‘Accidental leadership’ is what comes to mind when we read in Judges 11, the account of Jephthah, one the judges of Israel. He didn’t have a great start to his life, being born of a prostitute. Driven away from home by his half brothers, he found a place where his talents could blossom. At Tob, he developed a reputation for being a mighty warrior and a leader. We are all a product of decisions we take. Despite a bad start, Jephthah, surely made his life count by taking several good decisions and not wasting away his life. He did not allow the disappointment of being chased away from home ruin his life with resentment and anger.
The Bible says that he was a mighty warrior. This would mean that he was courageous and proficient in wielding the weapons of war. It is most likely that he would have defeated many who terrorized the people in his time. At Tob, his personality, feats and reputation brought many adventurers to him and he led them. Leadership came naturally to him. The course that Jephthah’s life took is not very different from what we see many years later in the life of David, where, on the run from Saul, he led a band of adventurers to build one of the most fearsome armies of all time. Each person is gifted by God in unique ways. It is possible for a person who remains under the lordship of Christ and dependent on God to actualize the potential he has. Not only did Jephthah make his life count, he rose to the very summit of human achievement by allowing his gifts to flourish.
While leading a satisfying life at Tob, leadership comes knocking at his door. No doubt, God was on the move to build up a leader for his people who were suffering under the hands of their oppressors. We see the cycle of oppression brought on by a sinful lifestyle alternating with deliverance by godly leaders in Israel during the period of the judges and the kings. The leaders of Gilead took notice of Jephthah, who appeared to have the very gifts that were lacking in any person in Israel at that time. In crisis from the Ammonites who were at their very doorsteps, they rush to Jephthah and wisely make him their leader.
Jephthah’s attempts to confirm his leadership with the elders ensured that Israel would continue to flourish under his guidance once the crisis was over. Jephthah’s message to the Ammonite king confirmed his leadership in the eyes of Israel and their enemies. His message also gives us a revelation about his appreciation of the history of God’s dealing with the nation of Israel. It conveys to us the supreme place that God had in Jephthah’s life and the consequent faith that he was able to have in the ability of God to deliver the Israelite nation through him. What follows in battle is not surprising as the Spirit of the Lord comes upon Jephthah and his men scatter the Ammonites. His continuing leadership for the nation of Israel ensured that the Ephraimite troublemakers were suitably disciplined. Opposition to God’s work comes not only from outside but also from within and unless there is a willingness to deal with it, all that has been painfully built up by God’s people can be easily ruined.
Finally, the question of Jephthah’s daughter that troubles us when read the story of his incredible life. He certainly did make a promise of sacrificing the first thing that would come out of the door. It would be naïve to conclude that Jephthah killed her because a human sacrifice was strictly forbidden in the Mosaic law. God would have neither required nor approved of Jephthah killing her. The daughter going away for two months to mourn the fact that she would never marry and the latter part of v 39 where after Jephthah carries out his vow, the author declaring that she was a virgin; all indicate that the vow took the form of the daughter being dedicated to temple service and a life of celibacy. Hannah in the Jesus’ time was possibly one such example. It was surely a matter of great sorrow for Jephthah, because she being his only child also meant that Jephthah’s line would not continue.
Jephthah was an amazing man, one who overcame adversity and left his mark on history. Submitting to God, he rose to the very summit of human achievement. Leadership was thrust upon him but his accomplishments give him mention among the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11. Jephthah might be a case of accidental leadership, but when the rhythm of God’s initiative works out in a willing and submissive man, there surely are no accidents.
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