Tuesday, January 11, 2011
God will use what He gets
So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand.
The story of Jephthah is one of the anti-hero. Jephthah did not have a great past. He was born from his father's illicit affair with a prostitute (Judges 11:1). He was driven from his home town by his own half-brothers and became something like a contemporary gang leader or drug cartel crime boss (11:2-3). Evidently he developed some sort of reputation for violence and control because when his hometown falls under the oppression of the Ammonites, they come back to him to ask him to lead Israel against their enemies (Judges 11:4-11).
He is not known for spiritual depth. He invokes the name of God in his "negotiations" with gentile armies, but does not seem to have any personal stake in the God of Israel. He uses God to taunt the armies of his enemies and does not really take much thought other than to rehearse the history of Israel in the conquest, facts he does rightly attribute to God.
He is best known for a rash attempt at piety... foolishly vowing to sacrifice to God whatever "greets" him when he returns from battle. The tragedy of the vow was that his only daughter came out to meet him after the victory. And Jephthah kept his "bargain" by eventually offering her as a sacrifice. The text gives no details, but there is no reason not to accept the fact that he killed her on an altar in the name of the God of Israel. The practice is not accepted as "right". This is further commentary on the dark spiritual state of Jephthah, whose pagan sacrifice is offered to Yahweh without question or comment in the text of the story, but with remorse on the part of Jephthah.
The weird thing is that God used Jephthah to deliver Israel. At one point (11:29), God's Holy Spirit "comes upon" him (a feature of a few leaders in the Book of Judges) and supernaturally enables him to march aggressively against Israel's foes, thus bringing the victory. Sometimes God just uses "what He gets" to bring glory to Himself. That much is clear from the story of Jephthah. There was no reason an illegitimate outlaw should become a general and judge, but God, in His mercy, used what was available out of commitment to the grace of His covenant-keeping nature.
- Prepare your minds for action.
1 Peter 1:13