WEEKLY SUNDAY SCHOOL LESSON
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(GOD calls on the unlikely)
Jephthah was the illegitimate son of a man whose legitimate family resided in Gilead. His father conceived him through a sexual encounter with a prostitute. His many half-brothers, by the man’s legitimate wife, grew up hating Jephthah, and eventually, they were able to chase him off their land, vowing that he would never be allowed to share in their father’s inheritance.
Jephthah, fearing for his life, fled from Gilead, and settled in the land of Tob. Tob was a place located between Ammon, and Mannasseh, and it was there that Jephthah was able to pull together, a loose band of brigands, who would serve as his new family. The group became confident in his leadership, and, over time, they were willing to follow him anywhere.
Jephthah and his group quickly gained a reputation as great warriors and the stories of his exploits began to spread back to his former home in Gilead. It was about this time that the Ammonites had begun to wage war against Israel, and the elders of Gilead (some of them were his half-brothers), who had all by now, caught wind of Jephthah’s notorious reputation as a great warrior, decided to swallow their pride, and shamelessly send word to him, begging for his help.
After some mild rebuke from Jephthah (V.7), reminding them of how they had treated him earlier, the leaders of Gilead humbly conceded that they needed him and would make him their new ruler, if he would lead their army against the Ammonites (v.8). However, not trusting them, Jephthah made them swear an oath before the LORD that they would keep their promise to him (Vs.9-10). He then went with them to Mizpah, where they had a formal “swearing in” ceremony for him.
Unlike Gideon before him, Jephthah was initially called to his position by men, not GOD. However, GOD was called on to witness this event, and HE later placed HIS HOLY SPIRIT upon Jephthah (v.29), and the SPIRIT enabled him to be victorious in his military campaign against the Ammonites.
However, Jephthah’s first move as Gilead’s leader was a diplomatic one, as he immediately sent messengers to the king of Ammon demanding to know why Israel was being attacked by them. The king responded by accusing the Israelites of stealing their land 300 years ago, when they first came out of Egypt, and crossed the Red Sea. He told Jephthah that he would leave them in peace if they returned all of the land to them (even that part that was not originally theirs). This included all of the land situated between the Arnon, Jabbok, and Jordan rivers.
Jephthah refuted the king of Ammon’s claims, and presented his own case as to why his accusations were unfounded, and he relied on sacred history to back Israel’s right to ownership of the land which they now resided on. In verses 15-22 he lays out a detailed account of how Israel really came into possession of the land that was now in dispute, over 300 years earlier. He then tells the king that it was the LORD GOD of Israel who took the land from the Ammonites, the Moabites, and, the Amorites, and gave it to them.
However, Jephthah’s attempt at diplomacy failed as the king of the Ammonites paid no attention to his message. And so the SPIRIT of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he went throughout the land of Gilead and Manasseh, leading an army against the Ammonites that devastated 20 of their cities, towns, and villages.
Jephthah made an “unnecessary vow” to the LORD (because GOD had already assured him victory), stating that, “if GOD gave him victory over the Ammonites, that, he would, in return, dedicate the first thing coming out of his house to greet him upon his return, to the LORD, as a sacrificial burnt offering”.
And even though the vow that Jephthah made to the LORD was not at all unusual, as far as Mosaic dispensation goes, it was, as I said, unnecessary. He was legitimately seeking to bless the LORD with thanksgiving in anticipation of HIS divinely promised victory over the Ammonites. However, his “rash vow” would later come back to haunt him, as it was his daughter, his only child, who was “the first to come out of his house” (“his first born”).
GOD takes our vows to HIM, seriously, and, literally, and so we should put more thought into it, before making a vow, and then, don’t do it. This is eternally great advice that comes, not from me, but rather, from JESUS CHRIST our LORD and SAVIOR (Matthew 5:33-37).
A Sunday school lesson by,
Larry D. Alexander