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THE REJECT WHO
BECAME THE RULER
Intro: For me, studying the book of Judges can be very depressing. This book chronicles the years in Israel between the death of Joshua and the appointment of Saul as their first king. What we see in this book is a scene of lawlessness.
Israel would abandon the Lord for false gods. God would punish them for their sins by allowing their enemies to defeat them and enslave them. After a time of enemy oppression, Israel would repent and God would raise up a judge to deliver them. They would be set free from their enemies, and then the cycle would repeat itself all over again.
The spiritual climate in Israel during those days is summed up by the last verse in the book. Judges 21:25 says, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.” And, what is so discouraging about this book is that there is ample evidence that we humans do not learn our lessons well. Left to ourselves, we can do little but get ourselves in trouble time and again.
Of course, the positive side of this book is the fact that God never completely forsook His people. They failed Him and He chastised them, but He always took them back they returned to Him in genuine repentance. That lets me know that He will never forsake us. You see, the people of Israel had been purchased with the blood of a lamb, Ex. 12:1-13; 15:16. The church has been purchased with the blood of His Darling Son, Rev. 1:5; 1 Pet. 1:18-19. Thus, He will ever stand by us, Heb. 13:5.
While the times of the Judges were dark and dismal days for Israel, a few lives stand out as bright lights against the darkness. One of those lights is the man before us in our text today. In this passage we are introduced to a man named Jephthah. What the word of God teaches us about this man should serve as an encouragement to every person in this room.
Jephthah walked through some hard places in his life, yet he overcame all the obstacles in his life and he accomplished great things for the Lord. He was a man rejected by his family, outcast by society and written off by everyone who should have cared about him. Yet, in the end Jephthah became the leader of his people.
Jephthah is not an altogether good example. As we will see, he was chosen to lead the people by the people and not by God. Israel would repeat the same mistake years later when they would choose Saul to be their king, rejecting God as their sole ruler. Jephthah was a mixture of the spiritual and the fleshly. His life is confusing at best. While he was not the Lord’s choice as Judge in Israel, the Lord allowed Jephthah to lead the people to victory for His Own purposes. God had a plan in using Jephthah; we just do not know all the details of that plan!
Let’s get to know Jephthah and learn the lessons his life reveals. I want to preach about The Reject Who Became The Ruler.
I. v. 1-3 AN APPALLING
A. v. 1 Jephthah’s Character – The first revelation we have concerning Jephthah is that he is “a mighty man of valor”. The phrase “mighty man” means that Jephthah was marked by “great bravery”. The word “valor” refers to “strength, ability and efficiency”. This identified Jephthah as a very courageous and powerful man. He was the kind of man who did what needed to be done in every situation he faced in life. He was the kind of man who refused to back down. He was the kind of man you would like to have at your back in a battle. He was the kind of man others would look to for leadership. He was a strong, able and efficient man.
B. v. 1 Jephthah’s Challenge – The next truth we learn about this man is the fact that “he was the son of a harlot”. His father’s named was “Gilead”. Evidently, Gilead was a man who frequented prostitutes. One became pregnant and bore him a son named Jephthah. This was a major strike against Jephthah as it marked him as an illegitimate son of Gilead.
(Note: Like everyone in this room, Jephthah had marks in the plus column and marks in the minus column. He had areas of his life that were extraordinary while other areas were problematic. We are all in the same boat. Most of us do not trumpet our abilities, yet we go to great lengths to conceal our problems. This just reminds us that we are human, and as long as we live in this world, we are going to remain less than perfect. No matter how far up the ladder of holiness we climb, we will still be sinners, and we will still desperately need a Savior.)
C. v. 2 Jephthah’s Conflict – Jephthah’s father also had children with his wife. When these legitimate children reached maturity, they all turned on Jephthah and forced him out of the family home. Apparently, their father is dead and they refused to share their inheritance with Jephthah. Most likely they were motivated by greed. With Jephthah out of the way, there was more money to go around. Besides, Jephthah’s presence in the family was a constant reminder of their father’s infidelity.
They had probably hated Jephthah all their lives. They may have even envied him since he was a strong, able and efficient man. He was probably everything they were not and they turned on him. They hated him because he represented everything they could never be.
(Note: Jephthah paid a price for the sins of his father. His father was a philanderer who brought an illegitimate child into the world. That child lived with the stigma of his father’s sins his whole life. His life was scarred by the actions of his father and his half-brothers, but he did not stoop to the same level of evil he saw in them. Jephthah broke the cycle of sin in his family and became a better man than the others in his family.
We need to stop here and learn a valuable lesson. Exodus 34:7 says, “Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.” This does not mean that God will punish you for what your parents did. It does mean that what your parents did will often bear fruit in your life.
Children often develop attitudes that are similar to their parents. They develop ways of living that are like their parents. They have prejudices, likes and dislikes that were built into them by their parents.
The fact is, a lot of what we do is generational. We may not like it, but we carry the influence of our family with us all the days we live. If your mother was hateful, there is a good chance that you might have the tendency too. If your father was a drunk, you could be prone to problems in that area. If you grew up hearing criticism and negativity, you have a good chance of becoming a negative of person too. If you grew up in an abusive home, you might have that kind of mindset as well.
However, someone has to break the cycle! Just because your parents did certain things to you or around you it does not mean that those things have to be a part of your life today. You have the opportunity to change. There is power, grace and help in the Person of the Holy Spirit and in the Word of God. As we yield to God and allow Him to work in our lives, we can rest assured that He will work to change us into His image. That is His goal, Rom. 8:28-29; Eph. 1:4; 4:13-15.
I don’t know if that speaks to any of your hearts today, but let’s break the cycle of sin in our families and set our children free. There is help, hope and power in the Word and will of God.)
(Note: Others have suffered this kind of familial rejection. David experienced it. When Samuel came to Jesse’s house to anoint one of his sons as king of Israel, they did not even think enough of David to call him to appear before the prophet. Jesus Christ experienced it. His half-brothers mocked His claims to be the Messiah. They doubts His identity and none of them believed on Him until after His death and resurrection, John 7:2-5. At one point all His family and friends thought He was crazy, Mark 3:21.
Your earthly family may turn against you, but if you are saved, you are a member of a new family. Your Heavenly Father will never turn you away! Your true brothers and sisters will never fail to love you, forgive you and stand by you. That is the nature of our new family! Like the song writer said. “I’m so glad that I’m a part of the family of God!”)
D. v. 3 Jephthah’s Companions – When Jephthah left the family home, he went to a place called “Tob”. Tob was located east of the Jordan River in the country of Syria.
We are told “vain men” gathered themselves to Jephthah. The phrase “vain men” refers to those who are “unemployed, bankrupt and empty.” These were idle men looking for something to fill their time. We do not know why flocked to Jephthah, but it may that in him, they saw a leader. Maybe they saw someone who could help them find a purpose in life.
Whatever their reason for coming to Jephthah, the Bible tells us that they “went out with him.” This does not mean that they dated. Jephthah was not that kind of man! What it means is that Jephthah became the ragtag leader of this band of misfits and outcasts. It is speculated that they acted like David and his men did during the time they were running from King Saul. They probably served as an informal police force that protected the Hebrews from the attacks of their enemies. It seems that Jephthah was able to mold these misfits into an effective fighting force. Jephthah was showing himself to be a leader of men.
(Note: There are a couple of lessons from Jephthah’s actions that I want to mention.
1. Jephthah took a negative and turned it into a positive. He could have taken his rejection by his brothers as an indication that his life was over and that he would never amount to anything. Instead, he rose above the challenges of his life and made something of himself.
Sometimes it looks like life is against us, but if you believe in divine sovereignty; you know that ever the worst of circumstances are part of His plan to make us more like Him, Psa. 37:23. Whether you see it or not, whether you believe it or not, all the days of your life have been structured by God to make you into the person He wants you to be!
2. God delights in using the unusable. He specializes in taking those who seem to be the least of the least and making them vessels of honor for His glory, 1 Cor. 1:26-31!
3. Birds of a feather tend to flock together. People like Jephthah came to Jephthah. The principle is this: people tend to gravitate toward those who reflect what is in their own hearts. Look at the people you talk to. They are often people just like you. We usually seek out others who are just like us. Look at the people you spend your time with. They reveal the sort of person you are!
If someone is discontented, they will gravitate toward other discontents. If someone is given over to a specific sin, they will gravitate toward others who do the same thing. Conversely, is someone has a true heart for the things of god; they will gravitate toward others who are seeking God too. Today would be a good time to consider the kind of people you spend time with!
4. Rejection is hurtful, but beneficial. God uses the animosity and attacks of others to build our character and refine our lives!)
I. An Appalling Rejection
II. v. 4-8 AN ASTONISHING
(Ill. Jephthah is living his life in exile. He is something of a Robin Hood kind of figure. He is protecting the Israelites and making the best out of his situation when his own people looking for him. They come to him with an astonishing request. Let’s take a moment examine that request.)
A. v. 4-5 The Cause Of The Request – The nation is under attack. The Ammonites are trying to take over the land. The children of Ammon were the descendants of Abraham’s nephew Lot through and incestuous relationship with one of his own daughters. The Ammonites were cousins to the Jews, but they were also there perpetual enemies. So, Israel is under attack and they do not have a strong leader to guide them to victory over their enemies.
B. v. 6 The Character Of The Request – The elders of his people come to him with the request that Jephthah come back and become their “captain”. This word means “commander, chief, or ruler”. At one point they asked him to leave; now they come to him asking him to lead! What a change of mind! What a change of direction.
(Note: This is just a reminder that the call to service or leadership might come without notice. We are to be ready and prepared to answer His call when it comes.
Our duty is to faithfully serve the Lord where we are. We should ever do His will where He has placed us. We must strive to learn all the lessons He wants to teach us. It is God’s responsibility to open the doors of ministry and opportunity. It is our responsibility to grow where we are planted, and to trust the Lord to use us when, where and how He sees fit. If we will make our hearts available to Him, He will give us plenty of opportunities for service in His kingdom’s work. When we serve Him faithfully today, He will look after our tomorrow’s!)
C. v. 7-8 The Commitment Of The Request – In verse 7, Jephthah recounts their past attitude towards him. He reminds him that they were the ones who asked him to leave; now they want him to come back and be their ruler. In verse 8, they reissue their promise that Jephthah will be their “head” if he will only come back with them and deliver them from their enemies. The word “head” means “the top, the summit, the chief”. They want Jephthah to come back and take over! They want him to come back and be their boss. They are offering him control over their lives.
There treatment of Jephthah in these verses is sad. They had no use for him when things were going well, but when the bottom fell out, they ran to him for the help they needed.
By the way, this is how many people treat the Lord. They refuse to be faithful. They refuse to serve Him. They refuse to honor His word, His will or His house. They treat Him like He is an unwanted intruder in their lives. They treat Him like He is the spare tire on the car of their life. He is to stay in the trunk and keep quiet, but He better be ready when they have a flat and pull him out!
What a shame! How much better it is to walk in the will of the Lord day by day. Then, when the bad days to come, you have the confidence that you have walked with Him, and now He will walk with you. If you leave Him out of your life, He may just let you deal with your problem on your own when it comes! If He did, who could blame him?
I. An Appalling Rejection
II. An Astonishing Request
III. v. 9-11 AN AMAZING
(Ill. I do not know what I would do if I were Jephthah and that bunch of yahoos came to me. I probably would not respond like he did. His is an amazing response. Let’s take a moment to examine it.)
A. v. 9-11a Jephthah’s Acceptance – After confirming that their offer is valid, Jephthah consents to go with them and to lead them to victory. His treatment of them is vastly different from their treatment of him! Even though they had abused him and treated him like dirt, Jephthah is not bitter. He was able to get over the things they did to him. He was able to see past their mean-spirited actions and he caught a glimpse of the hand of God at work in his life.
One that will become clear as you read about Jephthah is that he was a man who honored the Lord in his life. He might have been an exile from Israel, but he was never and exile from God. Unlike his relatives, he proved his commitment to the Lord by his treatment of others!
Whether we will accept it or not, how we treat others is a direct reflection of the place God holds in our hearts. If we can spitefully mistreat and attack those who are made in God’s image and bought by the blood of His Son, it does not say much for our opinion of Him. When we love Him as we should, we will love others as we should, Matt. 22:37-39; 1 John 3:14-16; 4:20.
B. v. 11b Jephthah’s Advancement – The people honored their word and they elevated the reject and made him their ruler. He became their “head” and he became their “captain”.
C. v. 11c Jephthah’s Acknowledgement – We are told that “Jephthah uttered all his words before the Lord in Mizpeh.” The word “Mizpeh” means “watchtower”. In Gen. 31:33-55 the place is called “Mizpah”. It was there that Jacob and Laban made an agreement that they would not attack the other. They called upon the Lord to witness their covenant. By the way, there’s was not a friendly parting! They parted as enemies. (Ill. The “Mizpah Coins” are supposed to express friendship. In reality, they represent perpetual enemies!)
That is what Jephthah is doing here. He is calling on the Lord to look upon the promises made to him by his people. He is calling on the Lord to watch over him as he goes out to battle. He is acknowledging the Lord and looking to Him for the help he will need to win the victory. In verse 9, Jephthah knows that any victory they might enjoy will only come from the Lord.
It would do us well to remember that any victories we might enjoy in this life will be our only if the Lord delights in us. Victory does not come from us, our efforts or our abilities. Victory comes from the Lord and from a relationship that is centered in Him and in Him alone! (Ill. 1 Cor. 15:57) It pays to acknowledge God in everything we do. It pays to call on Him, look to Him and trust Him for the victories we seek in life. Jephthah became a victor, but only because he was first a servant of God who looked to the Lord for the victory!
Conc: The reject became the ruler! Most of us will not become rulers in our lifetime, but there are some lessons we can take away from this message on Jephthah.
1. We all have strengths and weaknesses, but the Lord can use us and make something special out of our lives.
2. There may be a cycle of sin in our background, but it can be broken today!
3. God can use you in spite of your past, your family or your failures. (Ill. A twenty dollar bill has the same value whether it is new, worn or torn. Its value never changes!)
4. Your treatment of others reveals how you really feel about God.
5. You can and should serve God faithfully today and trust Him with all your tomorrows.
If He has touched you through the story of Jephthah, you should obey His voice and do exactly what He is calling you to do!