August 2012

When one were to read the book of Judges, they will notice that from time to time God raises judges to help protect the people of Israel from dangers. The book of Judges records the endless cycle of Faith renewal,  Peace, Faith degeneration, chastisement from God and the judges raised.

Yet among these judges, there is one known as Jephthah, he is not commonly mentioned in sermon, but he is commonly quoted by people who are not so pro-Christian as an example of God endorsed barbarity.

There are many who find his actions controversial and many people tend to skip his stories to avoid people asking questions about Jephthah and his controversial actions.

So I decided to just share what I have read so far about Jephthah.

Jephthah  is one of the judges of Israel, his story is found from Judges 11-12. But before we look into his stories, I feel that some background information will be helpful.

Understanding The World Of The Judges

The period of the judges started from the time after the death of Joshua to the time of Prophet Samuel, during that period, the Israelites are very disunited, and we no longer see an army comprising of all 12 tribes of Israel. If one were to read the stories in judges, one will notice that usually its 1-2 tribes verses the Canaanites.  In some stories, (IE: Gideon , Jephthah) you will even notice some tribes not joining the fight.

This phrase often appear on the book. 

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

It tells the readers that although there are the laws of God, but everyone does what they feel is right. This means not everyone follows entirely the Law of God.

So there was moral decay all over the Israelites, this is demonstrated in the latter part of the book, we see Gideon making Ephod as an idol (Judges 8), Micah building an idol  (Judges 17) , the Levite and his concubine. (Judges 19)

Yet in the midst of those decay, we have people like Boaz (in the book of Ruth) who still faithfully kept the law of God.

As the judges come into the picture, one would notice that the spiritual quality of the judges are decreasing as well. The latter judges are full of character flaws. Gideon is doubtful at times, Jephthah seems to be someone who hang around rogues, Samson is known for his disobedience to the commands of God.

Despite their weaknesses, God still make use of them and the Author of Hebrews gave acknowledge their faith besides their weakness

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to fight the armies of the aliens.” – Author of Hebrews (Heb 11:32-34)

The Background Of Jephthah  (Judg 11:1-3)

Jephthah is from the tribe of Manasseh (Judg 11:1), he was a illegitimate child, he is born when his father Gilead had relationship with a harlot. Later on, Gilead’s wife had children, and these children drove Jephthah so that he will not be able to share inheritance with them. Judg 11:2). Jephthah fled and dwell in the land of Tob, and became a bandit with a group of rogues. (Judg 11:3)

The Elders Of Gilead Requesting Jephthah help (Judges 11:4-11)

Then there was war between Ammon and Israel and the elders of Gilead approached Jephthah for help, they wanted him to be commander of Israel. Initially Jephthah was skeptical about their promise, and he was worried that after the war, the elders of Gilead would kill him.

But the elders made an oath, saying they will not hurt Jephthah but instead they would make him leader over the city of Gilead.

So Jephthah joined in the battle, he started by sending messengers to Ammon.

Jephthah Dialog With the Kings Of Ammon (Judges 11:12-28)

So Jephthah started his work first through diplomacy, when the Ammonites accused Israel of stealing their land, Jephthah gave a very detailed account of how Israel took the land from Sihon the king of the Amorites when he gathered troops to fight against Israel.

Jephthah said that it was God of Israel who defeated Sihon and gave that land of the Amorites to Israel.

Jephthah advise the Ammonites not to strive against Israel and they have dwelt in the cities for 300 years. He gave examples of how people who strive against Israel never succeeded, he quote examples of Balak the son of Zippor (a Moabite king, Moabites are the relatives of the Ammonites)

However, the king of Ammon did not listen. So war between Israel and Ammon continues. 

Jephthah Rash Oath And Victory (Judges 11:28-40)

So the spirit of God came onto Jephthah and he mustered his man from Gilead and Manasseh and advanced toward the people of Ammon.

That was when he made a rash oath to God and promise that if God will bring victory, he would offer whatever that comes out from the doors to the Lord in an burnt offering.

God defeated the people of Ammon using Jephthah, but when he return from the battle, little did Jephthah expect that the first thing that comes out of the doors to meet him was his only daughter.

So Jephthah mood to celebrate victor turn out to be sadness, as now he needs to fulfill is vow to the Lord. So his daughter requested for 2 months so that she could moan and be sad over the fact that she will have to remain a virgin forever.

The bible concluded the story saying

“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.” (Judges 11:39)

And from then on, the daughters of Israel have a custom to lament regarding the daughter of Jephthah every year.

Jephthah War Against Ephraim  (Judges 12:1-7)

Soon after the war, the men from Ephraim came over and threatened Jephthah, they accused him of not calling them to go with him to battle, and they wanted to burn his house down with fire.

Jephthah claimed that he went to battle because Ephraim was silent and refused to help Gilead in their time of need, so he decided to gather his soldiers and attacked the people Ammon first. And now since God had already saved them why are they finding trouble with him?

So Jephthah gathered together his troops this time against Ephraim, they won the battle, and the people of Gilead sizes the Fords of Jordan before the Ephraimites arrive.

Jephthah fought this war in a pretty cruel manner, because when he saw soldiers fleeing back , he would ask “Are you an Ephraimite?” and if they said no, he would make them say a specific word called “Shibboleth” for the people from Ephraim would not be able to say it correctly, and he used that as a gauge to identify his enemies.

Jephthah was a judge for 6 years, and he was buried in Gilead.

The Controversial Jephthah

The story of the Jephthah brings many difficultly in the bible, the main criticism to the judge Jephthah are as follows

1. Most people will interpret that God helped Jephthah and gave him victory is a sign that God wanted his daughter as a child sacrifice.

2. The bible seems to suggest that Jephthah indeed sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offerings. Most people would term this as a contradiction for God does not allow his people to offer human sacrifices.

3. Often claimed that God did not condemn the human sacrifice done by Jephthah, but yet the new testament listed him as an example of faith.

Among the response written by Christians apologetics, I feel that the ones written in Answer In Genesis seems to be fair, and I have learnt a lot from their response. I would be sharing my view over the matter, but for now, perhaps you would be interested to read the following points from answers in genesis.

Was Child Sacrifice Condoned in the OT?

Contradictions: Unacceptable Offering?

Feedback: Jephthah’s Vow

Some of my viewpoints are form from the answers, but personally I feel that Jephthah did not burn his daughter to God by fire, she is most likely dedicated to God and have to remain unmarried.

But I certainly do not think Jephthah has an exemplary character, but rather in many aspect, he is just like us, with weakness and perhaps even a bad temper.  As I have shared earlier, the Godliness and Spiritual Qualities of the judges did fall over time and the latter judges have more weakness compared to the earlier ones.

I remember there was a story I read from a book of Christian illustration, I tried to Google it and it seems to me this story was taken from the book “Lee: The Last Years” by Charles Bracelen Flood, in that book he talked about a time after the American Civil War.

One of the stories talks about Robert E Lee (A Confederate General during the civil war) visited a woman who showed him the remains of a grand old tree in front of her home. The limbs and trunk of the tree was destroyed by the Union Artillery fire during the war.  She loved that tree and she was talking about how sad she was when the tree was destroyed.

She was expecting Lee to condemn the Union and to sympathize with her, however the old general paused and said “Cut it down, my dear Madam, and then forget it.”

When I was younger, I liked to use this example to advice people to remove the hurt and not to dwell on it. and I like to develop the topic from then and talks about letting go of the past.

But recently, I have a friend who was sharing with someone about the fact that how certain people reminded him of the hurt he encountered in the workplace. His friend who was listening said “You need to make peace with yourself..”  It let to him feeling slightly misunderstood as he is in fact no longer angry about the past.

Putting Forgiveness Into Perspective

Indeed forgiveness is something that is important for Christians,  For Jesus once said

“For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive men their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses.” – Jesus (Matt 6:14-15)

Jesus also said this in his sermon of the mount

“Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift” – Jesus (Matt 5:23-24)

Therefore Paul also exhorts the church in Ephesus saying

“Be angry, and do not sin”:do not let the sun go down on your wrath,”- Paul (Eph 4:26)

I am sure my fellow friends will be able to have many more verses to show here.

Sometimes to apply the teachings are simple, especially when it comes to petty little quarrels, little dispute. I am sure it is much easier for us to say “Lets forgive and forget” and we would be find the illustration is very apt and very appropriate.

I personally believe the more we hold on to the hurt, it would actually effect our well being as well. But then hurt comes in different degrees and severity.  I remember the same friend once shared with me saying that even though the hurtful event had passed and he is able to forgive the person who hurt him. But then he cant seem to forget the incident fully.

Very often we like to say “forgive and forget” but there are some hurt that is just hard to forget.  Another illustration I have is about Ms Clara Barton, who is the founder of the Red Cross, when her friend asked if she remembered an incident where someone deed vicious things against her. She replied “ No, I distinctly remember forgetting it” (Luis Palau, experiencing God’s Forgiveness, Multnomah Press, 1985).

I feel that it takes a lot of effort and strength to be able to forget, and in order to answer like Ms Clara, it must have taken some time before she could distinctly “remember to forget”

But if you think about it, if she can “remember to forget” wouldn’t that means she remembered? 

So I guess there is a need to separate between forgiving and forgetting.

What Does It Mean To Forget?

Readers of Genesis will have remembered the Patriarch Joseph. Who was sold to Egypt when he was approximately 17  years old, when he is in Egypt, he was thrown into the prison for doing the right thing of not having an affair with Potiphar’s wife.

The bible was silent about how many years Joseph was working in the house of Potiphar, nor did they say how many  years he was imprisoned.  But the following facts can be derived

He was sold to Egypt somewhere after he was 17 years old

1. Gen 37:2 : Tells us Joseph was 17 years old when he was having a dream
2. Gen 41:1 : The Pharaoh’s dream was 2 full years after the chief Butler was released
3. Gen 41:46 : He was 30 years old when he was before the Pharaoh

30-17 = 13 years.

So the span of time of 13 years happened between Gen 37:2 –Gen 41:46

During that Period, God blessed Joseph with 2 children and he named them Manasseh and Ephraim . He gave the reason for naming his children.  He said 

“For God has made me forget all my toil and all my father’s house.” When he named Manasseh

“For God has caused me to be fruitful in the land of my affliction.” when he named Ephraim.

But yet, although he said he had forgotten, let us see when he dwelt with his brother. Gen 42:8-17 : He threw them into prison for 3 days,  he released them later saying

“Do this and live, for I fear God…” sometimes I feel that it was God who moved him to let go of that anger. I can safely say that Joseph did not forget the  fact about how he was sold by his brothers to Egypt. For he said

“I am Joseph your brother, whom you sold into Egypt. But now, do not therefore be grieved or angry with yourselves because you sold me here; for God sent me before you to preserve life.”-Joseph (Gen 45:4-5)

We know for sure, Joseph did not forget the fact that he was sold to Egypt, I think its fair to say that Joseph tried very hard for it. So what did Joseph really forget? 

To Be Renewed Daily

Prophet Jeremiah once said this in his Lamentations

“Through the Lord’s mercies we are not consumed,
  Because His compassions fail not.
   They are new every morning;
  Great is Your faithfulness.” Jeremiah (Lam 3:22-23)

Jeremiah talks about the fact that our Lord is compassionate, he renew his mercies to us daily. I feel that Josephs mind was renewed by God daily. He was able to forget the pain and suffering that came from the fact that he was sold to Egypt and thrown into prison.

He did not forget those fact, but he was able to forget that anger against his brothers. This was done with the help of God, who renewed his mind every morning.

Turning Past Hurts Into Comforting Experiences

As I studied into the life of Joseph, it seems that he was able to use his suffering to comfort other. This can be seen at the last chapter of Genesis

Then his father Israel died, and his brothers were afraid that Joseph will choose to take revenge for their treachery, because they sold Joseph to Egypt.  They were so afraid of Joseph that they tried hard to remind Joseph that his father told him not to take revenge.

They even fell down before his face and said “We are your servants”

But Joseph, understanding their fear, comforted them he said

“Do not be afraid, for am I in the place of God? But as for you, you meant evil against me; but God meant it for good, in order to bring it about as it is this day, to save many people alive. Now therefore, do not be afraid; I will provide for you and your little ones.” – Joseph (Gen 50:19-21)

Joseph used the facts behind his suffering, to testify the love of God, for he knew that God was the one who sent him to Egypt. God made use of his sufferings to help preserve the lives of the family of Abraham.

I believe Joseph must have undergone much thinking and much prayers, before he could successfully convert his bad experiences into one that could comfort others, and he had done it with the help of God.

Today, with the help of God, we can turn our suffering into experiences that can be used to comfort the sad, and give strength to the weary. But we need to place God in the story in order to do be successful in that.

At The End Of The Day

In our walk of life, there are bound to be experiences that hurt us. These are part and parcel of life, and we are often told to forgive one another. While Christians practiced the policy of “forgive and forget”,  let us also understand and recognized that there are some hurts and pain which are difficult to forget. 

The tolerance level of every individual is different, so it is hard for us to determine what is “Easy to forget”. Something that is really hurtful to one may be insignificant to another.  But whatever it is we have to know that there are some incidents that are easy to “forgive and forget” while there are some that is not so easy.

But we can be assured that if we were to rely on God to renew our mind, he will give us the strength to forget the pain and hatred, and he could also help us turn that sad experience into one that could encourage and exhort other brethren.

Therefore let us resolve to rely on God, to renew our minds, and to help us turn the incidents that we cannot forget into one that can exhort and encourage others.

May God help us , to give us the strength to forgive and forget, and to help us turn our sadness and hurt into edifying encouragement. May he use the sad events in our lives to help minister to the many people who are hurt and dismayed in the midst of life’s challenges.