SUNDAY MORNING WORSHIP SERVICE, 16 May 2021
Sermon Text: Judges 10:17-11:40
Sermon Series: “Judges” (#16)
I. Jephthah the illegitimate
II. Jephthah the faithful
III. Jephthah’s illegitimate vow
IV. God’s faithful promise
This morning, we have another judge, Jephthah, the eighth judge of Israel, after Gideon, Tola and Jair. This man is an interesting judge, different from his predecessors. He begins in a low estate, then, is raised up to the top. And he falls back low again later. He and David, the great king of Israel, are similar in their paths to the headship of Israel; but Jephthah seems like Abimelech, Gideon’s wicked son, who murdered his own people of Israel. Yet, in the NT, in Heb. 11:32, Jephthah is included in the list of men of faith along with the giants of faith, like Gideon, Barak, Samson, David and Samuel. In a word, this eighth judge we have read about this morning is a truly interesting judge; he is both good and bad, amazing yet mean.
So, we’ll think about his interesting life as recorded in our text passage. As we do, I want you to remember that no man is perfect – none is righteous – therefore, no one can save himself or herself, but God alone saves sinners, like Jephthah, and like you and me. But, more importantly, I want you to find out, through the life of Jephthah, a truth that all men do, all we do are far short of the glory of God. Therefore, unless God upholds us, we’ll surely fall in sin; unless God leads us to the path of righteousness, we’ll surely bring destruction on ourselves and on people around us. Alongside this truth, I want you to grasp the weight of God’s promise given to us; I want you to know how precious and wonderful and amazing God’s promise to us is.
I. JEPHTHAH THE ILLEGITIMATE
Now, let us begin with the very first information we have about Jephthah, the 8th judge of Israel. What we know first of all is that he was an illegitimate son, a son born out of wedlock. He was not welcomed by his immediate family even from his birth. Although the Bible does not tell us about his parents’ attitude toward his birth, we can easily guess that he wasn’t welcomed by them. His half-brothers definitely disliked him. He was, from his birth, an outcast.
The Lord Jesus must’ve faced a similar kind of welcome as the people of His hometown knew the story of His birth. As you know, Mary was conceived by the Holy Spirit and, not knowing the origin of the baby, Joseph wanted to divorce her quietly. The Creator of all things and King of the universe came into His own world, but He wasn’t welcomed by His people, the creatures of His own hand. Moreover, King Herod wanted to kill Him! Later, when Jesus went and preached at His hometown, the people there asked to each other, saying, “Is not this the carpenter’s son? Is not His mother called Mary? And are not His brothers James and Joseph and Simon and Judas? And are not all His sisters with us?” Although Jephthah’s experience of rejection was not like that of Jesus, he was rejected even from his birth.
He was kicked out by his own brothers, then, by his own people. So, he moved away and worthless fellows came to him and he became their leader. Now, an illegitimate son became the leader of an illegitimate group of worthless men. Jesus came to heal the sick, be the Friend to the lost, raise the dead and cleanse lepers. He is with the blind and they receive their sight; He is with the lame and they walk; He is with the deaf and they hear; He comes to the poor preaching His good news to them! And most of all, our Lord Jesus is not ashamed to call us ‘brothers,’ as Heb. 2:11 explains.
II. JEPHTHAH THE FAITHFUL
After this brief introduction of Jephthah’s background, in the verses that follow, we find him quite different from our expectation. I mean, it seems natural to expect to see a rebel or rogue out of such an unwelcoming environment. If a person is rejected by his own family and people, and has become the leader of a group of worthless men, finding rebel or insurgent out of such a man is natural, isn’t it? But, Jephthah was not like that; he was rather a believer, follower, worshipper of God.
Have a look at ch. 11, from v. 9 and on. When the elders of Gilead came to him, asking him to be their head and fight against their enemy, Jephthah says this: “If … the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.” Do you see what he means? He was one of the worthless men, but what he says here reveals what has been in his heart over many days and months and years – that is, the name of the LORD. Not only His name, but also His power and will and honour! He is a man of faith in the midst of ‘worthless men’!
After the elders agreed with him, he went to Gilead with them and became their leader. Then, his first official event was to speak all his words before the LORD at a place called Mizpah. In other words, he worshipped God as the head of the people of Gilead and prayed to his God, their God, with the words he had spoken with the elders regarding the battle against Israel’s enemy. This again, gives a hint to us, of the appearance the Lord Jesus to the public, declaring the good news of His kingdom to the ears of the oppressed.
Then, in the section we’ve skipped from reading, Jephthah shows his faithful heart to the Lord. In vs. 21 and 23, Jephthah speaks to the king of Ammon, saying that the Lord God gave the land to Israel. Also, in vs. 24 and 27, he firmly declares that if the Lord his God wills, then, he and his people will surely possess the land.
To hear such a confession of faith in the time of Judges is a sheer surprise! It is something extreme, extraordinary. It seems like seeing a bright flashes in pitch darkness. Nowhere can you find in the entire book of Judges such words of faith as these from Jephthah! Especially from one who has been rejected by all people even from birth!
In this sense, Jephthah gives us a foretaste of our Lord and Saviour. Jesus’ brothers doubted and didn’t believe in Him, let alone all of Israel, including His twelve disciples up to the moment of Jesus’ post-resurrection appearances to them. No one realised who Jesus really was while He was in their midst. Yet, every word Jesus spoke shook the hearts of the multitude. I said that the words of Jephthah here were like seeing a bright flashlight in pitch darkness, but Jesus’ words were and are not just flashes, but the bright sunlight which everlastingly shines the darkest spots of sinful hearts.
Now, God sent His Spirit to Jephthah, as v. 29 tells us. With the Holy Spirit’s guidance, he went out to war against the enemy. And he won and brought salvation to Israel. God raised up Jephthah and made him a judge, in other word, a ‘saviour’ for Israel.
III. JEPHTHAH’S ILLEGITIMATE VOW
If the record of Jephthah ended here, everyone would’ve said, ‘Ah, what a beautiful story of faith and victory!’ Everything seems to be alright to end the story of Jephthah here with a great victory for God’s people and for God’s name.
But, God didn’t end His story of Jephthah here; He continued and gave us two additional stories of Jephthah after this victory. The first is about Jephthah’s weird and tragic vow and the second is about his conflict and war against the tribe of Ephraim, his own brothers. Lord willing, we’ll read and meditate on the second story next week. And today, we’ll focus on the weird vow Jephthah made and see what it teaches us.
Before we go on with Jephthah’s vow, let me tell you that God intended something important by telling us these two additional stories. Namely, to teach us the truth that even a faithful person like Jephthah is neither perfect, nor righteous, nor be trusted as a saviour to depend on or follow. No! All men and women are the same; therefore, we must believe, follow, and worship no man but God alone in and through Jesus the Saviour!
Why is Jephthah’s vow weird and tragic? Because his vow brought a disaster upon him and his family. It’s tragic because he misunderstood in his ‘believing’ heart the true intention of the divine heart of God with His sacrificial system.
First of all, by pledging to offer up a burnt offering to God, he tried to propitiate God’s favour by paying a price for victory. He thought that he could buy God’s favour. He meant this: ‘Please give me victory, then, I’ll give You something that’s really precious to me, whatever that is.’ By doing this, he in fact betrayed God who saves His people by His grace alone. He tried to purchase God’s favour and what a tragedy that is!
When God set a sacrificial system for His people to keep and follow, He wanted them to know and understand that giving a sacrifice to God was the indicator of God’s grace upon them, in other word, God’s favour upon them. They had already received God’s favour, so what they needed to do was to recognise the divine favour upon them.
Do you see the point? Giving God anything – say, a bull or cow or lamb or dove, or even flour or any grain, or in our term, tithes and offerings – is not ‘our act of purchasing God’s favour for us,’ but ‘our act of recognising God’s already given favour upon us through faith in Jesus Christ.’ Our giving tithes to God is not saying, ‘Oh, God, please remember my payment to Your service for this month and don’t forget to do good to me.’ That’s absolutely not what our giving tithes to God means! We’re not buying God’s favour; rather, we simply recognise and, through our recognition, thank Him for His favour and grace all the days of our life in Jesus! But, Jephthah tried to buy God’s favour with his vow of giving God anyone he’d encounter at his return to home.
By the way, if Jephthah had known God well and understood what He commanded Israel, then, he would not have killed his daughter and profaned the name of God. What I mean is that God had commanded His people, in Lev. 18:21, not to give any of their children to offer as sacrifice to idols. In Dt. 12:31 and Lev. 20:1-5, God said that burning children as sacrifice was a detestable thing to His eyes, thus, anyone who practiced such thing must be put to death, cut off from Israel, and God would set His face against such a sinful man.
Jephthah was an outstanding judge of Israel because of his faith in the Lord, because of giving his priority to God. He saved Israel from the oppression of their enemy; but he wasn’t the one who led Israel out from sins. Rather, he affirmed, through his tragic vow, a detestable and abominable sin to the people of Israel, creating more weird and tragic sins in the life of Israel, such as the strange custom of daughters of Israel mourning for Jephthah’s daughter.
IV. GOD’S FAITHFUL PROMISE
God’s purpose of telling this story to us is, as I mentioned earlier, to teach us not to hope in any man, not to depend on any man. Not with Jephthah, neither with Gideon, nor David, nor Scott Morrison, nor Joe Biden, no one, but God alone! Why God alone? Because He is the only One faithful; because He’s the only One you and I and all in the world can trust. All men fail us; but God never!
Think about God’s promise recorded in the Bible. His first promise given to all mankind is recorded in Gen. 3:15 and, as that promise had announced, Jesus, ‘the offspring of the woman,’ came in flesh and bruised the head of Satan, destroyed Satan’s dominion over God’s elect, saving them from the curse of sin, thus, death, forever! God kept His promise and He never fails us who believe in Him. He promised to us that whoever believes in Jesus, His Son, will not perish but have eternal life. And Jesus, our Lord, having fulfilled all promises of God the Father regarding the Saviour and His saving work, promised to us that He would come back to us again. And when He comes, He will consummate all and bring His kingdom on earth, fulfilling every detail of what was promised, like that of Isa. 25:8 and Rev. 21:4, for example, that is, to swallow up death forever, wipe away tears from all faces; neither mourning, nor crying, nor pain will be with His beloved. But, God’s glory will fill all in all!
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord Jesus, let me close today’s message by reminding you that God alone is faithful as He alone is our God, our Saviour, our Lord. No man or woman can be at His place; therefore, nothing that belongs to man and this world can we depend on.
So, with the very Word of God, let us examine our heart and life to see how firmly we depend on God alone through faith in Christ alone. Let us read His word, thus, know His divine heart and will for us. And let us come closer to our God who alone is faithful! ***