He was good enough for them when they were growing up together. But when property and money counted, his half-brothers thrust him out of the family. Zero inheritance.

What had he done wrong? That one thing: He had been born of a prostitute.

And how was that his fault? He didn’t ask to be born. He had had nothing to do with the conditions that brought about his birth.

Nevertheless, the day came when he was again good enough for them. Actually, more than good enough. All because of what he had become in the interim.

Driven from his homeland and forced to fend for himself, he had weathered into a seasoned warrior. Now the outcast was the one person everybody back in Gilead wanted. So the tribal leaders made the trip to Tob and met with Jephthah.

In dire straits, they begged him to come back and command his homeland’s army. War was at their doorstep.

Jephthah, determined not to be discarded a second time, gave the distressed delegation his terms. If he defeated the invaders, they would make him the ruling head of his native country.

No problem. “The elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, ‘The Lord is witness between us; surely we will do as you have said’” (Judges 11:10 NASB).

As had happened to Gideon in the past and would happen to Samson in the future, “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah” (Judges 11:29 NASB). Energized with supernatural strength, Jephthah was victorious on the battlefield.

And thus it came about that “Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead” (Judges 12:7 NASB).

Oh yes, you shaped me first inside, then out;
you formed me in my mother’s womb.
I thank you, High God—you’re breathtaking!
Body and soul, I am marvelously made!
I worship in adoration—what a creation!
You know me inside and out,
you know every bone in my body;
You know exactly how I was made, bit by bit,
how I was sculpted from nothing into something.
Like an open book, you watched me grow from conception to birth;
all the stages of my life were spread out before you,
The days of my life all prepared
before I’d even lived one day.
(Psalm 139:13-16 MSG)


From Zero to Hero and Back

Bursting with pride, the conquering hero was on his way home. He fought back the twinge of regret that he did not have a son there waiting to relive–not that he didn’t love his daughter dearly.  A son, though, would better comprehend and appreciate his father’s valor and skill in mustering and maneuvering an army to victory.

But he would not dwell on that and diminish the joy he felt knowing in his daughter’s eyes he did not have to be a winning warrior to rate her respect and admiration. She looked up to him as her hero no matter what anyone else thought or did. Loving him unconditionally, she was not ashamed of him because he was illegitimate. That fact which drove his half-brothers to disinherit and chase him from his homeland did not make her think less of him. She never questioned his decision to survive by heading up a band of brigands. He knew she loved him neither more nor less when the tables suddenly turned and he got his just due.

The powers that be from his country–including his father’s other sons–showed up eating humble pie and left digesting him as a tough negotiator! That day they cared not an iota about his birth or any laws he might have broken while persona non grata. In dire straits they had sought him out for his acquired expertise in the art of war. Rightly so, they reconnoitered that recruiting him for their national commander was their only hope against the invasion forces. But he wasn’t about to kowtow and simply let bygones be bygones.

Here was an opportunity for him to go from zero to hero and beyond. Seizing it, he gave the groveling magistrates his terms:  If he routed the enemy, they would make him head of  his native country. Not only would he be their general during the war but also their chief ruler when that was successfully carried out.

He was spot-on with his assessment of the situation. They had no wiggle room. Being desperate, they would agree to anything and everything. No doubt about it, he knew how to bargain!

As the returning hero approached a bend in the road and his new house came into view, he had no inkling his promising world was about to turn upside down and inside out. With a smile caressing his lips, he was remembering that after his terms were accepted, his lovely daughter had thrown her arms around him and exclaimed, “Papa, I’m so happy for you!”

Now, he mused, he had the clout to arrange for her the best possible marriage. Who would refuse his daughter? But he would not consummate the deal until he was sure the man loved her as much as he did. He chuckled at the thought that in the not-too-distant future, he could be bouncing a grandson on his knee.

Just before he reached the front door, it flew open and out danced his exuberant daughter. As her lithe body swayed to the tambourine’s strikes, a pain the hero had never known stabbed his heart.

 When he realized who it was, he ripped his clothes, saying, “Ah, dearest daughter—I’m dirt. I’m despicable. My heart is torn to shreds. I made a vow to GOD and I can’t take it back!” (Judges 11:35 MSG).

What vow?

Jephthah made a vow before GOD: “If you give me a clear victory over the Ammonites, then I’ll give to GOD whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in one piece from among the Ammonites—I’ll offer it up in a sacrificial burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31 MSG).

Where did Jephthah get off thinking he could bargain with God Almighty? Offer Him a bribe? Suggest a trade? He and Yahweh were not peers.

Would to God Jephthah had had the mindset of his predecessor Joshua when he was about to go into battle!

 And then this, while Joshua was there near Jericho: He looked up and saw right in front of him a man standing, holding his drawn sword. Joshua stepped up to him and said, “Whose side are you on—ours or our enemies’?” He said, “Neither. I’m commander of God’s army. I’ve just arrived.” Joshua fell, face to the ground, and worshiped. He asked, “What orders does my Master have for his servant?” (Joshua 5:13-14 MSG).