A Despised Saviour (Judges 10:17–12:7)

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Stuart Chase - 29 December 2019

A Despised Saviour (Judges 10:17–12:7)

As with all the judges, the story of Jephthah is a story of salvation. His story must be understood in the light of two verses in chapter 10: Verse 13 (“I will save you no more”) and v. 16 (“The LORD became impatient over the misery of Israel”). The Lord did not explicitly appoint Jephthah as Israel’s judge, and there is no indication that he spoke to Jephthah or spoke to anyone about Jephthah, but he did nevertheless, in his growing impatience over Israel’s misery, providentially use him to deliver his people.

Scripture References: Judges 10:17-18, Judges 12:1-7, Judges 11:1-40

From Series: "Judges Exposition"

An exposition of the book of Judges by Stuart Chase.

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You may be familiar with the name Richard Paul Rowe, more popularly known as Dick Rowe. Rowe was the Head of A&R at Decca Records from the 1950s to 1970s. On 1 January 1962, he auditioned, but ultimately rejected, a British rock quartet, claiming that “guitar groups are on the way out” and that this particular group had “no future in show business.” The band was called the Beatles.

The Beatles, of course, are today widely recognised as perhaps the most influential band of all time. Despite Kanye West’s claim to being “the greatest artist that God has ever created,” the Beatles are the best-selling music artist in history, with estimated sales of more than 800 million physical and digital copies worldwide. The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1988 and each of its four members individually between 1994 and 2015. At the time of writing, the band holds the record for the most number one hits on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and has received seven Grammy Awards, four Brit Awards, one Academy Award, and fifteen Ivor Novello Awards. The quartet were collectively included in Time magazine’s twentieth century compilation of Most Important People of the Century.

It is safe to say that Dick Rowe got it wrong. Guitar bands evidently were not on the way out and the Beatles most certainly did have a future in show business. And while he later signed many other wildly popular bands and artists—including the Rolling Stones, Van Morrison, and Tom Jones—he is remembered in popular music history as the man who was dished humble pie for turning down the Beatles.

The Israelites of the judges era had never heard of Dick Rowe or the Beatles, but they were certainly familiar with the taste of humble pie. Previously, we saw that, despite their show of external religiosity, the Lord refused to provide a deliverer for them. As we will see in this study, in the absence of the Lord’s provision, they needed to eat humble pie and recruit a leader whom they had previously rejected.

As with all the judges, the story of Jephthah is a story of salvation. His story must be understood in the light of two verses in chapter 10: Verse 13 (“I will save you no more”) and v. 16 (“The LORD became impatient over the misery of Israel”). The Lord did not explicitly appoint Jephthah as Israel’s judge, and there is no indication that he spoke to Jephthah or spoke to anyone about Jephthah, but he did nevertheless, in his growing impatience over Israel’s misery, providentially use him to deliver his people.

The story of Jephthah covers a fairly lengthy section of the book—10:17–12:7—but the story of deliverance contained here can be broadly divided into three sections.

A Providential Salvation

As we saw previously, the consistent apostasy of Jephthah’s generation brought them to the point where the Lord vowed that he would no longer save them. That is, he vowed that, despite their shows of religiosity, he would not appoint a deliverer for them. The closing verses of chapter 10 bear this out.

An Unprovided Deliverer

We will see that the Lord ultimately chose to work through Jephthah, but the verses that introduce his story show that the Lord did not specifically provide him as Israel’s deliverer.

Then the Ammonites were called to arms, and they encamped in Gilead. And the people of Israel came together, and they encamped at Mizpah. And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said one to another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

(Judges 10:17–18)

You will remember that the Ammonites had “crushed” and “oppressed” Israel for eighteen years (10:8) so that the people were “severely distressed” (10:9). The Israelites were desperate for deliverance, but the Lord had told them that he would not provide a deliverer for them (10:13).

True to his word, when the Ammonites attacked, there was no clear leader appointed by the Lord. A deliverer, then, would need to come from somewhere else. But from where? There was no obvious candidate on the horizon. The people had but one option: to make a concession. Anyone willing to lead would be appointed by the people to lead. They were willing to follow anyone who volunteered to lead them.

Unfortunately, however, nobody seems to have volunteered, and so the Israelites started looking.

An Unwanted Leader

Since the Lord did not provide a deliverer, the people needed to do what they could to arrange their own deliverer, which brings us to chapter 11.

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.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him.

(Judges 11:1–3)

The writer’s introduction suggests that Jephthah was something of a mystery man—an almost legendary figure in the annals of Israelite history. He was “a Gileadite” and “Gilead was the father of Jephthah.” It is possible, of course, that his biological father’s name was actually Gilead. It is more likely, I think, that the writer actually didn’t know who his father was. (He was, after all, the son of a prostitute, and any respectable Gileadite would have tried to bury his connection with the illegitimate child of a prostitute.) The writer is therefore saying something akin to, “He was a South African, and South Africa was his father.” He was, in a sense, fatherless.

Though the identity of his father had been lost to the writer, tradition held that his half-brothers—the sons of his father’s wife—had rejected him and driven him away, refusing to accept that an illegitimate sibling would have any inheritance among them. Forced to flee from his family, Jephthah made his way to the land of Tob, where he became the de facto leader of a band of rejects and outcasts. His exploits became legendary, however, because when the people needed to find a suitable leader, they knew where to go, even if it required them to eat humble pie for calling back one they had rejected.

An Unopposed Leader

Though he was at one time unwanted, it eventually became clear to the people of Israel that Jephthah was their only option. In the end, nobody opposed his nomination as Israel’s leader.

After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.” But Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “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?” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the Ammonites and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” 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.” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The LORD will be witness between us, if we do not do as you say.” 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 11:4–11)

Despite the people’s commitment to follow anyone willing to lead, nobody had risen to the challenge. Still leaderless, yet gravely threatened, the people turned back to one whom they had previously rejected. At first, Jephthah was hesitant, but eventually, after a time of negotiation, in which he secured a solemn vow from them that he would be recognised as their leader, he agreed to go with them.

There are two things we must observe here before moving on.

First, note that there is no hint in these verses that the Lord specifically appointed Jephthah as Israel’s leader. Having previously been warned that the Lord would no longer save them, Israel did not consult the Lord in selecting a leader. The Lord did not speak to Jephthah as he had to Gideon or to Jephthah’s parents as he later would to Samson’s. There was no divine direction pointing toward Jephthah. He was Israel’s choice of leader.

Second, don’t miss the divine irony in the choice of a leader. The parallels between this text and the preceding pericope (10:6–16) are too obvious to be coincidence.

The people had rejected Jephthah (11:1–3) as they had rejected the Lord (10:6). As a consequence, they faced distress (11:4) as they had faced distress for their rejection of the Lord (10:7–9). They regretted their rejection of Jephthah (11:5–6) as they had regretted their rejection of the Lord (10:10). Both the Lord (10:11–14) and Jephthah (11:7) rebuffed their pleas for help by reminding them of their previous rejection. The people appealed to Jephthah (11:8) as they had to the Lord (10:15–16a). The sole difference lies in the response of the Lord versus that of Jephthah. Where the Lord had remained firm in his commitment to not provide a deliverer for the people (despite the anguish that he felt over their suffering, 10:16b), Jephthah eventually conceded and agreed to deliver the people (11:9–11).

These parallels cannot be a mistake. Rather, the writer seems to be using a literary device to highlight his point that Jephthah was not raised up by the Lord. If Jephthah responded as God had responded, he would likewise have refused to come to Israel’s rescue.

Nevertheless, the closing words of v. 11 are significant: “And Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.” The Lord did not appoint Jephthah, but he watched closely what was happening, and he would providentially work through Jephthah nonetheless. Indeed, Jephthah’s ministry would prove to be something of an object lesson to the people of the Lord’s graciousness despite their rejection of him.

A Precedented Salvation

If Jephthah was employed in the modern-day police force, he would serve as a negotiator. In the middle section of our text (11:12–28), Jephthah appeals to historical and theological precedent to show that that Ammon’s complaint was illegitimate.

It is difficult to know for sure whether Jephthah was genuinely hoping for peace or simply employing a delay tactic while he gathered a force of sufficient size to threaten the Ammonites. He had been called for a specific purpose: “to fight against the Ammonites” (11:9). There was no talk of a possible peace treaty when he had agreed to lead the people. Perhaps he felt that he could settle the matter peacefully. Or perhaps he just needed to buy some time while gathering his army.

Regardless, his negotiating skills were impressive. In his interaction with the Ammonite king, he displayed some knowledge of biblical history, though, sadly, it seems—as we will see later—his theology was anaemic. For now, however, notice the three arguments that he advanced in order to prove his case and appeal to the Ammonite king for an amicable settlement of the Ammonite-Israelite tensions.

The Historical Argument

First, he employed an argument from history:

Then Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said, “What do you have against me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” And the king of the Ammonites answered the messengers of Jephthah, “Because Israel on coming up from Egypt took away my land, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and to the Jordan; now therefore restore it peaceably.” Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the Ammonites and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: Israel did not take away the land of Moab or the land of the Ammonites, but when they came up from Egypt, Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. Israel then sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, ‘Please let us pass through your land,’ but the king of Edom would not listen. And they sent also to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh.

“Then they journeyed through the wilderness and went around the land of Edom and the land of Moab and arrived on the east side of the land of Moab and camped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the boundary of Moab.  Israel then sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, ‘Please let us pass through your land to our country,’ but Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory, so Sihon gathered all his people together and encamped at Jahaz and fought with Israel.”

(Judges 11:12–20)

Ammon’s rationale for fighting against Israel was a frivolous land claim. The Ammonite king claimed that the land in which the Gileadites dwelled had formerly belonged to Ammon and demanded that it be restored peacefully. Jephthah countered that the land had never been Ammonite. It had belonged to the Amorites. The king of Ammon was twisting history to support his land claim. But Jephthah knew history and would not be taken for a ride.

The Theological Argument

Second, Jephthah put forward a theological argument:

“And the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. So Israel took possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. And they took possession of all the territory of the Amorites from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan. So then the LORD, the God of Israel, dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel; and are you to take possession of them? Will you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? And all that the LORD our God has dispossessed before us, we will possess. Now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever contend against Israel, or did he ever go to war with them?”

(Judges 11:21–25)

While the king of Ammon claimed that the Israelites had unjustly captured the land, Jephthah argued that the Lord had, in fact, given them the land. If the Ammonite gods were as powerful as the Ammonites claimed, surely they would be able to give land to their people. Rather than waging a senseless war, would it not be better for Ammon to settle in the land that their god had given to them?

The Precedential Argument

Third, Jephthah advanced an argument from precedent:

“While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, 300 years, why did you not deliver them within that time? I therefore have not sinned against you, and you do me wrong by making war on me. The LORD, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.” But the king of the Ammonites did not listen to the words of Jephthah that he sent to him.

(Judges 11:26–28)

If there was any validity to this supposed land claim, why only assert it now? Why hadn’t Ammon generations ago claimed back their stolen land from Israel? Their silence proved that they never really believed the land was theirs. Their land grab claims were merely an excuse to justify their greed.

The merits of land expropriation are beyond the extent of our discussion here; our focus is the theological significance. The heart of Jephthah’s argument is the second half of v. 27: “The LORD, the Judge, decide this day between the people of Israel and the people of Ammon.” As we have made our way through the book of Judges, we have seen that each judge appears more flawed than his or her predecessor, yet these men and women were nonetheless men and women of faith. Jephthah finds a place in the great hall of faith in Hebrews 11:32 and even though little of what is recorded about his stands out to us as an act of great, faith-filled significance, surely we must pause here to admire his faith.

Jephthah here displayed an understanding that Gideon had earlier displayed: that while he was in a position as Israel’s judge, Yahweh was the ultimate Judge, and while he was a capable warrior, the battle was ultimately Yahweh’s. He knew that there was precedent for victory, not because of the victories he had obtained in various skirmishes throughout his time in the land of Tob, but because Yahweh, who had previously delivered his people could surely do it again.

Jephthah was a student of history and he found great encouragement in the way God had dealt with his people in the past. The same God who had dealt graciously with his people in the past could do it again. And if his glory was at stake, surely he could be counted upon to act.

Evangelical Christians are not the greatest students of church history. We tend to focus only on our own time and are often guilty of what C. S. Lewis termed “chronological snobbery.” The result is that we either think we are the greatest generation of Christians who have ever lived or that we live in the worst time in history for the Christian church. A good dose of church history will go a long way in quelling these misconceptions and in encouraging us that the God who was faithful to past generations of the church can be faithful to ours too.

An understanding of church history will also help us overcome our delusions of grandeur. It will help us to see that God often works through very flawed individuals and that what he accomplishes he does despite, not because of, the people he uses. Whether you think of characters in the Bible or characters in extrabiblical history, this is obvious. The Lord is capable of accomplishing his purposes despite the deep flaws of his people.

A Partial Salvation

We have seen throughout our studies that the salvation that the judges provided Israel was but a partial salvation, and Jephthah is no exception. In 11:29–12:7, the author highlights the reason that Jephthah was able to provide only a partial salvation: because he was a flawed saviour. The author highlights two tragic flaws in Jephthah’s life as he draws his narrative to an end.

Jephthah’s Tragic Promise

Jephthah is perhaps most famous for the vow that led to deep tragedy in his family, and which also betrays his shallow theology.

Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites. And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand. And he struck them from Aroer to the neighbourhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel.

Then Jephthah came to his home at Mizpah. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the LORD, and I cannot take back my vow.” And she said to him, “My father, you have opened your mouth to the LORD; do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, now that the LORD has avenged you on your enemies, on the Ammonites.” So she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: leave me alone two months, that I may go up and down on the mountains and weep for my virginity, I and my companions.” So he said, “Go.” Then he sent her away for two months, and she departed, she and her companions, and wept for her virginity on the mountains. And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.

(Judges 11:29–40)

Though the Lord had not specifically appointed Jephthah as Israel’s judge, he had grown sufficiently impatient over Israel’s misery that he chose to work through Jephthah. The Spirit of the LORD fell upon Jephthah in a special anointing so that he could war successfully against the Ammonites. The note about the Spirit of the LORD coming upon him is strategically placed at this point to highlight that victory was guaranteed. In fact, if we skip momentarily from v. 29 to v. 32, the story flows nicely. The vow of vv. 30–31 interrupts the flow of the story and serves to highlights that it was completely unnecessary. Yahweh was already with him; there was no need for theological bargaining at this point.

Sadly, Jephthah seems to have been as prone to bomb shelter Christianity as the Israelites in the previous pericope (10:6–16) and so he resorted to his favoured tactic of negotiation. Given the way that he had previously been rejected by his own people, his angst was perhaps understandable. Everything hinged on this victory. If he failed, he would be rejected again.

The nature of his vow has raised a great deal of discussion.

The ESV renders the vow this way: “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” The translation favoured here suggests the possibility that Jephthah expected an animal to be the first thing out of his house to greet him when he returned from battle, and in a culture in which we domesticate dogs and cats, it is easy for us to imagine that.

However, in a culture in which animals were not generally domesticated as pets, it was quite unlikely that one would be greeted by an animal when arriving home. Judges 5:28–30 highlights the custom of women eagerly awaiting the return of warring soldiers so as to welcome them home, suggesting that it was quite likely that Jephthah would expect a member of the household to be the first to greet him following a successful campaign.

The CSB favours this interpretation in its translation: “If you in fact hand over the Ammonites to me, whoever comes out the doors of my house to greet me when I return safely from the Ammonites will belong to the Lord, and I will offer that person as a burnt offering.” Following this translation, his shock was not that a person had first come out to greet him, but that it was his only daughter rather than, say, a servant.

Some interpreters think that Jephthah did not expect a human being to greet him upon his return and that he ultimately did not offer his daughter as a burned offering. I tend, with other interpreters, that he in fact did expect a person to come out and that he ultimately did sacrifice his daughter (11:39). This, of course, is not what God wanted (Deuteronomy 12:29–31), but God had vowed not to directly provide deliverance for his people, and his silence here suggests that he remained committed to that.

Assuming that he did, in fact, sacrifice his daughter, the shallowness of his theology is highlighted in at least three ways.

First, it was shallow to think that he could bargain with Yahweh in the first place. This shows how paganism had bled into Israel’s religion at this point.

Second, it was shallow to think that human sacrifice was a way to placate Yahweh and secure his favour. Again, this betrays how pagan his thinking had become. Despite his knowledge of Bible stories, he seems to have been deeply ignorant of what the Lord required (see Micah 6:6–8).

Third, it was shallow that, for all his knowledge of Israel’s history, he did not know the law well enough to know that there was a God-provided way out of this vow. Leviticus 5:4–6 gives instruction for extricating oneself from a rash oath, and Leviticus 27:1–8 is quite explicit in its instruction of what to do after making an inappropriate vow concerning another person. Sadly, neither Jephthah, nor anybody else who was aware of his vow, knew enough Scripture to help him avoid his daughter’s fate.

This highlights for us the necessity of good theology. Our understanding of God must go beyond the Sunday school stories with which we are enthralled if it will be of any help to us or those around us. If we are only vaguely familiar with the generalities of flannelgraph stories, we may find ourselves wading into waters of deep tragedy!

Jephthah’s Tragic Pride

Following the ordeal of his tragic vow, Jephthah faced trouble within his own ranks.

The men of Ephraim were called to arms, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, “Why did you cross over to fight against the Ammonites and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house over you with fire.” And Jephthah said to them, “I and my people had a great dispute with the Ammonites, and when I called you, you did not save me from their hand. And when I saw that you would not save me, I took my life in my hand and crossed over against the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?” Then Jephthah gathered all the men of Gilead and fought with Ephraim. And the men of Gilead struck Ephraim, because they said, “You are fugitives of Ephraim, you Gileadites, in the midst of Ephraim and Manasseh.” And the Gileadites captured the fords of the Jordan against the Ephraimites. And when any of the fugitives of Ephraim said, “Let me go over,” the men of Gilead said to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” When he said, “No,” they said to him, “Then say Shibboleth,” and he said, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they seized him and slaughtered him at the fords of the Jordan. At that time 42,000 of the Ephraimites fell.

Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in his city in Gilead.

(Judges 12:1–7)

A disgruntled Jephthah was eventually approached by the Ephraimites, who accused him of ignoring their prominent place in Israel’s history by not inviting them to go to war with him. Jephthah vehemently denied the accusation, but the attempted coup wounded his pride too deeply to ignore. Perhaps the threat of burning his house with fire, after what had unfolded with his daughter, was just too much for him to bear, and he immediately took up arms. A mini civil war, prefiguring the much greater civil war of which we will read later in the book, followed in which 42,000 Israelites were killed by fellow-Israelites. Six years later, Jephthah himself died, and was buried among his people in Gilead, thus bringing an end to the deliverance that he had brought.

The partial nature of the deliverance is highlighted at the opening of the next chapter when the Philistine affliction is highlighted (13:1). We saw last time that the Lord sold Israel to the Ammonites and the Philistines (6:7). While Jephthah had successfully delivered Israel from the Ammonites, the Philistine threat remained. He had accomplished only a partial deliverance.

Of course, it was impossible for Jephthah to offer a perfect deliverance because he was an imperfect saviour. He was as deeply sinful as the people whom he had come to deliver. His tragic promise and tragic pride highlight this reality.

This, no doubt, is the author’s goal: to highlight the judges’ in ability to fully save God’s people. Throughout the judges narrative, the author seeks to highlight the inadequacy of the judges. Even though God time and again used judges to deliver his people, we know the line of Judges all too well: “In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25). The author’s point is that the people needed someone greater than any of the judges to deliver them from the tyranny of sin and idolatry.

The books of Kings and Chronicles highlight the same truth regarding the kings. In those historical narratives, we discover that the presence of a king did not automatically reverse Israel’s apostasy. While there were a few good kings who led the people in the right direction, the authors frequently highlight the flaws even of those kings.

David was a man after God’s own heart, but he was also a murderer and a sexual predator. Solomon did a lot of good for Israel but also set the nation on a course to idolatry. Asa was a godly man but, when threatened militarily, resorted to hiring the services of Syria rather than relying on the Lord. Jehoshaphat feared the Lord but compromised morally in allying himself with godless King Ahab. Joash’s faith was fickle; Amaziah displayed a divided heart; Uzziah fell prey to ungodly pride; Hezekiah bathed in bitterness; and Josiah displayed a degree of spiritual deafness.

Each of these kings led Judah in moral and spiritual reform, but each fell short of complete deliverance because of their own sin. By the end of the era of the kings, we might say that there were kings in Israel, but every person still did whatever was right in his own eyes. Another kind of deliverer was necessary in order to deliver people from apostasy and turn their hearts to the Lord.

And yet, as we read Jephthah’s story, we cannot help but be reminded of a greater deliverer. Jephthah was a deliverer who came to his own but was despised and rejected by them. Yet, in time of need, those who despised and rejected him turned to him as their only hope and he fought on their behalf to deliver them from their oppression.

It is in the midst of this consistent failure by God’s leaders that the prophets began to speak. Jeremiah promised a better deliverer:

“Behold, the days are coming, declares the LORD, when I will fulfil the promise I made to the house of Israel and the house of Judah. In those days and at that time I will cause a righteous Branch to spring up for David, and he shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. In those days Judah will be saved, and Jerusalem will dwell securely. And this is the name by which it will be called: ‘The LORD is our righteousness.’”

(Jeremiah 33:14–16)

Again,

“For this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, declares the LORD: I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. And no longer shall each one teach his neighbour and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the LORD,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the LORD. For I will forgive their iniquity, and I will remember their sin no more.”

(Jeremiah 31:33–34)

The flawed judges would be followed by flawed kings, but all hope was not lost, for, one day, another King would come who would be without flaw. He would secure eternal salvation for God’s people and would change their hearts so that they would follow the Lord and not do whatever was right in their own eyes.

And yet, when that Deliverer came, he found himself in a situation not unlike Jephthah’s. He faced accusations of illegitimate birth (John 8:41). He was rejected—at least initially—by his own brothers (John 7:5). He came to his own people and yet they did not receive him (John 1:11). He was despised and rejected by men (Isaiah 53:3) and found company with a small group of outcasts who had no standing in respectable, religious society.

And yet this one, accused of an illegitimate birth, rejected by his brothers and his own people, was the only hope of the people he had come to save (Matthew 12:21). In securing eternal salvation for God’s people, he promised a sacrifice to God—the sacrifice of his own life in the place of those he came to save.

At Christmastime, we focus much on the baby in the manger, whom angels and shepherds adored. Our nativity scenes show one to whom wise men reverently brought gifts. It is a time in which we celebrate peace on earth and goodwill to those with whom God is pleased.

But let us remember that this baby, adored by shepherds and angels, and revered by wise men, grew into a man whom people rejected. They rejected him to the point of crucifying him. He became the sacrifice that would purchase eternal salvation for all those who would believe in him.

Jephthah provided only a partial, imperfect salvation because he was a flawed deliverer. Jesus Christ is the perfect deliverer, who offers to us full and final salvation through his own sacrifice on the cross. Having just celebrated the advent of Jesus Christ, let us never forget why he came: to deliver us fully and finally from the affliction of sin. And let us remember that that salvation was secured when he sacrificed himself on the cross for those he came to save. But let us also remember that he rose victorious from the dead and now offers to all who will repent of their sins and embrace him by faith a new heart, which longs to obey God, and eternal life in the age to come.

AMEN