And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said to Jephthah…
The triumph of Jephthah is marred by another incident. Ephraim, most powerful tribe west of the Jordan, confronts him in hostile array. His experience must have been bitter and hard to comprehend. But he is not alone in the results which his good deeds brought upon him. Benefactors in every age have met with a like reception.
I. THEIR GOOD DEEDS ARE THEMSELVES AN OFFENCE. This has its root and ground in the incapacity of the natural mind to perceive and appreciate spiritual motives; but it seldom takes the form of direct, simple objection to the good deed. Other forms of excuse for opposition are easily discovered.
1. The spirit in which they are wrought is misunderstood or misinterpreted. The key to our judgments of others is in ourselves. If then we are evil, our judgments will be perverted. All through the history of God's Church this influence is apparent, from the old ill-natured query, '"Does Job serve God for nought?" to the culminating wickedness described in the gospel: "The light shineth in darkness, and the darkness comprehended it not .... He was in the world, and the world was made by him, and the world knew him not. He came unto his own, and his own received him not" (John 1:5, 10, 11). "To the pure, all things are pure," and vice versa.
2. They present an unwelcome contrast to the conduct of others. Every good deed is as a light which brings to view things of like kind, and inspires similar behaviour; but also reveals the hideousness and hatefulness of the ordinary life of man. This is an offence against the amour propre of the sinner, and therefore unpardonable; it is also an exposure of hypocrisy, and sadly inconvenient. It makes the heart of good men ache to see this, and to cry, "When will goodness not be the exception, but the rule?"
3. The honor they acquire for their authors is coveted. To minds not actuated by the spirit of goodness, the only thing that can be desired in good works is the outward fame and advantage they bring. The exclusion from this is keenly resented. Hundreds are eager to share the crown of the righteous who are far from breathing his spirit or emulating his example.
II. HOW HARD IS IT FOR EVEN GOOD MEN TO UNDERSTAND THIS! Jephthah argues his case, and asks, "Wherefore are ye come up unto me this day, to fight against me?" The law of Moses promised temporal advantages to those who fulfilled it. Occasionally these were not enjoyed, and there was a consequent perplexity. But we are not to suppose that this wonder and mental trouble were confined to that dispensation; they are deeply human characteristics. Our Saviour himself experienced them when he asked, "Many good works have I showed you from my Father; for which of those works do ye stone me? (John 10:32); and again, Are ye come out as against a thief with swords and staves for to take me? I sat daily with you teaching in the temple, and ye laid no hold on me" (Matthew 26:55). The key to this mystery is furnished by the beatitude of the persecuted for righteousness' sake (Matthew 5:11, 12), and realised in the spirit of Christ's sacrifice. - M.
Parallel VersesKJV: And the men of Ephraim gathered themselves together, and went northward, and said unto Jephthah, Wherefore passedst thou over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didst not call us to go with thee? we will burn thine house upon thee with fire.
WEB: The men of Ephraim were gathered together, and passed northward; and they said to Jephthah, "Why did you pass over to fight against the children of Ammon, and didn't call us to go with you? We will burn your house around you with fire!"