He was the son of a prostitute. He’s never been the favorite of Bible scholars. They’ve variously described him as a brigand, a robber, and a thug. But the Bible uses none of those terms. Scripture calls him a judge (i.e. a divinely appointed ruler), a deliverer, and a mighty man of valor. It tells how the Spirit of God came upon him, empowering him to save Israel from the kingdom of Ammon (Judges 11-12; 1 Samuel 12:11). The New Testament tells how, by faith, he “conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, …became mighty in war, and put foreign armies to flight” (Hebrews 11:32-34). His name was Jephthah, which has the meaning of “he opens” – perhaps a reference to his setting captives free.
It’s true that Jephthah was a tragic figure. Because of his low birth and illegitimacy his half-brothers drove him away from his home to disinherit him. His fellow countrymen even pushed him beyond the borders of Israel. A child of prostitution had no place among God’s chosen people.
Rejected by his homeland, Jephthah became a magnet for other rejects like himself. They established a base of operations in the city of Tob (toward Damascus) and conducted raids. Some of these must have been against Israel’s enemies, for he earned the reputation of a successful military commander. In fact, so great was his renown that, when Israel was invaded, its leaders turned to Jephthah for help.
Despite being previously disowned by his countrymen, Jephthah agreed to fight for them. But even with his military experience, Jephthah still sensed his need for God’s help. He prayed to God for victory over the Ammonites. Unfortunately, he made a very rash and foolish promise. Jephthah vowed to offer as a sacrifice whatever came out of his house to greet him upon his victorious return.
The good news was that God made him supremely victorious. The bad news was that his only child – a daughter – came out to greet him. Ignorant of the Scripture, Jephthah’s zeal for God drove him to do what the Bible condemned. He gave up his only child as a sacrifice. It’s interesting that, in the Greek translation of the Hebrew Bible, it says that Jephthah gave up his “only begotten” (monogenes).
What is most remarkable about Jephthah is that he fit the pattern of so many other men who were chosen by God to be saviors and deliverers. Joseph was rejected and sold as a slave by his brothers. Yet God chose him to save the inhabited world from famine. Moses’ countrymen repeatedly rejected him. Yet he was God’s choice to deliver Israel from slavery in Egypt. Before David became king over Israel, he fled from his native land and, like Jephthah, gathered a following of discontents to form a small army. Most notable was Jesus Christ. He was despised and rejected by all of humanity. Yet it was for humanity that He laid down His life to save (Isaiah 53:3-6).
Yes, though Jephthah was the child of prostitution and a throwaway to his people, yet God chose him to be a savior. Jephthah certainly had a kinship with God’s greatest servants, but he also had a kinship with God. For he knew the pain of giving up one’s only begotten.
God chooses and uses woefully imperfect people. And, by trial and grace, transforms them into saints.
So, if there are times when you feel you are not the “right type” to be chosen and used by God, consider Jephthah. Jephthah was anything but the right type.
God chose Japheth, the son of a prostitute. God chose Rahab, a prostitute. And God also chose Samson, the pristine Nazarite from his mother’s womb – yet who went on to break every aspect of his vows. God chooses and uses woefully imperfect people. And, by trial and grace, transforms them into saints.
Dear Father in heaven, into Your loving and capable hands I commit my life, my soul, and my all. Please accept the raw and broken material of my being through Jesus Christ and fashion me into the person of your dreams. Amen.