1. James 3:2-6 [ TLB ]
If anyone can control his tongue, it proves that he has perfect control over himself in every other way. We can make a large horse turn around and go wherever we want by means of a small bit in his mouth. And a tiny rudder makes a huge ship turn wherever the pilot wants it to go, even though the winds are strong.
So also the tongue is a small thing, but what enormous damage it can do. A great forest can be set on fire by one tiny spark. And the tongue is a flame of fire. It is full of wickedness, and poisons every part of the body. And the tongue is set on fire by hell itself, and can turn our whole lives into a blazing flame of destruction and disaster.
2. Jephthah, for the most part, made wise use of his tongue. The account of his exploits as a judge in Israel, recorded in Judges 10-12, indicates that this renegade rough-hewn outcast was, in fact, quite a diplomat. His negotiations with the Ammonites ( 11:12-27 ) and his attempts to reason with the Ephraimites ( 12:1-3 ) provide good models of using wise speech as one's primary "weapon of response" to a threatening enemy.
3. Yet it was his tongue which led to personal disaster for Jephthah, and any consideration of the life of this "hero of the faith ( Hebrews 11:32 ) must focus at last on his infamous rash vow.
1. Judges 11:12-28 is a useful portrait of diplomatic correspondence and statesmanship via messenger in the ancient world.
a. Having assumed command of the armies of G __ __ __ __ __, Jephthah initiates his campaign against Israel's Ammonite oppressors with a pointed question, delivered by personal messenger: "Why do you attack us?"
b. The Ammonite king's response to Jephthah's messenger is direct: "We are only taking back our land which was stolen by Moses ( ref: Numbers 21:24-25 ). He also indicated that war could be avoided if Israel would capitulate and surrender the disputed region peacefully.
c. Jephthah's detailed response -- again, delivered by messenger -- reveals at least two things about this "mighty warrior:"
(1) He was definitely not a hot-headed street fighter, ready to resort to violence at the drop of a hat.
(2) He had an impressive knowledge of the h __ __ __ __ __ __ of Israel.
d. Jephthah's reasoned response to the Ammonite king included the following arguments.
(1) An honest look at the historical record reveals that Israel under Moses did not "steal" land; they captured in battle following a diplomatic impasse with its Ammonite occupiers ( ref: Numbers 21:21-39 ) , who themselves had taken it from the Moabites ( ref: Numbers 21:29 ). That being the case, Jephthah suggested, if Israel's claim to ownership of the land was not valid, then neither were the claims of the Ammonites.
(2) Jahweh had g __ __ __ __ the land to Israel (v.23-24). It's the familiar old "M __ __ __ __ __ __ __ D __ __ __ __ __ __" argument, but with the Bible record to back it up!
(3) Israel had valid claim if only by means of ______ years of occupation (v.25-26). And, Jephthah added, at no time during that entire period had either the Ammonites or Moabites lay claim to it. Why now?
(4) Finally Jephthah reminded the Ammonite king that persistence in his attempt to occupy the land would pit his armies against Jahweh Himself, whom he correctly referenced as
Israel's true J __ __ __ __ (v.27).
e. The king of Ammon was entirely unimpressed with Jephthah's logic (v.28).
2. Judges 11:29-32 is the brief record of Jephthah's victory over the Ammonites. The key elements of these verses are:
(1) v.29: The S __ __ __ __ __ of the L __ __ __ came upon Jephthah;
(2) v.30-31: Jephthah's incredibly reckless v __ __, which we will consider later in this section.
a. Again, there are charges and counter-charges.
b. Again, it appears that Jephthah's first response is an attempt to reason with those who have set themselves against him.
c. A civil war erupts between Gilead and Ephraim. _____________ men of Ephraim are slain.
d. A fascinating detail is included in v.4-6.
(1) It involves a regional pronunciation of the Hebrew word shibboleth ( "stream" or "flood" ). The Ephraimite soldiers trying to pass through Gilead's sentries incognito pronounced the word in such a way that it gave them dead away as the enemy!