Jephthah is our next hero. We’ve been looking at some of the heroes of the book of Judges, and in an hour in our nation where the world is seeing ordinary people as heroes, I think there are lessons we can learn to help us become heroes in our generation too.
So today I want to look at a social reject who became a hero… JEPHTHAH. And after the latest cycle of sin oppression and repentance in Israel, they needed a hero.
His is a classic story of someone who goes from hero to zero, from rags to riches.
Oprah Winfrey, Mark Wahlberg, Leonardo Di Capri born in tough gang neighbourhoods, Haley Berry lived in a shelter, Ed Sherwin slept on a friend’s couch.
It has long been a habit of people trying to insult each other to infer infidelity in the others mother. Well, in Jephthah’s case it was true. His birth was the result of an illegal liaison between his reputable father and a disreputable prostitute. Poor JEPHTHAH, he couldn’t choose his mother, or his family, but he suffered for it.
Some of you listening to this feel that way. Maybe you were born to a single mum, or had dad walk out on you. Perhaps your family is blended family and you’re the black sheep or the reject. Maybe yours was the poor family and others rejected you for that.
For JEPHTHAH his half brothers, the ones born legitimately, hated him…
Judges 11:2-3 (ESV Strong’s)
And Gilead’s wife also bore him sons. And when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him.
JEPHTHAH was a reject.
Kids can be cruel (Is they your real face, or did your neck just throw up). But adults can be even crueler when money and inheritance is involved. This kid was a public disgrace, to the family and the entire town, so they drove him out of town, and he found a home among a bunch of other misfits, because bird of a feather flock together.
And somehow in all that JEPHTHAH managed to mould the rejects into a formidable fighting force.
Most kids who run away from home congregate with other rejects. They may be worthless fellows, but at least I’m part of a motley crew that loves me for who I am! Brothers and sister, the church should be such a motley crew, loving the rejects and misfits and giving them a family. If you have felt rejected elsewhere, you can find a home here at Ignite.
Listen, if you have faced rejection in your life, God knows how you feel. In fact, Jesus faced His own Father turning away from Him as He bore our sins on the cross. If you’ve been rejected by people who should have loved and accepted you,
Hebrews 13:5-6 (ESV Strong’s)
Jesus has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you.” So we can confidently say,
“The Lord is my helper; I will not fear; what can man do to me?”
If you’ve felt the rejection of men’s tongues, then JEPHTHAH has a lesson for you.
THE TABLES TURNED FOR JEPHTHAH
Judges 11:5-6 (ESV Strong’s)
And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.”
When faced with a national crisis, the city panicked and they turned to the best fighters around, who sadly for them were led by none other than the harlot’s son.
Time for a healthy slice of humble pie. And JEPHTHAH was not about to let them forget it….
Judges 11:7-9 (ESV Strong’s)
But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.”
If he can rescue the people, then he will become their judge. It’s a zero to hero story, rags to riches, rejection to election. So the only problem now is winning the fight!
JEPHTHAH WAS FIGHTING SMART
There’s fighting, and there’s fighting smart. I remember watching Mohamed Ali fighting. In 1974, his famous “Rumble in the Jungle” fight with George Foreman, he introduced a tactic of wearing the opposition out by having them throw ineffective punch after punch, before turning and finishing them off. It was called “Rope a dope,” and Ali won using this tactic.
JEPHTHAH tactic was to negotiate, not just charge into action. He would talk, negotiate, reason, and when all else failed, strike and strike hard.
Judges 11:12 (ESV Strong’s)
Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, “What do you have against me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?”
The opposition said the Israelites had stolen their land, and JEPHTHAH countered with a history lesson debunking what was a commonly held misbelief in Ammon.
We face the same today. People don’t check facts, they just argue on Facebook and attack those who disagree. They throw their brains away, saying my mind is made up, don’t confuse me with facts, and they follow the crowd, blindly but faithfully.
John 8:32 (ESV Strong’s)
and you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.”
So JEPHTHAH tried negotiation, explaining truths and discussing claims, but to no avail, so he led his troops to war!
Judges 11:27-28 (ESV Strong’s)
I therefore have not sinned against you, and you do me wrong by making war on me. The LORD, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.” But the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he sent to him.
CAREFUL WHAT YOU VOW
JEPHTHAH, desperate for victory, made a foolish vow.
In JEPHTHAH day, a vow to God was considered a very serious thing, and not to be broken. Today vows, even to God Himself, seem to be throw away. People make wedding vows, then break up if it happens to suit them, or if they change their mind or fall out of love or find someone better.
When I promised God I would love, honour and cherish Fiona as my wife, I considered that a promise to God, not to be broken. And in any difficulty we have had in marriage, divorce was never on the table.
Someone asked Fiona if she’d ever thought of divorce, and I was so happy she replied, “Divorce… No, I’ve never thought of it… I’ve thought or murder plenty of times!”
So JEPHTHAH makes a rash and foolish vow…
Judges 11:31 (ESV Strong’s)
then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”
But, if you know the story, you will know the tragedy he brought on himself after he won victory…
Judges 11:34 (ESV Strong’s)
Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter.
God had empowered JEPHTHAH by His Spirit, and destined him to victory. There was no need of such a rash vow. It was stupid and impulsive, but
Judges 11:35 (ESV Strong’s)
And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “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.”
Human sacrifice was forbidden under Jewish law, and God would never have granted victory based on such wickedness.
Most commentators believe he didn’t murder his beloved daughter, but she became dedicated to the temple, and would therefore never marry or bear children… His genealogy finished with her.
It was a sad and unnecessary end to this rags to riches story.
JEPHTHAH… FROM ZERO TO HERO
The main lesson I want to draw from this story is this – We may come from very difficult and painful circumstances…. circumstances that no one should have to go through it seems. We might be rejected by our families or others about us. We may be told, whether in words and/or actions, that we are worthless rejects.
But, God has a way of taking those whom people reject and making something of them.
Something beautiful, something good, all my confusion He understood. All I had to offer Him was brokenness and strife, but He made something beautiful of my life!
When others do not love and accept us, God loves us and accepts us as His own. In God’s eyes, everyone has worth… Every life matters! We may feel like outcasts, but we can be assured that God loves us. Thousands are protesting that black lives matter, but in God all lives matter!
Jephthah’s life teaches us that we can rise above our circumstances.
When we feel shattered, forsaken and lacking, we learn that the approval of others isn’t what keeps us going—we need first and foremost God’s approval to achieve true success in life. Jephthah finally gained the respect of his family…but first, he had to believe in God and in himself. He had to believe that God had a destiny for him that went beyond his being the son of a harlot!
What is in your past? What pain holds you back from God’s destiny in your life? Is it something your parents said or did, is it someone you let down? Maybe it’s a broken vow, a divorce, maybe it’s a sin you can never shake, that makes you think you’re worthless and will never amount to much.
JEPHTHAH stands as testimony to God’s power to make something out of seemingly nothing. Whatever sin, whatever pain, whatever hurt you carry, it’s time to lay it aside and trust God for your future.
THE TIME IS NOW
In this pandemic time, the church has been forced to abandon services. We should have just protested and we’d be able to have as many as we want at church!
But I believe that after the restrictions lift, God is going to open unique and incredible opportunities, some never seen before. Why can’t He raise you up to new and unique ministries, why can’t He use you to impact lives like never before? Now is the time to clear the decks, to let the past be past at last and to step up into greatness, to become the person God has called you to be!
And don’t put this off. The moment is here. With God’s help, we can learn to heal the pain of the past. The past doesn’t have to weigh us down. With God, we can become winners in a big way…just like Jephthah.
2 Corinthians 6:2 (ESV Strong’s)
Behold, now is the favorable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.
CS Lewis said, “Getting over a painful past is much like crossing monkey bars. You have to let go at some point in order to move forward.”
Let go of your past, and look ahead towards the Lord this morning. Give Him your life, He can do more with it than you can.
Isaiah 43:18-19 (ESV Strong’s)
“Remember not the former things,
nor consider the things of old.
Behold, I am doing a new thing;
now it springs forth, do you not perceive it?
I will make a way in the wilderness
and rivers in the desert.
At this pivotal time in history, heroes will be made, and greatness will be birthed in the heart of many whom life had previously written off.
And God wants you to be that one. Pray with me now, let’s leave he past behind. It’s time to Let go of the past so that God can open the door to your future.