God’s grace shines brightest against the backdrop of human failure. Jephthah was rejected by his own people and had no reason to help them. Yet God’s surprising and gracious choice of Jephthah allowed him to deal graciously with those who had rejected him.
Following the death of Gideon’s son Abimelech, God reminds Israel that it isn’t His plan for them to have an earthly king at this time. In fact, after Abimelech’s death, Israel is going to experience several decades of peace under the leadership of two different judges.
Now in Judges chapter 10, verse 1 introduces us to Tola. He’s from the tribe of Issachar, and he’s going to serve as judge for twenty-three years. We’re also told that Tola “arose to save Israel,” which indicates some kind of military victory, although we are not given the details.
In verse 3, Jair takes the reins of leadership, and he’s from Gilead, east of the Jordan River. For twenty-two years he will judge Israel. We’re told in verse 4, “He had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had [ruled] thirty cities.” This would be like saying today that Jair has thirty sons who drive thirty Rolls-Royces and are the mayors of thirty cities. This is quite a wealthy and powerful family.
The good news is there’s no mention of rebellion in Israel during this time. God in His grace sent these two men to lead Israel, and God gave the nation peace and stability.
But following the death of Jair, that old cycle of sin and rebellion returns. We read these familiar words beginning in verses 6-7:
The people of Israel again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord and served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. And they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines and into the hand of the Ammonites.
The Philistines and the Ammonites will oppress Israel for eighteen years, until they finally cry out to the Lord. But the Lord gives them a cold shoulder with these words in verses 13-15:
“You have forsaken me and served other gods; therefore I will save you no more. Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them save you in the time of your distress.” And the people of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned; do to us whatever seems good to you.”
Verse 16 then adds: “They put away the foreign gods from among them and served the Lord.”
And with that, we can determine they were genuinely confessing their sin. False confession tells God what He ought to do; genuine confession submits to whatever God decides to do. PQ False confession keeps on sinning; true confession results in turning away from sin.
When they turn back to the Lord, He sends them a new judge to lead them out of trouble. That judge’s name is Jephthah. He will become one of the most colorful, outspoken, and unlikely of Israel’s judges. In fact, his resume is a testimony to God’s grace, and I believe this is what God is highlighting in these chapters.
Chapter 11 opens with his background:
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. And Gilead’s wife also bore him sons. And when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.”(verses 1-2)
These verses are enough to make a self-righteous Israelite shudder. Surely there’s no way God is going to use this kind of man to lead Israel—he has at least three strikes against him.
Strike number one: He is the illegitimate son of a prostitute. His father, Gilead, was unfaithful and paid a dear price for his sin, and Jephthah is never going to live it down.
Strike number two: He is rejected by his family. His half-brothers hate him, and I can imagine Gilead’s wife also resents him. Their home seems to be a battleground.
In fact, we are told that when his half-brothers drive him away from home, his father doesn’t offer any support. Verse 7 reveals that even the elders of Israel are involved in wanting Jephthah to leave town. He’s an embarrassment to both this leading family and the community. So, Jephthah is run out of town.
Verse 3 tells us: “Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him.” The Hebrew word for “worthless” does not mean poor or uneducated, but unprofitable. Evidently Jephthah surrounds himself with evil young men from the back alleys of life.
And that leads me to strike number three: Jephthah essentially becomes the leader of a gang. This region of Tob was a gathering place for criminals on the run.
Jephthah was unloved and unwanted by everyone except other young men who also were unloved and unwanted! He had grown up being told he was worthless, so he makes his home with other young men who may have been told the same lie.
But let me tell you something about the grace of God. God isn’t limited by a shady past, or sinful parents, or social standing.
When God chooses Jephthah, this is His way of telling you that nobody needs to be a prisoner of their past. No matter how many strikes you have against you, God’s grace can wipe the slate clean. The apostle Paul put it this way: “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Romans 8:1).
Now look at what happens next. The elders from Gilead suddenly are desperate for a courageous leader. So, they hop on a stagecoach and ride out to Tob and say to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites” (verse 6).
These are the same guys who kicked Jephthah out of town! He responds in verse 7: “Did you not hate me and drive me out of my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?”
But then, amazingly, Jephthah says, “If you bring me home again to fight against the Ammonites, and the Lord gives them over to me, I will be your [leader]” (verse 9).
He chooses to help those who had refused to help him. His gang members probably think he’s crazy. How in the world can Jephthah forgive them for the pain they had caused him? We are actually given the answer in verse 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.
Although everyone had abandoned him, Jephthah knew God had not. Somehow, through all he suffered, he knew that whatever he was and wherever he had been, God had not forgotten him.
Look, no matter who you are—no matter what your past, no matter how desperate, no matter how sinful—Jesus died for you. By His grace, when you turn to Him in faith, He will not only forgive you and save you but also will empower you to serve Him. He will enable you to move beyond your past and say with Jephthah, “If God does something in and through my life, it will be for one reason only—to demonstrate God’s amazing grace.”