Today’s Tough Text Tuesday comes from the story of Jephthah and his unnamed daughter, found in Judges 11. Since his story is 40 verses long, I won’t post the entire text here but I will say this as we begin: This is one of the most heart-breaking stories in the entire Bible. It’s unsettling. It’s disturbing. However, it will ultimately lead us closer to Jesus, if you let it. God wasn’t mistaken in including it.
Jephthah was the son of a prostitute. His dad, Gilead, was married to another woman when he was conceived and continued to have children with his wife after Jephthah (J) was born. When J’s half brothers grew up they weren’t too excited about J’s less than honorable origins. Instead of taking their concerns to their Dad, you know…the one who solicited J’s hooker mom, they take it out on J and kick him out of the family.
J then becomes captain of some thugs in the boonies. Something about him attracts other outcasts and they “went out with him,” like on raids, not on dates (v.3). So our outcast has become a mob boss and is causing all sorts of trouble. Saying he came from a broken home is an understatement.
Then God’s people (Israel) gets in trouble as the Ammonites wage war against them. Leaderless, they call out to J to lead them with his military might. He has to be convinced that’s what they really want but he eventually agrees. Even though he’s not directly appointed by God, “the Spirit of the LORD was upon” him, meaning the victory was already won.
Literally all they had to do was fight. God had already secured the victory. All J and God’s people had to do was trust God’s promise.
But surely that’s too good to be true, right? So J makes a tragic deal with God which is completely unnecessary. He tells God that if he gives them victory, J will sacrifice the first thing to come out of his house upon his safe return home.
J makes this rash vow in an effort to the earn the acceptance of God he already had. And his heart must have absolutely shattered when he arrives home and the first one to run out to greet him isn’t a dog, a lamb, or even a servant…but his daughter, his only child. J feels he must honor his vow, no matter what. So after a 2-month period of mourning and preparation for her impending death, J kills his daughter, his only child.
Problems and Questions
- J misunderstood the character of God, thinking he had to earn God’s love or acceptance. Don’t we find our own unique ways to do the same every day?
- Why did J make this vow in the first place? It seems like he was willing to even kill one of his servants without thinking twice if they were to come out to help him unload from his long journey. J was most likely incredibly desensitized to all the violence surrounding him and his friends, in addition to all the wars he would have participated in as a “mighty warrior” (11:1).
- Why did he KEEP his vow? There’s nothing to indicate he had to, especially since the Bible clearly condemns human sacrifice before, during, and after J’s time. Ultimately, J doesn’t understand God’s grace. He doesn’t get that God desires obedience far and above any sacrifice we feel we should make to impress God.
A BIG Problem and Conclusion
J appears briefly in the “Hall of Fame of Faith” chapter, Hebrews 11. What?!?!? How in the world do we look at J to learn anything about a life of faith? How in the world can we follow a GOD who would put him there?
It doesn’t take a Bible genius to recognize some of the names of the other men and women mentioned in Hebrews 11. They all did something great for God but they also all made tremendous mistakes, including some pretty significant moments of unfaithfulness. Yet they are still recognized as the people of God.
So what’s going on?
I think what J, his gang-banger friends, and the rest of the Hebrews 11 crew can teach us is that God is ready and willing to use messed up people to further his kingdom. There’s nothing too bad to forgive and none of our worst actions or thoughts surprise God. In fact, the cross has paved the way for us to receive God’s grace for every one so we don’t need to make unnecessary vows or other attempts to earn the grace we can’t deserve yet freely have.
Should we emulate every action of the men and women we see trying to follow God in Scripture? Absolutely not. But they do know something we often forget: your mistakes don’t define you, no matter how big or small.
God is ready and waiting to use you TODAY. Will you let him?