History speaks loud and clear in our reading today. The history of a man and the history of a nation. One man exiled because of his origin will stand for the people who sent him away.
When reading the story of Jephthah today I’m struck by the contrast between him and Abimelech. I’m also struck by the contrast of Gilead and Gideon, the fathers of these two men. Did their beginnings create the hearts that spawned such different endings?
Jephthah was the son of Gilead through a prostitute but he grew up in his father’s home. He father acknowledged him and made him part of the family and inheritance. He also taught him the history of his people and the love of God.
Abimelech was the son of Gideon through a ‘concubine’ but he grew up with his mother in another town. He was envious of his brothers. He was NOT part of the family. His mother instilled in him his family ties to her family and did NOT teach him to honor God.
Jephthah was also taught how to fight. He was trained in the art of warfare and strategy. He was not only skilled with a weapon but also skilled in negotiation. He was an honest man. He held no resentment against his brothers. And the men who came to him did so seeking a better life, which Jephthah led them in.
Abimelech hired hands to do his fighting. He was a schemer and full of greed. He cared only for his own gain. He HATED his brothers. He thought of them as in his way and for that he had them killed. The men who gathered around him did so because they were paid to.
Of the fathers of these two men, we have more direct knowledge of Gideon in his earlier years. He was originally a humble man. When God called him to service he was very skeptical. He asked for confirmation multiple times. God used him greatly! THIS is not in dispute. But AFTER God used him to deliver Israel Gideon changes. He becomes consumed with his own needs/wants. He originally told the people that he would not rule over them but that God would. Yet, he amassed quite a fortune doing just that. We aren’t told if he ruled with the Lord leading all his decisions though. We do see however that his fleshly appetites ruled in his life A LOT. I don’t know if he taught his sons to follow the Lord. His youngest son, who escaped Abimelech’s murderous plot, called on God to witness his words against Shechem and his brother so it looks like Gideon MAY have taught his sons in his own house about the Lord. Abimelech would have missed these lessons as he did not appear to share a household with his father.
Little is known of Gilead, Jephthah’s father. What we do know is by observing his sons’ behavior. He was a father to all his sons, including Jephthah. He taught them about the Lord. But there was still division in the household. The sons saw Jephthah as a threat to their inheritance. I would bet on this being because their father treated ALL of them with love. He didn’t discriminate with his love or his fortune. Gilead didn’t protect Jephthah from his brother’s jealousy. Maybe this was because the brothers didn’t chase him away until after his father’s death. If so, Gilead kept the peace the whole time he was alive.
I know which family I would have wanted to be part of. I also know which man I would have wanted to be (if I were a man that is). But let’s get to our story.
Jephthah was chased into exile by his brothers. He was afraid they would kill him. Even in exile though he carried his integrity and love for the Lord. NOWHERE do we hear that he is worshiping false gods. The “worthless men” who come to his are the same kind who flocked to David during his exile; men who were in desperate need of hope. “And everyone who was in distress, and everyone who was in debt and everyone who was bitter in soul, gathered to him And he became commander over them” ( Samuel 22:2a). Jephthah led his “worthless men” just as David di his. Jephthah and his men protected those of Tob from those who would harm them.
When the leaders of Gilead came to Jephthah it was because they had confidence that he could help them with their problem. Jephthah was keeping those of Tob safe from invaders and they needed this kind of help desperately! The leaders of Gilead counted on Jephthah’s loyalty to his family, even when his family wasn’t loyal to him. I have NO DOUBT that some of these leaders of Gilead were Jephthah’s own brothers who had driven him from home.
Jephthah would have been well within his rights to refuse these men, but he didn’t. He questioned their motives and sincerity.
“Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites” (verse 6b).
“Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” (verse 7b).
“That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all of inhabitants of Gilead” (verse 8a).
“If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your head” (verse 9a).
“The Lord will be witness between us, if we do not do as you say” (verse 10b).
Jephthah had to be SURE these men would honor their words. No promise was held higher than a promise to the Lord, not even one made to one of the false gods. This was not a promise they could ever go back on.
Jephthah also made a promise to the Lord before taking on this task. “Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah” (verse 11b). He wanted ALL the people to know Who he was fighting for and Who was fighting for him. This was NOT Jephthah’s battle but the Lords.
Once in command, Jephthah tried to resolve the issues without conflict. He sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites. He used history to try and reason with the king. He defended Israel’s claim to the territory in dispute by pointing out four things.
- Israel tried to pass through the land peacefully in the beginning. They asked permission before entering the land but were denied. They stayed out after being denied.
- AFTER being attacked Israel defended themselves against those who they had formerly sought good relations with.
- The victory belonged to the Lord! “Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the Lord our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess” (verse).
- This transfer of ownership happened OVER 300 YEARS AGO! “If this is your land, why did you wait so long to bring this claim?”
Jephthah made some VERY GOOD arguments but the king of the Ammonites didn’t listen to him. As if anyone expected him to. Well, we know what that means and the next time we meet we will see what the king’s deaf ears earns him.
Before I close I want to share one last thing with you. We ALL have the choice to be like Jephthah or Abimelech. We ALL have struggles in our lives. NEITHER of these two men had an idyllic life. Their fathers played a part in their development but neither father MADE his son into the man he became. Jephthah could have hated his brothers as easily as Abimelech hated his. But one chose to look at the good while the other chose to focus on the hurt; or more appropriately, one chose relationship above self-serving interest.
Father God, thank You for my father. I know I don’t hold the stigma either one of these men held from birth but the love my father lavishes on the children and grandchildren brought in and out of my family through marriage shows his heart. As “Carol Brady” from the television show The Brady Bunch said; “There are no steps in this family except those (as she pointed to the stairs leading to the second story of their home).” My dad shares Your love with ALL of his “children” and “grandchildren”, regardless of how they came to be in his family.
You are the same way with Your children. Your “adopted” children and those You first called. You are a Father that loves His children and will do all He can to see them succeed. But each of Your children has a choice to make. We can either love or hate in return for how we interpret Your hand in our lives. But in the end it is our own choices that direct our lives. I CHOOSE to focus on Your love! I CHOOSE to let go of the hurts done in my life. PLEASE help those around the world today see that they have this choice too! I PRAY for peace!!! You are this world’s ONLY hope for the situation we are in right now. KNOW GOD, KNOW PEACE. NO GOD, NO PEACE.