GOD’S WORD FOR YOU
Jephthah Becomes Israel’s Leader
11 Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant hero. He was the son of a prostitute, and Gilead was his father. 2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You will have no inheritance in our father’s family, because you are the son of another woman.” 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Then some worthless men began to join up with Jephthah and went on raids with him.
Meet Jephthah. His father had a traditional family name: Gilead. We often meet people in the Bible named for a famous ancestor. How many Jospehs, Judahs and Simons (= Simeons) are there in the New Testament? So although Jephthah’s father had a good name, Jephthah did not, since his mother was a prostitute. What’s more, his father’s wife had plenty of sons of her own, and they didn’t like their half-brother very much.
Some Jewish commentators (Kimchi, Cohen) have said that their tradition is that this woman was Gilead’s concubine, but that’s not what the Hebrew text says. She was a zonah, a prostitute. Her profession was a sin, just as a “wayward wife” committing adultery with another man is a sin. They are equivalent to one another in Proverbs 23:27 (and in 23:28, where they are combined into a single pronoun “she”). This and other passages of Scripture tell us that God’s will is that sex is to be enjoyed within a marriage and not outside that marriage—or even before a marriage takes place. Faithfulness is faithfulness, without the boundaries of time. This is how “the marriage bed is to be kept pure” (Hebrews 13:4). Only death ends that union: “A married woman is bound to her husband as long as he is alive, but if her husband dies, she is released from the law of marriage” (Romans 7:2). Because this was generally understood by the Israelites, there was a stigma against children born outside of marriage, although Jacob treated the sons of the servant girls he slept with (Dan, Naphtali, Gad and Asher) as sons and heirs on an equal footing with his other eight sons (Genesis 46:16-17, 23-24).
So Jephthah was mistreated and driven away, and he accepted this mistreatment and took it in stride. He found a place to live in the north of Gilead, a place called Tob (“good”), which is one of several connections between Jephthah’s story and David’s (more about that later).
The Hebrew for “worthless men” (NIV “adventurers”) is ’anashim reyqim, “men (who are) empty, worthless.” These were renegades, and the verb choice tells us that they joined up with Jephthah as their captain gradually, one or a few at a time.
4 It was some time later when the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5 When the Ammonites made war with Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 They said to Jephthah, “Come, be our leader so that we can fight the Ammonites.”
Well! Things had changed quite a bit since verse 2. Years had gone by, and Jephthah and his band had obtained a reputation as a good fighting unit who had the knack of surviving. Since this is what the Israelites of Gilead wanted, they swallowed their pride and asked him to help. Notice that they didn’t just send him a letter. The elders actually went to Tob to get him.
7 But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why then have you come to me now when you are in trouble? ” 8 They answered Jephthah, “That is true. But we are turning to you now. Come with us and fight the Ammonites, and you will be the leader of all who live in Gilead.”
At least some of these elders were Jephthah’s half-brothers. There is no other way to correctly account for his question, “Didn’t you drive me out of my father’s house?” The reply they gave was the adverb laken, “thus, that being so,” which I have translated, “That is true… but.” This fits the Hebrew use of the adverb and its preposition, and its use in other passages like Genesis 4:15, which says literally “That being so, everyone who kills Cain will suffer vengeance seven times” (most translations make this a little more idiomatic in English).
The offer is now increased: If Jephthah will lead them against the Ammonites (and win, of course), he can be ruler of all Gilead during the battle and also after the battle. This is effectively where Jephthah is offered a crown. “You will be the rosh (head) of all who live in Gilead.”
To their credit, the Gileadites didn’t deny what they had done in the past. To their discredit, they didn’t apologize, either. They just acknowledged that they had done one thing, and now they were doing something else. This isn’t the kind of repentance God wants from us. If we confess a sin, he wants us to ask forgiveness, and then he wants us to turn away from it, now and in the future. We can do this only with the help of the Holy Spirit. He enables us to say, “I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin” (Psalm 38:18). Paul said to the Ephesians, “Turn to God in repentance and faith in our Lord Jesus” (Acts 20:21). This faith isn’t just faith that God might be merciful and let us off the hook, but faith that Christ took our sins to the cross—all of them—and suffered the penalty for sin in our place. More than a century ago, our WELS dogmatician Adolf Hoenecke gave this definition for repentance:
Repentance means that through God’s converting grace man recognizes his sins and regrets them and through faith grasps the merit of Christ to attain justification and eternal life. (Ev. Lutheran Dogmatics, Volume III p. 287).
May God ever lead you to a stronger faith in your Savior Jesus, through whom you have forgiveness and a place with him forever in heaven.
Pastor Timothy Smith
Archives by Wisconsin Lutheran Chapel: http://www.wlchapel.org/worship/daily-devotion/
Pastor Smith serves St. Paul's Lutheran Church, New Ulm, Minnesota