A Sacrificial Leader
Good morning. Today we are going to look at an extraordinary man from Gilead and we are going to see that he possessed many strengths, one of which was a strength that most Christians could use.
Turn your Bible to Judges 11, we’re going to look at the 9th judge of Israel this morning and his name is Jephthah.
I. I am not going to read everything about Jephthah but what we are going to do is pick out 3 of his strengths. The first one I want to highlight is this, “He didn’t let his past grudges hold him back from serving God.”
A. In a society where broken families are the norm and many children are conceived, let’s say accidentally, it’s not surprising that some of these children are growing up without any confidence or purpose. Some children are brought up in violent homes where they are either neglected or abused mentally, physically or sexually. Because of that upbringing, it leaves them scarred, psychologically, for life.
B. Jephthah was a man just like that. He didn’t have a very good start to life either. Judges 11:1 (NKJV) – “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah.” His father was Gilead; his mother was not his fathers wife.
C. Were you ever bullied when you were at school? I was because as the son of a farmer I dressed funny. Our son was because of his mild manner and size. I know a friend of mine was because she wore glasses. She told me that when she was being bullied, she lost her self-esteem; she lost her confidence, all because she wore glasses. Jephthah wasn’t being bullied because he wore glasses, he was being picked on because of who his mother was. Judges 11:1 tells us that “he was the son of a harlot”. Like much of the world today, his brothers blamed the wrong people. Judges 11:2 (NKJV) – “Gilead's wife bore sons; and when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, "You shall have no inheritance in our father's house, for you are the son of another woman.”
D. If Jephthah’s mother was a harlot, you don’t need to be Sherlock Holmes to work out that his father, Gideon, must have had sexual relations with someone he shouldn’t have. Gideon was a great leader of God’s people, but let’s be honest, he committed sin.
E. Before he committed this sin he was a great man, so great in fact, that after he had defeated the Midianites the people came to him and said in Judges 8:22 (NKJV) – “Rule over us, both you and your son, and your grandson also; for you have delivered us from the hand of Midian”. After he sinned, Jephthah’s brothers didn’t think about their father’s ungodly act. How do we know? They told Jephthah “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family," they said, “because you are the son of another woman."
F. They didn’t dare blame their father because of their greed; they couldn’t blame their father because they would lose their inheritance. When you get pressure coming on you from all sides especially from other family members, you often end up with just one choice and that’s to just leave. That’s exactly what happened according to Judges 11:3 (NKJV) – “Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him.” Not surprising I suppose. We can imagine this happening today, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him.
G. We don’t know how old Jephthah was when he fled to the “Land of Tob” from his family. I can imagine that he has been tormented by his brothers for years. I can imagine his brothers saying things like, “Your mother’s a prostitute”. “Or I bet our father, isn’t your real dad, you’ve got a whole tribe to choose from.” When you read these scriptures I want you to notice that we are not told that Jephthah blamed God for his past or held grudges against his family, even though he may have an un-wed mother; even though his brothers tormented him.
II. Judges 11:4-10 (NKJV) – “4. Now it came to pass after a time that the people of Ammon made war against Israel. 5. And so it was, when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6. Then they said to Jephthah, "Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon.'' 7. So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father's house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?'' 8. And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.'' 9. So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, "If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the Lord delivers them to me, shall I be your head?'' 10. And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, "The Lord will be a witness between us, if we do not do according to your words.”
A. There must have been excellent reasons behind such a request as this. It was certainly a great humiliation on the part of the elders of Gilead for them to consent to plead with a man who had formerly been driven from their midst. Even though Jephthah had been thrown out of his home, even though he had been tormented for years about who his mother was, even though all his brothers were interested in was their inheritance, he let that go and did God’s will.
B. Folks, some would call that a great strength wouldn’t they? He may not have forgotten what they did, we are not told, but he got beyond that. I’m wondering today if there are grudges that we are holding against someone, which are stopping us from serving God. When we hold a grudge against someone, it can eat us up inside like some sort of disease.
C. That grudge will grow and grow until you are so angry inside, you may want to do something which will cause you to sin. That’s what happened to Esau in Genesis 27:41 (NKJV) – “So Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing with which his father blessed him, and Esau said in his heart, "The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then I will kill my brother Jacob.” Jephthah may have recalled what God said in Leviticus 19:18 (NKJV) – “You shall not take vengeance, nor bear any grudge against the children of your people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the Lord.”
D. In Mark 6 we find John the baptizer in prison. Herodias hated John so much the Bible says in Mark 6:19 (NKJV) – “Therefore Herodias held it against him and wanted to kill him” Folks, if we are nursing a grudge against someone this morning then let me encourage us to use this strength of letting it go. Let it go and forgive the people who have upset us in the past because all it will do is eat at us and destroy us.
E. We feel a great admiration of Jephthah, because, in spite of the unwholesome environment in which he was forced to live, his name nevertheless appears in the roster of God's faithful servants (Hebrews 11:32).
F. The story goes that in the home of Dr. Goheen, the well know missionary in India, there was a native who was dusting and polishing his furniture and when accidentally he knocked over one of Dr. Goheen’s favorite vases. The young Indian didn’t know what to do, but fall on his knees and beg for mercy from the Doctor. The doctor just smiled and said, “Never mind, I forgive you.” The servant was astonished for on the quite face of the Christian man there wasn’t a trace of anger. Then the servant jumped to his feet and shouted, “I believe, I believe!”
1. The story goes on to say that the servant had been gradually coming to know Christ through the example of the doctor and now his readiness to forgive had won him over completely to Jesus.
2. Folks, if we hold a grudge against someone, we can be a stumbling block to them and in effect we might be stopping them from following Christ. Colossians 3:13 (NKJV) – “bearing with one another, and forgiving one another, if anyone has a complaint against another; even as Christ forgave you, so you also must do.” That’s a truth that we need to believe today, because we need to forgive to be forgiven.
III. It’s interesting that the name Jephthah means “God will set free.” This was true in the sense that he was the one who would deliver God’s people from the Ammonites, but it’s also true in the sense of John 8:32 (NKJV) – where Jesus says, “The truth will set you free." The truth did set him free. He let his past grudges go. He didn’t hold it against them.
A. The elders of Gilead recognized they needed help and that Jephthah was their man. In Judges 11:11 and following we find that Jephthah took up the position of leader and went to work straight away. He tried the diplomatic approach first by talking with the enemy, but Ammonites wanted war and so Jephthah launched an attack against them. What we need to note is that he didn’t go it alone, he had God with him.
B. Judges 11:29 (para) - “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites.”
IV. Some might say that Jephthah’s 2nd strength was, “He was willing to sacrifice to God.” When he knew this was going to be armed conflict and Jephthah made a rather rash vow to God. Judges 11:30-31 – “30. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, "If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, 31. "then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord's, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”
A. He’s saying, “God, if You help us win over this enemy, I will give You an offering of whatever I have in return, just to let the people around me know that it was You who gave me the victory.” Judges 11:33 (NKJV) tells us that God gave him the victory. “And he defeated them from Aroer as far as Minnith twenty cities and to Abel Keramim, with a very great slaughter. Thus the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.”
B. After the battle was won and he returned home, what came out to meet him? His pet dog? His newly born lamb? No. Judges 11:34 (NKJV) – “When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter.”
C. It was his daughter, his only child, who came out to meet him. Can you imagine the gulp in his throat, when she came out? She’s happy to see him home, safe and well but poor Jephthah. It says in Judges 11:35 (KNJV) – “And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he tore his clothes, and said, "Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it.”
D. Jephthah tore his clothing in distress as he now realized the terrible rashness of his vow. Doesn’t your heart just go out to him? You can’t help but feel the pain and anxiety he has inside for his daughter. He must have been thinking, “What I have done?”
E. You know it’s this part of the story that reminds me of Abraham and Isaac. In Genesis 22 when Abraham takes his one and only son up Mount Moriah to be sacrificed to the Lord. The Bible says that Isaac questioned his father in Genesis 22:7-8 (NKJV) – “7. But Isaac spoke to Abraham his father and said, "My father!'' And he said, "Here I am, my son.'' And he said, "Look, the fire and the wood, but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?'' 8. And Abraham said, "My son, God will provide for Himself the lamb for a burnt offering.'' And the two of them went together.”
F. Abraham couldn’t bring himself to tell his son that he was the offering until the altar was made. But Isaac wasn’t a young child remember, he was old enough to understand what was going on. That’s why according to Genesis 22:9, he let his father Abraham “Bind him and lay him on the altar.”
G. Jephthah must have felt like Abraham felt. His daughter had as much faith as Isaac did, but in some respects even more, because she didn’t know what the vow was that her father had made with God. Notice her reaction. Judges 11:36 (NKJV) – “"My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.” What faith, what courage, to say “Thy will be done.”
H. In the film “Green Mile” Tom Hanks plays the part of a prison officer who is in charge of a wing where people are awaiting the death penalty, death by the electric chair. They have a prisoner who is a gentle giant of a man; awaiting the chair but he also has a gift of healing people from all sorts of diseases. As the film goes on, Tom Hanks discovers that he didn’t murder two little children like he was convicted, but by this time it was too late. There was nothing they could do to prevent him from going to the chair.
1. The night before he was due to be electrocuted Tom Hanks asks the man what his last request would be before he died. This huge gentle giant of a man said, “He would like mashed sweet potatoes and stew and some of Tom Hanks’ wife’s homemade apple pie.”
2. Jephthah’s daughter didn’t want something to eat, but her request is recorded in Judges 11:37-38 (NKJV) – “"Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.'' So he said, "Go.'' And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains.”
V. Its one thing to make a vow to God but it’s another thing to carry out that vow, isn’t it? Judges 11:39 (NKJV) – “And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.” Listen carefully to what I’m about to say. There is a danger in taking things at face value in any text and this is a perfect example.
A. Did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter to the Lord as a burnt offering or not? When you read the text at face value you could be forgiven for thinking that he did. I would like to suggest to you that he did and he didn’t sacrifice his daughter, let me explain. If he sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering to the Lord, he would be breaking one of the greatest commands of the Old Testament.
B. Genesis 6:9 where God says to Noah after the flood. “Whoever sheds the blood of man, by man shall his blood be shed; for in the image of God has God made man.” Consider that Jephthah’s vow to God was made under the immense pressure of battle. When people are under pressure, they will make rash vows.
C. How many of us have said to God, “God, if you just get me out of this situation, I will do anything for you.” Under the pressure of the moment we probably would do anything. But would we literally do anything?
D. We may give up our home, our job, etc. But when we say “Anything” we mean anything that isn’t sinful. That is not mincing words; it is something that is understood. Because God is not going to accept sin as an offering therefore something sinful can not be under consideration.
E. I want to suggest to you that Jephthah’s vow to God was rash and if he literally followed it through the way we read it, it would have been sinful. We know that God doesn’t allow human sacrifice. In the same way Abraham was being tested to see if he would sacrifice his son Isaac. Jephthah was being tested to see if he would carry out his own promise to God, but when he realized that his vow to God was rash and false in the sense that he knew God wouldn’t accept it, he did the next best thing. He did what was right.
F. Scholars can argue this one way or the other but what clue does scripture give?
1. Judges 12:7 (NKJV) – “And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.” Jephthah continued to lead Israel.
2. Also Jephthah appears in the roster of God's faithful servants (Hebrews 11:32). This is not the likely outcome of a judge who committed sin is it?
3. I am content to let the scholars fuss over this one. The point is Jephthah continued to serve God. I suspect though that in some way Jephthah’s vow was satisfied.
VI. How about us, how do we handle what we have promised? I’m wondering how we handle doing what we say we’re going to do for God. How many of us, when we were baptized, were so grateful for the forgiveness we received that we were willing to do anything to help the Lord’s church? How many of us thought, “I’m going to serve the Lord however I can from now on and in any way I can?”
A. We may have courage to offer our services to the Lord but it takes greater courage to go through with our offer of service. Jephthah said “I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it.” That too is real courage. His daughter said “My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth” That also is real courage.
B. Folks, we don’t want to be like the Pharisees and the teachers of Law, where Jesus says about them in Matthew 23:3 “Do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.”
C. We’re Christians, followers of Christ, imitators of Christ, in other words we do what Christ did. Mark 10:45 “For even the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many." Jesus came to serve and we should be serving too. If we have the strength to offer our services to the Lord, but struggle to follow it through, then work and pray for that strength and use it.
D. That brings me to Jephthah’s final strength; “He was a leader who was willing to be led by God by faith.”
VII. After the incident with his daughter Judges 12:1-4 tells us that Jephthah punished an arrogant group of Ephraimites at the Jordan River by using a clever strategy to confuse the enemy.
A. When I traveled to the UK and visited different parts of England, Scotland and Wales, people often had difficulty in understanding what I was saying. Of course that works both ways. I had to struggle to understand them sometimes, but that’s OK. We struggled to understand each other because the accents are different even though we are speaking the same language. I certainly could not convince a person from London’s east end that I was from England. My accent would give me away. That’s the clever strategy which Jephthah uses to confuse his enemy.
B. Judges 12:5-6 (NKJV) – “5. The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, "Let me cross over,'' the men of Gilead would say to him, "Are you an Ephraimite?'' If he said, "No,'' 6. then they would say to him, "Then say, 'Shibboleth'!'' And he would say, "Sibboleth,'' for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.”
C. This was the talent of a great leader, to seize upon a way to distinguish one group of people from another. He asked those wanting to cross the river to say, "Shibboleth," which is the Hebrew word for “Stream.” The idea was that if the people they asked were Ephraimites, they wouldn’t be able to pronounce the word correctly. Because of their accent they would say, "Sibboleth." In effect their accent would give them away as the enemy.
D. Because of this great leader’s thinking, they managed to kill 42 thousand Ephraimites at one time. He was a leader who was led by God and he had a method of distinguishing those who were a part of his tribe from those who weren’t a part of his tribe.
E. Ok, he had weaknesses which were rash, he had thoughtless behavior, but Jephthah was a man with remarkable abilities of leadership. In spite of rejection by his family, he exercised his many strengths and rose to a position of great authority.
When people look back at the history of Chardon, what are people going to remember about us? Are they going to remember us as believers in Christ, servants of Christ?
The story goes, there were two brothers in the Taylor family. The older one said, “He must make a name for his family, and so turned his time to parliament and fame.” The younger brother decided to give his life to the service of Christ and so turned his time toward China and duty. James Hudson Taylor, the famous missionary died, beloved and known on every continent, but if you were to look in an encyclopedia to see what the other son had done, you will find these words, “The brother of james Hudson Taylor.”
Jephthah will be remembered as a great leader of God and a man of faith. Hebrews 11:32-34 “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel and the prophets, who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised; who shut the mouths of lions, quenched the fury of the flames, and escaped the edge of the sword; whose weakness was turned to strength; and who became powerful in battle and routed foreign armies.”
What about us? When I look around at the Lord’s church I see leaders Who doesn’t want to be a leader. I also see leaders who want to be led by God. I see leaders who lead us in words of prayer and with words of devotion to God, but I also see leaders who have the talent to lead but are not willing to develop that talent to lead God’s people in other ways.
Christ is our leader and He leads us, but before He comes back He also needs leaders to lead the way. If that’s your strength then use it and develop it or it will be taken away from you as Jesus tells us in Matthew 25:28. Use it or lose it, it’s your choice because like I said at the beginning I think that most Christians could use this talent.
Whether it’s leading the ladies in a study or presiding on a Sunday morning over the Lord’s Table. Some people have the talent to lead God’s people but we’ve all got the talent of leading all people and their thoughts towards God. All of us must possess that.
Jesus said in Mark 16:15 "Go into all the world and preach the good news to all creation.” That’s not just a talent that the disciples had or the preacher has, it’s a talent that God has given every one of us. After all, He wouldn’t ask us to do something without giving us the means or the talent to do it. We can also be like Jephthah, a great sacrificial leader, led by God.
We learn from the New Testament how to be saved. We need to hear the word; believe in Jesus; repent of our sins; we must confess our belief that Jesus is the Son of God; and be baptized for the remission of our sins... If we follow these steps, the Lord adds us to His church.
Perhaps there is someone in the assembly today with the need to be buried with Christ in baptism. If you have never done these things, we urge you to do so today. If anyone has this need or desires the prayers of faithful Christians on their behalf, we encourage them to come forward while we stand and sing.
# 639—Where He Leads Me
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