a great block of marble that had been rejected by builders and cast aside. As he stood there with eyes staring straight at the marble, a friend approached and asked what he was looking at. “An angel,” came the reply. He saw what the mallet, the chisel, and patient skill could do with that rejected stone. He set to work and produced one of his masterpieces. Likewise, God sees possibilities in us. (illustrations of Bible Truths # 636)
Strong warrior (v 1) or not, Jephthah’s story is different from most folks’ story in the Bible - more miserable because he was the “son of an harlot” (KJV), a first in the Bible. He had no choice in or counsel for his background and his mother was presumably dead. His upbringing must be tough, tumultuous and troubling. Harlot and Gilead’s wife (v 2) are contrasts, suggesting the present wife and her sons (plural) wanted nothing to do with him or his tainted background. He was ridiculed and resented by family, clan and neighbors but the greatest insult was the family saying, “Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman” (KJV) in verse 2. The reason (gar) was straightforward, but subtle. The adjective “another” or “strange” comes from the root word “after” (acher), which can be translated as stay (Gen 32:4), defer (Gen 34:19), delay (Ex 22:29), slack (Deut 7:10), tarry (Judg 5:28), late (Ps 127:2) and (Isa 5:11).
The speculation and slight included his mother’s reputation outside and rank at home. Many commentators suggested his mother was a concubine, a foreigner, or even both. Notice the contrast of “our father” (v 3) and “strange/another woman.” Not only did the brothers reject Jephthah because of his mother, they refused him a part to the inheritance his father.
The strong warrior Jephthah could not believe or bear the scolding, shame and struggle he had at home, so he gladly fled (v 3). The verb “fled” implied he was out of place, out of favor and out of sight. He was in a hurry and undoubtedly glad to go. “Scoundrels” (v 3) is also translated as “vain men” (KJV) and they are never any good in the Bible (Judg 9:4, 2 Sam 6:20, 2 Chron 13:7, Prov 12:11, 28:19). Holman called them men “lawless men,” but most versions, including the NASB, RSV and even the New KJV simply called them “worthless fellows.” Even unworthy, ungainly and unfamiliar men were much better than his bullying and blunt family. It is so ironic that the land of Tob (“good”) was associated with no-good men. It was supposed to be nearby Jordan River, to the outskirt countryside as far away as possible from his ancestral home.