Summary: Jepthah was a man in need of grace, and God had it to give in abundance.
Have you ever met someone who has to have everything in writing? I mean, not necessarily in a literal sense; just someone who is so afraid of being cheated, ‘burned’ in the modern vernacular, that they want assurances and promises from others before they will take any requested action or partner in any conceived plan.
When I read Judges chapter 11 I get the sense that this is the sort of person we have presented to us in Jephthah.
I guess it should not be a surprise that he was that way. After all, he was the product of union between his father and a prostitute. In other words, an accident.
We’re only told in our text that when the legitimate sons of Gilead grew up they drove Jephthah out so they wouldn’t have to share their inheritance. The wording seems to indicate that he was older than the rest; perhaps conceived and born before Gilead even married the woman who gave him other sons. In that case, and according to the tradition of the day, the older son would receive a double portion and the sons under him would divide up what was left of the inheritance between them equally.
So here is the picture of some number of brothers who have grown up in a house with a half-brother as the oldest, in line for the lion’s share of the inheritance, and kind of an embarrassment to them because of the circumstances of his birth, so when it comes time to start thinking about dad going the way of all flesh they decide Jephthah has to hit the road.
Funny how it took them all those years to decide he wasn’t family. I’ll bet they were glad to call him ‘big brother’ when there was hard work to be done.
Anyway, perhaps you can see that this would leave ol’ Jephthah with a bad taste in his mouth and a little less than trusting of his fellow man. Especially if they really did treat him as a second class citizen in the years before they finally drove him away.
Well, verse one says he was a valiant warrior, and that apparently played a role in his success in drawing a gang of tough guys around him. The Bible says they were ‘worthless fellows’. The NIV uses the word ‘adventurers’. The Hebrew word means ‘empty’, idle’; in other words, they had too much time on their hands and we all know that usually leads to trouble.
They hung out together in the land of Tob. I had to look that one up.
It is an area east of the Jordan and according to Bible maps it was a region just outside of Gilead to the northeast and was probably a dangerous place to live for various reasons.
So do you get the picture? Here is this scrapper who has been dealt a hand that pretty much cuts him out of the game altogether, and for his own safety he has had to flee to the badlands and now all of his friends are from the deodorant-free crowd. This man does not know grace. He hasn’t seen any and he doesn’t have any to give.
He’s James Dean, Johnny Ringo, ‘Mad Max’ and Wolverine all rolled into one (whatever age group you’re in you must know who at least one of those characters is). If you don’t know who any of those guys are, just know he was a dude with a ‘tude, but there is more to him than meets the eye. So let’s go see how this story unfolds.
A MAN NEEDING ASSURANCES
Well, after Jephthah is gone for a while the Ammonites attack Israel. So the pious, God-fearing, clean-cut pillars of the church in Gilead get together to decide what they’re going to do and the first person they think about to go to for help is valiant Jephthah.
Not illegitimate Jephthah… but mighty warrior Jephthah. It’s amazing how forgiving legalists can be when they need something you have.
In verse 7 is one of the first evidences of the attitude in Jephthah that I was talking about. He tosses their earlier ill treatment of him in their faces and then challenges them to justify now coming to him for help.
Can you picture the scene like a modern day movie? Jephthah and his unshaven, misfit buddies are sitting in the shade of a big rock near their favorite hideout cave in the desert, their camels tethered nearby, and here comes this band of shaky little guys, huddling so close they’re almost stepping on each other’s feet. As they timidly approach Jephthah and his friends all stand to their feet forming a very intimidating mass of muscles, square jaws and scowling eyebrows.
The elders state their reason for coming and in the very wording of it they say they want him to come and be their chief. But in verse 9 Jephthah asks for a confirmation of what they have offered; in fact, he puts the question to them as though they haven’t already made the offer and it’s all his idea.