Jephthah and his Daughter
In verses 1‑11 the deliverer comes on the scene. He bears the stamp of infirmity, so often found throughout this book. Jephthah, the Gileadite, was "a mighty man of valour," but of impure origin, the son of an harlot, the remembrance of which could not fail to fill him with shame. Nevertheless God used him, yea much more than this, presents to us, through him, some of the characteristics of Christ.
Let us remember that the history of believers is only of value in the measure in which a reflection of the Saviour is reproduced in them. There would be much to perplex and little to edify in the history of Jephthah, did we not seek therein what manifested God's character. The word of God which shows, on the one hand, the natural man, wholly estranged from God, describes to us, also, all the weaknesses and failures of men of faith such as Jephthah; but God gives us more than that in their history. He presents Christ to us, and it is this which makes them so interesting. We readily discover the faults of our brethren, but we should be more interested in the way God forms and fashions them, in order, spite of all, to raise up witnesses for Christ.
Jephthah, whose origin was somewhat similar to that of Abimelech, presents a marked contrast to that ungodly man. Abimelech sought, from the outset, to exalt himself, and usurped the place of the legitimate family of Gideon. Jephthah, who - apart from his origin - was the eldest of the family, was rejected by his brethren: "Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman" (v. 2). Does that not remind us of the words: "We will not have this man to reign over us!" (Luke 19: 14). "Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob" (v. 3). Jephthah allowed himself to be despoiled, humbled himself instead of lifting up his head among the wicked, gave up all his rights and went away to a strange country. But God knew how to find him and to bring him to the front again. The moment came, when those who had driven their deliverer away, were compelled to cast themselves as suppliants at his feet. "Did not ye hate me," said Jephthah to the elders of Gilead, "and expel me from my father's house?" (v. 7). This very saviour whom they had derided, they were forced, as formerly were Joseph's brethren, to acknowledge in the far country; and, appealing to him in their distress, besought him to become their captain. Jephthah did not consent to take this title before victory (v. 9). And so will it be with Christ, who will be publicly recognized as theHead of Israel by His triumph over their enemies. It is interesting to see in this man, despised by the world yet enduring its scorn, a faint representation of the Messiah; for we may say that it was in representing Christ, that he was considered worthy to lead the people of God.
The children of Ammon were at that time, the sworn enemies of Israel. The worst adversaries of the people of God are always the descendants according to the flesh, of believers. Midian, against whom Gideon fought, proceeded from Ishmael, the seed of Abraham according to the flesh; Moab and the children of Ammon sprang from Lot; Edom was the son of Isaac after the flesh. There were others, no doubt, such as Jabin under Barak, and the Philistines under Samson, but we maintain that our most determined enemies are the outcome of our failures or of the flesh in us. The bitterest opposition to the testimony and spiritual life of the church, springs from her own unfaithfulness under cover of the name of Christ. Her idolatrous ways, so foreign to divine life, in all their hatred and craft, will prove to be for the humiliation, chastisement and snare of God's people, to the very end.
The children of Ammon, taking advantage of the low condition of Israel to rise up against them, sought to despoil them of their lawful territory and privileges and to appropriate them to themselves. What had the people gained by bowing down before the idols of Ammon? They had fallen under the judgment of God, and into the hands of the enemies of Jehovah. If we step on to the world's platform, it robs us, causes us to lose the reality of our privileges, and takes them away. Dreadful confusion is the result. The world then says to us: My rights are as great as yours, I am as good a Christian as you are, for you show as much activity for the things of the world as I do. "Israel took away my land... now therefore restore those lands again peaceably" (v. 13). Such are the consequences of our unfaithfulness.
Under these circumstances a revival produces remarkable effects. Jephthah did not deny thelow condition of the people, but, when he addressed the children of Ammon, he went back to the beginning of Israel's blessings (vs. 15‑27). Far from agreeing to this state of things, in accepting the yoke which Ammon for eighteen years had placed upon the people, he took his stand upon Israel's original blessings, in the day when they went out of Egypt for the purpose of entering Canaan. He maintained the blessings, as the ones upon which the people had been established. We will proceed said he, in accordance with the principles which God gave us at the beginning, and which are ours for ever He saw the people, the family of God, as God had looked at them at the first, and said: "Our conflict is not with the children of Ammon, but with the Amorites" It is the same for the church. Her warfare is with the spiritual powers in heavenly places (Eph. 6), just as Israel's was with the Canaanites. Our controversy is not with the religious mixtures, which are the outcome of the flesh and which we neither recognize as friends or enemies, nor do we combat them unless they compel us to do so. Our languageshould be that of Jephthah: "We will keep the land which Jehovah hath given us" (v. 24).
Jephthah having spoken thus, a fresh blessing was granted him: "Then the Spirit of Jehovah came upon Jephthah" (v. 29). The power of God was found in the path which he was on. Not to conform to the ruin as though God could accept it, and to act on the principles which God committed to us at the beginning, is the path of power even when we are reduced to the number of two or three gathered together in His name.
"The Spirit of Jehovah came upon Jephthah." Alas! how often it happens that the flesh manifests itself in us, as it did in him. He was not content with divine grace and power. Ignorant of the true character of God, he "vowed a vow unto Jehovah" (v. 30), made an arrangement with God, on the footing of a mutual agreement; and, binding himself before Him in a legal way, fell into Israel's error in the wilderness of Sinai. "If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be Jehovah's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering" (vs. 30, 31).
God, leaving Jephthah to the responsibility and consequences of his vow, did not manifest either approval or disapproval of it. Heaven seemed closed to the voice of the leader of Israel. Nevertheless the Spirit of Jehovah accorded to him the victory.
Jephthah returned to Mizpeh, unto his house, and, behold his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances. "She was his only child" (v. 34). These words remind us of more than one passage of Scripture. God said to Abraham, "Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest" (Gen. 22: 2). But Abraham offered up his son "by faith" at God's command, Jephthah offered his daughter by an act of his own will, which was simply a want of faith. The words "only," "only begotten," remind us again of a greater than Isaac. Like Jephthah in his earlier history, his daughter reproduced in a touching manner some traits of the character of Christ. When faith was lacking in the father, it shone out brightly in his poor child. This only daughter, devoted beforehand to the sacrifice by a rash vow (Christ, on the contrary, was that by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God), is seen submitting herself, instead of rebelling or blaming her father. "My father," said she, "if thou hast opened thy mouth unto Jehovah, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as Jehovah hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon" (v. 36). She submitted on account of Jehovah, a faint reflection, doubtless, of Him who said: "I come to do Thy will, O God."She counted her life as nothing, in view of the victory; "forasmuch as Jehovah hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies," and for that consented to be sacrificed. No thought of herself detained her. Beautiful self‑renunciation by faith which looked only to God! She suffered besides in another way deeply painful for every woman of faith in Israel, whose desire was to be mother of a posterity which might become the lineage of the Messiah. But this only daughter consented to be cut off from the scene as a barren woman. "Let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows" (v. 37). However beautiful this devotedness was, how infinitely did that of the Lord Jesus surpass it! In view of salvation, He to whom everything belonged consented to be "cut off and have nothing" (Dan. 9: 26, margin). Abandoning all His prerogatives as Messiah, all His rights as Son of God and Son of man, he renounced His posterity in order to obtain a better victory which only He could achieve. He gave up His life, but "He shall see His seed" (Isa. 53: 10), and Jehovah "will make His seed to endure for ever" (Ps. 89: 29).
Truly, in this daughter of Israel was reproduced, very feebly no doubt, some of the perfection of Christ. Her simple faith shone out and she submitted to the will of God. She consented to be offered up for a burnt offering, like Him who was sacrificed later on, not as she did to confirm the victory, but to obtain a better deliverance. Letus follow the example of Jephthah's daughter; let us learn to forget ourselves in offering ourselves up to Him who was sacrificed for us, to die in faith "not having received the promises," without obtaining any apparent result for our labour but satisfied to have been the epistle of Christ among men, and His representatives, to the glory and honour of God!