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TEXT: Judges 10:6-12:15

SUBJECT: Judges #9: Jepthah, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon

For the last few months we have been working our way through the Book of Judges. To us, a judge is one who interprets and applies the law. The higher courts tell us what the law means, and the lower courts say whether we have broken it or not. Presiding over these courts we have judges, trained in the law, and (at their best) trying to maintain justice in the world.

The Bible Judges did some of this, too, but their calling was far wider than the judges of today. They were the saviors of Israel, sent in times of crisis to rescue the people from their enemies and to rule them in the name of the Lord. Two of them did this very well-Othniel and Deborah-but the others were a bit spottier in their character and conduct. You cannot read the lives of Samson and Gideon, for example, without-at the same time-wanting to be like them and praying you won't be! If this is true of them, it is even more so of the Judge will we look at today.

His name is Jepthah. If any man combined all the Judges' good qualities-and bad-it was he. If his victory showed him a savior, his failure proved he was not the Savior. The Lord was at work in Jepthah, but His final work must wait for Someone Else.


The background for his story is a familiar one. We have read it several times already, and it will crop up again before we're through. Israel needs a Judge because they have fallen away from the Lord.

The story begins at 10:6-

Then the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord.

Again! That's the key word. This is not the first time they had quit the Lord; they had done it over and over again, from three days out of Egypt to this day, a good two hundred years later. The evil they turned to was, again, the same old same old-with a new twist.

Then the children of Israel again did evil in the sight of the Lord, and served the Baals and Astoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines.

Thus far they have served the gods of the land, but now they are more 'open-minded' in their idolatry! Not satisfied with the local gods, they add foreign images. Seven gods are named, and this may carry a symbolic meaning. Seven is the number of perfection, and the seven gods may suggest that Israel has become a perfectly idolatrous people and has rejected the Lord completely!

If the people forgot the Lord, He did not forget them. While He permitted other nations to walk in their own ways, He loved Israel too much for that. Though it sounds funny to our ears, one facet of love is jealousy. The Lord wants His People for Himself, and when they leave Him for others, He gets mad-

So the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel; and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the people of Ammon.

Check the names: Philistines and Ammonites. This is not the first time they come up in our story, is it? Their gods were among those whom Israel was now worshiping. Why would they do that? Partly because they wanted their favor. If the blessings of One God are good, the blessings of seven gods must be better! But is this what the foreign gods brought them-seven times the blessing? No. The Philistine and Ammonite gods brought Philistine and Ammonite soldiers.

Who occupied the land for eighteen years-

So that Israel was severely distressed.

[At this point the Philistines disappear from the story; only the war with Ammon is told here. The Philistines come up again in Chapters 13-16].

Worn out by their enemies, the People to God for relief-

The children of Israel cried out to the Lord, saying, 'We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals'.

At this point, you would expect the Lord to rush in and save them, as He had before. But He does not. In fact, He reminds them of all He had done for them in the past and, since they thought the gods were more merciful than He, they should seek mercy from their idols-

Go and cry out to the gods whom you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress!

A harder word from heaven has never been spoken, but that's not all it was, hard. It was also effective. For the hard words came from a soft heart. The Lord's design is using them was to bring Israel to repentance so they could be truly saved. This is what they did-

So they put away the foreign gods from them and served the Lord.

When the Lord saw their broken hearts, He was moved with compassion-

His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.


As Israel was turning back to God, the Ammonites were gathering for war. They camped in Gilead, which belonged to Israel, in the north and on the other side of the Jordan. Ammon had its king, but there was no one to lead the People of God. Being in the most danger, the leaders of Gilead published an offer: If you lead us in battle against Ammon-and win-you'll be President for Life.


I suppose a lot of men would like to be in charge of Gilead, but nobody would lead the charge against the Ammonites. The men of Gilead were weak; they didn't have the faith-or the guts-to take on a powerful and well-organized army. Since nobody would volunteer, the elders had to draft a man for the work-and it must have galled them something awful!

The man was Jepthah, who used to live in Gilead, but left some years ago, and not of his own choosing. He was the son of Gilead and a woman who was not his wife; in fact, she was a prostitute. When Gilead died, his legitimate sons forced Jepthah out of the house and out of the country!

He fled to Tob, someplace in Syria. There he became a powerful man, a warlord (to put it nicely), or more candidly, a godfather.

The leaders of Gilead come to Jepthah with an offer he can't refuse: Win this war for us and you'll be our lord and master. Jepthah is no fool; he knows the people back home look down on him, and he demands an oath. Which they give-

The Lord will be witness between us if we do not do according to your words.

Jepthah then takes an oath of his own, speaking-

All his words before the Lord is Mizpah.

'Before the Lord' probably means: before the Ark of the Covenant, which had somehow gotten on the wrong side of the Jordan. This says something about the chaos that comes from a lack of leadership, when every man does what is right in his own eyes.


Jepthah's first act as a leader in Israel is both wise and godly. Instead of spoiling for war, he tries to negotiate with the king of Ammon. This is wise because the shedding of blood should be a last resort-not the first-and because, this is what the Lord commanded way back in the days of Moses. Deuteronomy 20:10 says-

When you go near a city to fight against it, then proclaim an offer of peace to it.

Jepthah does not tell the Ammonites to give up their land or to become slaves or to pay a tax to Israel. All he says is: Go home.

The king replies, 'We are home. This lands belongs to us and has for time out of mind'.

If the king is a good bargainer, he is a bad historian, and Jepthah proves it: The Ammonites are descended from Lot, Abraham's nephew. The Lord gave them their land way back in the day, and when Israel could have taken it, they didn't, going far out of their way to respect the land. The land they are now debating never belonged to the Ammonites, but used to belong to the Amorites (apparently the king of Ammon got the two mixed up, as we do!). In any event, it now belongs to Israel because the Lord gave it to them after Sihon, the Amorite king, attacked them on their way to the Promised Land.

Not even Balak, one of the wickedest kings who ever lived, disputed Israel's right to this land. If even he didn't have the nerve to do it, why would anyone else?

His argument ends with a solemn threat-

May the Lord, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon.

If the king of Ammon will not listen to reason, he'll listen to God who can speak with things harder than words. The king remains stubborn. And the war is on.


The Spirit of God seizes the Judge and he marches on the Ammonite army. Before the first blow falls Jepthah takes a fearsome oath-

If you will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be 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.

The battle went to Israel, the Ammonites were cut down with a very great slaughter, twenty cities were reclaimed, and the people of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

While we must not deny Jepthah's leadership and his army's toughness, the victory was not theirs, but the Lord's-

The Lord delivered them.


I wish this were the end of the story: but it isn't. The great victory was followed by a pair of tragedies. When Jepthah got home, the first one to meet him was-

His daughter.his only child.

When she saw her father's face, she knew what he had done, and she insisted that he keep the vow, allowing her two months to first lament her virginity. She would have no children and with her death, her father's name would be lost forever. I'm not sure any of us can feel their grief. One's name meant everything to the Jews, for when the Messiah came, they would-through their descendants-have a place in His kingdom. But not for Jepthah. In saving the nation, he lost his place in it.

After two months, the girl came home and her father-

Carried out his vow with her which he had made.

Good and godly scholars disagree on the meaning of this verse. Some say it means he killed her, others only that she could never marry or have children. To us it makes all the difference in the world, but to them the result was the same: Jepthah's name is blotted out.

The sorrow in Israel was so great that, before long, it became an annual event: four days a year the girls in Israel would wander the land-

Lamenting the daughter of Jepthah the Gileadite.


If most Jews wept for Jepthah, one tribe felt a rather different emotion. The Ephramites stormed his home and demanded to know why didn't he call them up for the war?

Some years before, Gideon had faced the same question, and he answered with humility and tact. These were not Jepthah's first qualities, however. He answered them harshly, and he paid for it dearly.

He said, 'I did, but you did not answer the call!' The men of Ephraim saw it otherwise, and a civil war broke out between Ephraim and Gilead. As things were going Gilead's way, the Ephraimites tried to escape by pretending to be from Gilead. When anyone said he was, a little test was given:

'Say Shibboleth'.


Ephraim's dialect had no 'sh' sound and when the men couldn't say it, they were identified as the enemy, and treated that way-

There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites.


Jepthah judged Israel only six years, a small fraction of the time the Judges before him ruled, and you notice what is not said about his tenure: the land had rest. All it says is he was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.


Following Jepthah, three other men judged Israel, Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Their terms were also short, only seven, ten, and eight years respectively. And none of them brought rest either. For the time of the Judges was nearly spent, and soon God would have to do better than another Judge.


In time, He did just that, in sending the King, our Lord Jesus Christ. Of whom Jepthah is both a type and an antitype. He points to Christ, first, by way of comparison.

Both men were hated by their brethren, and then saved the ones who hated them. They were both stones the builders rejected and became the head cornerstone. This is the Lord's doing and it is marvelous in our eyes.

Both saved Israel at great personal cost. In his daughter, Jepthah was cut off from the land of the living; our Lord was, too, in Himself.

Both saved Israel against impossible odds and in the same way: by the Spirit of God coming upon them. If I by the Holy Spirit-our Lord said-cast out demons, you know the kingdom of God has come.

If Jepthah was like the Lord in some ways, he was dramatically unlike him in others. The Ruler of God's People cannot be a rash and foolish man-look what his impulsiveness did to him, to his daughter, and to the whole nation!

Our Lord had the wisdom Jepthah did not have. In Isaiah 52, God says His servant would deal prudently, and in this way-

Be exalted and extolled and be very high.[and] sprinkle many nations.

The prophecy has come true: Read the Gospels and you will see our Lord was and is none other than the only wise God, our Savior. Paul, a man of scholarship and subtlety himself, said of Christ-

In Him are hidden all the treasures of knowledge and wisdom.

Jepthah was a fool, a brave and strong fool to be sure, but a fool nonetheless! It must have been hard to trust him. But our Savior is nobody's fool, and so we can give up what passes in this world for wisdom and submit to His wisdom, knowing He knows best, even-and especially-when it seems He doesn't.

On his deathbed, Arthur W. Pink consoled his crying wife, He has done all things well, my dear, all things!

Haven't you trusted your own heart long enough? Haven't you had your fill of the experts? Aren't you sick and tired of the foolishness that goes by wisdom? If you are, turn to Jesus Christ, who is both the power of God and the wisdom of God.

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