Summary: God uses imperfect people! That's the message of the book of Judges. In this last sermon in the series, we learn about Jephthah's Childhood, Jephthah's Courage, and Jephthah's Character.
Judges: Ordinary People in the Hands of an Extraordinary God (Jephthah)
Scott Bayles, pastor
Blooming Grove Christian Church: 7/27/2014
The last few weeks we’ve been exploring the book of Judges. The stories collected in this section of Scripture aren’t exactly what you’d call a list of “Who’s Who in Purity and Sainthood.” In fact, like I said in the beginning of this series, many of their antics and attitudes would make you think of the Saturday night crowd at the county jail, rather than the Sunday morning crowd at church. What few halos there are among them could use a bit of straightening and polish. Yet, strange as it may seem, it is their flaws, failures, and faults that makes them refreshing. They may have had flaws of biblical proportions, but thankfully God uses imperfect people.
No matter who you are or where you’re from, God can do surprising things through you. James Braddock knows a little something about that. James was down on his luck. Once a successful amateur boxer, a broken hand and the stock market crash of 1926 left Braddock destitute, working the docks just to keep food on the table for his young family. Then out of the blue, 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, stole 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 similar 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 more fun to root for the little guy, isn’t it?
The final story in our journey through Judges, demonstrates not only that God uses imperfect people, but that God loves the long-shots, the losers and the little guys. God loves to transform zeroes into heroes. And that’s just what he does with Jephthah. Jephthah’s name, though it may not sound too familiar, is engraved in Hebrews 11 alongside some of the greatest heroes of faith and his story is told Judges 11. I’d like to break his story into three chapters beginning with Jephthah childhood.
• JEPHTHAH’S CHILDHOOD
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. 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 the good Mayor Gilead not only sleeping with, but impregnating a prostitute.
On the bright side, Gilead didn’t try to cover it up or deny the child was his; rather, he embraces Jephthah and raises his as part of his family. The other members of Gilead’s household, however, weren’t quite as loving or accepting. Jephthah became a constant reminder of Gilead’s adulterous affair. And Jephthah’s half brothers and sisters never accepted him as part of the family. In fact, when Gilead dies and the time comes to divvy out the inheritance, 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).
Jephthah wasn’t to blame for his birth. He didn’t get to choose his parents or the circumstances of his birth. But because of the sins of his father, Jephthah became an outsider, rejected by the very people who should have given him unconditional love and acceptance.
Maybe you can understand a little of what Jephthah was going through. Have you had to suffer because the mistakes of your parents? Do you know what it’s like to be abused, abandoned or rejected by the very people who should have loved you? One thing we all need to understand is that Jephthah, though unanticipated by his parents, was not an accident—and neither are you! Rick Warren has well said, “While there are illegitimate parents, there are no illegitimate children. Your birth was no mistake or mishap, and your life is no fluke of nature. Your parents my not have planned you, but God did. He was not at all surprised by your birth. In fact, he expected it. Long before you were conceived by your parents, you were conceived in the mind of God. He thought of you first. It is not fate, nor chance, nor luck, nor coincidence that you are breathing at this moment. You are alive because God [loves you and] wanted to create you!”