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The Book of Judges (17)

(Chapters 10 & 11)


And after Abimelech there arose to defend Israel Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar; and he dwelt in Shamir in mount Ephraim. And he judged Israel twenty and three years, and died, and was buried in Shamir.
And after him arose Jair, a Gileadite, and judged Israel twenty and two years. And he had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass colts, and they had thirty cities, which are called Havoth-jair unto this day, which are in the land of Gilead. And Jair died, and was buried in Camon (verses 1-5).
Quiet and peaceable reigns, though the best to live in, are the dullest for the historian to record. Such were the times under these two judges, Tola and Jair. Without doubt they were men of outstanding faith, courage and ability, and were both raised up by God to serve their country well. Unlike Abimelech, who murdered, usurped and aspired to the grandeur of a king, these men were content that Jehovah was Israel's king. So the idols of stone and wood were smashed and the people were led back to worship their God in sincerity and truth, and the land had rest for a period of forty-five years.

Then in verse 6 we read darkness descended, and they forsook the One True God Who loved them and watched over them, and they served the heathen deities and the gods around them. The inevitable result followed, and for eighteen years Israel suffered oppression, degradation and sore distress. At long last they lifted up their hearts in true repentance, threw out the images of the foreigners, and once again worshipped the Lord (verses 15 and 16).

During this apostasy, however, the Ammonites had quartered their armies in Gilead, that mountainous district east of Jordan occupied by the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh. Now these tribes seek a leader, and the princes among them agree that the man who will accept this onerous position will be automatically made ruler over them. He will be given the highest position in the land.

So we come to chapter 11 where we read:

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah. And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.
Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him (verses 1-3).

We have already considered the story of Abimelech, and seen how he made capital out of the degraded character of his birth. Jephthah, too, was the son of an harlot, but instead of being allowed to remain to stir up strife, he was thrust out of his home by his father's other sons. They said, 'Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a foreign woman'. Was this jealousy? He went away to Tob, a district in Syria, north of Canaan, where he became an outlaw. He became leader of a band of cut-throats, 'vain' men -- children of Belial -- outcasts.

When the Ammonites, the descendants of Lot by his younger daughter, made war against Israel in Gilead, the extraordinary thing is that the princes of these two and a half tribes went to Tob, sought out Jephthah, and offered him the position of leader of the people. No wonder we read in verse 7:

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?.

Evidently the men that went to seek Jephthah were the top men -- the elders of Gilead. They had a hand in his being sent away into exile, so they must have been desperate, at their wits' end, to have to take this humble step. Evidently, also, Jephthah must have made a name for himself, both for valour and leadership as the captain of the flotsam and jetsam that joined him in the rocky caves of Tob.

Vain men -- yes, no doubt, but we must remember that misery has always acquainted even the best of men with strange bedfellows. They were not all criminals or villains; debtors, broken men, injured and outcast men, a sprinkling of salt here and there, as there always is among the most abandoned men. Bad as they were, he moulded that rabble into an army of disciplined and obedient men. He trusted them, praised them, promoted them, and he became their undisputed leader and friend.

This man's record at this point reminds us of the history of David when he had to live rough as an outcast, because of the jealousy of Saul. David attracted to him not only 'vain' men, but many who were the finest to be found in Israel. They realized that no longer was Saul a man of God, and therefore was not worthy to be the nation's king. They recognized in David not only a leader, a man of courage and ability, but a true servant of Jehovah, so they left all and went out to him.

It should not be suggested for a moment that Jephthah was a man of God when the elders of Israel, cap in hand, begged him to return and take command of the army in Gilead. It was not until verse 29 of this chapter that we read, 'Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah'. We are not told whether or not he was at that time, but we know he became a great man of faith.

His reply in verse 7 was fully justified. After all he was only half an Israelite. He had been deeply wronged by his father's kin, and his father's people. He had spent long years of his early manhood among heathens and outlaws who kept themselves alive by brigandage, or possibly mercenary warfare. Yet he must have carved out a name for himself, and become famous as a brave and successful leader, for we know he was a mighty man of valour. It is evident that by coming to Jephthah, the elders of Gilead recognized the unpalatable fact that there was no other man of equal ability, character or experience in Israel who could take command in their defence against the children of Ammon. Their first plea was, 'Come and be our captain', where the word they used is 'katzin'. In verse 8, however, their offer is raised doubtless in view of his unfavourable reply:

And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.

They say, 'Come and be our head', and the word is 'rosh', which implies not only military command, but civil sovereignty as well. To those of us who are members of that church which is the Body of Christ, that title reminds us of the Lord Jesus Christ. He is our Head, we the members of His Body. This name is associated with the dispensation of the grace of God given to Paul as the prisoner of the Lord for us Gentiles. It was a direct revelation, given to the apostle after the nation of Israel had been temporarily set aside because of their unbelief, despite a second opportunity, at the close of the Book of the Acts. This man Jephthah was a picture, a faint shadow of a type of the Lord Jesus Christ. His name means, 'He will deliver'. In other words he was offered the position of 'Judge' as the English translation calls it. The title in the Hebrew implies 'to put right and then to rule'.

It indicates to us how far the princes, leaders and priests had failed in their loyalty to Jehovah in that no true Israelite could be found in the land to become the deliverer of the people from the hand of their oppressors. Jephthah, in his reply, reveals two things -- firstly, that he recognizes the sovereign power of the Lord; and secondly that he was dealing with men he had reason to distrust.

And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head? (verse 9).

"If, by the blessing of God, I come home a conqueror, tell me plainly, shall I be your head?". The elders from Gilead give him a positive answer:

The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words (verse 10).

The necessity was too pressing to admit any delay. Their offer was bound with an oath -- 'The LORD be witness between us'. The people made him head and captain over them, he became the Judge in Gilead, and 'Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh'. 'Before the LORD', usually meant 'before the Tabernacle', but it is just not feasible to imagine that the high priest would have carried the sacred ark into the disturbed and threatened eastern region of Gilead. Indeed there is no mention whatsoever of any high priests watching over the spiritual needs of Israel in the whole of this Book. They would appear to have sunk into the utmost insignificance.

This phrase, therefore, probably means that Jephthah performed some solemn ceremony and took an oath that would give him the authority he needed among the people. Maybe Jephthah did something else. Maybe he opened all that was in his heart to the Lord, past injury, present opportunity and future surrender and service unto Him. Maybe to Jephthah, Mizpeh was all that the Mount was to Moses when the Lord descended there with His great Name. There is a curtain over what actually occurred, so we do not know.

Nor do we know who Jephthah's wife was. If the daughter took her character from her mother, this wife must have been a woman of supreme courage and devotion, and maybe she died in giving birth to this daughter in the rocky caves of Tob.

As we read on in this chapter 11 in our next article, we shall find Jephthah now opens negotiations with the Ammonites:

And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon (verse 12).


Edited on January 25, 1998 / Updated on January 25, 1998
The Alachua Freenet does not endorse or disendorse the content of this document. Everything is the author's private opinion.
Location: http://www.afn.org/~leo/be_judges_17.html
Contact: Leo Wierzbowski / leo@afn.org

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