Judges 11:1
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior; he was the son of a prostitute, and Gilead was his father.
Sermons
The Shaping Influences of LifeA.F. Muir Judges 11:1-3
Different Views Held as to Jephthah's VowL. H. Wiseman, M. A.Judges 11:1-33
JephthahW. G. Blaikie, D. D.Judges 11:1-33
Jephthah's VowT. Taylor, D. D.Judges 11:1-33
Why are Ye Come unto Me Now When Ye are in Distress?J. Parker, D. D.Judges 11:1-33
These different in their nature from that of which the poet speaks - "There's a divinity that shapes our ends, rough-hew them how we will" (Hamlet, 5:2) It is an anticipative part they play. In many lives the manner in which they are thus influenced is apparent; but even when otherwise the effect is none the less powerful and lasting. It has been questioned whether this be not the most important part of the work of creation. Of these influences, notice -

I. HOW STRONG AND VARIED THEY ARE.

1. In Jephthah's birth. He was a child of shame, the fruit of an age of licentiousness and idolatry. He receives the title Gileadite, yet it is said Gilead was his father; he must therefore either have had a father with such a name, a member of the tribe of Manasseh, living in Gilead, or, having no clear proof of his paternity, have received the tribal name in that relation. A foundling, with a shameful mystery lying behind his life.

2. In the behaviour of men towards him. Those who were his brethren according to the flesh acted a most unbrotherly part. Either from selfishness or a false feeling of shame, they expelled him from his father's house, closing the door of peaceful, honourable toil, and compelling him to resort to a career of bloodshed and irregularity. The very men who might, any of them, have committed a like sin to that of Jephthah's father are forward to rid themselves of its results. The world judges of men rather from their misfortunes than from their personal misdeeds. And where nature has been unkind, "man's inhumanity to man" is only the more signal. A social stigma is worse to bear up against than many of the greatest calamities which do not involve it.

3. In the force of his circumstances as they arose. He is compelled to take up his abode in a far off border town, near to Ammon, the hereditary enemy of Israel, and surrounded by the conditions of a desert life, where he had to be "a law unto himself." A life of guerilla warfare, with its comparatively loose morale, is thrust upon him. Men of like misfortune and disposition, all more or less compromised with their tribes or nations, gather about him, and look to him for direction and initiative. But -

II. NEVERTHELESS, THEY DO NOT DETERMINE DESTINY. He has somehow managed to preserve a measure of morality and religious observance, even in that wilderness stronghold. The worship of Jehovah is maintained, and the heart of the chieftain beats true to all the traditions of Israel. His personal influence and warlike prowess are at its service. His greatest exploits are not those of the private marauder, but of the patriot. It is character alone that determines destiny, and character is in our own keeping. One is continually meeting with such people - people who in difficult circumstances are yet kept on the whole pure and faithful. Such were "they of Caesar's household." And -

III. IF RIGHTLY ENCOUNTERED THEY MAY REDOUND TO ADVANTAGE AND HONOUR. In the hour of Israel's need, repentant and humble, its elders approach the outlaw whom they had expelled. The man himself is not prepared for the singular conversion. He questions them suspiciously, nay, with all his magnanimity, reminds them of their different behaviour in years gone by. They admit all; but they are too humbled to make evasion and to conceal their real motive. He is master of the situation. His whole previous training and reputation now stand him in good stead, and he understands a little of God's dealings with him. The Bible is full of instances of men who have gained power and fame through the overcoming of difficulties. Time and God are on the side of them who, notwithstanding temptation, are found faithful. And is there not One who outshines all others in this? "The stone which the builders rejected is become the head stone of the corner." His career is our incentive and example (Philippians 2:5-11). Have not all rejected Christ? In our need let us go to him, a nobler than Jephthah. - M.







Jephthah the Gileadite.
It is common to regard Jephthah as one of the wildest characters of the Bible — a rough and heedless man; alike rash in vowing and heartless in fulfilling; one whom it is strange to find in the eleventh chapter of Hebrews. Jephthah was neither a godless nor a selfish man. Not godless, for we find in the brief annals of his life more copious recognition of God than in the case of most of the other judges; and not selfish, because, forgetting his private wrongs, he devoted his life to the service of his country, and, overcoming his strongest feelings of natural affection, he did with his daughter according to his vow. We shall be nearer the truth if we regard Jephthah as a good man, sadly misguided; a man roughly trained, poorly educated, and very deficient in enlightened views; wishing to serve God, but in great error as to what would prove an acceptable service; a man in whose religion the ideas of his neighbours of Moab and Ammon had a strong though unknown influence; one who, with the deepest loyalty to God, had unconsciously come under the delusion that Jehovah would accept of such an offering as the neighbouring nations offered to their gods. In trying to estimate Jephthah aright it is necessary that we bear his early history vividly in mind. He had the grievous misfortune to have a wicked mother, a woman of abandoned character; and as in these circumstances his father could not have been much better, his childhood must have been very dreary. No good example, no holy home, no mother's affection, no father's wise and weighty counsel. If Jephthah owed little to his parents, he owed less to his brothers. If he knew little of the sunbeams of parental love, he knew less of the amenities of brotherly affection. By his brothers he was, as we may say, kicked out from his father's house; he was driven forth into the wide, wide world, to shift as he might; and this under the influence of a motive all too common, but which in this case appears in all its native repulsiveness. It was to prevent him from sharing in his father's inheritance; to keep to themselves the largest possible share. A wretched revelation truly of family spirit! None of the dew of Hermon here. The life to which, in these circumstances, Jephthah resorted was wild and rough, but was not considered immoral in those wild times. He became a freebooter on the borders of Moab and Ammon, like many a borderer two or three centuries ago in Cumberland or Wigton; carrying on an irregular warfare in the form of raids for plunder; gathering to himself the riff-raff of the country-side. The occupation was very unfavourable to a religious life, and yet somehow (such is the sovereignty of grace) Jephthah evidently acquired deep religious impressions. He was strong against idolatry, and that not merely because it was the religion of his enemies, but because he had a deep regard for the God of Israel, and had been led in some way to recognise the obligation to serve Him only, and to be jealous for His glory. And, partly perhaps through the great self-control which this enabled him to exercise, and the courageous spirit which a living belief in such a God inspired, he had risen to great distinction as a warrior in the mode of life which he followed, so that when a leader was needed to contend with the Ammonites, Jephthah was beyond all question the man most fitted for the post. It is very singular how things come round. What a strange feeling Jephthah must have had when his brothers and old neighbours came to him, inviting and imploring him to become their head; trying as best they could to undo their former unkindness, and get him, for their safety, to assume the post for which not one of them was fitted! It is amazing what an ill-treated man may gain by patiently biding his time. In every history there are parallel incidents to that which now occurred in the ease of Jephthah — that of Coriolanus, for example; but it is not every one who has proved so prompt and patriotic. He gave way to no reproach over the past, but only made conditions for the future which were alike reasonable and moderate. His promptness supplies a great and oft-needed lesson for Christians; showing how ready we should be to forgive and forget ill-treatment; to return blessing for cursing, and good for evil. But let us now notice what was peculiar in Jephthah's mode of accepting office. In contemplating the prospect of the Ammonites being subdued, it is not he, but Jehovah, whom he regards as the victor. (Judges 11:9); and after he has been made head and captain he utters all his words before the Lord at Mizpeh (ver.11). And now it was that he made his fatal vow. He made it as a new pledge of his dependence on God, and desire to honour Him. The strangest thing about the transaction is, that Jephthah should have been allowed in these circumstances to make such a vow. It was common enough in times of great anxiety and danger to devote some much-valued object to God. But Jephthah left it to God, as it were, to select the object. He would not specify it, but would simply engage, if he should return in peace from the children of Ammon, to offer to the Lord whatever should come forth from the doors of his house to meet him. It seemed a pious act to leave to God the selection of that object. Jephthah's error lay in supposing that God would select, that God would accept the responsibility which he laid upon Him. What followed we hardly need to rehearse. But what became of Jephthah's daughter? Undoubtedly the weight of evidence is in favour of the solution that, like Iphigenia at Aulis, Jephthah's daughter was offered as a burnt-offering. It is a shocking thought, and yet not inconsistent with the supposition that essentially Jephthah was a sincere and loyal servant of God. We must remember that he was an unenlightened man, ill brought up, not possessing the cool, well-balanced judgment of one who had calmly and carefully studied things human and Divine with the best lights of the age, but subject to many an impulse and prejudice that had never been corrected, and had at last become rooted in his nature. We must remember that Gilead was the most remote and least enlightened part of the land of Israel, and that all around, among all his Moabite and Ammonite neighbours, the impression prevailed that human sacrifices were acceptable to the gods. This remarkable narrative carries some striking lessons.

1. In the first place, there is a lesson from the strange, unexpected, and most unseasonable combination in Jephthah's experience of triumph and desolation, public joy and private anguish. It seems so unsuitable, when all hearts are wound up to the feeling of triumph, that horror and desolation should come upon them and overwhelm them. But what seems so unseasonable is what often happens. It often seems as if it would be too much for men to enjoy the fulfilment of their highest aspirations without something of an opposite kind. General Wolfe and Lord Nelson dying in the moment of victory are types of a not infrequent experience. At the moment when Ezekiel attains his highest prophetical elevation, his house is made desolate, his wife dies. The millionaire that has scraped and saved and struggled to leave a fortune to his only son is often called to lay him in the grave. Providence has a wonderful store of compensations. Sometimes those who are highest in worldly position are the dreariest and most desolate in heart.

2. Another striking lesson of Jephthah's life concerns the errors of good men. It dissipates the notion that good men cannot go far wrong. But let us learn from Jephthah all the good we can. He was remarkable for two great qualities. He depended for everything on God; he dedicated everything to God. It is the very spirit which the gospel of Jesus Christ is designed to form and promote. Jephthah was willing, according to his light, to give up to God the dearest object of his heart. One thing is very certain. Such sacrifices can be looked for from none but those who have been reconciled to God by Jesus Christ. To them, but only to them, God has become all in all. They, and they only, can afford to sacrifice all that is seen and temporal.

(W. G. Blaikie, D. D.)

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.)

Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord
I. HOW THE LORD SUFFERETH GOOD MEN AND WISE MEN TO SNARE THEMSELVES, AND BRING NEEDLESS SORROWS AND WOES ON THEMSELVES BY TEMERITY AND RASHNESS (1 Samuel 25:34; Matthew 26:31).

1. The folly of man's heart, which would walk at large, unconfined within the rules of wisdom; this makes men rash even in the things of God, as here.

2. God's just desertion of good men, for their humiliation; and to give them experience of themselves, and how their own wisdom will make them befool themselves, as David did after his rash numbering of the people, and cleave more close to God and His counsel, when they see their own counsels prove fit for nothing but to cast them down. To be well advised in that we do or speak, avoid temerity and rashness, by which, making more haste than good speed, men do but brew their own sorrow. Consider —

1. That rashness doeth nothing well (Proverbs 15:22). "Without counsel thoughts come to nought," and the hasty man, we say, never wants woe. Herod himself, as wicked as he was, was sorry for his rash oath; and yet how mischievous was it, against the life of John Baptist! A man going in haste easily slideth (Proverbs 19:2).

2. A note of a man fearing God is to carry his matters with discretion (Psalm 112:5). "The fear of the Lord is the beginning of true wisdom."

3. The law rejected a blind sacrifice; the gospel requireth a reasonable (Romans 12:1); and all sacrifices must be seasoned with the salt of discretion.

4. Rashness and temerity lays us bare and naked to the lashes of God, of men, and of our own consciences. Rules of direction to avoid this sin of rashness, attended with so much sorrow.First, watch carefully against thine own rashness in —

1. Judgment.

2. Affections.

3. Speeches.

4. Actions.

5. Passions.Secondly, arm thyself with the rules of Christian prudence to avoid this sin, and the sorrow of it; as knowing that it is not enough to be a faithful servant, but he must be wise too.

II. THE LORD COMMONLY EXALTING HIS SERVANTS WITH SOME HIGH FAVOUR, BRINGS SOME STINGING CROSS WITH IT, TO HUMBLE THEM.

1. The Lord spies in us a lewd nature and disposition, even like that of the spider, which can turn everything into poison. There is in the best a root of pride and vanity which in prosperity and warm sunshine sprouteth and grows wonderfully stiff. Paul himself is in danger to be exalted out of measure by abundance of revelation; and therefore the Lord, as a wise physician, adds a dose of affliction to be an antidote to expel the poison of pride, and with a prick lets out the wind of vainglory.

2. This height of honours, success, etc., easily gaineth our affections and delights, and so draws and steals away our delights in the Lord. We are prone to idolise them, and to give them our hearts, and therefore the Lord is forced to pull our hearts from them, and by some buffetings and cooling cards, tells us in what sliding and slippery places we stand, and therefore had need still keep our watch about us, and not pour out our hearts upon such momentary pleasures.

3. We are as children in our advancements who, having found honey, eat too much. If the Lord did not thus sauce our dainties, how could we avoid the surfeit of them? Alas! how would we dote upon the world if we found nothing but prosperity, who are so set upon it for all the bitterness of it.

4. The Lord spies in us an unthankful disposition, who, when He honours us, and lifts us up that we might lift up His name and glory, we let the honour fall upon ourselves.

III. GOD DOTH OFTEN TURN THE GREATEST DELIGHTS AND EARTHLY PLEASURES OF HIS SERVANTS TO THEIR GREATEST SORROW.

1. From the transitoriness of all outward comforts; here below there is never a gourd to cover our head, but a worm to consume it. And therefore what a man doth chiefly delight in the fruition, he must needs be most vexed in the separation and want of it.

2. From the naughty disposition of our hearts.(1) Hardness of heart which will not yield without such hard and smart strokes.(2) That we can turn all kind of comforts, natural and supernatural, to bewitching vanities, and yield them strength enough to allure us and draw us from the sound comfort of them; there is no ordinance, no creature, no gift, no comfort that can escape us.

3. From the jealousy of God who hath made all His creatures, ordinances, gifts, His servants as well as ours, and cannot abide that any of them should have any place but of servants with us; His zeal cannot abide that they should gain our hearts, or souls, or any power of them from Him, and therefore when men go a-whoring after the creatures, and lay the level of their comfort below the Lord Himself, then He shows the fervency of His zeal, either in removing the gift or them from the comfort of it.

IV. ALL PROMISES TO GOD OR MAN LAWFUL AND IN OUR POWER MUST BE RELIGIOUSLY AND FAITHFULLY PERFORMED; OF ALL WHICH, THOU OPENETH THY MOUTH TO THE LORD, OR BEFORE THE LORD, THOU MAYEST NOT GO BACK.

1. I say, all lawful promises, for no promise may be a bond of iniquity, and the performance of such is but tying two sins together, as Herod tied to a wicked oath, murder of John Baptist.

2. All promises in our power, for nothing can tie us to impossibilities, as when the bishop makes the priest vow perpetual continency — a thing out of his power and reach.

3. To God or men.

(1)To God (Numbers 30:3).

(2)To man; fidelity and veracity are of the weighty points of the law (Matthew 23:23).And of the heathen given up to a reprobate sense it is said, they were truce-breakers (Romans 1:30).

4. They must be performed religiously and faithfully. To a conscionable performance three things are required.(1) Perform them willingly and cheerfully; for God loves as a cheerful giver, so a cheerful performer.(2) Fully and wholly, not by halves (Numbers 30:3). He shall do all that is gone out of His mouth, not taking away a part, as Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5).(3) Without delay; every seasonable action is beautiful. Besides the express commandment (Ecclesiastes 5:4).

(T. Taylor, D. D.)

Among Jewish paraphrasts and commentators, the more ancient are mostly of opinion that Jephthah did actually sacrifice his daughter. They censure the rashness of his vow, but they do not appear to doubt that the sacrifice of the maiden was actually made. Some later Jewish writers, however, of great authority, have contended that Jephthah's daughter was not slain, but devoted to a life of virginity; being shut up in a house which her father built for the purpose, and there visited four days in each year by the maidens of Israel as long as she lived. Among Christian writers, perhaps all during the first ten centuries — certainly the exceptions, if any, were few and far between — believed that the maiden was sacrificed. Later Christian writers have not been so unanimous. Many, perhaps the majority, of those who have treated upon the subject, hold the opinion which, as we have seen, was universal in the early Church. Many others, of equal learning and eminence, have maintained that Jephthah's daughter was not offered by her father as a burnt offering, but that she was permitted to live; among these, there are some who believe with the modern Jews just mentioned, that she was shut up by her father and devoted to a life of seclusion; while others suppose that she was devoted to the Lord's service in a life of celibacy, and was numbered during the remainder of her life with the "women who assemble at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation," performing duties of sacred service in connection with the worship at Shiloh That Jephthah was "hasty in opening his lips before God" is generally admitted; although this rashness is singularly in contrast with his cautiousness and skill in negotiating and arguing with the Ammonite, and shows how elements the most opposite may exist in the same character. That he deliberately contemplated as possible the sacrifice of a human being is a supposition scarcely to be entertained of one who is spoken of in the New Testament as a man of faith. Yet that human sacrifices were familiar to him cannot be doubted; and it is possible that familiarity with the rites of the Ammonites, on whose borders he dwelt, and with whom human sacrifices, as is now the case in many parts of Africa, were religious rites of daily occurrence, may have blunted his feelings, and have caused him to forget how odious such offerings were in the sight of God. The excitement of the occasion, however, seems to have bewildered him, so that he forgot everything not immediately connected with his forthcoming expedition. His vow was utterly rash. He did not take time to consider, for example, that if an ass or a dog had first met him coming out of his house on his return, to offer it to the Lord would have been an abomination. Had he bestowed that thought upon the matter which reason itself would teach us to be necessary when we open our lips to our Maker, he could not have failed to reflect that it was possible, nay, likely, that his only and beloved child would be the first to greet him on his return. It was natural that he should offer a vow to the Lord; strange that he should have done it with such impulsive rashness.... The peculiar expression of the sacred text, that "her father did with her according to his vow which he vowed, and she knew no man," may lend plausibility to the opinion, that she was devoted to a virgin life. But against this view there lie three objections, which, when taken together, compel us to adopt the opposite view. The first is, that a celibate life formed no part of her father's vow. The second is, that the great distance at which Jephthah was from Shiloh, where the tabernacle was, and the absence of any allusion in all his history to its existence, render the theory of his daughter being transferred thither improbable. The third is, that the misfortune of his birth would alone have prevented such an arrangement. If the sons of a bastard, according to the law of Moses, could not enter into the congregation of the Lord to the tenth generation, it is scarcely probable that Jephthah's daughter could have secured admission among the privileged women who rendered service about the tabernacle. We therefore look upon the maiden as having been sacrificed. Upon the gloom of this painful history, however, an ethereal brightness shines. What can be more beautiful, more wonderful, than this pure and lovely maid, brought up among bandits, and far from the tabernacle of God, thus freely and sweetly giving up herself as a thank-offering for the victories of Israel? And who can fail to see, in the story of the meek and self-sacrificing maid, "a marvellous and mysterious adumbration of a better sacrifice of another soul, of an only child, perfectly free and voluntary, and of virgin holiness and heavenly purity, the sacrifice of Christ, who gave His spotless soul to death for our sakes"?

(L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)

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