Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.…
The elders of Gilead got into trouble, and they said, "We are in distress; 'we turn again to thee,'" etc. Jephthah mocked them, and said, "If I fight for you and win 'shall I be your head?'" Who can tell how suggestively he uttered the word "your"? — head of a mob of ingrates — "your": and his heart said, "Ha, ha! 'Why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?' Why did you not come twelve months ago? Why did you not come when the feast was on the table smoking hot? Why did you not ask me to the dance and the revel and the high glee of Gilead? Here you are like a number of whipped hounds coming to me in your poverty and weakness and humiliation; you have come to the bastard." It was not a resentful speech: it was the eloquence of a noble man. Some people can only be taught when they are whipped. These people belonged to that bad quality. Have we not here a revelation of human nature? Can we boast ourselves against the elders of Gilead and say we are of a higher quality? Are we not all guilty before one another in this very respect? There are some men we never write to except when we want something. They never received a friendly letter from us in their lives. The moment we come into distress or difficulty then we write to those men and call them friends. We pay our friends unconsciously a high tribute by going to them again and again in our distress. Our going, being translated into language, means, "We have come again; every other door is shut against us; this kind, hospitable home-door was never thrust in our faces, it was always opened by some kindly hand: the last time we came it was for help, we have come on the same errand again." This may be mean enough on our part, and yet there is an unconscious tribute to the very friends whom we neglected in the time of our strength and prosperity. See how this same question penetrates the whole warp and woof, the whole web of life and thought. Sometimes it is the Church that asks the question. The Church says to some applicants for admission, "'Why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?' You never come in the summer-time. you never come in the fair weather: why are ye come to me now when ye are in distress? What has brought you? Which of God's constables has arrested you and planted you in this prison? Trouble is your gaoler, and he has turned the key of the prison upon you in Church." There are people we use thus meanly, and the Church may be used often on this low ground. We go when we are sad. But are we aware that here also we are paying an unconscious tribute to the Church and to everything that is centralised and glorified by that Divine emblem? The Church wants you to come in the time of distress. The Church is not an upbraiding mother. She may utter a sigh over you as she sees your ragged And destitute condition, but she admits you all the same and tells you to go up higher. If our friends can ask the question of Jephthah, if the Church can put the same inquiry, so in very deed and in the fullest significance can the Bible. Who goes to the Bible in the summer-time? The dear old Bible says to many of us, "What, you back again? What has happened now? Some one dead? property lost? not well? What do you want with me to-day? Tell me your case; don't profess you love me and want me for my own sake; tell me what it is you want before you begin, and I will open at the place." It is God's book, because it is so lovely and so sweet and so large of heart. So far we have taken an advancing line. We began with our friends, we passed through the Church, then we went to the Bible, and now we go to God. This is the Divine inquiry: "Why are ye come to Me now when ye are in distress?" This is the great hold which God has upon us all. His family would be very small but for the distress of the world. His heaven can hardly hold His household because of this wearying trouble, this eternal want, this gnawing worm of discontent.
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Parallel VersesKJV: Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.