Judges 11:1-29: Jephthah, A Mighty General Called To Lead God’s People. 12-20-19

Jephthah, A Mighty General Called To Lead God’s People

Judges 11:1-29                                                                                                                Lesson 13

Key Verse: 11:24                                                                                  Kevin E. Jesmer 12-20-19

 Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess.” (NIV)

Jephthah was the illegitimate son of Gilead. He was driven out by his brothers. But God had established him as a mighty warrior. When the Ammonite threat arose, the elders of Gilead invited him to return to lead them in battle. They desperately needed him to lead their country in their national crisis. God had made Jephthah into a very bold leader. He had some knowledge of God’s history. When the Ammonite king claimed the land of Gilead east of the Jordan, Jephthah stood up to him and gave him a lesson from history. He then led the armies of God’s people into battle. Through a study of this passage, may God raise up people who fear God, spiritual leaders with a sense of history and with faith and courage to stand up for the Lord.

Part l: The Rejected One Is God’s Chosen (1-3)

And so, we begin our search to see how God worked through one man to deliver his people from their enemies. First, we need to discover who was this man, Jephthah? He was many things, but one thing is he is one of the rejected ones. Look at verses 1-2, “Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” We learn from this passage that Jephthah the was a mighty warrior, a great man who was strong and courageous and fought for his people. He was a natural leader. But he came from a less than favorable background. Though he had many great qualities, he was judged by his siblings because of his mother, who was a prostitute. His mom could have been a shrine prostitute or a woman of the evening. Jephthah’s half siblings could not look past his heritage. They drove him away from the family, the only family Jephthah had ever known. And, we may also add, his father Gilead had his moments of unfaithfulness, sleeping with a prostitute.

The Israelites were always on the verge of war with the Canaanites. It did not make sense to drive out their brother who possessed so many great qualities. Why drive away a mighty warrior? They were making a big mistake, because later on, we will discover that Jephthah was actually God’s choice for them to bring them victory.

How often do we drive people away, whom God has brought into our lives, simply because we don’t like them? We need to get over our own petty prejudices and differences and love our neighbors as ourselves. Our obvious neighbors are members of our own family (even if they have some “questionable” backgrounds.)

It is interesting to note why they drove him away. It was not just about his birth, but also about their own wealth. Look at verse 2b, “…’You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,’ they said, ‘because you are the son of another woman.’”  They drove him away because they were worried about their inheritance. It is sad. They were putting money ahead of relationships. Things have not changed much over the last 3 ½ millennia. You still hear stories of family members fighting each other over money. A Christian must be different. A Christian may have to even give up their share of an inheritance so as to not burn bridges with those whom they are called to minister to. Why not be cheated if it means the advancement of the Gospel? (1 Cor 6:7) After all we need to trust God with our financial future as we live to build up relationships for the glory of God.

This reminds me of Jesus’ situation in a way. Jesus came to his own but his own did not receive him. His hometown people looked at his family background. They saw him only as the son of a poor carpenter, as the son of Mary and Joseph, one of their own village. But that was not Jesus’ true identity. Jesus was sent by our Heavenly Father. He came as our Savior sent to set his townsfolk free from the power of sin and death. But the people of his hometown rejected him. (Matthew 13:53-58) At one point they were even going to throw him off a cliff. (Lk 4:29) The religious leaders severely rejected Jesus, causing him to be crucified on a cruel Roman cross. How often we reject the ones who were sent by God to be a blessing to us?

Jephthah was despised, hated and rejected. Yet in spite of his brothers’ rejection, God used him. If a person’s heart tender towards God, irrespective of their past, God can use such a person. If you are suffering from rejection, don’t become discouraged, Remember how God used Jephthah, and especially how the Father worked through Jesus, despite unjust circumstances and realize that God is able to use you and work through your rejection right now!

It was impossible for Jephthah to remain in the land of his family. Look at verse 3, So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.” He set out into exile. He was a natural leader. He inspired people. Some adventurers gathered around him. “Adventurers” was a good name for them. They were not explorers or mountaineers. No. The ESV version states that they were “worthless fellows.” They were broken and bankrupt men, possibly robbers, criminals escaping from the law etc. But despite of who they were, Jephthah was very influential and he became their leader. Maybe we can learn something from him concerning raising disciples.

Jesus gathered “rejected ones” around him. Jesus was known as a friend of “sinners”, of tax collectors and prostitutes. Tax collectors were worthless fellows. They probably had the legs broken of those whom couldn’t pay…like mafia. They probably foreclosed on the homes of those with no money. But Jesus was their friend. He led them to salvation and the Kingdom of God. And they were changed. Levi became Saint Matthew. Mary Magdalene, a former prostitute, became a holy woman of prayer. As spiritual leaders we must be the friends of sinners, of “adventurers”, of those whom the world sees as “worthless fellows.”

Sometimes Christians drive people way who do not fit our human expectations. When seeking disciples, we are only seeking people with potential. Often, God’s chosen ones are cast out because of our prejudices and our inability to look beyond our stereotypes. Are there any “Jephthahs” being driven out and kept out of fellowship with us? Are there any “worthless fellows” whom we aren’t even giving a chance? God may be wanting to work through them, to be his disciples and to bring glory to his name. And so, let’s reassess our whole attitude towards those around us.

Part ll: The Calling Of Jephthah And The Humbling Of The Elders (4-11)

God was calling Jephthah into his service through the unfolding of a national crisis. Look at verses 4-5, “Some time later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob.” God is the Sovereign Lord of history. He controls human history and nations. God was about to move his mighty arm when war came to the land. He was going to call Jephthah into his service. God can use any situation to draw his people to himself.

God sent the elders of Gilead to talk to Jephthah. Obviously, Jephthah had made a name for himself, “militarily” for they knew of his abilities. They actually humbled themselves to ask for his help. Look at verse 6, “‘Come,’ they said, ‘be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.’” It was hard to go back to Jephthah to ask his help. And not only his help, but to be their commander. They were convicted of their sin. They knew that they had disrespected him greatly. God had humbled them and they were determined to call him home to assist in the war effort. I am not sure if they were not fully aware of God’s leading and that God had been raising up Jephthah for a time such as this. One thing is for certain, there are times when we must swallow our pride and simply ask for help, even from one that we have rejected in the past.

God was further humbling the elders. Before he would submit to their request, Jephthah reminded them of their unjust treatment. Look at verse 7, “Jephthah said to them, ‘Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?’” Jephthah was right. He had every right to hesitate rejecting their request. Maybe God was speaking through him to convict them of their sin. There are times when God brings people into our lives to convict us of our sins. When this happens, we should listen and respond with humility and repentance.

The elders of Gilead responded well. Look at verse 8. “The elders of Gilead said to him, ‘Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.’” The elders did not argue. They did not try to justify themselves. They came humbly. In a sense they were saying, “Yes, it is true. We agree and we are sorry. But still come and lead us. We need your help.” This reminds me of verse one in the hymn, “Just As I Am.” It says, “Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me and that though bidst me come to Thee. O Lamb of God, I come…I come.” May God grant us humble hearts.

Jephthah concedes to their requests, but under certain conditions. Verse 9 reads, “Jephthah answered, ‘Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me—will I really be your head?’” His words reveal that he is a man of faith. He trusts that the Lord will defeat their enemy through him. But he also presses them to make him the head of their tribe. I am not sure of his motives. Did he really want to be a shepherd for his people? But one thing is clear…Jephthah was willing to serve as military commander and risk his life in battle to help set his people free.

The elders accepted things on Jephthah’s terms. Look at verse 10, “The elders of Gilead replied, ‘The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.’” They were helpless. They were desperate. They had been made humble by God and now God was about to make a move.

Jephthah responded to their sincerity in verse 11. “So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.” He committed himself to defending God’s people, making a vow before God. Those making covenants in ancient times often made them in shrines so they would be witnessed by their different deities. Often a written copy of the vow was deposited in a shrine. (Life Application Bible). Jephthah was doing this before the Lord at Mizpah for the place where the Tabernacle was near the high places of other shrines. Whatever the case, Jephthah was as sincere as he could be at the time.

Part lll: Jephthah Confronts The Ammonite King (12-29)

Jephthah accept the call of God to lead the armies of Israelites. He was inspired and empowered by the Spirit of God to initiate contact with the Ammonite king. Look at verse 12, “Then Jephthah sent messengers to the Ammonite king with the question: ‘What do you have against us that you have attacked our country?’” He was made brave and bold by God. He did not hesitate. He tackled the problem head on. He could lead powerfully by the grace of God.

The Ammonite king answered him by claiming the land was unjustly taken away from his people some three hundred years previous. He seemed to have a just cause for trying to get his land back for his people. But Jephthah set him straight. On receiving this correspondence, Jephthah fired back with a detailed exposition of the history of God. Look at verses 14-27,

“Jephthah sent back messengers to the Ammonite king, 15 saying: ‘This is what Jephthah says: Israel did not take the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites. 16 But when they came up out of Egypt, Israel went through the desert to the Red Sea and on to Kadesh. 17 Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Give us permission to go through your country,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. They sent also to the king of Moab, and he refused. So Israel stayed at Kadesh. 18 “Next they traveled through the desert, skirted the lands of Edom and Moab, passed along the eastern side of the country of Moab, and camped on the other side of the Arnon. They did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was its border. 19 “Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, who ruled in Heshbon, and said to him, ‘Let us pass through your country to our own place.’ 20 Sihon, however, did not trust Israe] to pass through his territory. He mustered all his men and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel. 21 “Then the Lord, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his men into Israel’s hands, and they defeated them. Israel took over all the land of the Amorites who lived in that country, 22 capturing all of it from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the desert to the Jordan. 23 “Now since the Lord, the God of Israel, has driven the Amorites out before his people Israel, what right have you to take it over? 24 Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess. 25 Are you better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever quarrel with Israel or fight with them? 26 For three hundred years Israel occupied Heshbon, Aroer, the surrounding settlements and all the towns along the Arnon. Why didn’t you retake them during that time? 27 I have not wronged you, but you are doing me wrong by waging war against me. Let the Lord, the Judge, decide the dispute this day between the Israelites and the Ammonites.”

     In essence Jephthah was saying that the ancient Israelites were more than gracious with the former inhabitants of the land, the Amorites. It was the former inhabitants that were unreasonable in not allowing the wandering Israelites to pass through. They even raised up arms. What they received was justified.

And also, the land was formerly occupied by the Amorites and not the Ammonites. It was the Ammonites who were now making a claim to the land. Jephthah even asked them why they were bringing up the issue some three hundred years later. From God’s point of view, they had no right to the land at all. (please don’t apply this principle with the Palestinian land issue today. This was in the time of Judges. And also refer to Deuteronomy 2:24-37, to read about the defeat of Sihon King of Heshbon.

Jephthah also challenged their worship of their false god, Chemosh. In his discourse, he was pitting the Lord God of the Bible against their false god. He was speaking to them in terms they would understand, (for they were a power-based culture). His reasoning went something like this, if Chemosh has not given them the land through military victory then it is not the will of Chemosh. Or maybe Chemosh was too weak to take the land back. He also told them that his people will rightfully retain the land that God, Jehovah, the God of the Bible, had given them. Jephthah was also inviting them to call on the name of Chemosh as they fought and the Gileadites will fight in the name of Jehovah. That is why he says in verse 24, “Will you not take what your god Chemosh gives you? Likewise, whatever the Lord our God has given us, we will possess.Jephthah tried very hard to solve the problem without blood shed. He was just and merciful. This is a reflection of the heart of God.

After a dialogue, the time had come to take action. The Ammonites refused to back down. God had given them a chance through the words of Jephthah. Now it was time to act. Filled with the Spirit of God, Jephthah mustered his troops to begin the assault on the Ammonites. Let’s read verse 29, “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.” He was decisive. He was courageous. He was ready to fight for the glory of God. It was all because of God’ empowerment. Let us pray for the Spirit of God to empower us to do his will here and now.

We are not going to get into the battle itself in this message. We will learn that Jephthah was not perfect, yet was called by God to serve God’s purpose at that time. He was brave and courageous and full of faith. God chose to honor Jephthah. He honored his faith. Jephthah was mentioned in the Hebrews 11:32-34 as one of the great giants of faith. Look at these verses in the Bible’s Hall of Faith. “32 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets, 33 who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, 34 quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.” God is not looking for well trained and disciplined people, who think that they can achieve anything through their human will power. No, God is seeking those with faith, who depend on him and answer his call to stand up and bring glory to his name, by faith. May God establish many Jephthah’s across our land.

Part l: The Rejected One Is God’s Chosen (1-3)

  1. Who was Jephthah? What was his relationship with his siblings? (1-2) Why did they drive him away? (2b)
  2. How do you think Jephthah felt? Who else in the Bible was driven off by those close to them? (Matthew 13:53-58; Lk 4:29)
  3. What did Jephthah do in the land of his exile? (3) What does this tell us about him? What kind of people is God able to work through? Does this challenge our own concept of discipleship

Part ll: The Calling Of Jephthah And The Humbling Of The Elders (4-11)

  1. What was the national situation when God called Jephthah? How did God work in the hearts of the elders? What does this show us about the power of God to bring about his will despite of any situation?
  2. What conditions did Jephthah demand for his return? (9) What revealed Jephthah’s commitment to his call? (11)

Part lll: Jephthah Confronts The Ammonite King (12-29)

  1. Examine the history of the Israelite possession of the land. (14-27). How did they acquire it? How was it justified? Why did God give them the land? What can be said about Jephthah’s knowledge of God’s history?
  2. Think about Jephthah’s theological discussion, comparing chemosh and Jehovah. Can you paraphrase what he is trying to say?
  3. Was the dialogue effective? What did Jephthah do? (29) Where did he get his decisive courage from?
  4. How can we be certain that God honored Jephthah’s faith? (Heb 11:32-34). What kind of person does God choose to work through?


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