Sunday, February 10, 2013

A Life Planned with Purpose

A Life Planned with Purpose

Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the Lord, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.”–Judges 11:27

Jephthah is an interesting character.  He was the son of Gilead, one of the twelve sons of Israel. But he was also the son of a prostitute.  Yet even in his name we see that his life was not accidental, but had purpose from the beginning.  Jephthah means “God opens the womb”, and as every child born is born from life given by God, not their parents, Jephthah had purpose in God’s plan.
Yet his brothers, the legitimate sons of Gilead by his wife, didn’t care for Jephthah.  They ran him out of town, telling him in Judges 11:2 “You shall have no inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” Imagine the pain of being told by your own family, when you have no one closer but your own mother, to leave town!  So Jephthah did leave, and made Tob his home.  There he befriended a group described as “worthless men”, who were social rejects as well, and they “went out raiding”.  They became protective forces for settlements that found themselves needing an army to fight their enemies. 

As Tob was only fifteen miles east of Gilead, Jephthah’s reputation as a warrior made its way back to Gilead.  When the people of Ammon came against Israel to take back the land God had given them, the elders of Gilead went to Jephthah begging him to return and become their leader.  That’s right! After running him out of town, now they want him back to not only live with them, but be their leader and fight for them. Can you see the restoring hand of God at work?
Jephthah was as surprised by their request as anyone! In Judges 11:7 he says to the elders, “Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” The elders said “That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” So Jephthah said to them in Judges 11:9, “If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the Lord delivers them to me, shall I be your head?” Note that he still considered Gilead his “home”, and no doubt yearned to go back to the place where he had been raised.  To seal the contract with Jephthah, the elders of Gilead made a vow him and God that they would make him their leader if he fought and won against the Ammonites.

But Jephthah wasn’t the average warrior because we’re told that the Spirit of God was with him.  His first response to the people of Ammon was not to arm himself and go to battle, but to try diplomacy.  He first sent messengers to the King of Ammon explaining to him their plight coming out of Egypt, and how they did not steal the land of Moab, but fought those that oppressed them and through the victory God gave, won the land.  His intent was to explain to the King that the land that they lived in was theirs, fair and square, and had been for over 300 years.  Jephthah reasons with the idolatrous King in Judges 11:24 Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the Lord our God takes possession of before us, we will possess. Jephthah basically said, you serve your god and take the rewards he gives you, and we’ll serve our God and take the rewards He gives us. 
He goes on in verse 27 to tell the King, “Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the Lord, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.” With that statement, Jephthah turned his battle over to God.  “May the Lord, the Judge, render judgment this day” was saying God will give victory to the one who is right.  It was a statement of faith in God, and faith in his position in this battle.  But the King of Ammon wouldn’t listen to Jephthah’s diplomatic reasoning, and decided to fight. 

Then Jephthah’s faith seems to crack.  He made a vow to God that if God would allow him to win the battle for his people, that when he returned “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” 
Making a vow to God in a time of trouble shows a heart that doubts God.  Had Jephthah had full faith that God would deliver him, the vow would have been unnecessary.  Be careful what you promise God when you feel desperate to get His attention.  Rest assured that God’s children always have their Father’s attention.

God gave Jephthah victory over Ammon, and when he returned, the first to come out the doors of his house was his only child, his daughter.  She was dancing and singing and happy to see her father return from war.  Then Jephthah’s vow became bitter to his heart as he said to her “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it.”
His daughter then answers “My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon. Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.” So Jephthah sent his daughter away for two months, and at the end of the two months, she returned to him.  Then, in Judges 11:39 we read that “he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.”

To truly understand this passage, you have to know the character of Jephthah.  He was raised to know the laws and commandments of God, and murder was sin against God.  Nor did the people of Israel didn’t have a custom of sacrificing their children to God, and Jephthah would not have done that to try to please God because of his vow.  It would have been contrary to what he knew God would want him to do.  But the people of Israel did dedicate their children to service to God, as shown by Hannah’s dedication of Samuel when she vowed him to God in return for him opening her womb.  Jephthah dedicated his daughter to God.  She didn’t give up her life, but she gave up her future for child bearing and marriage.  When she went away for two months it was to mourn her virginity, not to mourn for her life.  The ending of verse 39 telling us that “she knew no man” would have been useless information if he had killed his daughter.  But instead, it speaks to how the vow of giving her to God was fulfilled. 
Having no family of his own after being rejected by his father’s household, Jephthah’s only chance of having a family of his own was in the hope of children his daughter would bear.  His vow to God meant that he gave up his lineage.  His family name would die with his daughter. 

When we understand Jephthah’s sacrifice, we better understand the man he was.  He would not break a promise to God, showing that his allegiance to God was unshakeable.  And though his faith wavered, he is still named among those that overcame by faith in Hebrews 11.  He is listed with great names like Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel, and the prophets in Hebrews 11:32. 
Jephthah’s life may have started out looking like a life of failure.  Being born to a prostitute, he did not have the favor of man.  Growing up he probably felt the shame and guilt of what he could not control, his own conception.  His own family had rejected him.  Being asked to leave and never come back, he must have longed for someone to love him.  Someone did.  Jephthah’s life shows that God did love him.  His loyal to God showed that he loved God in return.  With His favor, you have all that you need to find success.  “God opens the womb” and He does so with a good life planned.  What we do with that life is up to us, but each life is precious to God, and planned with purpose. 

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