Jephthah and Sovereignty (Part 2)

March 17, 2012 at 1:49 pm | Posted in Devotional thoughts, It's All About God | Leave a comment

In my last post we looked at the people around Jephthah, emphasizing their motives for praying to God.  But Jephthah himself is an interesting study.  First, he believes, or at least gives lip service, to God’s sovereignty.  His first mention of possibly leading the people, after they ask him, is either a second question (NIV, NASB, KJV) or a negotiation demand (ESV, HCSB).  Either way, the manner in which he says it is insightful.  He doesn’t say “if I bring you victory,” but rather, “if the Lord gives me victory.”  “Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, ‘If you bring me home again to fight with the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.’” (Judges 11:9 ESV or “will I really be your head?” NIV)  He recognizes that any success he has will be God’s doing.  That’s a great beginning.

Second, Jephthah knows God’s covenant history with Israel.  His letter to the Ammonite king (11:14-27) is a good history lesson which corrects the opposition’s misrepresentation of that history.  That king is coming to war against Israel because, he asserts, Israel took land from him when they came out of Egypt (12-13).  But, Jephthah corrects, the land he claims as his was actually taken from Sihon, the king of the Amorites.  Notice that, though those names are similar, the second one is a different nation.  In fact, the text of that history says Israel took land from Sihon, king of the Amorites, only as far as the border of the Ammonites (Numbers 21:24).

Third, notice that Jephthah is devoted to God and willing to do anything God requires.  Before we get too critical we must give him credit here; he did what he believed God demanded of him, even though it cost him dearly.  He is even on God’s list of faithful people in Hebrew 11!  When it became evident that war was unavoidable, he made a promise to God: “Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, ‘If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.’” (30-31 ESV)  Unfortunately, what came out of his house after the victory was his only child.  Jephthah was serious enough about his commitment to carry out that tragic vow.  In spite of the tragedy, I guess we should give him credit for consistency and commitment.

However, this is a tragedy simply because he doesn’t know God’s law or the value God places on human life.  God strictly prohibited his people sacrificing their children (Deut 12:31, 18:10) and he made provision for those people dedicated to God to be redeemed (Ex 13:13-15; Lev 27).  Though none of these passages address Jephthah’s exact situation, I believe they spell out God’s heart in the matter of sacrificing people to him, and a better knowledge of those principles would have saved Jephthah a lot of heartache.

If we believe God is sovereign, then we will want to know what he has said.  If we want to please him, we will study his word to know how to do that.  People who want to honestly worship a sovereign God will study his word, know his principles and know his heart.  The lesson of Jephthah’s tragedy must be to spend time in God’s word and know his heart.

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