Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior; he was the son of a prostitute, and Gilead was his father.
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.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.)
(J. Parker, D. D.)
Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LordI. 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 —
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) (2) 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.)
(2) 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.)
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.)
(L. H. Wiseman, M. A.)
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