In Judges 11 we find the story of a man named Jephthah. Jephthah was another one of Israel’s judges God called up to deliver them from their enemies, but just like every other judge, we see him make one crucial mistake that mars the legacy of his story. Jephthah’s name actually means “to open,” and ironically the trouble he runs into begins when he opens his big mouth
Jephthah was considered an outcast in his community. His father was a prominent leader in his town, but his mother was a prostitute. At that point Jephthah was Gilead’s only son so he was the inheritor of Gilead’s estate. Every thing Gilead had, riches, tents, livestock, would all go to Jephthah, even though he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead’s wife eventually bore him some sons, and when those sons were old enough they drove out Jephthah. They didn’t want to share any of their father’s inheritance with the son of a prostitute. He was shunned by his family, shunned by his community and driven out into the wilderness.
Difficult Roads Often Lead to Glorious Destinations
Jepthah was rejected and shunned by hic family and his community and he was forced to scrounge a living in the wild desert of the Middle East. He was alone in the desert, but no amount of neglect or hate could ever take away the talents he’d been given by God. Verse 1 of chapter 11 says that he was a “mighty warrior”, a fighter of legendary proportions, that’s what mighty warrior means. His strength, bravery and intelligence is soon noticed by other outcasts and the Bible says a gang of riffraff gathered around him.
I love that word, riffraff. I’m picturing a group of oddballs. You’ve got your tall hairy muscular warriors, your group of orphaned kids who grew up on the streets surviving by pulling of elaborate schemes, and your outcast Levite priest like friar tuck in Robin Hood’s merry bad of thieves. This group of people really was like Robing Hood’s band of thieves. They were the people society didn’t want; the people that didn’t fit in; men, women, children, the poor, mercenaries, all kinds of people. This band of outcasts made their living by raiding and robbing the surrounding Ammonite villages. It was a terrible hand Jephthah was dealt, but even though it wasn’t his fault his mother was a prostitute he was still rejected. Although he had to travel down some difficult roads, it was theses very roads that led him to a glorious destination.
If he hadn’t been rejected he would have never been able to gather such a notorious group of people around him. His leadership and reputation among Israel’s enemies is what caused the elders of Gilead to come to him for help. Had Jephthah never been kicked out of his community he likely would have never been able to rise to become the leader of his tribe. He would likely not have been a judge in Israel if not for the difficult road he was forced to take. It was these difficult circumstance that molded Jephthah to be the exact leader Israel needed.
You’re going to face rejection and disappointment and failure at some point in your life if you haven’t already. But just because you experience difficulties in your life does not mean that God has abandoned you. God is using your difficult roads to lead you to glorious destinations! God’s plans are so much more than you could ever imagine. God doesn’t plan harm or rejection or disappointment for you. God doesn’t orchestrate evil for you life, but despite the rejection and disappointment and evil you may experience, God is still working through those difficulties to produce in you the character necessary to prepare you for the glory He has destined for your life.
A good friend once told me something that has stuck with me. He said, everyone wants to be on top of the mountain, nobody wants to be down in the valley, but the valley is where things grow. We want to be on top of the mountain, on top of our circumstances; we want easy fixes, quick solutions, no trials, or tough times, but as nice as the view is from the top of the mountain, things don’t grow there. We want to avoid the valleys of difficulty and trials, but in the valley’s is where you find growth. God wants to take you up mountains, he wants to elevate your life, he wants to help you conquer your difficulties, but before we get to the top we have to go through the valley, we have to experience growth. God has plans for your life that you might not be ready for yet. There will come trials and tough times that, as long as you cling to God, are going to shape in you a character of faith that is going to prepare you to do amazing miracles you only read about in the pages of a book!
We Are Called to Take the High Road
Jephthah was rejected by his family and drive out his home by his brothers and now they were coming to him to ask him to lead them. Some of elders that went out to meet him may have very well been some of the brothers that kicked him out of his family home. Jephthah responds to their request, “but you hate me and kicked me out of my family home. You’re only coming to me because you need help.” They weren’t beating around the bush, that’s exactly why they were there, and they admitted it, but they also promised that if he would help them, they would make him ruler of their clan. Jephthah could have been petty and turned down their request for help but we are called to take the high road.
Ancient tradition was an eye for an eye. Jephthah could have, well within his legal rights, rejected their request for help because of what they had done to him years ago. He could have returned their wickedness towards him by leaving them to their own destruction, but Jephthah recognized an opportunity for good. He saw the high road and he took it. He agreed to lead them against the Ammonites and become their leader. They ratified the pact before the people of Gilead, and later made the oath before God at Mizpah before the Ark of the Covenant.
The world will always be full of people who dislike you, who hate you, who beat you down, and who reject you, but when you stick true to who God has called you to be, when you build a close relationship with God and allow Him to lead your life there is nothing that people can say or do to you that will change your calling. What people say about you, and do to you will not change the purpose go has ordained for your life. When you partner together with God there will be nothing that can stop you from fulfilling what God has called you to do. There may be set backs, there may be difficulties, there may be obstacles in your journey towards your calling, but when God’s behind a plan, nothing can stop it.
There may come a time where the very people who despised you will be crawling to you for help. The people who spoke badly about you, the people who told you you have skinny legs, the people who judged you, the people who hurt you, won’t be able to deny God’s working in your life for His purposes. And if the time ever comes where your haters have no other choice but to come to you for help remember, we are called to take the high road. When Jesus died on that cross, He died for everyone. Those who mocked him, beat him, crucified him, and rejected him… everyone! Because God loved the world so much that He was willing to give up His precious Son so that anyone, regardless of who they are or what they’d done, could receive the Kingdom Life!
God doesn’t bless us and place us in positions of strength and authority to take revenge on those who’ve done us wrong. God doesn’t lift us up so we can step all over people. God elevates us for the high road. We are called to take the High Road. God strengthens us and blesses us so that we can some day be a blessing to those around us, even to those who’ve hurt us. Jephthah takes the high road, answering God’s call for His life.
You Can’t But What’s Free
Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah and strengthened him against the Ammonite army. Whenever we read in the book of Judges that “the Spirit of Lord” came upon someone it meant that God was going before them in the battle they were about to face. We’ve seen this time and time again in Israelite history, that when God fights for them, victory is 100% guaranteed. God had never failed to deliver on His promises, and this time would be no different. But Jephthah wasn’t satisfied with God’s word, he tried to bind God to the victory.
Jephthah was trying to buy God’s victory by making an oath to sacrifice whatever came out of his tent on his return. In doing so he was hoping that with this promise of sacrifice God would be forced to give him the victory. This was an act of faithlessness on Jephthah’s behalf. He didn’t trust that God would come through simply based on His promises, He tried to buy what God was already giving as a gift.
We can’t treat gifts like contracts. When you pay for something you are owed a product based on what you’ve done. When you pay for something that is given freely, it changes the nature of the exchange. It’s no longer an unmerited gift based on relationship, but a contractual exchange based on predetermined circumstances. We can’t buy what God offers freely. No amount of good deeds could ever make God love you anymore than He already does. No pious or righteous life could ever earn you the salvation given freely at the cross through Jesus Christ. God gives freely when we’re aligned with Him because that’s what He loves to do. He loves to bless His children not out of moral obligation but out of a deep personal love for each and everyone of us.
A gift by very definition is “something given willingly to someone without payment.” That’s what God has given. He’s already paid the cost of Salvation with His blood. He is the only one who could offer what He paid for, and He gives it out to everyone freely, without condition. When we try to pay for salvation by what we do, it changes the nature of our relationship with Jesus and we’ll see this as the story wraps up , that when we try to buy what God is giving freely we may end up worse off for it.
Don’t Sacrifice Your Future for the Present
Jephthah tried to buy the victory from God and promised that whatever came out his tent he would sacrifice to God. When he arrives home who should come out of his tent but his only daughter, dancing and shouting, celebrating her father’s victory. It’s not exactly clear whether he sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering or whether he just offered a burnt offering and gave her to the service of the temple but either way it was still an occasion for sorrow. For Israelite women having a family was to fulfill your purpose, so being sacrificed without having been able to do that was an incredibly terrible punishment. She understood how much it meant to her father to be true to his promise to God so she went along with it.
When we make rash decisions we are in danger of sacrificing our future for the present. She was his only daughter, his only hope of an inheritance was in her, but his lack of confidence in God led him to make a promise that would lead to her sacrifice and ruin the future of his lineage. This isn’t what God wanted, nor is it something God ordained. Just because the Spirit of the Lord was on him for battle does not mean God led him to make this promise. Jephthah was desperate for present security at the cost to his future. He never had to make that promise, God was already going to give him the victory.
God wants to give you the satisfaction of life you seek, but if you go about looking for fulfillment in things that aren’t from God you may be throwing away your future for something God is already promising you for free. We know what we do is wrong but we do it anyways because it gives us momentary security or fulfillment. What else would come out of his tent but someone from his family? He made a deal he knew was wrong not fully grasping the gravity of his decision.
We can be so wrapped up in what is presently going on in our lives that we ignore the future consequences of our present choices. As Christians we know that this world isn’t all there is, or will be. The choices we make in this life will impact our outcome in the next life. Every decision we make either takes us towards God or away from God. We are so prone to make choices for our immediate present benefit not even stopping once to think about whether or not this choice will affect our future relationship with God.
God isn’t boring, He wants you experience all the pleasures He’s designed you to experience, but in the right way; in a way that is pleasing to God, that doesn’t lead you away from Him. God wants to bless your present and your future, but don’t be willing to sacrifice your future with God for a moment of pleasure in the present. God can use you in amazing ways, but the choices we make ultimately determine the legacy we leave behind.
It’s true that keeping the commandments won’t buy you your salvation. It’s true you are free to do whatever you want. But if your goal is to have a relationship with God then not everything you do is beneficial. Whether we like it or not, our present choices determine our future destination because the gift of salvation is based on our relationship with the gift-giver, Jesus Christ. God is willing to use us no matter how messed up, and broken, and sinful we are but we can’t use God’s forgiveness as an excuse to continue to make choices we know are detrimental to our relationship with God
Our challenge through this Legacy Journey is to be encouraged that no matter how broken we are, like the Judges God called to lead Israel, God is still willing to use us for good and at the same time to reflect on the choices we are making in our lives and choose to leave a godly legacy. God gives us the power to overcome our tendencies, our addictions, our sinfulness, and He gives us the power to leave a godly Legacy but we have to be willing to let Him lead through all the ups and downs, through all our uncertainties, through all our doubts, trusting that even though we can’t see a solution right now, the God we serve has never failed us, and will never fail us.
Sometimes I can’t understand the world around me or why things happen to me when they do or the way they do, but I trust that no matter what difficulty roads lie ahead for me you are using them to lead me to glorious destinations. Give me grace and peace that I may take the high road with those who hurt me. Help me to return evil with good and to represent you here on Earth. Thank you for the free gift of salvation that is made possible through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Help me to understand and apprectiate the how much it cost you and to believe with all my heart how freely it’s made accessible for me. Help me to receive your free gift of grace knowing that it’s only by your blood that I can be saved. Help me to follow you closely choosing to honor you in every choice that I make. Give me wisdom to never sacrifice my future with you for momentary gain or pleasure. Help me to leave a godly legacy that brings honor to your name. Amen.