Summary: Jephthah rises above being an outcast due to confidence in God and in himself.
“Jephthah, a dirty $20-dollar bill”
Pastor Bob Leroe, Cliftondale Congregational Church, Saugus, Massachusetts
A young child was saying his bedtime prayers, thanking God for the day. He ended his prayer with: “And thank You, God, for the nice boy you gave this family—Amen.” His mother asked, “What nice boy?” He grinned, pointing to himself and said, “Right here—I was thanking God for me!” This positive attitude sounds a lot like Jephthah.
Once again Israel was trusting idols instead of the living God. Pagan deities offered ample opportunity to sin, but provided no means of salvation. The people cry out to God again because they’re in trouble; their devotion is one of convenience, not commitment. They only want God when they need Him. Note the biting sarcasm of God’s response, back in 10:14, “Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” In other words, “Let the things you’ve trusted shelter you, since you’ve refused to trust in Me!” Our modern-day gods fail us—the gods of health, fame, power, wealth and comfort. When we rely on them instead of the True God, we find ourselves as lost as Israel in the distressing days of the Judges. Nonetheless, God doesn’t desert His people; instead He raises up another unlikely leader to deliver His people.
Jephthah is a striking example of rising from humble circumstances. He’s been called “the loser who became a winner” (Donald Campbell). His less-than-stellar qualifications perhaps reflect the infidelity of Israel. He was the illegitimate son of Gilead. We can assume he didn’t have a happy childhood. He was forced to leave his homeland, an outcast, driven away by his 30 half-brothers. In spite of being rejected and exiled, he rises above his circumstances and establishes himself. He gained experience and a reputation as a warrior and leader. In God’s eyes, everyone has worth. We may feel like outcasts, but we can be assured that God loves us. Jephthah’s life teaches us that we can rise above our circumstances. The most motivated people are those with confidence in God and in themselves. When we feel shattered, forsaken and lacking, we learn that the approval of others isn’t what keeps us going—we need first and foremost God’s approval to achieve true success in life.
Jephthah became the only hope to stop the Ammonite invasion. His fame grew through organizing a band of warriors (perhaps fellow outcasts and misfits), which—in hindsight we see as God’s preparation for greater responsibilities. His half-brothers soon arrive, desperate for their estranged brother’s help. He agrees, but with a condition: if he is successful in driving out the enemy, they must vow to accept him as their leader. They haggle with him over this, and finally agree to raise Jephthah’s status as a full citizen of Gilead with a reinstated family inheritance. Jephthah the outcast becomes Jephthah the judge. He finally gains the respect of his family…but first, he had to believe in God and in himself. We can learn to heal the pain of the past. The past doesn’t have to weigh us down. The author of Hebrews encourages us to “throw off every weight that hinders us and the sin that so easily entangles, and run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (12:1). What baggage from our past is hindering us from living for the Lord?