In today's passage we see the pattern that continues throughout the book of Judges - the people reject God, as promised in Deuteronomy God allows them to be attacked, the people repent, God delivers them by raising up a judge and/or warrior to save them, they follow God until that leaders death and then the cycle begins again. Basically, they treated God like a genie who could rescue them when they were in trouble. How often are we guilty of the same? Life is good and we ignore God, taking all our blessings for granted. Life goes bad and we either blame Him or beg Him for deliverance, only to ignore Him again when He comes through for us.
A few things jumped out at me from the story of Jephthah, a couple of which were brought to my attention through David Legge's sermon.
Jephthah was the son of Gilead and a prostitute and he was judged for the sins of his father, rejected by his family and by everyone around him. Gilead, to his credit, seems to have taken him in and raised him as his own, which likely kept the situation somewhat in hand. But upon his death, his half-brothers scorned and rejected him.
This was wrong, plain and simple.
It reminded me of our tendency to do the same thing. Should a single woman or teenage girl in the church become pregnant outside of wedlock, our reaction should not be judgment and whispering behind her back. The pregnancy is not a sin. The baby is not a sin. The sin was the premarital sex. The pregnancy, though not ideal in timing or circumstance, is still a blessing from God and should be a time of rejoicing. That life is just as much to be celebrated as any other life, and if we are pro life, we should be just as quick to congratulate her and support her as we would anyone else, perhaps even more so! It is not the baby's fault that his/her parents wrongly engaged in premarital sex, and he/she should not pay the price or face judgment for their sin.
It is significant that God chose Jephthah, a man rejected by family and society, to be Israel's leader and saviour. This typifies Christ, who was also rejected and yet became our Saviour and Lord. In Judges 11:8-10 Jephthah confirms that if he saves Israel he will also lead Israel. You cannot have one without the other. Our relationship with Jesus is the same. I've often thought that people who claimed to be Christians but showed no fruit were simply not victorious Christians, and that they had accepted Jesus as their Saviour but had not made Him Lord of their life. I realize now that this is false. Saviour and Lord is a package deal. You cannot have one without the other.
There is a great article on this here, and in conclusion it says... It will simply not do to claim you believe in Jesus as your Savior. Jesus is Savior only of those for whom he is Lord. You dont make Jesus your Savior. You are saved because Jesus is your Lord. Those who do not follow Jesus as their Lord are not saved.
Back to our passage... unfortunately, the story of Jephthah does not end well. After uttering a rash vow, Jephthah has to offer his daughter to God. There is disagreement over whether that meant actually sacrificing her, or offering her in service to God. I lean towards the offering her in service to God, as human sacrifice is repulsive to God, and offering her to God for life would still have been a huge deal for Jephthah as she was his only child and he would now have no hope of continuing on his family line. Either way, the lesson remains that we should never make rash promises or vows to God.
Ironically... remember his background? He was treated with cruelty, he experienced gross injustice by his brothers and townspeople. He had been forced to bear the consequences of an act which he was completely innocent of. Others decided his fate for him, condemned him to it whether he agreed with it or not - and then what happens? In a moment of overzealousness Jephthah does precisely the same thing to his own daughter that had been done to him. She became the sufferer of the lot of the consequences of her father's ill-advised act.
Unfortunately, Jephthah was an imperfect and fallible saviour with no descendants.
Fortunately, our Saviour AND Lord, Jesus Christ, is perfect and infallible, with spiritual descendants, of which we all are one. And through His Spirit we, who may be rejected by society or those close to us, are more than conquerors through Him who loves us.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage: Judges 13-15