Judges ~ Chapter Eleven
Read: Judges 11:1-40
"Therefore I have not sinned against you,
but you have 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."
The children of Israel were in great distress, and finally sick enough of their sin that they were willing to repent and accept the man of God's choosing to deliver them out of their oppression. The man, whom the Lord raised up as deliverer for Israel, was rejected by his own family because of his illegitimate birth, but was accepted by God and listed among the heroes of the faith: "And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: Who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to fight the armies of the aliens" (Hebrews 11:32-34). The Lord used Jephthah's wilderness years, separated from his family, to train him for his role as deliverer (The wilderness is where the Lord prepares His chosen servants for leadership: consider Moses, David, and the Lord Jesus Christ). Jephthah was a mighty man of valor who made a name for himself fighting off marauders with a band of raiders (Judges 11:3). Though his family wanted nothing to do with him, the elders of Gilead needed him, and called on him to lead them into battle. "Then they said to Jephthah, "Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon" (v. 6). The leaders of Gilead were so desperate to enlist Jephthah's aid in battle, that when he asked to be, not only, their commander in battle, but also, their head after the battle, they willingly agreed to his terms. "So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "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?" (v. 9). Jephthah accepted the post and went directly into negotiations with the people of Ammon, hoping to settle the dispute over the land without the need for warfare. "Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, saying, "What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?" (v. 12). The King of the Ammonites insisted that Israel had taken the land from them unjustly. Jephthah responded to the king's accusation with a history lesson, explaining that God had given the land to Israel - land that had belonged to the Amorites. In addition, Israel had occupied the land for about three hundred years, giving them a legitimate claim to the land that they had simply been recipients of. Jephthah questioned why now, after more than three centuries, were they trying to lay claim to the land. "While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover them with in that time?" (v. 26). Jephthah saw the battle before him as primarily spiritual, so he called out the impotency of the god of Ammon. "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" (v.24). The battle was not between two armies, but between the God of Israel and the false god of Ammon. Unfortunately, the king refused to heed Jephthah's words and war became inevitable. It was a fool's errand because the Ammonites were declaring war on God. "Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah...So Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the LORD delivered them into his hands" (v. 29a). May we lay hold of every spiritual blessing the Lord has given us to possess (v. 24), and go forth into battle courageously, with the knowledge that it is the Lord, the Judge, who will fight for us and bring about justice. "Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Genesis 18:25b).
"For we know Him who said,
"Vengeance is Mine, I will repay," says the LORD.
And again, "The LORD will judge His people."
It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God."
(Hebrews 10:30, 31)
"When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah,
there was his daughter, coming out to meet hm with timbrels and dancing;
and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter.
And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said,
"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."
(Judges 11:34, 35)
The Lord used Jephthah to win an important victory for Israel, but on his way to battle he made a foolish vow to God. "And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, "If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that 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" (v. 31). Once the victory came and Jephthah returned home, it was his daughter, his only child that came out to greet him. Jephthah should have repented of his hasty vow before the Lord, but instead he declared, "For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it" (v. 35b). We do not read in the text that Jephthah actually killed his daughter, but there is evidence to suggest that she may have been devoted to a lifetime of service in the sanctuary, which she willingly submitted to. "So she said to him, "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 on your enemies, the people of Ammon." Then she said to her father, "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" (vv. 36, 37). It would be absurd to think this man of faith made a vow to commit a crime against the Lord and then actually went through with it. But let us instead look at our commitment we made to Christ when we opened our mouth to the Lord and confessed our faith in Him and declared that we are His followers. We have given our word to the LORD, and we cannot go back on it! To do so would be just as absurd as Jephthah's committing a crime against the Lord. We have been bought at the highest price, by the precious blood of Jesus Christ, and declared ourselves to be servants of the living God. We belong to the Lord Jesus Christ now; "For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God" (Colossians 3:3). We opened our mouths in a bold declaration of faith in the gospel and vowed to live at Jesus' side and feast from His table; for He is our life, our very meat and drink (John 6:53-58). We have opened our mouths and declared that we stand on the side of truth and have committed ourselves to the path of holiness. We cannot turn back to a life of sin, though we are tempted at every turn. If we were to depart from the Lord at this point, it would only prove that our profession was false in the first place. How can we even think of deserting the One who delivered us from sin's bondage and lifted us above this filthy world to seat us together in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Ephesians 2:6)? "How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?" (Genesis 39:9b). It is a moral impossibility for those of us who have been drawn by the strong cords of love and have been bound to the horns of the altar by the Lord's great sacrifice, to desire to break from the One our heart loves. Let us declare with Peter, "Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life. Also we have come to believe and know that You are the Christ, the Son of the Living God" (John 6:68, 69). Tragically, the Scriptures speak of the great falling away; the days will come when because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold (Matthew 24:12). Great battles lie before us, therefore, let us put on the full armor and pray for the perseverance of the saints in these last days (Ephesians 6:10-18). As children of God, we have tasted of the heavenly life, we have feasted on divine love, and have now been ruined for the world. Let us not entertain a single thought for the pleasures of the world but fulfill our vow to live entirely for the Lord, for He has become our life and joy. "Praise is awaiting You, O God, in Zion; and to You the vow shall be performed. O You who hear prayer, to You all flesh will come" (Psalm 65:1, 2).
"Walk prudently when you go to the house of God;
and draw near to hear rather than to give the sacrifice of fools,
for they do not know that they do evil.
Do not be rash with your mouth,
and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.
For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore let your words be few.
When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it;
for He has no pleasure in fools.
Pay what you have vowed - better not to vow than to vow and not pay."
(Ecclesiastes 5:1-2, 4-5)