Judges 11:1 – Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.
Hello all, back with a new blog today, dealing with the life of Jephthah. Jephthah is mentioned in Hebrews 11, the great chapter often referred to as the hall of faith. Jephthah was a judge of Israel, and he, like so many of the judges, have unique stories that we can learn from today. Jephthah is found in Judges 11 and 12, it would be best to read them first, as I will be covering both chapters here. And particularly relevant today are the lives and exploits and mistakes of the judges, as the book of Judges aligns very closely with where the world and “Christianity” is at today. By the end of Judges we see Israel, God’s nation, a very dangerous, perilous, corrupt place in which to live, because they had no king and everyone did that which was right in their own eyes. However in the midst of these darkening times there were beacons of light, the lives of these judges, whom God raised up, who God worked through, who lived by faith, who God moved and used mightily to deliver Israel from enemy oppression. These judges delivered Israel, but Israel’s hard heart stayed the same, and it was only a matter of time before they departed from God. This is why God had a better thing for us, which the Bible speaks of in Hebrews, God changes us inside out. The law cannot change us, all the law does is impose do’s and do not’s on sinful man. It has no life giving capacity. When we are saved, we are born again of the Spirit of God, we are made alive, we are changed inside out, what a better way! God deals with the heart first, man’s sin, man’s heart must be dealt with first. Everything else falls into place after you are saved. The Bible says faithful is he that calleth you who also will do it. In this blog we will look at several aspects of Jephthah’s life which are particularly pertinent to us today. Jephthah was a mighty man of valour, he was courageous, he was strong, he was brave, he was a force to be reckoned with, because the Lord fought for him, because he had faith in the God of Israel.
One of the first things we see from Jephthah’s life is that he was the son of a harlot. This would have been hard for him to deal with and overcome, because he was the bastard of the family. He was looked down upon. He was rejected by his own brothers, cast out. It goes to show no matter your upbringing, no matter your start in life, you can be mightily used by God. In fact God likes to use such people. God uses the base things, the weak things of the world to confound the things which are mighty. God is able to use the greatest evils in our life for his glory, he can and will turn them to good. The fact he was the son of a harlot did not defile him. Jesus said that the things which enter into a man do not defile him, but the things which proceed out of him, from his heart, are the things which defile him. Being the son of harlot means nothing, it might give you a low social status, or rank, and particularly back then, when being the son of a harlot, a bastard child, was a massive obstacle to the advancement and living of one’s life. But perhaps it was being the son of a harlot that turned Jephthah into the man he was. For some people this would have had the opposite effect. The circumstances of life try us to reveal what is truly in our heart. We see in Jephthah’s life that the tough start he had did not define him for the worse, but for the better. Quite often people turn out the best having gone through adversity. And through all of this a character, a person, was formed whom Israel looked to when the enemy came in like a flood into the land.
Jephthah’s brothers cast him out, and he was forced to flee. Things were going well that that time in Israel. The land had had a period of rest from enemies. The going was good, the going was easy, the going was prosperous. And in these times, noone has an ear for the word of God, for God’s man. And the brothers kicked him out because he was the son of a harlot, denying him an inheritance. But trouble was coming fast, times that would test them. And Jephthah was their first port of call when trouble came. The Ammonites invaded Israel, and suddenly life got real. In life, people can see who is the real deal and who is not. You may be living by faith, a mighty man or woman of valour, who is rejected at the moment. But when trouble comes, it is inevitable, and as Jephthah was, in times of trouble, people will call for you if you are the real deal. Be ready for that moment. God can use the quite times, the down times to prepare you, just as John the Baptist, for his showing to Israel. Elijah spent time in anonymity learning reliance and dependence and the sufficiency of God every day, all the time, at the brook Cherith. And before that Elijah just popped out of nowhere, completely unheralded, yet a nobody who could stand before Ahab, and say that there would be no rain according to his word! Jephthah’s brothers fetched Jephthah because the Ammonites came to fight Israel. They needed Jephthah desperately, they faced destruction. When life gets real, people will go to God’s man. Those truly seeking will find and search for the word of the Lord. Because there is no imitating, no faking his power and authority. When the going was good Jephthah was not required, but when the going got tough they sent for him. Such a man was Jephthah that they bowed to him, and he took preeminence among them. He became their leader and ruler. How quickly God can change things! Joseph went from prison to ruler of Egypt!
It is interesting to note that, when Jephthah was kicked out he fled and dwelt in the land of Tob, that the Bible says vain men were gathered unto him, that went out with him. This seems to be randomly placed in the story, but we can learn a lot from this. Being kicked out wasn’t likely much fun for Jephthah. He could’ve been very bitter, in fact the whole incident could’ve derailed his life, it most likely would ours. And he was now surrounded by vain men. Living with and among these vain men would no doubt prove a great test for his faith, his character – the reality of his faith would be tested and proved. Being around and among these vain men would sort out what type of man he really was. Will you be faithful to God when you are exposed to the world, to the pleasure it has to offer, to it’s philosophies on life, to what the world, the flesh, the devil offers you? God allows us to be tested, in fact, our life here on earth is one of being tested, proved, and coming out the end much better. It is God in us who brings us through, God uses our life here to sanctify us to himself. Circumstances were against Jephthah, and he was in the middle of a group of vain men. Vain means empty, worthless, having no substance, value or importance. We may be tested by vain men just as he was. For many people, being wronged or suffering evil, and then surrounded by vain men, as Job was, may tempt us strongly to curse God, but Job did not curse God, and so shouldn’t we. While you are on the outs will you go astray or not? Is there any root of bitterness that has taken hold in your life? Because these vain men no doubt had plenty of advice for Jephthah. If he had listened to these men, walked in their counsel, joined in with their lifestyle and deeds, he would have been brought down. Instead he maintained his integrity. He was in the world, but not of the world. When his brothers called for him he was not bitter, he did not refuse to come back and help, as no doubt the vain men would have questioned why he would help those who had wronged him so badly.
Jephthah had been rejected by his own brethren, that must have been unimaginably tough to take. Yet somehow, like Joseph, it did not derail his life, it did not chart the course for the rest of his life. Jephthah was different to the average person. He was cast out, just like the man who Jesus healed in the temple was isolated and rejected and cast out of the temple. But being cast out by men is nothing compared to being cast out by God. What is worse, being rejected by man or by God? And Jesus does not cast out anyone that comes to him in repentance and faith, for mercy, for grace, for forgiveness, for eternal life. We ought to obey God rather than man. As long as we are right with God, everything else will fall into place, and is sorted out by God. We just have to trust him, and enter into his promises, and enter into his rest. Jephthah may have been cast out by his brothers, but God was with him, and God was never going to forsake him, or let him down, and in fact was using this to prepare Jephthah for fighting the Ammonites and the men of Ephraim. Then suddenly there was a need to have Jephthah back. When the Ammonites came his brothers were distressed, they had nothing to fight the Ammonites with, they needed Jephthah, the man of faith. They knew God was with him. They saw God’s power in his life. They made him ruler and head over them. And he settled for no less. Because God’s word does not take second place. We only have victory when God’s word is front and center and foremost. God takes a backseat to no man. Jephthah had to be leader and ruler for them to win, Jesus has to be our head, our ruler, our leader for us to win. Put him first. His authority is what matters. They said of Jesus, never spake man like this man. They were astonished at his authority. And things changed so quickly, God turned it all around. Jephthah went and fought the Ammonites and God delivered them into his hands, he was victorious.
In the next chapter, Judges 12, we see something else very important to take note of. After the defeat of Ammonites, the men of Ephraim contended with him. His own people had a beef with him, the men of Ephraim, who were the superior, entitled, super “Christian” ones, ones who talk a good fight, but don’t war a good warfare. Just like with Gideon, these men went missing when it came to fighting, but after the fight they’d suddenly appear. They were people who don’t do, but want to get involved at the end, to save face, to proclaim how good they are, when in actual fact they are worthless. They are “Christian” passengers, welfare cases, they are onlookers, they are not doers. They may have a name, but they have no reality. They don’t fight the bad guys, but they fight the good guys. How many people like this are in “Christianity” today! They stir strife and disunity and interfere and disrupt other Christians, but are nowhere to be seen in the real battle. They do not stand up and be counted. And they come in at the end and want the glory. It is all about them. They do not glory in the cross, the finished work of Jesus, but glory in themselves, and in so doing they only end up glorying in their own shame. Because apart from Jesus, all our glory is shame. All they end up doing is sowing discord, being busybodies, harming and hindering people who are the ones actually saved, actually living by faith, actually seeking God’s face. The men of Ephraim felt a lot of entitlement, and were proud of their inheritance and blessing and privileged position, being descendants of Joseph. They had the blessings, they took the best seat at the table. But the reality was missing. They only served to hinder the work of God, to fight God’s servant, to disrupt the ministry, to turn the attention off the real enemy. The men of Ephraim must be dealt with, and can only be dealth with using the sword, the sword of the Spirit, which is the Word of God. The word of God, the work of the king, is what throws down Jezebel, all false religion, all false worship, all false practices, all false doctrine, all false traditions, as king Jehu’s word, his command, caused Jezebel to be finally and utterly and irreversibly thrown down.
Jephthah went into battle against the men of Ephraim and won there too. He was a winner, because he was on the Lord’s side. Many Ephraimites escaped the battle though and sought to escape over the Jordan river. However, Jephthah and his army cut off all routes of escape at the different crossing points along the Jordan river. To get out and away alive, the Ephraimites needed to cross the Jordan, but Jephthah and his men held all the crossing points of the Jordan river. The Ephraimites attempted to cross, and pretended not to be Ephraimites in order to get across. However, Jephthah had a sure way to prove if they were Ephraimites or not, a way in which to identify, to distinguish the men of Ephraim from all other people who were crossing the Jordan. He did it using the “Shibboleth” test, getting each person who wanted to cross to say “Shibboleth”. This was a sure fire way to idenitify Eprhaimites from non-Ephraimites as the men of Ephraim could not say the word “Shibboleth” properly, instead they pronounced it “Sibboleth”. This was unique to the men of Ephraim. When the men tried to cross the Jordan, Jephthah and his men got them to say (or attempt to say!)”Shibboleth”. The men of Ephraim were unable to say “Shibboleth” correctly and thus they were identified as Ephraimites to Jephthah and his army. All that said “Shibboleth” incorrectly were slain by the sword.There is a significant amount of truth we can glean from this aspect of Jephthah’s life.The men of Ephraim couldn’t pronounce Shibboleth correctly, they were revealed for who they truly were and slain. There was a great number killed, forty two thousand. They attempted to pass but could not, and they were slain by the sword. They were slain at Jordan, the mighty Jordan river, which is a very significant river in the Bible. It is a place of crossing over into the promised land, we will all undergo our own “Shibboleth” on the banks of the Jordan. Will we enter into the promised land in our lives, or will we die on the banks of Jordan? You cross the Jordan by faith, the sword of God does not fall on the unbeliever. And you cannot fake the Spirit of God, you are either born again or you are not. The woman possessed with the spirit of divination in Acts said a lot of the “right” things, but she had an evil spirit working to entice people to ultimately follow her and away from the truth. We can learn a lot from “Shibboleth”.
We see from the “Shibboleth” saga that just like Jephthah did, the Lord Jesus Christ divides the sheep from the goats, the wheat from the tares. We read in Jude that the Lord after he had saved the people out of Egypt destroyed them that believed not. There were many people brought up out of Egypt who were pretenders, who were not truly saved. And the wilderness testing ground revealed their hard, unrepentant, unbelieving hearts. They saw miracles and wonders and signs, yet they did not believe. It goes to show, no matter what you physically see, unless you just believe God’s word, nothing will convince you. We see from Shibboleth that there are many people who profess to be saved who are not. Many tried to cross the Jordan, and many try to enter the kingdom of God but are unable, they try to get in different ways, but they cannot. As the Lord stood above the ladder of Jacob’s dream, we know that Jesus is the gate, he is the door. You can only enter into heaven via him, by who he is and what he has done. Jesus said many will try and enter the kingdom of heaven, but they will be unable. You may fool every other human being on the planet, but you won’t fool God. Does he know you? Are you truly saved, truly born again? The men of Ephraim were slain by the sword, we know that the sword is a strong reference to the Spirit and Word of God. Because the Word of God is a discerner of the thoughts and intents of the heart, it divides asunder between soul and spirit. Noone will slip into heaven who is not truly saved. You can be religious your whole life and be denied entry because the reality is missing. You must be clothed with the forgiveness and righteousness of the Lord Jesus Christ. There was a man at the wedding in one of Jesus’ parables who did not have a wedding garment. He was speechless when Jesus asked him where his wedding garment was. We are either naked or clothed with the righteousness of Christ, without being truly saved, you will not be able to stand before God. Our fig leaves of self righteousness will not stand the test.
Another thing we learn from Shibboleth, is that, just like the men of Ephraim, what people say may be very close to the truth. There are many lies being propagated and taught in churches today. People may even claim Biblical backing for them, which do not stand up when the Bible is rightly divided, when the Bible is interpreted using the Bible, not being interpreted by some “special, enlightened” person who “knows more than you do”. Just as they could not pronounce the “Sh” part of “Shibboleth” so doctrines and teachings align very closely to truth. They seek, they attempt, they purport to say the same, but they have the crucial bit missing. They exclude things like repentance, faith, hell, grace, they cast doubt, they add lies, they declare another gospel, they preach another Jesus. The men of Ephraim tried to say Shibboleth, but they couldn’t, and they didn’t escape the sword. They died on the banks of the Jordan river. We see in Shibboleth the importance of details, of the changing of even the littlest thing. We have a myriad of “new” Bibles today with alterations, with things added, with things subtracted. Adding and taking from God’s word carries a severe curse. Adding a word or taking a word can make a huge difference to the meaning and understanding. The addition or subtraction of a word can change everything entirely. The missing “h” in Shibboleth was the difference between life and death for the men of Ephraim.
There are many more things which can be gleaned from Jephthah’s life. He was a mighty man of valour. God bears that witness of him, a rejected son of a harlot, who had true faith in God’s word. Who could quote God’s word to the Ammonites, who knew the Bible for himself. Who was equipped for battle. When John wrote to the young men in 1 John, he said that the young men were strong, because the Word of God abideth in them. That is the key to strength, the living and the written Word abiding in you. His word is what gives confidence, his word is what we have faith in. His true, preserved, inspired word builds an unshakeable faith, it plants an incorruptible seed which grows inside us. All God requires of us is to believe in his Son. He is the way, the truth, the life, the only way to the Father. Our flesh wants so badly to contribute something, but there is nothing required of us, except to believe and trust him. It’s so simple, so easy, but such a great stumblingblock to the masses. Our flesh deceives us, the world does, and so does Satan. We, like Peter, need to keep our eyes on Jesus, and we will walk on the water with him! Jephthah was a man of faith, and we can be like Jephthah, we can be used by God by just believing him. God is looking for people who will just believe him, trust him, obey him. And Jephthah’s legacy is one of simple, yet powerful, mighty faith. Are you a Jephthah? Are you someone who will fetch a Jephthah only when the going gets tough? Will you send for Jephthah, will you ever need him? We all need a Jephthah, his life points us to the person we all need – we all need the Lord Jesus Christ, he is our hope, our life, our salvation.