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Raising the Righteous Standard of Fathering to the Glory of God XV Lessons from the Life of Jephthah

Updated: Jun 8

 “According to the U.S. Census Bureau, 17.8 million children, nearly 1 in 4 live without a biological, step, or adoptive father in the home. That’s enough children to fill New York City twice or Los Angeles four times over.” National Fatherhood Initiative

God in His mercy sometimes allows men who were never properly fathered to develop gifts, skills and talents that help them carve out a living. Sometimes their gifts, skills and/or talents will cause them to be sought after and might even enable them to achieve a great degree of wealth and success. But the deficit of character that comes from not being consistently fathered by a man who knows and walks with God; and the wounds which come from not being fathered as we were meant by God to be fathered all will make their mark on such men – regardless of their accomplishments in life. Some people refer to this reality as a limp. Many men and women who faithfully serve and lead in the worldwide body of Christ serve and lead with such a limp.


In extreme cases these deficits or limps will have tragic results or consequences on these men and/or their children. Such was the case with Jephthah – the ninth judge or deliverer of Israel in the days before they began to seek and appoint kings. Thankfully our God is very mindful of such wounded men. We are told about this one in Judges chapter 11.


Jephthah you see was the son of a harlot and of a passive and unrighteous father. His father married another woman after his fling with the harlot, and with his wife had multiple sons. When these sons grew up and were probably in their late teens, they together drove Jephthah away because of his illegitimacy, which apparently was an excuse for them to get his share of their future inheritance (see vs. 2). Their father – perhaps to keep the peace in his home – turned a blind eye and did not intervene. After all Jephthah wasn’t the son of his wife, and she had given him probably at least three sons by this point.  And who wants to have a son around to remind them of how they lowered themselves to actually hire a harlot?


Jephthah like any young man longed for relationship with his father and with his siblings (and with his mother and his step mother for that matter). But all of a sudden he found himself fleeing from his siblings and any chance of a relationship with his father or step mother. We are not told about the status of the harlot in this story.


Jephthah surely was heart broken and probably bitter at this injustice. But he was also a valiant warrior (see Judges 11:1). And valiant warriors were evidently in short supply at a time when they were desperately needed by Jephthah’s people – the Gileadites. You see the Ammonites were preparing to attack them and the leaders of Gilead were desperately seeking someone to help defend them and lead their forces against the Ammonites. (see Judges 10:17,18).


Jephthah meanwhile had settled in the land of Tob, and being the natural leader that he was, a number of rough around the edges men were beginning to follow him (vs. 3). Word must have gotten back to the leaders of Gilead that Jephthah was both a skilled warrior and had some kind of an army around him. Very possible that he and his army had also won some battles in their domain. So these elders located him, met with him and asked him to lead their army.


It appears that by now one or more of Jephthah’s brothers were among the elders of the Gileadites because here is how Jephthah answered them, “Did you not hate me and drive my from my father’s house?”   Can you feel the emotional wound/pain in that question/reminder of their evil towards him? He goes on, “So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” (vs. 7). He was not going to let them skate by their treachery towards him as if nothing ever happened.


These elders were desperate for someone of Jephthah’s skills and bravery to help them avoid being conquered by the Ammonites. So they tried to dodge their sins against Jephthah and offered him the opportunity to both lead their armies and become the “head over all the inhabitants of Gilead” after the hoped for victory over the Ammonites (vs. 8).


Jephthah wisely made them confirm this offer, and herein do we see the first evidence that he had some kind of relationship with the Lord or at least knowledge of the Lord by this point in his life, “….If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the Lord gives them up to me, will I become your head?” As skilled and brave as Jephthah was, he seemed to know only the Lord could give him victory over the Ammonites.


The elders confirmed and then began the process of Jephthah becoming their new leader. And then the text says these interesting words, “…and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord at Mizpah.” (vs. 11).  There must have been some official ceremony before the Lord, wherein Jephthah voiced his commitment and acceptance of this responsibility with a sense of God’s calling and leading and enabling.


One of the first things Jephthah did instead of presumptively rushing right into battle was he sent some messengers to the leaders of Ammon with the objective of trying to reason with them. He knew they had no valid reason for their intentions to attack the Gileadites and called them on it (vs. 12).


They claimed the Gileadites had stolen land that belonged to them, and stated that if they would just return it they could all have peace instead of war.


Jephthah knowing Israel’s history well sent messengers back again to their leaders stating in no uncertain terms that God had given them this land, and thus they were not about to give it up (see vs. 14-26). Jephthah’s reasoning is actually quite astute, and is an example of how a leader can see some things clearly, but not see other things clearly at all (which is seen later in the story).


Well Ammon’s king disregarded Jephthah’s message, and thus Jephthah began preparations for war. His initiatives in this regard were not of his own making, but rather helped or a result of “the Spirit of the Lord” coming upon him (vs. 29). All of them (his initiatives) that is but one. And this is where his lack of having been spiritually fathered by his earthly father hurt him the most. You see Jephthah, like all of us, was meant by God to have a father who knew God and walked with God and helped his children do the same. Had Jephthah had that he probably would have known that God does not need to be bribed. God loves His children and servants and is more than happy to answer their prayers, especially when His children are about their Father’s business. Jephthah should have been instructed by his father regarding these things and his instruction should have been reinforced by experiencing a similar love and care from his earthly father.


But since he received neither from his earthly father, he sought to bribe God by promising or vowing to the Lord, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” (vs. 30, 31). Sadly while there was some knowledge of God’s role in their history as a people among the Gileadites, there appeared to be little true knowledge of God Himself. So even if Jephthah shared this vow with any of his contemporaries, it is doubtful anyone would have seen its error.


Tragically after his great victory he returned to his house and his only daughter/child walked out the front door to greet him in celebration of his/their victory over the Ammonites (vs. 34). He was grief stricken by this unexpected turn of events (thinking for sure a goat or sheep or perhaps one of his servants would have exited first). This tragedy was made worse by the fact that she was a virgin and Jephthah’s line would end with her death. While surely one of the more difficult stories in the Bible to digest, the text makes clear he stuck to his vow and his daughter’s eventual sacrificial death was mourned in Israel yearly for many years after that.


So what should we make of such a chapter in Israel’s history as it regards fathering? Here are a few closing thoughts:

1.        While God sovereignly chooses to use many of us with significant limps or deficits, this in no way means that He is happy or pleased with all of our decisions and ways. While He may be behind our gifting, He might be very displeased with some of our choices or some of our motives or manner of dealing with people and difficult situations.  We in the body of Christ must learn to discern between the two.

2.        It is imperative that earthly fathers give more time to knowing their God and passing that experiential and theological knowledge down to their children. This will always by far be their children’s greatest need. Nothing will mark them more in a positive life transforming way than having an earthly father who does this.

3.        Apostles, pastors and elders must realize that while God may call a person with significant gifting and significant deficits into some level of ministry, the deficits must not be ignored – regardless of how great the gifting is or becomes. The deficits undealt with will sooner or later result in damage – sometimes to whole churches and/or movements.

4.        If you are seeking to fulfill your calling and at the same time are becoming more aware of your deficit/limp due to not being properly and effectively and consistently spiritually fathered by a man who knew and walked with God, please know that Christ is your eternal father (Isa. 9:6) and He longs to heal you and make you whole in every way. You are not a victim. You have an amazing Savior, who is committed to helping you overcome these things as you learn to cling to Him and to His every word (written and spoken) (Matt. 4:4).

5.        If you are seeking to fulfill your calling and please your Master and realize you were not the father your Lord and Savior called you to be to your children, please know great fruit and redemption and restoration can still be yours in Christ. God gives great grace to those who humble themselves, and who of us earthly fathers can honestly say we have fathered as we should and could have?

The devil would have us wallow in our failure. Our Father wants to help us overcome our failures and all the accusations of the evil one. (Strangely often it is our pride that causes us to listen more to the evil one than to the Great Restorer of families and relationships).

Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.” Hebrews 4:16

6. The longer I go in life, the more I find that one of the roots of the persistent pride we all walk in to some degree and that thus keeps God from pouring out much needed grace on us (see James 4:6) is our confusion or unwillingness to accept the reality that God's sovereign and righteous giving of the land (clearly spelled out in the Old Testament) to Israel has not been rescinded. Jephthah saw this clearly and that truth more than anything else gave him courage to fight against the Ammonites. Please know that the New Covenant does not in any way nullify God's decision to give this land to Israel. I hear people say that or write that. But nothing in Scripture states that. I will eventually write more on this, but for now I highly recommend humble meditation on Romans 9-11 - - as the demonic hatred of Israel embraced by many in our day will only increase as we near our Lord's return.


Father, heal our hearts and restore what the evil one has sought to destroy in Jesus’s name and for Your glory. Amen!

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