by Sam E. Stone
During Gideon’s lifetime, the land of Israel had peace for 40 years (Judges 8:28), but then he died (v. 32). At that point the cycle of forgetting God and paying the price for sin began once more. “No sooner had Gideon died than the Israelites again prostituted themselves to the Baals” (v. 33). Various foreign deities were added to their worship. They “did not remember the Lord their God, who had rescued them from the hands of all their enemies on every side” (v. 34). The efforts of Abimelech, Tola, and Jair are summarized in the intervening section (9:1—10:5). God punished the people by putting them under the Philistines and the Ammonites.
Israel was in great distress (v. 9). They cried out to the Lord, “We have sinned against you, forsaking our God and serving the Baals.” This time when the people adopted these foreign cults and forsook God, it appears more serious than in other accounts in the book. In this case, God does not immediately raise up a deliverer; now he chides them for their perversion. He reminds the people that over and over he has saved them from the hands of the nations that conquered them. This time God declares, “I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble.”
The Lord reminded Israel of her past glorious history. The people had been delivered from Egyptian bondage, and then later from the various Canaanite tribes. In brokenness the people confessed to the Lord, “We have sinned.” Then they added, “Do with us whatever you think best, but please rescue us now.” They then removed the foreign gods and served the Lord. While this seems on the surface to reflect genuine repentance, the use of similar wording in Yahweh’s reprimand (10:12b-13a) suggests that their putting away of foreign gods is part of the routine with which God has become all too familiar from previous experience. Once again the people were attempting to manipulate God to meet their immediate specific need of deliverance. K. L. Younger, Jr. adds, “As humans we think that because we can hide our sinfulness from other people, somehow we can hide it from God. But God examines the hearts of human beings (Psalm 17:3-5; 139:23, 24; Jeremiah 17:9, 10) and sees the wickedness, improper motives, and so on that reside within the soul.”
The people assembled at Mizpah in preparation to do battle with the Ammonites who were gathered for war. Their capital Rabbah (modern-day Amman) was about 15 miles southeast of Mizpah. The people realized their need for another Joshua to come and lead them. They made an appeal to Jephthah (not in our printed text).
Deliverance/Judges 11:4-6, 32, 33
Jephthah was a Gileadite, and is described as a “mighty warrior.” A similar description is used of Gideon when he was addressed by the angel (Judges 6:12). Although Jephthah’s father was a Gileadite, his mother was a prostitute and so he was considered a social outcast. His half-brothers drove him away declaring, “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family . . . because you are the son of another woman” (11:3). This didn’t stop Jephthah, however. He went to the land of Tob and gathered a brigand of adventurers who followed him (compare Judges 9:4). Rob Fleenor observes that the NIV has optimistically sanitized them by calling them “adventurers.” Literally they were “worthless men” gathered to Jephthah.
The Israelites had an army ready to fight, but no leader. So desperate were they to find a commander in chief that they went to Jephthah. He first told them, “Didn’t you . . . drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?” (v. 7). They admitted that they had, but offered to make him leader of all who live in Gilead. Jephthah negotiated. “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the Lord gives them to me—will I really be your head?” (v. 9).
Getting their assurance with a vow, he agreed to do as they asked. Jephthah first tried diplomacy by sending messengers to the Ammonite king, making the case for his people. The king refused to budge (v. 28). “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah” (v. 29). He attacked and led the people to victory over their oppressors.
Sam E. Stone is the former editor of Christian Standard. He continues his writing and speaking ministry from his home in Cincinnati, Ohio.