Thursday, January 6, 2022

The Judges. Day 40, The Gileadites Ask Jephthah To Lead Them

In yesterday's study we were introduced to Jephthah. He is the illegitimate son of an Israelite man named Gilead. Gilead fathered Jephthah with a woman the Bible tells us was "a prostitute" (some translations render it as "harlot"). But the word in the original Hebrew text is not so clear. It may mean she was a "strange woman", meaning a foreigner. Or it may mean she was an immoral woman who maintained a sexual relationship with Gilead outside the bonds of marriage. Some scholars argue that the word translated as "prostitute" actually means something like "innkeeper or tavern owner". 

Yesterday's text appears to make it clear that Gilead was not legally married to Jephthah's mother. Israelite men sometimes took foreign wives but those were referred to as "concubines". They were legal wives but without the same legal rights and social standing as Israelite wives. A son of a concubine would not normally inherit his father's estate unless his father's Israelite wife was unable to bear him a son. But since Jephthah's mother is not referred to as either a "wife" or a "concubine", we assume there was never any type of legal relationship between her and Gilead. 

Gilead claimed Jephthah as his son and it was accepted by his family and his townspeople that Jephthah was his son. I think this rules out the possibility that Jephthah's mother was a streetwalker or woman who worked in a brothel. I suppose it's possible that's how she and Gilead originally met, but when she bore him a son he must have felt confident she was having relations only with him. Otherwise I don't see how or why he would have claimed Jephthah as his son. I think Jephthah's mother may have actually been Gilead's mistress. If she were his "kept woman", if you will, that would explain why he knew he was the only man in her life. And if he was the only man in her life, Jephthah had to be his son. He made no secret about Jephthah being his son, which is why at the beginning of Chapter 11 we found Jephthah's legitimate sons running Jephthah out of town after their father's death, saying, "You are not going to have any inheritance in our family because you are the son of another woman." 

Jephthah has been living in the town of Tob with a band of "scoundrels" as the author of Judges called them in verse 3 of our current chapter. But now the Ammonites are fighting against Israel and the men of Gilead are looking for someone strong enough to oust the Ammonites from the region. Jephthah had proven himself a "mighty warrior" in the past, according to verse 1, and these men hope he still is a mighty warrior. "Some time later, when the Ammonites were fighting against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 'Come,' they said, 'be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.'" (Judges 11:4-6)

Jephthah is understandably bitter toward them and reluctant to offer his help. "Jephthah said to them, 'Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why do you come to me now, when you're in trouble?'" (Judges 11:7) He says, "Oh, now you want me in Gilead! It wasn't convenient for you to have me around before, when you thought I might want a share of my father's estate. You didn't even want to acknowledge you knew me. But now that you're in trouble you've come running to me for help. Why should I lift a finger?" These men referred to as "elders" may be his father's legitimate sons---the very men who sent him out into the world without a dime. An elder can literally mean an aged person or it can mean a respected person of power and authority. If these elders are not the sons of Gilead but are some other type of town officials, Jephthah's words to them indicate that they participated in his expulsion, either by giving their legal or moral support or by lending their physical support when he was thrust out. 

These men don't really make what I'd call a sincere or acceptable apology for their past behavior. They acknowledge that the incident happened but kind of gloss over it. They hope their offer of leadership over them will be enough to persuade him to forget about their ill treatment of him in the past. "The elders of Gilead said to him, 'Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be head over all of us who live in Gilead.'" (Judges 11:8) They say something like, "Yes, but that was then and this is now. Now we realize now that you're valuable to us. We'll prove it to you by making you ruler over us if you'll lead our troops against the Ammonites."

Jephthah knows how treacherous the men of his father's town can be. He doesn't trust them not to go back on their word. "Jephthah answered, 'Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me---will I really be your head?'" (Judges 11:9) He asks, "How can I know you'll do as you say? If I win this victory for you with the help of the Lord, how can I be sure you'll keep your promise?"

The men make an oath to him in the name of the Lord to prove the sincerity of their promise. As a result, he agrees to go with them. Their contract with him is witnessed and agreed to by all the troops gathered at Mizpah. "The elders of Gilead replied, 'The Lord is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.' So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the Lord in Mizpah." (Judges 11:10-11) 

This is quite a turnaround in Jephthah's circumstances. As we said yesterday, the Lord doesn't always call to greatness those we would expect Him to call. Human beings tend to look at different things than the Lord looks at when choosing a leader. The Lord doesn't call a man of impeccable pedigree to lead the army of Israel against the Ammonites. He doesn't call a man who has been highly esteemed and respected by his townspeople. Instead He calls an outcast, an illegitimate son, a man who was rejected by his own people, to be general of the army. Jephthah's own people never thought much of him. He may not think much of himself; we couldn't blame him if his ill treatment in the past caused him to have low self-esteem. But the Lord thinks highly of him. The Lord knows he has what it takes to do this great work, with His help. As the Lord will later say to the prophet Samuel, "The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart." (1 Samuel 16:7)

Maybe there were people in your past who didn't seem to think very highly of you. Maybe you feel like you come from very humble beginnings and can't be used of the Lord to do great things. But the Lord doesn't consider other people's opinions when He calls a person to greatness. He doesn't consider someone's background or pedigree or social status or financial means when calling them to greatness. He looks on the heart! And if you have a heart for Him, He has things for you to do. 

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