Meditations on ‘Focusing Faith’ : 26. God and the rejected
Heb 11:32,33 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised;
Jephthah seems an afterthought in the mind of the writer to the Hebrews because chronologically in the book of Judges Jephthah comes before Samson. It is like he writes Samson and then thinks, well, yes, I suppose Jephthah was a man of faith as well; he ought to be included in this list. Very well, let’s have a look at this man. As always, start with his earliest of days: “Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 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.” (Jud 11:1,2) Gilead, his father, had been with a prostitute at some point in his life and she had borne him Jephthah. Unfortunately he also had his proper family and they rejected Jephthah and drove him away. No wonder he was a mighty warrior with a background like that; it’s the only way you survive!
It doesn’t get much better: “So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.” (v.3) He gets in with a bunch of mercenaries, men who were all out for themselves and would side with anyone with whom it seemed profitable. This has got to speak to any of us who consider that we did not have a good start to life.
A while later the leaders of his home land (as so often happened in Judges) were under pressure from an enemy and knowing he was a warrior with a bunch of mercenaries asked him to come and fight off the Ammonites (v.4-6). Jephthah queries this but they persist and say he can be their leader, so he agrees to come (v.7-11). Jephthah then gets into a dialogue with the Ammonite king during which, to cut a long story short Jephthah refutes the claims on the land by the king and reminds him what Israel had done when they had taken Canaan (v.12-26), concluding the king has no claim on the land in question. He concludes with, “I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the LORD, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.” (v.27)
“The king of Ammon, however, paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him.” (v.27) There appears, therefore a stalemate but, “Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.” (v.28,29) Now we have to say that so far he has acted well, and has stood for the name of the Lord and is now moving under the power of the Lord. This is faith.
But there we have to pause and take a breath because what follows shows the signs of an insecure man (which takes us back to his childhood) who now feels he has to bargain with God and indeed bribe God in a most foolish way: “And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” (v.30,31) Whatever do you mean, “Whatever comes out of the door of my house”? Don’t you mean, ‘whoever’ and that means you are talking about sacrificing a person? That is crazy and unwarranted. Don’t you realise you have been called by God to deliver Israel and defeat the Ammonites – that’s what God wants and so you don’t need to bribe him, you clown!!!!!
Again to keep the story short, he defeats the enemy (v.32,33) and when he comes home his daughter comes out to greet him (v.34,35) and so he feels obliged to kill her because of the vow he has made. Now I don’t care how important you think vows are, God thinks human life is more important and so if Jephthah is going to have to break his vow, he needs to go to the Tabernacle and make a sin offering – but Jephthah hasn’t learnt that at the heart of the life of Israel is the sacrificial law that makes provision for sin.
So what we have we got here? We have a man who does act by faith in the way he stands for the Lord and is prompted by the Spirit to go and defeat the enemy. What we also have is a man whose life is wrecked by insecurity, probably coming from the rejection he received as a child or young person. He does not understand that he is moving in the will of God to deliver God’s people and therefore he has to bolster up his insecurity with talk of bribing God.
Here, as they say, is where the rubber hits the road. I believe there are thousands of Christians who, for a variety of reasons, feel that they have to prove themselves to God, to earn His love and general approval. Thus their lives are full of constant attempts at appearing worthy – mighty testimonies, big prayers, amazing revelations, all of these things so often being the crutches of hobbling faith, faith that is not secure in God’s love because we have been hurt or rejected along the way, and our self-esteem has taken a beating. Please – the Lord loves you just like you are and, yes, He does want better for you, but you don’t have to prove yourself to Him. You probably are a person of faith but you don’t have to bolster that up with approval-winning activities.
Some of us grew up with parents for whom nothing was ever good enough. God is not like your parents. You are ‘good enough’ exactly as you are right now as far as His love is concerned. Yes, He wants more for you but that is simply because He loves you so much that He wants you to be even more blessed that you are now. Jephthah was obviously damaged by rejection and, yes, he does appear in the halls of faith, but he never learned that he didn’t have to bribe God. Please, don’t be like that side of Jephthah.