This Bible Study is part of the "Survey of the Former Prophets" series. See other Bible Studies which are part of this series
Not everybody starts out in life with a lot of advantages and a lot of positive things going for them. Yet some people, because of what they go through, allow their lives to be dominated by all sorts of fears and resentments. Jephthah was a man who certainly had a lot of reasons to be resentful of those around him. Jephthah was an illegitimate child.
This is John Ogwyn. We are continuing our survey of the book of Judges, picking up in chapter 11. Judges 11 and 12 introduce us to another judge of Israel, a man by the name of Jephthah. Not everybody starts out in life with a lot of advantages and a lot of positive things going for them. Yet some people, because of what they go through, allow their lives to be dominated by all sorts of fears and resentments. Jephthah was a man who certainly had a lot of reasons to be resentful of those around him. Jephthah was an illegitimate child. He was a Gileadite. His father had had a number of children by his wife, but Jephthah's mother was a harlot with whom his father had had a brief relationship. His father took Jephthah in and raised him up. In Judges 11, we are told that when Jephthah's father died his brothers called him and said, "Look, you lived here as long as Dad was alive, but we don't want you around. We have never accepted you, we don't consider you our brother, you are not going to have any inheritance with us, you-just get out of here!" So Jephthah left. We are told that Jephthah dwelt in a wilderness area, and he gradually collected a group of men around him-outcasts of society. Jephthah became sort of the "Robin Hood" of his day. He got quite a noted reputation as it describes here.
Judges 11:4 mentions that the children of the Ammonites began to oppress the portion of Israel that was east of the Jordan, the area of Reuben and Gad and half the tribe of Manasseh, the area of Gilead. The Ammonites made war against them. Things began to get very difficult and rough, and finally the elders of the people came to Jephthah, hat in hand. They said, "Would you please come and be our leader? We are in trouble, we are being oppressed by these people, and we do not have anyone to lead the army. We want you to be our judge and take charge and deliver us from these people." At that point it would have been very easy for Jephthah to say, "I don't want any part of you folks. You never wanted me, you never wanted me around, you did not like me, you put me down-now all of a sudden you want me to help!" Well, that was not Jephthah's response-he was not an individual who allowed himself to be ruled by all sorts of resentments. Jephthah listened to them and asked them, "If I go out to deliver you, and I am your leader and God delivers you from the Amorites through me, am I going to be your head? Are you going to look to me as the leader?" And the people said, "Yes, the Lord be witness, we will do that." Jephthah went out and gathered people together to fight the Ammonites, and sent messengers throughout the land. In the meantime, this event in the book of Judges is dated because we find that the Ammonites had been trying to take over Israel and Jephthah sent over a message. In Judges 11:26, it says, to paraphrase, "We have been here all this time, three hundred years; if you claim these cities are rightfully yours, why have you not done it earlier?" This section of the book of Judges-the time of Jephthah-is three hundred years after Israel had entered into rest, after they had inherited the land and come in.
God was with Jephthah and delivered the Ammonites, but what we find is that Jephthah had made a very foolish vow. He had made a vow that he would offer as a sacrifice to God the very first thing that he saw when he got home. The very first thing he saw when he got home was his daughter, coming running out to greet him. This was a terrible thing. The Bible does not say exactly what Jephthah did-I think clearly she was not offered as a human sacrifice on the altar. That would have been something absolutely repugnant and forbidden by God. Rather, if you read the account carefully, in Judges 11 we find that what his daughter lamented was the fact that she would never get married, that she would never be able to have children, she would never be able to have a family. Evidently she was in that sense "set aside" or "put away" in a sense of being dedicated to God and never able to get married. Scripture talks of her bewailing that for a period of a couple of months.
Some of the Ephraimites mentioned in Judges 12 had gotten upset because Jephthah had not called them and had not allowed them to be a part of the army. They came, and they were mad, and actually there was a little bit of a civil war in Israel that went on for a while. Jephthah defeated them.
Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah died.
It also mentioned other men that judged that section of Israel-Ibzan and Elon and Abdon the son Hillel.
The children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD, and the LORD delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.
This would have been over on the west side. The story of Jephthah and the Gileadites took place on the east side at the same time. This was a longer period of oppression that occurred over on the east side in the area of the Philistines.
In Judges 13, we are introduced to one of the very famous characters of the Bible-a man by the name of Samson. The events surrounding the birth of Samson were miraculous. An angel had appeared to the parents and had told the one who was to be the mother of Samson, the wife of Manoah, that she would bear a son but her son was to be a Nazarite. A Nazarite was a man who was especially dedicated to God-and there were certain insignias or signs of a Nazarite vow. He did not cut his hair, which made him stand out as unusual because the men of Israel did not wear their hair long normally. Normally a Nazarite vow was for just a designated period of time. Samson is one of three mentioned in the Bible who were Nazarites from their mothers' womb. In addition to not cutting his hair, he was not to eat of any fruit of the vine, not to drink wine or strong drink, or even vinegar, or eat grapes. The other thing Nazarites were not to do was to touch a dead body. We find the the events of the birth of Samson here in chapter 13.
So the woman bore a son and called his name Samson. And the Spirit of the LORD began to move upon him at Dan.
As you read the story, Samson was a man that had a great deal of promise. God gave him tremendous, superhuman strength. Though Samson was raised up for a special purpose, he was a very self-centered young man. Samson, though he was the strongest man, was in one sense the weakest man. He had a weakness for women-and the wrong kind of women.
Judges 14 regards the account of Samson being attracted to one of the Philistine women. The Israelites were told not to intermarry with the other peoples around, but Samson disregarded that. He disregarded his parents' desire.
Then his father and mother said to him, "Is there no woman among the daughters of your brethren, or among all my people, that you must go and get a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?"
God was going to use this. Scripture says it was of the Lord-or it was allowed by God. God was going to work through Samson to accomplish His purpose, in many ways in spite of Samson. As the story continues, we find Samson using his strength to kill a young lion. We read the story of the wedding feast. Samson wanted to marry this Philistine woman and so he did. But before the time of the honeymoon was over, Samson got mad and left! A little while after he was gone, his father-in-law just gave his wife to somebody else.
Judges 15 tells us that a little while later, during the time of the wheat harvest in the late spring, Samson decided to come back and make up with his wife. When he got there, what did he find? She was living with another fellow! This made Samson mad-he was furious. He caught three hundred foxes, took firebrands tied them between the tails to these foxes, two by two, then turned them loose-and they burned up the Philistine harvest! When the Philistines figured out what Samson had done, the Philistines came and killed this woman who had briefly been married to Samson. Then Samson was upset about that, so he was going to smite them hip and thigh with a great slaughter, as it mentions in verse 8. He wiped out a number of Philistines.
[Samson] judged Israel twenty years in the days of the Philistines.
Here is a period of judging, actually overlapped with Philistine domination. It describes here some of the superhuman feats of Samson.
Judges 16 picks up the story, Samson was on his way to Gaza and he saw a harlot. So he decided to stop by and visit her. As he was in this harlot's house, word got around that Samson was there. He knew they were going to try to come in and kill him. Around midnight, he got up and actually picked up these huge gates of the city and he carried them away-just ripped them up from the wall and he set them on a hill. A little while later, he got mixed up with another woman, dear Delilah. As you read the story, Delilah began to whittle away, trying to get Samson to tell her the secret of his great strength. He made up some tall tale about why he had such strength. Delilah immediately told the Philistines, who then rushed in on Samson. Samson was sleeping there at Delilah's house, and she did the very thing he told her would deprive him of his strength. When the Philistines rushed in, Samson jumped up and he broke the bonds with which she had bound him. He had just made up a tall tale. She began to cry, to moan and groan, and said, "If you loved me, you would tell me." So he told her another tale. Guess what? The same thing happened again. They went through the same situation. The third time, Samson made up something and told her. Guess what? The same thing again. Think about it-wouldn't you at this point sort of "connect the dots"? Samson did not. He may have been the strongest man, but he certainly was not the smartest. Delilah began to whine, and she began to cry, "If you loved me you would tell me." So what did Samson do? He was finally worn down and he told her the truth.
The result, of course, is that once again, just as before, the Philistines came in. The truth was that Samson was a Nazarite, and his long hair was a symbol of that Nazarite vow. If he lost that, then he knew he would lose his strength. She cut all his hair off. The Philistines took him captive, put his eyes out and bound him up like a draft animal. He was going to be turning a grist mill-one of these big stones that had a pole coming out from it and it would normally be turned around in grinding grain. Week after week, month after month goes by with Samson, like an animal, going around blind in circles. Through all of this time, he had time to think about a wasted life. A life that had not by any means lived up to the promise that God had given him. As he thought about that, and as he came to see himself and came to see certain things, Samson came to a point of repentance in his mind-a point of trusting God. He asked God to give him an opportunity. Samson was taken down one day at a feast for Dagon. Properly placed, he prayed to God and shoved the big pillars that were actually the support of the building-and the whole thing collapsed! Samson accomplished more in terms of destroying the leadership of the Philistines in the moment of his death than in all the previous time. Samson finally learned a lesson. He learned his lessons the hard way.
Next time we will pick up the story for the conclusion of the book of Judges.
Until then, this is John Ogwyn with the Living Church of God.