By Samuel Ridout
Jephthah: — His Predecessors and Successors
Judges 10 — 12.
The last part of the ninth chapter gave us the account of what is the inevitable result of a course of self-will and high-handed authority, such as that seen in the character and course of Abimelech. As we saw, he himself in his rise, progress and downfall, is a fitting illustration of the rule of the bramble as contrasted with the service and ministry of the fruit-bearing trees. I would again commend the lesson of that parable of Jotham to your careful and prayerful attention. It seems to me one of the characteristic lessons of the entire book of Judges, when you come to the relation of the people to one another. The lessons which we had previously been gathering were largely in connection with the relation of the people to their foes; that of Abimelech is their relation to one another. And if a corporate testimony is to be maintained for God in these days, it must be on the lines of those principles which are laid down for us in connection with the parable of Jotham.
There is a very striking contrast in what we have next — at the beginning of the tenth chapter. There are two brief portions, and their very brevity, it seems to me, is suggestive. There is the rule of Tola, and that of Jair, succeeding one another. The very brevity of their rule shows the simplicity of it. It is the Abimelechs largely who make the long chapters in the Bible. It is the history of self-will which God has to break down and humble that makes many details necessary to be dwelt upon; but when there is divine blessing, when there is a real work of God, it can frequently be described in a few words. As the historian tells us, that which makes the most interesting and exciting chapters of history, is the worst time in which to live; while that which seems dull and dreary enough on the page of the book, is indeed the best time to live in, the era of quietness and prosperity, There is very little — in fact, the narrative is entirely barren of details — that would strike one in connection with these two judges. Yet their coming immediately after Abimelech, and being mentioned as after him, suggests the thought of contrast. "And after Abimelech there arose to defend Israel Tola the son of Puah." Tola has very little except his name to give us a clue to what we are to learn from him. But, as we saw that Abimelech's name suggested his claim for succession, "My father was king," and, therefore, I will be king; so here in Tola you have that which corrects and contradicts the very thought.
Tola means "a worm." A worm to judge Israel! Striking contrast — is it not? — with the self-assertion of pride which boasts in its descent and in its own prowess, and which lays its hand on everything that would not bow to its own will?
Tola's genealogy is given for two generations back, he making the third. Dodo, "his beloved," is the first; the second is his son Puah, "speech;" and Tola, "a worm," is the third. The love of God is the source from whence all flows, and when one realizes that he is the object of that love, "speech" is not wanting to give expression to the heart's sense of it; while fittingly the lowly setting aside of one's self, suggested in the "worm," will be the result. Puah, "speech," or "utterance," is from a root meaning "to breathe," and by this we are reminded of the Spirit, who is breathed into each one who believes in the love of God as shown in Christ; and of the breathing out in the power of that same Spirit, of praise and confession.
Tola is a man of Issachar, "reward" or "hire" — speaking of the recompense both now and hereafter of the life of faith. But it is striking that he does not dwell in any of the cities of his own tribe, but in Shamir of Mount Ephraim. In lowliness he leaves the thought of recompense, not serving for a reward, but in the fruitfulness of a self-surrendered life. A Tola in Ephraim is not in danger of the pride to which that tribe is particularly exposed.
He dwelt at Shamir, a word derived from a root meaning "to be stiff," or "firm." Growing out of this, the chief derivative is the word "watch." This suggests the watchfulness necessary in a ruler, "he that ruleth with diligence."
It is noteworthy that Tola died and was buried where he had lived. Steadfastness and unchangeableness are indicated in this. Death, as we might say, made no change in the principles for which he stood.
I have been struck with the thought that in both Tola and Jair, and in the few judges that are mentioned after the history of Jephthah, we have more distinctly perhaps than in any other portion of the book, types of Christ Himself. There is much in Jephthah, for instance, just as there is much in Gideon, and in the others, which we could not ascribe to our Lord; but here we have so very little, that the very position and name seem to suggest Him. You remember in the twenty-second psalm He speaks of Himself as a worm and no man. In His taking — He who had the place of highest glory in the heavens — the lowest place, humbling Himself and making Himself of no reputation, we see the character of the One who truly rises to save the people, whether it be Israel or His Church. It is the One who takes His place in humiliation who can judge His people and gather them, as you see in that psalm. Having taken His place as a worm and no man, and thus died upon the cross, He rises from the dead, the Centre of blessing for His brethren, the remnant of Israel; for the great congregation of the whole nation; and finally all the kindreds of the earth hear and flock to Him for blessing. Thus it is from the cross as a centre that all blessing radiates, and it is through Him whose lowliness brought Him to the cross that all our hope of deliverance comes.
I do not say this is a type of Christ, rather a suggestion of Him. But because he is in that way suggestive of Christ in His humiliation, what a picture does Tola give us of the true spirit of government and judgeship. In contrast with that self-assertiveness which will rule or ruin, and which would crush everything that does not bend to its own ambition, Tola, in his quietness, apparently without any conflict, either with foes without, or with the people within, still faithfully judges, and from the beginning to the close of his long and peaceful life we are told that he defended and saved Israel. There was real work, and most effectual. So it will always be.
Then you have after him still another who also is spoken of very briefly, — Jair, the Gileadite (and we will come to Gilead again). He judged Israel twenty-two years. What we are told of Jair is that he had successors who ruled, who were really successors. "He had thirty sons that rode on thirty ass colts, and they had thirty cities which are called Havvoth-Jair to this day." Jair's descendants are thus rulers, and you notice they are not claimants of rule, but are practically rulers; not, perhaps, in a very wide way, but each in his own circle of influence has a place of power and authority over a city. These cities are named after the father, — Havvoth-Jair — "the lives of Jair." That is, they carried on the life of Jair, as it were, even after his death; he lived after his death.
Jair is "the light giver," and just as you have suggested the thought, in Tola, of our Lord's humiliation unto death, so you would have in Jair the thought of His giving light to his people, by which they can grow. And in these thirty cities you have growth through the truth perpetuated to his descendants.
That is very simple, and there is no clash of arms about it, but how blessed it is to remember that after all, in the midst of our ruin and decay, if there is going to be any measure of recovery for God, if there is going to be any restoration from the chaos which Abimelech brings in, it has to be through the quiet and peaceable rule of humility; the rule of lowliness, — that rule which is all the more effective because it has been abased into the very dust. The king who reigns, if you can call him a king, is the one who reigns from the dust. The power that sways the people of God is the power of feebleness, resting on almighty strength, where one has low thoughts of himself, and is often despised by others. If we in our lowliness can take our place beside the Man of sorrows in humiliation, we have got the key to government. You have the key to a power and authority amongst the people of God. When did you ever see the people of God taking their place with Tola in perfect abasement, answering to his name, that you did not see deliverance come in through that?
And growing out of that comes the knowledge of divine truth, with its transforming and administrative power. Where this is present it effects a growth and progress which is most delightful to see. We have a sample of real authority, though it may not be in a very prominent way, identified also with real growth.
It is very interesting to see this taking place in Gilead, which is on the earth side of the inheritance, the wilderness side of Jordan. The name Gilead, you know, means a witness or testimony. So that you have God's people there by actual growth, maintaining a real testimony before the world. The very place where the enemy comes in first is on the side of Gilead, the side of our testimony, as we shall be seeing a little further on; and what a comfort it is when through the enlightenment of the truth, God's people are maintaining a testimony, and growing in connection with that testimony, so that the very world itself sees the lives of Jair.
Ah, brethren, after all it is the life that is the true witness, in the eyes of the world. It is these cities of Jair, these cities of the life that are established through the enlightenment of God's truth. The world cannot deny conduct, it cannot deny spiritual growth. It may deny profession, it might make a mockery of mere talk, but the world cannot deny, nor can it despise, even if it affects to do so, real true spiritual growth.
You will also notice that growth is in connection with government, for the allusion to riding on asses' colts means that. Our Lord was saluted as king riding into Jerusalem. In the east it was the sign of the governor or ruler. Deborah alludes to the custom in her song (Judges 5: 10).
Jair dies and is buried at Camon. Different meanings are given to this word, though its derivation from a root "to rise" is evident. One that is certainly significant is "a place of grain," for in such lives we have the pledge of resurrection with abundant harvest.
Thus we have the contrast to Abimelech. Blessed contrast. May we learn the lesson of it — lowliness and enlightenment. It is something more than a contrast; it is a remedy.
Now we come to that which is prominent again, a long section, and, alas, as I said, when there is a long portion you may expect to find some conflict between the principles of God and the practices of the people. You have in the life of Jephthah that which furnishes much food for prayerful thought. First of all you have, what is not spoken of in connection with either Tola or Jair, the account of fresh departure from the Lord of the children of Israel. And here the number of their gods is so multiplied as to include all the gods of the heathen by whom they were surrounded. "They served Baals and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines."
There is an apostasy which seems even deeper than any which had yet been reached, and so complete that there is only one God excluded from their service. They will serve all manner of gods, except the living God, and that is what apostasy will always do. Error is tolerant; it is truth only that excludes all that is not true. The flesh has ten thousand ways of manifesting itself. It has, as you might say, thousands upon thousands of gods which it worships and serves. There is only One whom it cannot bow to, and that is the living God. And so we find it here with Israel. The more she multiplied her gods the more she departed from the true One. The prophets are full of the mournful presentation of this, and of the pleading of divine patience.
The result is, of course, simple and inevitable. If the sense of God's authority over our souls is lost to us, it follows as a necessary result that He must give us over to the authority of what we have followed after. How significant that is. It shows us, — and it is very touching to see — it shows us that our Blessed God does not delight in judgment, that He does not delight in chastening, He simply, as it were, permits His people to reap the result of their own folly. It is as though He said, You see I am not inflicting this chastisement; I am not visiting you with evil, I am simply showing you the result of your own evil. And so as they were serving the gods of the Philistines and of the Ammonites, they were also delivered over to those people to be crushed, as the word is, under the iron heel of a foreign power.
Dear brethren, let us bear witness for God. When did you ever find His government grievous; when did you ever find anything bitter or hard in His service? There have been trials and difficulties connected with it; there has been many a time when the flesh has been shown. But I say again, when did your heart feel any of the grievousness of a yoke which is always easy and a burden which is always light? The apostle of love, the apostle who was closest to the heart of Christ, has told us that, "His commandments are not grievous." I ask again, if we were to testify what about the rule of evil in any form, was it ever light, was it ever anything but a crushing tyranny? Take the service, no matter what it may have been, whatever form of evil it may have been, from mere worldliness to the grossest immorality, from simple indifference to God, to the most complete infidelity of God when did you ever find that the service of evil was anything but galling and crushing, and bitter to the soul? Never!
And so it was with Israel here. This bondage to the Philistines that is spoken of here stays with them, all through the remainder of the book, on into Samuel itself, until David arises, who completely delivers them from their power. We have not the Philistine prominently brought before us here, but we have those intimations, which we had in the account of Shamgar. You remember there was a foe on their western border, between Canaan and Egypt, who was threatening to come in as soon as he had the proper opportunity. Here we find that the people had thrown their arms open to every form of idolatry in their departure from God, and, as a natural result, the Philistines had taken up that power which had been put in their hands, had responded as it were to the invitation, and were now the rulers.
But in connection with Jephthah, what we have is the power of the children of Ammon, those who dwell on the east side of the Jordan, and it is of them that we are to speak now. Ammon was the other son of Lot. We have already seen what Moab represented, and in learning what Ammon is, we shall simply find the lesson of Moab repeated with certain differences to give character. Moab, you will remember, we saw was connected with Israel by nature, and Ammon had the same connection; therefore, at once we think of that which has some sort of outward resemblance to the truth of God, or, in other words, it is profession as contrasted with open and absolute dissimilarity.
Moab stood for a mere profession with all its emptiness, and, I might add, with all its self-indulgence of the flesh. Moab was a fitting link with Amalek, the lusts of the flesh. In Ammon we have also profession, that which can claim a sort of kinship with Israel; but it is after all mere profession, though there seems to be an added thought or two. It is not a profession that connects so much with indulgence of the flesh, but which is under the power of a ruler, who once had possession of Ammon. Sihon was king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon, and he was practically the ruler over the children of Ammon, and while the children of Ammon might preserve their natural identity, yet their ruler. was this Sihon, king of the Amorites. The Amorites were talkers, as we were seeing the other evening. Those who speak great swelling words of vanity. Their speech is very high and exalted. They are full of their own talk, and in that way they suggest at once the activities of the human mind. It is the capital of this king, Heshbon, that seems to give us the key to the character of the Ammonites. Heshbon, "reasoning," is the use of the mind in the things of God. The reason, the introduction of the mind of man into the things of God.
You will remember we saw this also when we were speaking of Jabin, king of Hazor, the northern enemy. There is no doubt a great similarity between Jabin and Ammon. The difference, I think, you will find, is that in the case of Jabin it is more decided, it is the open attack of infidelity which would refuse entirely the name and yoke of Christianity; its springs of influence are outside the pale of revelation, though it may later on apply its reasoning to the word of God, as in the Higher Criticism, or formulate its theology as a basis for the strife we saw there. In Ammon it is the inward attack of profession. There is still the profession that claims to be Christianity, and yet is not that. But it maintains its kinship, although external, with the people of God, and yet destroys all their faith. It is the use of the mind in connection with divine truth, building systems of error out of a misapplication of the word of God.
If we were able, it would be exceedingly interesting just to trace the history of error, the history of heresy amongst God's people. It has always come in this way, making use of divine truth as a basis for going on and grafting upon it that which is evil and false. I would suggest this as the difference between Jabin's rule and that of Ammon. Jabin introduces infidelity or philosophy from without; Ammon takes the truth and makes it teach error. It will not deny revelation, nor explain it away, exactly; but it makes a system of error, using scripture terms, and, perhaps, some scripture doctrines, but ending with that which is absolutely unscriptural. This is heresy.
Those of you who are familiar with the history of false doctrine in the Church, will remember how some of these heresies, such as Gnosticism, which arose very early in the history of the Church, spread until they well nigh enveloped the whole professing Church. It was a system of philosophy. It used divine names, and to a certain extent divine truth, but it absolutely destroyed the power of truth by making use of it without the power and aid of the Holy Ghost, or without any subjection to the word of God. I was struck in noticing the other day that this system of Gnosticism is still believed, and its teachings to a certain extent practiced in Europe. That system is just one of the many forms of heresy which I think you will find suggested by this Ammonite invasion.
It belongs to the east side of Israel; that is, it belongs to Israel on its earth side. It is a very sweet truth that the highlands are safer. Across Jordan is the safe place, if we are really and not formally there. To be associated with Christ in His death and resurrection, is to be practically in the safe place where no power of evil can touch us.
But it is an indescribable state of things, this power of false doctrine. I believe, if our eyes were opened so-day upon the state of Christendom, we would be fairly appalled at the horrible inroads that are made by heresy upon the truth of God. They are made by Ammonites, people who have the name of Christian, who use the language of Christian people, who hold the Bible in their hands as they talk. When I mention Seventh Day Adventism, Christian Science and Millennial Dawnism, and many other forms of the deadliest and most horrible of heresies, you can see that the Ammonites are by no means dead at the present time. It is a fearful and a dreadful power. It is the power of man taking up the letter of the word of God, and claiming it for Satan instead of for Christ, and all the while makes a profession of Christianity. What we get today is not the attack merely of infidelity from the outside, but it is the attack of profession from within, that which claims again its old territory, as you might say, the territory of the Ammonite, from the faith which had once conquered it.
This power of false doctrine sweeps over the whole of the eastern territory. All are under its sway in Gilead and east of Jordan, and, as a matter of fact, they have come in into the land itself and assailed the strongholds of Benjamin and Judah and Ephraim, that which always represented the very heart and the bulwark of God's inheritance. So does heresy spread, and there have been times in the history of the Church when such a heresy as Arianism, that denied the divinity of Christ, had laid hold upon the professed people of God so completely that any witnesses for Christ would be banished, and Athanasius himself, the great confessor of the truth as to the Person of our Lord, was banished. As a matter of fact, the emperor Constantine himself was an Arian, and. multitudes, of course, simply followed the leader. Thus, you see, that it is this power of false doctrine creeping in amongst the people of God through profession.
The oppression is so crushing and so complete, that at last, thank God, the children of Israel have got to cry out with confession of their sin, confession that it was their own departure of soul from Him that had made such things possible. There will never be any real power over heresy until there is first confession of how heresy has come in. Why should false doctrine come in amongst the people of God? Why should we be under the power of evil in this way? Ah, brethren, if Christ occupied the place He should in our hearts and minds, if He ruled in the Church as He should, do you mean to tell me that heresy could plant its foot right upon the very high places of God's heritage? It would be an impossibility. It is only when the heart grows cold, when we ourselves, the people of God, have relaxed our watchfulness, that profession finds its opportunity, and wicked doctrines are introduced. I repeat again, it would be appalling for us if tonight we realized how this form of evil has spread in the Church today. We see it controlling many in the orthodox churches, those which in times past stood as witnesses of the truth of God. Amongst them today you will find such horrible heresies as annihilationism, restorationism, the denial of the divinity of Christ, and kindred doctrines. It is solemn and awful to think of it.
There is confession, but God is faithful, and He must show them that it is one thing to get away from Him, and quite another thing to get back. It is one thing to have departed from Him, and to confess the power of the enemy, but mere confession is not going to undo my departure from God. I may be brought back after a long course of chastening to a sense of my sin, and I may turn and heartily confess it to God. Does that mean that I am going to regain all that I have lost at once? Ah no! We have got to drink the water that has the ground up golden calf strewed upon its surface. We have got to reap what we have sowed, and that is what Israel found, and it was pressed upon them. In solemn irony, God says, "Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your tribulation."
But then it has a blessed effect. They turn. Their very misery compels them to turn from the enemy who had so enthralled them. Their very misery makes them confess at the very last point when the power of the enemy is greatest. They are forced to confess their sin, and they throw off the yoke, they put away the false gods from amongst them, and serve the Lord. They make a true confession to God and resign themselves into His hands: "We have sinned: do Thou unto us whatsoever seemeth good unto Thee; deliver us only, we pray Thee, this day." How infinitely tender is our God; He cannot contemplate misery unmoved, though produced by sin: "His soul was grieved for the misery of Israel." Whenever there is true repentance, our Blessed God will not let His people be without some measure of deliverance at least.
That brings us to the person who is going to be the deliverer from this heresy, this terrible incubus of false doctrine that has taken hold, through profession, of the people of God. Who is the one that can do it? We are reminded at the outset of Tola. It is a despised and rejected one who can effect a deliverance. I think, that with many reservations and additions, you have certain things in the life of Jephthah that are very suggestive of our Blessed Lord. His brethren cast him out. They would not have anything to do with him. They refuse him as a disgrace to themselves, and when they saw him, there was no beauty that they should desire him. In that way he reminds us of Him who was rejected by His brethren as Joseph before, when he came to his brethren, was rejected and cast out by them, and David, in later years, when he was sent on a message of love to his brothers in the camp, in the very face of the enemy, was despised and set at nought by them. So with Jephthah, he is rejected, he has to leave his own country. In a far-off land he gathers about him those who like himself were despised, vain fellows, as they are called, like David's company in the cave of Adullam. I have said that Jephthah's life suggests our Lord's. I use the word advisedly, and with great hesitation. There were moral reasons for his brethren's rejection of Jephthah — he was "the son of a strange woman" — which makes us shrink from linking his name with the spotless Son of God. Bearing this in mind, the rejection suggests Him who was "separate from His brethren."
The only deliverer, then, of the people of God from the power of evil and evil doctrine, is one who himself has been rejected by his brethren. So it points us in this way to Christ as the only One who can deliver. Taking him up personally, we find that what is suggested by his name is very striking. How am I to be set free from false doctrine? This man's name is the "Opener," the one who opens the word of God to us. It is as the truth, the word of God is opened to us, that we are enlightened by it. Our hearts open to its action upon us. Our eye is opened to see the wondrous things out of God's law. Thus as there is an opening of the Word, the power of error will take its flight.
I think that may be the reason why you have none of the details and methods of conflict in connection with Ammon. Instead of the methods of conflict, you have a chapter of the Bible read to them. Jephthah goes to them, and, as it were, reads to them a chapter of Scripture. He gives them the history of God's ways how God had overthrown Sihon, king of the Amorites, and had brought His people into that inheritance which Ammon now claimed from them. For three hundred years they had enjoyed it without dispute. During this period of three hundred years Ammon had been compelled to acknowledge the rights of the children of Israel as having received the inheritance from God. Jephthah opens up the Scripture to them, and as he does so, he takes clear issue against them.
That is what is needed in meeting false doctrine. We need an opener, we need that spirit of faith which would take our Bibles and open up the truth in the face of any false doctrine, no matter what its name may be. And it is a blessed fact, that no matter whether a heretic holds the Bible in his hand or not (all the better if he does hold it in his hand), you can use the word of God against him, if you are an opener. If you have had your heart opened by the Spirit of God to His truth, you can meet the holder of wicked doctrine, no matter what his profession may be, and you can overthrow him in the power of that Word.
But I do not want to anticipate too much. There are certain things in connection with Jephthah which foreshadow, alas, his failure, for failure there was, even in this man who acted for God. He made a covenant with the people, that if he were to deliver them he should be their head. No doubt, spiritually speaking, one would say it will be very nice for the Word of God to control His people, for them to make a covenant to be subject to the word of God. But surely there is something more than that. When we remember that Abimelech craved headship, how he used every effort to get kingship over Israel, we see here the traces of that same spirit in this man, though Jephthah is a man infinitely superior to Abimelech. Abimelech has no trace of any spirituality about him, while Jephthah is a man who is steadfast for God. But he will be head, and is going to be recognized as that. His previous rejection rankles in his bosom. It has not been taken as from God, but as evil treatment. So he reminds them that they had once despised him, and now if he is going to be of any service for them, they must recognize him and give him a high place. I think in that claiming of headship we can see, dear brethren, some of the springs at least of what led to sad failure later on.
He meets Ammon; he gathers the people together and goes to meet Ammon, on the basis of the truth of God. He simply, as I said, opens his title deeds to that portion of the inheritance, and shows them how God had given it into their hands, how in spite of all the opposition of Sihon and Og, and all the powers of the enemy, they had taken possession of it, and then he throws the taunt in their face, claiming for God the right to that portion. He says, "Wilt not thou possess what Chemosh thy God will give thee?" He taunts Ammon to his very face, throws down, as it were, the gauntlet, and then in the conflict, of which we have no details, he gains a complete and absolute victory over the power of evil.
There is the victory over heresy for us. It is with an open Bible, and an open heart and conscience. We will find that the first thing we have to do is to draw the line between ourselves and the false doctrine. That is why it is an utter impossibility for God's people to allow for one moment anything like alliance with those who hold false doctrine. We may bear with ignorance; we can bear with any failure to grasp fully the scope of divine truth. A fellow-Christian may be ignorant of the truths of prophecy; he may be ignorant of the full extent of redemption in all its blessed results, but I can go on patiently with one who is only ignorant.
But suppose a man brings a question as to the deity of the Son of God, can I go on with that? Suppose a man comes, denying the true humanity and incarnation of our blessed Lord, saying He was eternally a man. Can you go on with that for a moment? Must I not open my book and say, No, these are things that are ours, and we cannot for one moment give them to you. If a man denies the value of the atoning work of Christ, or anything else that touches the foundations of our most holy faith, to go on with him for a moment, to give place by subjection, even for an hour, is disloyalty to Christ who has bought us. There is only one thing to do, dear brethren, when you meet false doctrine. Do like Jephthah did; face it with the word of God, and absolutely deny it and all its power. So he gains the victory for the people and for God, and the inheritance which had been theirs for so many years still remains in their power.
We come next to that which shows the failure of Jephthah, which opens up a very interesting question. It is in the eleventh chapter and thirty-fourth verse. Jephthah had made a vow that if the Lord should give the children of Ammon into his hand, whatever came out of his house he would offer it for a burnt offering to the Lord. It should be the Lord's. I do not propose to go very fully into what I know is an exceedingly interesting question in the abstract. That is what Jephthah did with his daughter. I must confess, that with all I have read on the subject, I have never been able to disabuse my mind of the fact that Jephthah did what every simple soul who reads the passage believes he did. I have never been quite able, though I would be glad to do so, to think that the stern, self-righteous, self-opinionated man — and, dear friends, there is no tyranny like the tyranny of a self-righteous conscience, there is no suffering like the suffering inflicted upon oneself under the goadings of a legal conscience — that a man of Jephthah's makeup, who a little later on could take the fords of Jordan, and with a good conscience cut the throats of forty-two thousand of his fellow Israelites, was a man too tender-hearted to do, just what he said he would do, to his daughter, offer her up as a burnt offering to the Lord.
I will mention what is frequently taken as the explanation of it, that he dedicated his daughter to perpetual virginity. But, as I say, I confess that whatever others may think, it seems to me that Jephthah's whole character was such that he was perfectly capable of carrying out such a vow. People say he knew the Scriptures too well. Well, he knew about Abraham. How a distorted conscience might very easily make a wrong use of God's commandment to Abraham, might forget that God arrested Abraham's hand, so that he did not do what He told him to do. A morbid, self-righteous conscience, and one who had all the time felt the galling character of his brethren's scorn of him one who was self-occupied, and self-centered to a good degree personally, was not above having a wrong conception of such a thing as this.
And how sad it is when we think that those who sometimes are most faithful in overthrowing heresy, often fail to discriminate between the overthrow of the real heretic, and the destruction of that which is nearest and dearest. It is a matter of history, and a matter of experience, that unflinching firmness with the enemy, oftentimes is followed by equally unflinching firmness in the same degree with our brethren. Is it not true, beloved, that Jephthah's offering up the daughter of his bosom is followed by his slaughter of his brethren? Is it not true that the man, apparently, reduced everything to a dead level? He had his sword drawn, and as he had slain the Ammonites, he would slay his daughter, if he promised God to do it. As he had slain his daughter, he would take the fords of Jordan and slay the Ephraimites. Were they not arraying themselves against the truth of God in a certain sense? And so you will find this sternness and harshness of the man carried him beyond mere faithfulness to God on to the work of destruction of his own brethren. Ah, brethren, need I interpret that for us? Need I speak of that spirit which, alas, we have seen so much of, which makes no discrimination which, as the epistle of Jude says, does not make a difference of some, saving them with fear? Have we not seen something of treating foe and friend alike? Have we not seen too much of that, of treating the people of God just exactly as we would treat the enemies of God?
Now, it seems to me, that there is just where Jephthah's failure comes in. It is a hard and fast use of Scripture, if I may so apply it, which makes no discrimination at all. Here is one who loves Christ, whose heart is filled with love to Him, one who desires to please Him. Am I to treat such a one in the same way that I would a teacher of blasphemy, one who brings in all kinds of false doctrine as to the Person of the Lord? Are Ammonite and Ephraimite to be the same, and is the same judgment to be meted out to both? Surely not, brethren. I am to remember that the Ephraimite, — even if he is self-conceited, even if he does as he does here, taunt the Gileadites with being fugitives from Ephraim, and jealously complain that Gilead has won a victory that by rights belonged to Ephraim, is a fellow Israelite, and a brother.
I can deal with Ephraim, as I surely should, but it is quite another thing for me to take the fords of Jordan, and compel every one that goes through those fords to say just thus and so. To compel him to say shibboleth, and if he cannot say it quite, to cut him off. Shibboleth is the flood, you know, that which divides. It refers to that which divided Gilead from Ephraim. So if those of Ephraim cannot quite pronounce as to what divides, to treat them simply to the sword, that surely is faithfulness gone mad; it ceases to be faithfulness, and comes to be destruction. And I think, dear brethren, that just as we had in Abimelech, the failure of man's rule when he is seeking his own aggrandizement, so in Jephthah we have the like failure of man's rule when the conscience is under the power of legalism. It is harshness and sternness without a bit of light to relieve it. It is simply the claim of an ascetic. Because it is unhappy itself, it will make everything and everybody unhappy about it; and all the sadder when it opens up the Scripture, with which it has dealt out judgment to heretics, and applies that Scripture relentlessly to those who may not see with it.
Here again you can find in the history of the Church much that would answer to Jephthah. I am sure, as we speak of Roman Catholic persecutions of the people of God and are horror-struck at them, we must not forget Protestant persecutions of the people of God. We must not forget the hard, harsh laws of those who fled to this country for religious liberty, because they wanted freedom of conscience to worship God, and yet who made laws of such a character that some of the best people in the colonies, such as Roger Williams and others, were banished, under their edict, to the Indians. All of these things are intensely interesting; they are exceedingly significant. It shows us this, that if we are going to exercise rule for God, there has got to be something more than a half view of Scripture, and surely something more than a conscience which does a thing because it is unpleasant to do.
I get that thought of Jephthah, that he seemed to think that God wanted him to do what was unpleasant for him to do, simply because it was unpleasant. That is the reason why he would slay his daughter, — or banish her from his home; the principle is the same — and, once get a taste of blood, and forty-two thousand of his brethren cannot quench the taste. Is it not solemn, and is it not a fact, that in the history of the Church those who have met and overthrown heresy, are those who have then crossed swords with their brethren, and fought to the very knife over things that were not a vital question of truth? You remember how Luther, who delivered God's people from the errors and heresies of Rome, turned round and contended with his brethren about the real Presence in the Lord's Supper, and would not under any consideration yield a single point. We can apply these things; yes, brethren, we can apply them today, and if we are going to do better than Jephthah, we must beware of just this morbid conscientiousness which is really an undelivered soul in the bonds of legalism, which is going to crowd upon the people of God that which is not His test, that which after all simply divides the people of God from themselves, and does not divide them from their enemies.
Return for a little to this slaughter of the men of Ephraim. We see in it the evident contrast to Gideon's conduct under very similar circumstances. There was, apparently, greater effrontery and provocation this last time; but in how different a spirit was the evil conduct met. Gideon, in all lowliness and self-abasement, recognizes not only as brethren, but as more excellent than himself, the men of Ephraim. "What have I done in respect of you." Gideon had not sought or bargained for the headship. He had not become chafed and soured by reproach. There was abundant rejection of self, but no immolation of self under a fancied sense of what was pleasing to God.
Do you doubt for a moment that if Jephthah had been actuated by a similar spirit, he would have found abundant means to correct the men of Ephraim beside this wholesale slaughter? I am not pleading for indifference or weakness. But there must be discrimination. Here is where Jephthah failed, and I do not think it possible to see that it was not zeal for the Lord, but a personal affront which he was avenging. It was because Ephraim had treated them badly, had threatened and insulted them, that their anger burned against them.
Alas, when we turn to Ephraim we find but the growing fruits of that unjudged pride, which had blossomed out before, but had never been turned from. It was pride of position — self-exaltation, which claims for itself a place and dignity. It may plead its past history, present acquirements and gifts, as the ground for its preeminence, but it is pride, and self will.
This has to be broken. God can never go on with it. If unjudged, it will destroy all faithful testimony for God. He may bear with it, as we have seen in the case of Gideon, but He has lessons for it to learn in the undue severity of Jephthah. Had Ephraim learned these lessons, the division of the kingdom under Rehoboam would have been an impossibility. There are thus lessons on both sides.
Not to detain you further as to this, we have, I have no doubt, in the latter part of the twelfth chapter, just the remedy for this wretched condition, the contrast to Jephthah's failure. You have there those who are successors, and, as I was saying before, the brevity of the description reminds us again that we may expect that which emphasizes God's side, rather than man's. After the death of Jephthah, Ibzan of Bethlehem judged Israel. The meaning of Ibzan is probably "purity," from a root meaning "to be white." That is the remedy for harshness and relentlessness, such as Jephthah exercised. There must be purity. The wisdom which cometh from above is first pure, then peaceable. You may have thought, in speaking of Jephthah's harshness, that I have forgotten that there is need of faithfulness amongst the people of God. I have not forgotten, and I want to give the other side in connection with the Scripture that presents it. Jephthah's harshness must be criticised as it deserves. It will not do to take the fords of Jordan, and slay our brethren indiscriminately. Let us then, you say, throw up all contention about things; let us not be careful as to what our brethren hold, or how they do, or how subject they are to God; let us open our arms and take them in.
No, that is the mistake on the other side. The wisdom which cometh from above is first pure, and there can be no peace without purity. Sacrifice that, and you sacrifice all.
You notice that this judge, in contrast to Jephthah, has thirty sons and. thirty daughters. And in this you have again that which seems to intimate the growth and multiplication of that which stands for God. Here is a judge who, instead of slaying his brethren, and his one daughter; who, instead of putting an end to any hope of growth of the principles for which he stood, gathers in, and is able in that way to multiply his family. He is thus able to carry out in increased measure the principles for which he stands, and those are the principles of purity. There is nothing mentioned of his rule except this. But you may be assured, where purity has sway, Ephraim's pride will be dealt with in some way. It will not be allowed, if possible, to come to a head and produce division amongst the people of God, but it will not be treated with indifference.
After him you have Elon the Zebulonite, who judged. Israel for ten years, and there is nothing mentioned except that he judged them. Zebulon is the tribe that speaks of abiding in communion with God. And Elon, the "strong," shows how after purity comes strength, and in that way prosperity.
There must be strength in the government of the people of God. It is sheer madness to ignore this. It is worse, it is mischievous evil, to plead for carelessness or unfaithfulness to the principles of divine truth. The order of God's house must be enforced with a firm hand. Indifference to the will of God cannot be thought of. Farewell to any testimony to Christ where it is allowed.
Nor can numbers be considered. If we fail to bow to Christ's authority, for fear of losing or not gaining persons, we are not acting according to divine purity, and in divine strength. How solemn is the responsibility of those who would weaken the hands of those who are endeavoring to maintain God's order.
Let us be specific. There is absolute need of pastoral care and oversight among the saints of God. Nor should there be backwardness in reproving and correcting those who need it. "Now we exhort you, brethren, warn them that are unruly, comfort the feeble-minded, support the weak, be patient toward all men." Here we have full provision made for a strong and firm, yet loving, pastoral care. Are you surprised if unrebuked evil spreads until it has to be dealt with in far greater vigor than if there had been faithfulness at the beginning?
Or further, there can be no strong government in the house of God where great care is not taken in receiving to the fellowship of the people of God. Weakness here means weakness throughout. All is to be done in love, but all must be done according to truth. We need not be surprised if a conflagration breaks out once and again which was inevitable because of the neglect of the first precautions — care in reception, and faithful pastoral care. May the lessons of the past teach us for the future, should the Lord yet tarry.
The last judge mentioned in this connection is Abdon, the son of Hillel the Pirathonite, "service the son of praise." Service that springs out of a heart filled with praise. He dwells in a place that speaks of redemption and deliverance. That is not a Jephthah. It is not one who has but one rule by which he measures people. And if they do not come up to it, he cuts them off. But you have the spirit of service, of which we have already been speaking, and that which is the only spirit of rule and service, love that flows out of a heart filled with praise. And where there is that; where God's people are overflowing with praise, dwelling in His house, and so still praising Him, there will be service to their brethren, and there will be the government of God's house, which will be maintained, not by violence, but in the power and strength of purity. Let us remember, then, these things as that which is the antidote to Jephthah's harshness. The antidote to sternness is not carelessness. Oh, that we might learn that in our souls, that the reaction from sternness has this threefold characteristic, — purity, strength and service. Ah, brethren, let us hold fast to the purity of God's truth; let us be firm where His truth is in question. and then in the service of praise, a heart filled with praise, we shall find that it is not necessary to be Jephthahs in order to stand fast for God. How we need the armor of righteousness on the right hand and on the left. How we find ourselves guarded in every direction from many mistakes, and, beloved brethren, may the Lord impress this lesson upon us, a lesson which, I am sure, we need as much as we do the others.