Judges 11:1-11 1 Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior. His father was Gilead; his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead’s wife also bore him sons, and when they were grown up, they drove Jephthah away. (THAT’S BAD) “You are not going to get any inheritance in our family,” they said, “because you are the son of another woman.” 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and settled in the land of Tob, where a group of adventurers gathered around him and followed him. 4 Sometime later, when the Ammonites made war on Israel, 5 the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6 “Come,” they said, “be our commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.” 7 Jephthah said to them, “Didn’t you hate me and drive me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now, when you’re in trouble?” 8 The elders of Gilead said to him, “Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead.” 9 Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me–will I really be your head?” 10 The elders of Gilead replied, “The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them. And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.
Jephthah may not be a well-known character to many of us, but he serves as an awesome example of someone who had a rough start to life but went on to overcome all the obstacles in his life and do some wonderful things for the Lord.
As this passage opens Jephthah is praised as a mighty warrior. What a compliment. However one doesn’t become a mighty warrior without enduring some battles, right? We get the sense from the get go that Jephthah was an overcomer. He wasn’t afraid of a challenge. He was courageous. He did what had to be done. He was the kind of person who refused to back down. What a wonderful thing to have said about you. Wouldn’t you love to be described as an overcomer? Wouldn’t you like to be an overcomer?
What did Jephthah have to overcome? The second part of verse one is revealing. Jephthah’s father was Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute. Jephthah was the product of a cheap, one-night stand. His very conception was the result of his father’s sin. Apparently Gilead owned his responsibility toward this son and had taken him in to raise him.
How did his father’s wife, Gilead’s wife, deal with raising this son that wasn’t hers? How might he have been treated differently from the rest of the children who were hers? As a child how do you process not belonging in your own family? Verse 2 suggests that the biological children of Gilead tolerated Jephthah until they grew up. But once they grew up (VS 2) they wanted him gone. After all, there was an inheritance at stake. From where they stood, Jephthah wasn’t a real family member. He wasn’t entitled to any of the money or assets they believed belonged to them. You know life hadn’t been easy for Jephthah growing up in that environment. People don’t hide those kinds of negative feelings very well.
Maybe you had a tough start in life. Maybe the circumstances surrounding your birth or conflict in your family of origin made it difficult for you to gain confidence and to feel secure as a person. Maybe you are in a situation now where you feel unloved or not accepted or included. Perhaps you can identify with how Jephthah may have felt. Maybe even as an adult you are still not really accepted by your earthly family. If you are in Christ, I want to remind you that you are a member of a new family. Your Heavenly Father will never reject you, and you have brothers and sisters here who will fight for you on their knees in prayer and who will encourage you and fellowship with you if you will make yourself available to receive their friendship.
The healthiest thing Jephthah could do was get away from his family, so he left home (well, he was basically driven away from home). He left and settled in a place called Tob. As the story reads he became a sort of Robin Hood character after a group of adventurers gathered him and followed him. They saw something in Jephthah that they gravitated towards. In spite of the labels he wore through childhood, in spite of growing up without his biological mother, in spite of being treated as an outsider by his half-brothers and likely by his step-mother, Jephthah grew into a confident leader.
Apparently Jephthah’s reputation as a skilled warrior made its way back to his home because when the Ammonites came after Israel to do them harm the leadership back in Gilead decided Jephthah was the man to assemble the troops and help them defeat the Ammonites. It seems the elders had supported Jephthah’s brothers in forcing Jephthah away from the area earlier but now they wanted him back. They needed him to lead their army and protect them from the Ammonites.
Jephthah reminded them in verse 7 that they hadn’t needed him some time back and that they had asked him to leave their area. When I read that in my spirit I was like, “Atta boy! Way to stand up for yourself!” The elders didn’t really want to talk about that. They sort of skirted the issue. They just wanted the past to stay in the past, but they made a promise to Jephthah about the future. They told him if he would come back with them they would make him their leader; not just their military leader, but the leader of all who lived in that area. That meant he was going to be the leader OVER his brothers who had also ousted him!
We see what Jephthah is really made of when he responded to their offer. Look again at verse 9: Jephthah answered, “Suppose you take me back to fight the Ammonites and the LORD gives them to me–will I really be your head?” Though Jephthah had overcome a lot, though a group of men had put their confidence in him, though he had already proven himself as a warrior somehow, his confidence wasn’t in himself. He knew if he was going to lead the Israelites to success against the Ammonites it would be because the LORD would give them into his hand.
Verses 10 and 11: 10 The elders of Gilead replied, “The LORD is our witness; we will certainly do as you say.” 11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them.
It wasn’t enough for the elders to say he would be the head, but there was a ceremony, there was a moment when the people of Gilead ratified him as their leader. His brothers would have been included in that group. Read the rest of verse 11: “And he repeated all his words before the LORD in Mizpah.” There was yet another ceremony held to confirm his leadership. Having the LORD at the center of this agreement was SO important that the arrangement was spoken again in the presence of the LORD at Mizpah. “Mizpah” means “watchtower.” Jephthah was calling on the LORD to watch over him and the people of Israel as they went to battle.
You know what that tells me? Jephthah wasn’t looking at this as an opportunity for a political victory or to become better known. He wasn’t viewing it as a way to get back at his brothers by being in control of them. He wasn’t bitter. A bitter person would have said, “You didn’t want me then, forget it. You can’t have me now.” But that wasn’t his attitude. He was concerned about the LORD being exalted. He even made it into the “Hall of Faith” passage in Hebrews 11:32 because of his concern for the LORD being the One who would win the battle and be glorified.
What I want to tell you this morning is that there are no limitations for people who will put their faith and trust in the LORD and depend on Him to help them overcome whatever they face. Maybe you had a rocky start. Maybe you faced rejection. Maybe you found yourself relocated and dislocated from what had been comfortable for you for many years. You can absolutely overcome bad starts, bad relationships and bad circumstances by holding onto the LORD.
Turn to 1 John 5:1-9. It is near the back of your Bible; not the Gospel of John, but I John in the back before second and third John, Jude, and Revelation. Here we can find a formula for becoming overcomers:
1 Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. 2 This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. 3 This is love for God: to obey his commands. And his commands are not burdensome, 4 for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith.
5 Who is it that overcomes the world? Only he who believes that Jesus is the Son of God. 6 This is the one who came by water and blood–Jesus Christ. He did not come by water only, but by water and blood. And it is the Spirit who testifies, because the Spirit is the truth. 7 For there are three that testify: 8 the Spirit, the water and the blood; and the three are in agreement. 9 We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which he has given about his Son.
This passage outlines how we can become overcomers.
We become overcomers first by loving God. Jephthah didn’t make a split decision when given the opportunity to lead the Israelites that he was all of the sudden going to start involving God in his plans. No, he had learned somehow to love God and had cultivated his love for God so that when given, no doubt, the biggest opportunity of his life, he wanted to make sure God was the centerpiece of it.
Do you love God? Do you tell Him? Do you show that you love God? How do you cultivate your love for Him? How much time outside of this hour and fifteen minutes each week on Sunday are you investing in your love relationship with God?
Is He the centerpiece of your life? Do you want other people to know you belong to Him? What a blessing about a year ago to officiate the dedication of a business to the LORD. When Eddie Ferrari started his “Picture Guy” photography business he invited his friends and family to come to a service of dedication where he committed his business to the LORD. It was out of his love for God and desire for God to be in control of all he did and his desire for God to gain glory through his efforts that he created an entire ceremony to put God in the center of it all.
Our love for God should permeate all we do as Christians. When we get a promotion, we should look for ways to glorify God. When we have an opportunity or open door to advance in some way, we should glorify God. When we plan a wedding, it ought to be obvious that God is the third person in the relationship and that He will be setting the agenda for our marriage. When we have big moments in life we have big opportunities to show our love for God.
This is so important because it keeps us focused on where our help comes from so that we regularly, routinely, daily draw upon Him as our Source. There is peace, comfort, strength and hope that will naturally belong to those who are nurturing their love for God because there will be an unbroken awareness that God is right there. There will be an ease with expressing your concerns to Him. There will be a natural (or supernatural) humility that will become part of your life which will help you receive what you need from God as a routine way of life. There are just so many by-products of love and particularly loving God.
Second, verse 2 tells us we become overcomers by obeying His commands. Obedience isn’t as fun to talk about with the masses as love is. Love stories are written, but how many obedience stories are being written today? Love songs are sung, but how many songs about obedience are being recorded today? You don’t hear songs like “I Just Called to Say, I Obey You.” No one is recording, “I’m Saving all my Obedience for You,” and certainly no one is opening their concert with “When a Man Obeys a Woman!” Right? J (inspired by: http://olathebible.org/clientimages/43819/sermons/2012/1john_03182012.pdf)
Even in the Christian world it’s easier to talk about loving God than obeying Him. We shy away from accepting that if we follow Christ we also embrace His commands.
Obeying God’s commands is a natural outgrowth of our love for God. Jesus said in John 14:15, “If you love me, you will obey what I command.”
Verse three of our I John text says that God’s commands “aren’t burdensome.” In other words, they aren’t too difficult to carry out and they are not extra weight or stress that is added to our lives. “Ain’t nobody got time for that.” You know what I am talking about? There is too much stress and strain in some relationships where the expectations cause you worry and fatigue, and the hoops you have to jump through, and the egg shells you have to walk on, and the racing heart you have to deal with when you know you are going to have to be together for an extended period of time with someone…they all just suck the life out of you. They make it a hard relationship; something you dread because it makes your life more difficult.
It’s not that way with embracing the commands of God. When we do, our lives become easier and less stressful. One of the commands of Jesus, for example, is that we forgive those who wrong us and that we love those who persecute us and pray for them. While that may not “feel” like an easy thing to do, when we choose to do that, we live more free and less burdened than if we hold grudges, count offenses, keep score, get bitter, stay angry and look for ways to keep the “war” going with people. I will admit that forgiving and loving some people can be difficult, but if you will make the difficult decision to do so, you will live an easier life than if you do not.
Jephthah could not have accepted the position as leader of the people of Gilead in a way that could glorify God if he had not forgiven his brothers for their mistreatment of him. Maybe he would have made their lives miserable as part of his army. Maybe he would have assigned them to the front lines in hoping they would get killed. How would having a murderous heart have glorified God? How could the army have been successful if there was drama in the ranks? The mission would have turned inward and been all about Jephthah’s vendetta against his brothers rather than a unified, collective effort to defeat the Ammonites. It would have been a disaster.
Somewhere along the way, before the opportunity to become their leader presented itself, Jephthah made peace with the terrible way his brothers treated him. He had already made a choice to be an overcomer before signing on to become his brothers’ leader. Choosing the attitude and way of an overcomer is so important because you never know what is coming down the road that will need you to be fully free and fully present in order to tackle it. That decision to overcome what his family had done to him without them even asking for his forgiveness, gave him the opportunity to give grace to his brothers in a time when peace between those in Israel was what was needed in order to be victorious. Because Jephthah overcame being wrongly treated, he was able to help Israel overcome their enemies.
If hatred feels good to you, you cannot truly love God because people who love God choose to obey His commands. And if you carry bitterness, anger, and hate in your heart it will impact your ability to overcome life’s challenges going forward.
1John 4:20-21 20 If anyone says, “I love God,” yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. 21 And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother. If we choose to despise or hate people then there is a negative impact on our love relationship with God which jeopardizes our ability to overcome. People who conclude that loving God is only about themselves and God have missed one of the major reasons Christ came. He came to reconcile us with God, yes, but He has given us the message of reconciliation that we also might live right and well and peacefully with others.
Finally, I want to highlight that verse four tells us we become overcomers through faith in Christ.
There are some things you and I have to absolutely believe without question if we are going to overcome in this life and in the life to come. I John 5:5 tells us the first thing we must choose to believe or to live out through our faith is that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. Verse 11 tells us we must believe that eternal life comes only through Jesus Christ. Verse 20 reiterates again it is all about Jesus and putting faith in what He has done for us. Read it with me. “We know also that the Son of God has come and has given us understanding, so that we may know him who is true. And we are in him who is true–even in his Son Jesus Christ. He is the true God and eternal life.”
You will not successfully overcome this life without Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior, and following Him, His Word and His ways is the way to walk out victory in your life every day.
Something else as it relates to your faith I believe is key for you to embrace. I believe Jephthah embraced it because without it he would have lived a defeated life. It simply is this: You must believe you were born to win. You must believe God has something better for you than your circumstances want you to believe. You must believe God has a future for you that is better than your past. You must believe that no matter who rejects you or opposes you that God accepts you, and He is for you.
You see, your first birth made you a sinner and a loser, but your second birth makes you a saint and a conqueror! Romans 8:37-39 37 No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, 39 neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Paul was convinced he was born to win! Can anyone else get convinced this morning? You were born to win! You were born to conquer. You are supposed to be the head and not the tail. Through your relationship with Jesus Christ you have everything you need to daily overcome the devil, the world, and your own flesh. (inspired by: http://archives.calvarymurrieta.com/brian/studies-books/new-testament/62-1john/62-1john-005-001-10.pdf)
You do not have to be defeated by the devil. You do not have to be disgraced by sin. You do not have to be destroyed by suffering. You do not have to be distracted by sensuality. You don’t have to be a victim of your circumstances. You can win the victory. You can overcome. That is the promise of God’s word!
How many Bible stories do we need to read about those who have overcome before we will choose to believe it for ourselves?
Joseph was in the dungeon, but God released him. The Hebrews were in slavery, but God delivered them. David was overwhelmed by the guilt of his sin, but God forgave him. Daniel was in the lion’s den, but God preserved him. Jonah was in the belly of the fish, but God retrieved him. Jesus was in the tomb, but God raised Him. No problem has been so great that God in His power has not overcome it. And that is the promise that comes to each of us this morning. What He has done in the past, He will do again today. Through God’s power, we can overcome. (http://www.preaching.com/sermon-illustrations/11566833/page-2/)
Nothing can separate us from God’s love. Nothing can separate us from His presence. Nothing can overtake us if we will love God, obey His commands, and have faith to follow Jesus, the One who overcame everything to make our victory possible. Will you choose to be an overcomer this morning?