9 Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.” 10 And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be witness between us, if we do not do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and leader over them. And Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah. (Judges 11:9-11–ESV)
Jephthah’s conception of strength
Jephthah had been living in a wild country and leading a band of men whose backgrounds were less than pristine. Here the elder’s of Jephthah’s home found him and the negotiations had been proceeding. What manner Jephthah had been using to lead in Tob is not recorded though it would be easy to speculate.
What stands out is that Jephthah invokes the Lord in the negotiations. He indicates that it would be the Lord that gives them over to Jephthah. He is not a profane, ill-controlled leader of a wild tribe in a wild-country. He is a Gileadite at heart and not exactly ready to discard his brothers or his heritage. He had brought his understandings of God with him during his exile and he brought his understanding of God into the negotiation of his return.
In a manner the Gileadites had been humble in the asking of Jephthah to return and to be their head. Here another of their family is humble before God indicating that God would be the one who would have to give the Ammonites over to him.
The return of Jephthah
The men of Gilead reiterate their intentions and they are willing to do it before God. That was their “swearing on the Bible.” Jephthah returns to his home and is immediately placed in the position of leadership. He brought his family with him and at some point before the battles they are given a place to live.
One of Jephthah’s first actions as head and leader was a spiritual ceremony. He had spoken of God. Here he formally involves God into the picture. The negotiation of the Elders and Jephthah in Tob was repeated formally before God and the greater Gileadite nation.
Jephthah’s viewpoint of faith
While it is possible that Jephthah was merely hedging his bets and cared little for God that is a pessimistic outlook and seems to be out of character with the rest of the history of this man and his family. One can see that Jephthah had faith. He was not perfect, but he as the illegitimate son had more godliness than the natural born children. That is unfortunately not uncommon.
That God was not absent from his outlook continues to be seen in his recounting of the history of Israel and the way of his family and the outcome of his vows.
A more legitimate faith is not a sufficient faith. Jephthah like all needs grace and mercy before God. Humanity is on an absolute scale each being compared not with a jury of their peers, but the jury of Christ. Perfection is demanded. Perfection would be provided by Jesus the Messiah, but that was downstream from Jephthah. Downstream or not, grace can still be accepted.
Key points from this section:
- Be innocent as doves but wise as serpents (Jephthah questioned the elders on their intents).
- Godliness may be alive and well in the strangest places (Jephthah had not forgotten God).
- Injection of godly traits (humility) into man’s circumstances will settle the unsettled (both Elders and Jephthah were humble).
- When things go one’s way do not forget the Lord (Jephthah had not forgotten God).
- When cast out from your comforts the Lord will go with you (God had not forgotten Jephthah).
- God worked out all things. The Ammonites would be defeated; God would be glorified; a family would be united.
- By serving the Lord and doing things his way the final outcome will be the best possible outcome.