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Sermon: The Faith of Jephthah - Hebrews 11:32-34, Judges 10-12

Our text this morning is found in Hebrews 11:32-34, “And what more shall I say? For time will fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets- who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight.”.

Today we are going to consider Jephthah. His story is found in Judges 10:1-12:7.

  • Judges 10 never mentions Jephthah but it shows how Israel sinned against God, God judgment, and then their repentance.

  • In Judges 11 we are introduced to Jephthah who delivers his people from the Ammonites.

  • Judges 12 records the jealousy of Ephraim against Jephthah and his success (Ephraim did this to Gideon as well in Judges 8:1-3).

In Judges 10:1-5 there are three men mentioned by name:Abimelech, Tola, and Jair. Let me ask you a question, “Do you know very much about these men?and Would these menprovide any help as we try to understand our text today?” I think that it will be helpful to consider them briefly.

Abimelech was one of the sons of Gideon (Judges 6-8). Abimelech’s story is found in Judges 9 it begins with Abimelech leaving his father’s home after Gideon dies and he goes to his mothers home in Shechem. When he arrives he says to the people, “Which is better for you, that all seventy of the sons of Jerubbaal rule over you, or that one rule over you? Remember also that I am your bone and your flesh.” (9:2)

Abimelech easily persuades the people to support him in his ambition to be king. We read in Judges 9:3-5, “He is our brother. And they gave him seventy pieces of silver out of the house of Baal-berith with which Abimelech hired worthless and reckless fellows, who followed him. And he went to his father’s house at Ophrah and killed his brothers the sons of Jerubbaal, seventy men, on one stone. But Jotham the youngest son of Jerubbaal was left, for he hid himself.

Afterwards Jotham standson Mount Gerizim and cries out against Abimelech and everyone who had a part in this sinful act (7-20). In Judges 9:18 Jotham reminds them that Abimelech was the son of Gideon’s female slave and not the son of one of his ‘many wives’. This was also mentioned previously inJudges 8:30-31, “Now Gideon had seventy sons, his own offspring, for he had many wives. And his concubine who was in Shechem also bore him a son, and he called his name Abimelch.

Let me give you six observations about Abimelech that will parallel the story of Jephthah.

  1. Abimelech, like Jephthah was different than most of his brothers. Abimelech’s mother was a concubine and not one of the wives of Gideon. Jephthah was the son of a prostitute (11:1).

  2. Abimelech, like Jephthah, was a man who was surrounded by ‘worthless’ men (9:4, 11:3). Abimelech hired the worthless men for 70 pieces of silverand they helped him do this evil deed. In contrast to this, the wicked men around Jephthah seemed to be drawn to him because of his leadership abilities.

  3. Abimelech tried to become king and to receive an inheritance that was not his. Jephthah was denied an inheritance that was rightfully his by his brothers (11:2).

  4. We would have to assume that Ambimelech was not accepted by his brothers; Jephthah, however, was cast out by his brothers and probably never accepted by them (11:2-3). Abimelech betrayed his family; Jephthah was betrayed by his.

  5. God will judge Abimelech for the evil that he had done when he dies in battle at the hands of a woman. Jephthah, however, was blessed and given victory in battle.

  6. Abimelech and those around him were ‘faithless’ (9:16,19,20). Jephthah, however, is commended for his faith and used by God.

*{Abimelech is an example of a man who was faithless. Jephthah, in contrast, despite his flaws is commended for his faith}

In Judges 10 we are also introduced to Tola and Jair. These men are often referred to as ‘minor judges’ because we know so little about them.For 45 years these two menplayed a key role inhelping Israel live faithfulto the LORD. For 45 years Israel did not forsake the LORD and they experienced a time of blessing and God’s favor.

After Tola and Jair died, however, Israel squandered this inheritance by becoming more sinful and idolatrous than ever before. Notice whatJudges 10:6says, “The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the LORD and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the god’s of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the LORD and did not serve him.

At this timeIsrael worshiped the Baal’s, the Ashtaroth’s, Amram, Camosh, Molek, Dagon. Because of this totally forsook God. It is bad enough that someone walks away from the LORD. It is even worse when someone walks away from God andturns to other false gods. It is still worse when this is done andGod is forgotten altogether. That is what happens with Israel.

Because of Israel’s idolatry God gave theminto the hands of the Philistines and the Ammonites. Their enemies afflicted, crushed and oppressed them (7-8). It took 18 years for them to cry out to God!

They say to the LORD, “We have sinned against you, because we have forsaken our God and have served the Baal’s” (10:10). This sounds like repentance but the LORD is not pleased with it. The people of Israel were worshiping 7 different god’s but they only repented of one. They admitted that they had forsaken God but they had not forsaken all of these false god’s.

Therefore God says to them, “Did I not save you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites, from the Philistines? The Sidonians also, and the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, and you cried out to me, and I saved you out of their hand. Yet you have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore, I will save you no more. Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” (10-14)

The people are worshiping seven false god’s so God reminds them that He has saved them from seven different nations. How could they forsake Him for these false god’s?

Similarly, God has saved believers from indwelling sin, from the sin of the world, and from the devil; therefore, how can we serve these things any longer? (Romans 7:4-6) God is the Savior of all men and He alone can save us from our sin, our idolatry, and any bondage (John 14:6).

{Application: Israel forsook the LORD and they had forgotten the LORD and all of His benefits (Psalm 103:2). Many had never been told, or they had forgotten, that the LORD had done these things. Therefore, the LORD is giving His people an accurate history of Israel’s deliverance. Similarly, it is a privilege to celebrate communion this morning as we remember Christ and what He has done for us (Luke 22:18-20). It is easy for us to forget God’s blessings but communion helps us remember.}

After the LORD says this the people humbled themselves and truly repented. We read in Judges 10:15-16, “And the people 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 became impatient over the misery of Israel.” This time Israel confessed their sins, chastened their hearts, called out for help, and they cleansed their hearts and their land of these idols.

{Observation:True faith will not give up when God initially says no. (Mark 7:24-29).}

Judges 10 ends with the Ammonites being called to war against Gilead. Havingrepented Israel now gathers together in faith to fight them and they believe that God will help them. They ask each other, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” (10:17-18)

{Reminder:We have seen previously that our first response should not be to find a leader, but to look to God first as Israel has done here. Only God can raise up the right leader who can deliver.}

This is when God begins to raise up Jephthah. The first thing that we discover about Jephthah is that he is a mighty warrior and he is the son of a prostitute. Judges 11:1 says, “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute”.

We are told that Jephthah was a mighty warrior and I take this to mean that he, unlike Gideon, had a natural disposition towards being brave, courageous and fearless. There were moments in his life when he displayed great valor, fearlessness, and nerve. He showed a backbone when other men ran.

For example, when the Ephraimites threaten and insult Jephthah in Judges 12he does not back down from them. No, he faces them head on. Yet, despite this natural ability the LORD had to enable Jephthah to fulfill his calling. We see this in Judges 11:29which says, “Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah…”.

{Application: Our strengths are insufficient to fulfill our call without His help. We must walk by faith and receive grace(2 Thessalonians 1:11, Ephesians 1:19-20, 3:20). We may have a natural strengthsand talentsbut we may be confident that we are weak in many other areas.}

When the people of Gilead needed a military leader they looked for someone but there was nonefound among the people. When leadership was needed no onevolunteered to lead them into battle. Jephthah would be a good leader buthis brothers had run him out of town. Judges 11:2 tells us that Jephthah’s brothers said, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.

It is surprising that a mighty warrior like Jephthah would have fled from his brothers.In Judges 11:7 Jephthah reminds his brothers that they hated him and that they had driven him away. Perhaps Jephthah had no choice but to run away on that day; however, there is something more to be seen in this story.

Some men, like Abimelech, look for fights. Men like this will live by the sword and they die by the sword. Men like Jephthah, however, will wield the sword carefully, thoughtfully and prudently. We see this when he tries to reason and negotiate with the Ammonites (11:12-28).It is only after this happens that he goes to war with them (29-33). He also desired to defuse the situation in Judges 12:1-7with Ephraim but they were not willing to walk away. They said to Jephthah, “You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.” (4) After this Jephthah soundly defeated them.

Observation: In these ways, Jephthah reflects his faith and responds with the same character that God has with us. Isaiah says, “Come now, and let us reason together, saith the Lord: though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow; though they be red like crimson, they shall be as wool. If ye be willing and obedient, ye shall eat the good of the land: But if ye refuse and rebel, ye shall be devoured with the sword: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it.” (Isaiah 1:18-20)

When Jephthah tries to reason with the Ammonites he reveals that he has a good knowledge of what the LORD has done for Israel (15-27). Perhaps Jephthah was reminded of these things, or learned of these things for the first time, when God confronted His people about their sin in Judges 10:11-14. This was when the LORD remindedHis people of how He had saved them from their enemies: Egyptians, Amorites, Ammonites, Philistines, Sidonians, Amalekites, the Maonites. (11)

We also see in these verses that Jephthah was a man of faith. For example,

  • 11:21 Jephthah confesses that it was the LORD, the God of Israel, who defeated Sihon

  • 11:23 Jephthah confesses that it was the LORD, the God of Israel, who defeated the Amorites

  • 11:24 Jephthah says that their god Chemosh must give them a place to live as the LORD their God had dispossed all the peoples before Israel.

  • 11:27 Jephthah confesses that he has not sinned against them, but they are doing wrong.

  • 11:27 Jephthah confesses that the LORD, the Judge, will decide this dispute by giving Israel a victory.

For eighteen years Israel had served these foreign god’s and forsook the LORD, but now Jephthah is speaking with great faith, clarity and boldness about the LORD. He is not intimidated, scared, doubtful and pessimistic about the outcome of this battle because the LORD is the Judge and King in Israel.

And yet, this story reminds us that Jephthah’s faith is not perfected and matured. Even though the Spirit of the LORD has come upon him to fight this battle (29) he makes a foolish vow that never had to be made.

Why did Jephthah do this? Because for eighteen years the LORD had been forsaken and His ways forgotten in Israel. In this moment Jephthah thought he would hedge his bet for a victory with this vow. Jephthah says, “If you will give the Ammorites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammorites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” (11:30)

God gave His people the victory but not because of this vow. After the victory Jephthah returns home and his only child, his daughter, comes running out to greet him dancing with tambourines (11:34). In that moment, Jephthah tore his clothes and says, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” (35) Jephthah’s conscience is alarmed but he does not know that there is another way to deal with this.

When his daughter hears what her father had vowed she submitted to it (36) because she did not know that there was a better way to deal with this. Therefore, she went away for two months and mourned with her companions and then returned and her father did to her what he had vowed (37-39). From that time on the daughters of Israel would remember this each year by lamenting for her for four days (39-40). Again, their consciences were troubled but they did not know there was an option.

If Jephthah knew the Bible well he would have been cautious about making this vow. Deuteronomy 23:22-23, “If you refrain from a vow, you will not be guilty of sin. You shall be careful to do what has passed your lips, for you have voluntarily vowed to the LORD your God what you have vowed with your mouth.” (Proverbs 20:25)

Yet, because God knows our sinfulness and our forgetfulness so He says in Leviticus 5:4-6, “...or if anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the Lord as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering. And the priest shall make atonement for him for his sin.” If only Jephthah would have known about Leviticus 27:1-8 where God tells Moses how a person can pay off the vow without sinning against God or another person.

Some will say that this vow did not lead to his daughters death. They say that the translation of some of these words can also mean that she was dedicated to the LORD from that day on. It seems to me that this view would deny the great grief of her father, his daughter and the people experienced.

Faithful men and women sin; sometimes they sin terribly. When a generation of people forsake the LORD and His Word future generations are not taught important things. In the future, even after they repent it will take time to rebuild the ruins and recover what has been lost. There has not been time to do this in Jephthah’s case.

I wonder if after all of this was done if Jephthah ever read Leviticus 5 or Leviticus 27? What grief! What pain! What suffering would come upon his soul! If Jephthah ever did come to see these things he would also need to understand that the grace and mercy of God could forgive even sins such as these. We come to celebrate communion to remember the sacrifice that makes this mercy and grace possible.

Great sins are often committed because of our ignorance of the truth of Scripture (1 Timothy 1:13) Yet, if we will repent and believe the good news we can be forgiven because God offered the one and only sacrifice that can remove sin, all sins, every sin that can be committed against God and His Word.

In Judges 10 the people of Israel only confessed one sin and God was not pleased. God desires for us to confess all of our sins because His mercy and grace is sufficient.

Not only can we receive mercy and grace for our many sins, but we can also receive mercy and grace for the forgiveness of our most shameful sins.

  • Jephthah sacrificed his daughter and he could be forgiven.

  • A woman can be forgiven for an abortion.

  • A person can be forgiven of killing somone while intoxicated.

  • A person can be forgiven for stealing from someone.

  • A person can be forgiven for abandoning a spouse and children.

  • A person can be forgiven for years of willful ignorance of God’s Word.

  • A person can be forgiven for marital unfaithfulness.

  • A person can be forgiven of spiritual adultery.

All of this is because of the sacrifice of Christ which has reconciled us to God and brought us peace.


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