Christian Churches of God
(Edition 1.0 20060513-20060513)
Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior but he was a social outcast and his half-brothers drove him away from the family. When Gilead was in trouble, the elders turned to him and requested his help and made him head over them. This paper has been adapted from Chapters 66-67 of The Bible Story Volume III by Basil Wolverton, Published by Ambassador College Press.
We now continue from the paper Abimelech the False King (No.CB57).
Meanwhile, near the eastern border of the territory of Manasseh in Gilead, there was a rugged man by the name of Jephthah. His father was Gilead of the tribe of Manasseh, but because his mother was not his father's legal wife, his half brothers (whose mother was the legal wife of their father) wouldn't allow him to share in their inheritance. Spurned by his own family, Jephthah left home when a very young man and established himself in the ways of life in the wilderness (Jdg. 11:1-3).
He became well trained in riding, hunting and fighting. Eventually he built himself up as a tribal leader, the builder of a small private army that was the fear of fierce nomadic tribes and the protector of the weak and the poor. Jephthah was actually a kind of captain of men little better than cunning desert pirates, but he became respected and famous in his part of the country. He had a reputation for seizing booty only from bands of vicious robbers and killers, especially Ammonites.
In Mizpeh there was growing concern as to who should be chosen to head the army of Israel. They now realized the man they had self-righteously cast out was their only hope. The elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. “Come, be our commander so we can fight the Ammorites”, they said (Jdg. 11:4-6).
Jephthah said, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me away from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now when you are in trouble?”
The elders explained, "Nevertheless we are here to ask your help against the Ammonites. You will be our head over all who live in Gilead (vv. 7-8.)
Jephthah answered, "If I take your army against the Ammonites, and God makes me victorious, will I really be your head?”
The elders replied, “The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” So Jephthah went with them to Gilead and he was made head and commander over them (vv. 9-11).
Days later at Mizpeh, Jephthah sent messengers to the king of Ammon, who was camping with a large army south of the Jabbok River in the territory of Gad. He asked the king why he had come to fight against the tribes of northeastern Israel.
The messengers returned promptly with the Ammonite king's curt reply: "The Israelites took away my land when they came up from Egypt. I am here with my army to demand that you return it to me. It is all the territory east of the Jordan between the Arnon and the Jabbok rivers" (Jdg. 11:12-13).
Jephthah sent back a message to the king: “Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites.
"When Israel came up from Egypt by way of the desert, the Red Sea and Kadesh, messengers were sent to the king of Edom asking permission to pass through his land. He refused. Permission was asked of the king of Moab to pass peacefully through Moab, and he also refused. After the Israelites had camped at Kadesh for a time, they set out to the northeast, careful not to trespass into the lands of Edom and Moab, or disturb those people as they passed by.
"Israel sent messengers to Sihon in Heshbon, king of the Amorites, asking permission to pass through his land. His land is this land now in question. The Amorites had formerly taken it from the Ammonites, and Ammon was never able to recover it. Instead of granting the request to let Israel pass through his land, king Sihon tried to wipe out Israel by the sword. But he was defeated. The God of Israel then turned possession of the land of the Amorites over to Israel. It included the territory from the Arnon River to the Jabbok River, and from the Jordan River eastward into the desert. These are the boundaries of the land you claim as yours, but why do you claim it? (Jdg.11:14-23).
"Our God took that land from the Amorites and gave it to us. If your god Chemosh were to give you something, wouldn't you feel that you should be the rightful owner? Whether it is the land you speak of or any other land, if our God drives out the inhabitants before us, we shall possess that country!
Ammonites reject God's decision
"Do you feel that you are better than Balak, king of Moab, who knew better than to fight with Israel over the towns and territory he knew Israel rightfully owned? Did he ever claim we should give him the land Moab had lost to the Amorites? If you have felt that these places you lost to the Amorites should be recovered from Israel, why didn't you do something about it long before this?
"Considering all these things, you honestly must admit that Israel has done nothing to cause you to threaten the nation or to wage war. On the other hand, you are doing the wrong thing to threaten war against Israel!
"Let the God of Israel, who is the Supreme God, judge this matter between Israel and Ammon!"
The king of Ammon paid no attention to the message Jephthah sent him (Jdg. 11:24-28).
Then the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He passed through all of eastern Israel recruiting more soldiers and even sent messengers across the Jordan to ask the tribe of Ephraim to help. He told his officers to get the Israelite army ready to move. While preparations were being made, Jephthah foolishly uttered a very unusual and improper vow, thinking that his chance for victory would be greater if he could promise something to God in return (Jdg. 11:29-31; 12:1-2).
"If you will give us success in battle and if I am allowed to return in peace, then I will dedicate to you whatever first comes out of my door to meet me," he said to God, "and, I will prepare it as a burnt offering!"
God did not approve of this foolishly spoken vow and would have helped Jephthah just as surely if he had not made it. But regardless of what God thought of the vow, He helped Israel charge into the Ammonites with crushing strength. The battle raged over a thirty-mile area that involved twenty towns. When it was over, the Ammonites were completely defeated. (vv. 32-33).
But the pleasant flavour of victory was soon to turn bitter for Jephthah. His courage and integrity had brought victory but his lack of good judgment was bound to bring grief. As he approached his home on his return from the battlefield east of the Jordan, his young daughter (his only child) came dancing out of the house.
He stood speechless, remembering that he had vowed to dedicate to God whatever came to meet him! (Jdg.11:34).
Doing what seems right
He remembered then the vow he had made to God before the battle. Jephthah was so upset that he tore his coat to shreds. As his daughter rushed to meet him, he seized her in a fond embrace. Then he told her of the vow he had made. It was a shock to her, but she didn't complain.
"If you have made a vow to God," she told her father, "then you must keep it. God has given you a victory over the Ammonites, as you asked, so do with me according to your promise in this matter."
A vow to God is something that should be made very seldom, if ever. Jephthah began to realize that he had been very foolish in making such a rash vow. But, thinking any vow was binding, he was determined to carry it out, even though God certainly disapproved of such an act.
"Before I go," Jephthah's daughter told him, "I should like to take two months to visit my friends who live in various places in the nearby mountains, as I shall never see them again!"
Jephthah readily agreed (Jdg. 11:35-38). At the end of two months she dutifully returned home. The Bible doesn't explain the details of what happened. It merely concludes: "... she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed ..." (Jdg. 11:39). Though some commentators have thought Jephthah kept his daughter a perpetual virgin, the Jews and most commentators have understood this tragic story as it is explained in the Authorized Version of the Bible.
The lesson here is that no person is bound in Israel by a vow, which breaches God’s law. Jephthah learned a mighty lesson. He discovered, through this tragedy, the real lesson of faith – that one does not have to vow to God in order to have Him perform what He has promised. What God expects is that we learn to trust Him in everything. When Jephthah finally learned that lesson, he became an outstanding example of faith. Paul even referred to him in Hebrews 11:32 as one of the outstanding examples of faith in the Old Testament.
It later became a custom in Israel for the young women to spend four days of every year in expressing sorrow for Jephthah's daughter (Jdg. 11:40).
The men of Ephraim were offended because they hadn't been given part of the glory Jephthah's army earned in fighting the Ammonites. In fact, they were so irked that they formed an army and crossed over to Zaphon to confront Jephthah.
"Why didn't you let us in on your battle with the Ammonites?" they angrily asked. We’re going to set fire to your home and burn it down on you!"
"There was no time to lose in preparation against the Ammonites," he explained. "If you had wanted to help, you could have volunteered whatever number of men you might have quickly got together when I asked you for help. But you sent no one. So now you have no good reason to complain. Thousands of men, including myself, risked their lives against the enemy, but God delivered us and the matter is over. What, therefore, is your reason for bringing an army to fight me?" (Jdg. 12:1-3).
"You men of the Gilead area are renegades from Ephraim and Manasseh!" they yelled. "You are only the outcasts and the scum of Israel!"
These groundless insults stung the Gileadites, and it wasn't long before a battle was raging.
The Ephraimites had come as the angry ones, but Jephthah's men, after all those insulting remarks, had greater anger, and they fell against their brothers with such power that they quickly defeated the men of Ephraim, who broke ranks and fled in fear and confusion in all directions. Jephthah knew that eventually they would all move to cross the Jordan westward to get back to their home territory to the south, so he ordered his men to rush to the places at the river where it was possible to ford it. He felt that people who had such a miserable attitude should be punished, and God allowed him to do just that.
At first the Gileadites had difficulty in identifying people because there were so many crossing the Jordan. To get safely across, the Ephraimites tried to pose as people from the east of the Jordan so that they wouldn't be attacked. Then someone thought of a good way to determine which were Ephraimites. Each man, as he approached the river, was asked to pronounce the word "shibboleth." Persons who were east of the Jordan could pronounce it correctly, but Ephraimites, because of their particular manner of speaking, couldn't bring themselves to say "shibboleth" but insisted it was "sibboleth." All those who mispronounced the word were slain. By the time the matter was finished, forty-two thousand Ephraimites were dead! (Jdg. 12:4-6).
Jephthah experienced this war with his brothers because of his error in making a vow to God. Jephthah led Israel for six years. Then he died and was buried in Gilead (v. 7).
During the next twenty-five years three other judges ruled that part of Israel.
Ibzan of Bethlehem who led Israel for seven years. He had thirty sons and thirty daughters. He gave his daughters to marry those outside his clan and he brought in thirty young women outside his clan as wives for his sons. This represents the inner council.
When he died, Elon the Zebulunite led Israel for ten years.
After Elon, Abdon from Pirathon led Israel for eight years. He had forty sons and thirty grandsons who rode on seventy donkeys. This represents the total council of the seventy restored.
None of them did anything particularly eventful, but in those years there was a degree of peace and prosperity in that region (Jdg. 12:7-15).
Again the Israelites did evil in the eyes of the Lord, so the Lord delivered them into the hands of the Philistines for forty years.
In those days there was a Danite named Manoah who lived in the town of Zorah, which was in the territory of Dan near the border between Dan and Judah. It was about twenty miles west of Jerusalem, and in the land occupied by the Philistines.
Manoah had been married for several years, and though he hoped to rear a large family, his wife had no children. As time went on, the couple had to face the possibility that Manoah's wife was incapable of bearing children.
One day when Manoah's wife was alone, the Angel of the Lord appeared to her and said, "I know that you haven't been able to have children, but I want you to know that soon you shall give birth to a son. Listen to my instructions. This son of yours shall be under the vow of a Nazarite from the time he is born till his death. You should not drink wine or strong drink and don't eat any food that is unclean. This son of yours shall grow up to be a very special person who shall start to deliver Israel out of the power of the Philistines!" (Jdg. 13:1-5).
What Manoah's wife did then will be related a few paragraphs later. The vow of a Nazarite should first be explained. When the Israelites camped at Mt. Sinai and received from God complete instructions on how to conduct themselves rightly, those directions included what should be done if one decided to give himself or herself over to special service to God for any chosen period of time, whether it was for a month, a year, or several years. This promise to go into such special service was known as the vow of a Nazarite.
Anyone who made such a vow was to do three things: Drink no alcoholic drink nor consume grapes or any product of grapes such as vinegar or raisins; touch no dead body; refrain from cutting the hair (Num. 6). Manoah's son was to observe these rules all his life, and Manoah's wife was to observe them until her son was weaned.
The vows of a Nazirite were no longer necessary from Messiah who was not himself a Nazirite. From the Bible record, at no stage in Christ’s ministry did he take the vows of a Nazirite.
When Manoah returned, his wife immediately went to him and excitedly told him what had taken place.
"I asked him for his name but he neither answered my question nor told me where he came from!" she exclaimed" (Jdg. 13:1-7).
Then Manoah prayed to God and asked that the Angel of the Lord be sent again to teach them how to bring up the boy who was to be born.
A few days later, when Manoah’s wife was out in the field the Angel of the Lord came again, but her husband was not with her. She ran to her husband to tell him that the person who had predicted she would have a son was again present. Manoah hurried back with his wife to find a man who exactly fitted the description she had given him days before.
"Are you the one who spoke to my wife a few days ago?" Manoah asked a bit hesitantly.
"I am the same," the stranger answered. "You predicted we would have a son," Manoah went on. "We would like to learn in more detail how we should rear him."
"I have already given your wife instructions," the stranger replied. "If you hold to them, you will do well." He then repeated those instructions to refresh their memories (Jdg. 13:8-14).
Manoah asked the man to stay until a young goat could be broiled for a special feast. The stranger told Manoah that he wouldn't stay to eat, but that if he wished to cook meat, it should be offered as a sacrifice to God.
The more Manoah talked with the stranger, the more curious he became about his identity.
"What is your name?" he finally inquired boldly. "We would like to know so that we may rightly honor you when your predictions come true and our son is born."
"By now you should realize that my name should be kept secret," the stranger replied. "Therefore you shouldn't ask about it."
Manoah still didn't understand who the man was, but he did as suggested and placed a dressed young goat on a nearby large flat-topped rock. As he stepped back to pick up some sticks to make a fire, the stranger pointed at the rock. Flames shot up out of it! Then, as Manoah and his wife stared, he stepped onto the rock and miraculously shot upward with the flames and smoke!
Manoah and his wife were so startled at the sight and by the sudden realization that this man was a visitor from God that they fell fearfully on the ground. When finally they looked around, they saw no sign of the stranger (Jdg.13:15-20).
"We must have seen God!" Manoah muttered. "No one can look on God and live! We'll surely be struck dead because of this!"
His wife wasn't so alarmed about the matter. She comforted him by pointing out that if God intended to strike them dead, He wouldn't have accepted their sacrifice and He wouldn't have told them that they would soon have a son (Jdg. 13:21-23).
The couple had not actually seen God the Father. The stranger was God's Messenger, and the being that later became the man Jesus Christ.
Eventually a son was born to Manoah's wife. He was named Samson. He grew up to be an exceptionally strong young man who felt very forcefully that something should be done to free his people from the control and influence of the pagan Philistines.
The Angel of Yahovah arranged the deliverance of Israel from the Philistines by the hand of Samson. We have learned in previous lessons that this Angel is the being that later became the man Jesus Christ. Samson was set aside from birth as being holy to the Lord. This is the predestination of the elect from the foundation of the world.
We will continue with the story of Samson in the paper Samson (No. CB59).