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JUDGES 11:1-40
Series:  Heroes of Faith - Part Five

Pastor Stephen Muncherian
July 31, 2005

This morning we’re returning to our look at Heroes of Faith.  People - remarkably like us - that God used - often despite themselves - that God used to do extraordinary things.  People that God has given to us as an example and an inspiration for our own lives.

As we’ve been looking at the Book of Judges we’ve seen that there are seven cycles of sin and deliverance.  Cycles where God’s people turn away from God - put their trust in themselves and other gods.  God allows His people to be oppressed by some enemy - some circumstance to prompt God’s people to return to trusting Him.  We’ve seen God’s people crying out to God and God sending a judge - a deliver.  Then - at the end of the cycle - God’s people living in peace with God until the next time they sin.

Through each of these cycles we’ve been learning from the judges that God has sent - that when we’re tempted to become fearful in the midst of what comes against us - even to cave in or compromise and turn to sin - the right choice is always to turn to God - to continue trusting Him with our lives.

This morning we’ve come to Judges 11 and the account of Jephthah - the sixth time through the cycle of sin.  As you’re turning to Judges 11 - as we’ve been doing each Sunday - I’d like to put this passage in the context of where it fits in Judges.  Then we’ll go through the passage - make some observations - and then share two thoughts of application.

By the way - today we’re going to be running through the better part of chapters 9 and 10 and then looking at 40 verses in chapter 11.  So, please keep your hands and feet inside the sanctuary until the sermon has come to a complete stop.  Make sure your safety bar is down and locked.

After Gideon died - remember we looked at Gideon 3 Sundays ago - after Gideon died there was an attempt to share leadership over Israel - to share distribute leadership among Gideon’s sons.   But - in Judges chapter 9 we read that Abimelech - one of Gideon’s sons - seizes power.  Abimilech makes an alliance with the men of Shechem - kills off 70 of his brothers - gets himself crowned as king.

Abimelech rules for 3 years and then there’s another revolution.  Abimelech has his skull crushed by a woman who drops a millstone on him.  Finally he’s killed by his armor bearer.  Judges 9:56 says,
“Thus God repaid the wickedness of Abimelech, which he had done to his father - Gideon - by killing his seventy brothers, also God returned all the wickedness of the men of Shechem…”

Then in chapter 10 there’s a series of minor judges.  Minor why? - because they’re not major.  We don’t know a whole lot about them.  But another 45 years go by.  The point is that there’s a whole generation after Gideon that is moving farther and farther away from God and deeper and deeper descending into sin.  That’s how the cycle goes.    

Chapter 10:6 says,
Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; thus they forsook the Lord and did not serve Him.

They’re not just serving a god - but all the other gods.  They’ve completely forsaken the one true God - turned their back on Him - rejected Him.  Trusting themselves and these other gods.

The anger of the Lord burned against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the sons of Ammon.  The Philistines - that we’re going to look at next Sunday - came from the west.  The Ammonites came from the east.  Israel is getting squeezed in the middle.  For 18 years the Philistines and Ammonites crushed and afflicted God’s people.

The sons of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to You; only please deliver us this day.”  So they put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer.  Then the sons of Ammon were summoned and they camped in Gilead.  And the sons of Israel gathered together and camped at Mizpah.  The people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the sons of Ammon?  He shall become head over all the in habitants of Gilead.”

Ever fly past a CHP doing well past the speed limit  Or one of those motorcycle police with the radar guns?  And then slow way down - acting all innocent - and checking your mirror to see if he’s coming after you?  And then thanking God that he isn’t?  Maybe I’m the only one who ever does that.

Ever tempted to pray this? 
“God, look I’m being good now.  God, I’ll do anything as long as you get me out of this.  We’ve been rejecting you for 60 plus years - serving all these other gods - we’re pretty miserable.  So, please deliver us right now.”

The prayer and repentance isn’t genuine.  They’re only doing this because of the consequences of their sins.  They haven’t really given themselves over to God.

God has compassion on His people - feels their misery.  But notice that His people still aren’t trusting Him.  They’re already gathering at Mizpah. - already working out solutions to their problems.  They want instant solutions not long term results. 
“Don’t mess with our lives just honor our efforts by delivering us.  God bless our efforts.”  Ever pray that?

Which bring us to Judges 11 and Jephthah.  God’s people in sin - in misery - searching for answers - bargaining with God with their half-hearted repentance - trusting only in themselves.

Judges 11:1: 
Now Jephthah - tough name to say.  Try that with me, “Jephthah.”  Jephthah means “Mighty man of valor.”

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior
- he really was a mighty man of valor - but - circle that word “but” - but he was the son of a harlot.  And Gilead was the father of Jephthah.  Gilead’s wife bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.”  So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him.

Despite being a valiant warrior - Jephthah’s reputation is that he’s a bastard.  Who cares who Jephthah is as a person - his abilities - his character.  In a society where family - klan - is everything - he’s an outcast - the son of “the other woman.”  How often - over the years - did that message get pounded into Jephthah’s heart. 
“You’re nothing.  You bastard.  You’re not one of us.”  Growing up - the people who should have stood by him - taught him about things like love and trust - they reject him.

Do you think Jephthah was a wounded man?  That he might have struggled just a bit with self-esteem and the ability to trust others?  Can you relate to this guy?  Oh yes. 

Jephthah flees to Tob. 
“Worthless fellows” - other outcasts gather around him.  Others who are drawn to Jephthah’s abilities but aren’t hung up on his reputation.

Verse 4: 
It came about after a while that the sons of Ammon fought against Israel.  When the sons of Ammon fought against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob; and they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our chief that we may fight against the sons of Ammon.”

Remember - the elders were the ones bargaining with God and working out their own deliverance.  Apparently the battle wasn’t going so well.  God wasn’t letting them get away with trusting themselves.

Verse 7: 
Then Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me - weren’t you the same guys?  Oh, now I recognize you.  Some of you are my half-brothers - you’re the same guys - who hated me and drove me from my father’s house?  So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?”

The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah,
“For this reason we have now returned to you, that you may go with us and fight with the sons of Ammon and become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

Did you all hear the,
“We’re really sorry for all the horrible stuff we did to you.  Can you find it in yourself to forgive us?”?

“Jephthah, the only reason we’re here is because we need you.  Deliver us and we’ll even let you be in charge.” 
Same self-serving deal they offered God.  Does that hurt?  We think so little of you that we think you can be bought.  The son of the prostitute prostituting himself for position.

Verse 9: 
So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the Lord gives them up to me, will I become your head?  The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord is witness between us; surely we will do as you have said.”  Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and chief over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.

Don’t miss that.  The elders are talking and using God’s name in vain - using God’s name without respect for God - to add credibility to what they’re saying.  Jephthah is speaking with God - prayer - bring this negotiation before God.  We’re seeing something important here about the heart of Jephthah.  Someplace in all the crud that happened to Jephthah - Jephthah has come to understand that when we can’t trust people we can always trust God.

Try that with me,
“We can always trust God.”

Verse 12: 
Now Jephthah - are you holding on to your safety bar?  Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the sons of Ammon, saying, “What is between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?”  Why are we fighting?

Verse 13: 
The king of the sons of Ammon said to the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up from Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok and the Jordon; therefore, return them peaceably now.”  We’re fighting because you stole our land and we want it back.

Verse 14: 
But Jephthah - holding on? - But Jephthah sent messengers again to the king of the sons of Ammon, and they said to him, “Thus says Jephthah, ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab nor the land of the sons of Ammon.  For when they - Israel - came up from Egypt, and Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh, then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let us pass through your land,” but the king of Edom would not listen.  And they also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent.  So Israel remained at Kadesh.  Then they went through the wilderness and around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, and came to the east side of the land of Moab, and they camped beyond the Arnon; but they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab.  And Israel sent messengers to Sihon kind of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land to our place.”  But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people and camped in Jahaz and fought with Israel.  The Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country.  So they possessed all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and from the wilderness as far as the Jordan.’”

Still holding on?  Don’t miss this.  In the midst of this negotiation between Jephthah and the Ammonite king is a history lesson straight out of God’s dealings with His people - God protecting His people and bringing them into the Promised Land.

Earlier - when the leaders of Gilead come to him - in the midst of all that bargaining - remember what Jephthah does?  Prays.  He goes to God.  Now we’re seeing that Jephthah has been reading his Scriptures.  He knows the history of God’s dealings with His people - understands the significance of the events - God’s movement in history. 

Bottom line:  Jephthah may be an outcast and a leader of worthless men but this is a man who knows God - has wrestled with the things of God - cares about what God cares about.

Going on - verse 24: 
‘Do you not possess what Chemosh your god give you to possess?  So whatever the Lord our God has driven out before us, we will possess it.  Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab?  Did he ever strive with Israel, or did he ever fight against them?  While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?’”

What he’s saying is this:  “We fought the Amorites not the Ammonites.  We tried to avoid war with the Ammonites - Moab and Edom.  We didn’t take your land.  Our God gave it to us.  Your god gives you land.  Our God gives us land.  And we’ve all been living here together in relative peace for 300 years.  Why now are you making war with us?”

Jephthah’s bottom line comes in verse 27: 
“‘I therefore have not sinned against you, but you are doing me wrong by making war against me; may the Lord, the Judge, judge today between the sons of Israel and the sons of Ammon.’”  But the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him.

Jephthah - takes this overwhelming terrifying situation - God’s unrepentant people bargaining with God - the oppression of God’s people - the political intrigue - the injustice of the war - his God given rights - the rights of his people to their land that God gave them - all these currents swirling around him - takes it all and does what?  Once again lays it down at the feet of God. 
“The Lord will judge.  He is the Judge.”

Now verses 29 to 40 - which really are at the heart of this account.  Verse 29: 
Now the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon.  Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand - circle that word “my” - If you will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”  So Jephthah crossed over to the sons of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord gave them into his hand.  He struck them with a very great slaughter from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abelkeramim.  So the sons of Ammon were subdued before the sons of Israel.

Think with me about this.  Jephthah is man who knows God.  Prays.  Quotes Scripture.  Understands some of how God works.  Declares God’s word even to his enemy - the Ammonite king.  As Jephthah is moving towards the coming battle - going through the land - rallying the troops - its obvious that the Spirit of the Almighty God has come upon Jephthah.  There is a point where its obvious that God - despite His people - God’s hand is in all this.  Victory is a foregone conclusion.  The great slaughter of the Ammonites is a certainty.  Are you with me?

So why this vow?  Why this bargain? 
“If you will indeed give the sons of Ammon in to my hand…”

Suddenly Jephthah is focused on Jephthah.  There’s fear in his heart.  Self-doubt.  With all that he knew about God - on the eve of battle - he struggles with trust. 
“Your mother was a prostitute.  Your brothers hated you.  You deserved that hate.  You’re worthless.” 

Ever hear that voice? 
“Who do you think you are?  You’re not good enough.  You’re a failure.  You deserve this.  Your sins are too great.  Your past is too bad.  You’ll never amount to anything.”  On the eve of victory Jephthah wallows in defeat.  “People like me don’t become heroes.” 

Verse 34: 
When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing.  Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter.  When he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter!  You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.”  So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.”  She said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.”  Then he said, “Go.”  So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity.  At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man.  Thus it became a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

Its hard to understand exactly what happened here.  Most people think that Jephthah actually did execute his daughter - offering her as a burnt offering.  That’s not necessarily a wrong understanding.  But, there are some problems with that understanding.  Some people understand this as Jephthah offering his daughter to the Lord.  Something like Hannah did with Samuel.  She becomes like a celibate nun - dedicated to God.

The point is the loss of Jephthah’s one and only child.  The lonely - wounded - little boy - who’s a mighty warrior - at the moment of his  triumph and acceptance by his people - suffers such sorrow - such loss - because he listened to the voice of doubt on the night he should have trusted God.

There are two thoughts of application that I’d like to share.  The first is
The Importance of Restoration.  Let’s say that together, “The importance of restoration.”

Ezekiel the prophet is given a vision by God of a valley - a valley filled with numerous dry decaying bones.  Do you remember this?  For generations Israel has lived in disobedience to God - rejecting God - bargaining with God - cycles of sin.  People on a train - deluded by their own foolishness - enjoying themselves - ignoring the warnings of what lies ahead.  The dry bones are a vision of the spiritual train wreck of God’s people.  Only death and hopelessness remain.

Ezekiel is asked,
“Can these bones live?”  Ezekiel answers, “God, only You know.  Restoration is a God thing.” 

Then this prophecy is given,
“Behold, I - God - will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life.  I will put sinew on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.”

There’s a noise - a rattling - bones come together.  Sinew is on them.  Flesh grows.  Skin covers them.  God causes breath to come into the bodies.  What was dead and decaying has now come to life. (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

It’s a picture of what God will do to His people Israel.  It is a vivid picture of what God does for us in Jesus Christ. 

Paul writes, in 1 Corinthians 5:17: 
“Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.”

With God, the past is the past.  We’re made new in Jesus Christ - restored.  His Spirit lives within us.  He frees us and empowers us - gives us life - to live lives of significance and honor for His glory.  No matter what the woundedness or the sin - God does bring forgiveness - healing - life - restoration.  He does work miracles in the lives of His people.

Second thought of application: 
The Importance of Trusting God.  Let’s try that together, “The importance of trusting God.”

We carry with us so many dry bones.  Reminders of the hopelessness of our lives.  Past failures - sins.  Inadequacies.  Wounds from the past.  The voice of doubt comes - like it did to Jephthah -
“There’s no hope here.”

And yet, God uses outcasts - the fallen - the hopeless.  Remember Moses?  Rahab?  David?  Mary Magdalene?  Paul?

The tragedy of Jephthah is a warning to us not to listen to the voice of doubt - to its lies and deceit.  To snatch defeat from the jaws of victory.  But, to trust God.  To listen to His voice.  To trust Him for what He will do in our lives.  Whatever the battle.  Whatever you’re up against - never doubt God’s love - His forgiveness - His promise and ability to heal - to restore - to use you significantly to His glory.


Unless otherwise indicated, Scripture taken from the New American Standard Bible®, © 1960, 1962, 1963, 1968, 1971, 1972, 1973, 1975, 1977, 1995 by the Lockman Foundation.  Used by permission.