What can we learn from Jephthah? After all, he was born to a prostitute, rejected by his half brothers, denied an inheritance, served as a Judge over Israel, and either sacrificed or dedicated his daughter to the Lord. Few of us can identify with these characteristics so surely his story has little to say to us, right?
I discovered an unexpected gem in the narrative of Jephthah when recently preparing to preach this passage. I am constantly amazed by how applicable and relevant the Word of God is when we take the time to study passages that may at first glance seem irrelevant to us.
The unexpected gem is a lesson on how to handle confrontation. We all deal with confrontation whether it be personal or professional. In Judges 11:12-33, Jephthah has a confrontation with the king of the Ammonites over land. The way he handled that confrontation provides a great example. Let’s look at what he did.
1. He acted. Jepthah had every reason to stay in Tob and do nothing. After all, his half brothers rejected him because his mother was a prostitute and they ran him out of town. He fled homeless and entered Tob as a refugee. He didn’t have to assist the Israelites in their war with the Ammonites, but when given an opportunity to lead, act he did.
Leadership is active not passive. You cannot sit by and watch if you want to influence those around you. Sometimes in conflict, we choose the way of passivity. We allow bitterness to fester and avoid the situation rather than dealing with it. Sometimes we allow conflict to build like steam in a pressure cooker until we too blow our top. To lead, influence others, or properly deal with conflict, you must act. But how you act matters. Jephthah, the unexpected leader from the wrong side of the tracks, demonstrates how to properly respond to conflict.
2. He sought a peaceful solution first. The men of Gilead went to Jephthah because he had collected “worthless fellows” around him (v. 3). They wanted him to lead them into battle. He excelled at war not words, but his first act, was to send messengers to the king of the Ammonites.
Jephthah had moved past the youthful brashness of showing physical strength first. He had seen conflict up close, and he recognized that in any war people get hurt. In a war this size, lives would be lost and in any conflict, collateral damage may occur. When we seek vengeance rather than a solution, we take the place of God and find ourselves in the wrong. We must first seek a peaceful solution.
3. He asked a question. Jephthah did not assume that he understood the situation completely and accurately. He asked a question. “What do you have against me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?” (v. 12) The king then explained his complaint that Israel had taken land that he felt belonged to him and he wanted it returned (v. 13).
Asking a question often diffuses a situation by demonstrating a willingness to listen. Even in cases when it does not solve a problem, it increases the probability of clear communication. In the Gospel accounts, we see that Jesus asked many questions. Remember when he asked, “Who do men say that I am?” Questions allow other people to express their position.
4. He replied with good logic. In fact, his argument makes a good sample paper or speech. Jephthah has a thesis, supporting facts, and a conclusion—the building blocks that form the structure of good communication.
Jephthah presents his thesis in verse 15, “Israel did not take away the land of Moab or Ammonites…” Jephthah supported his thesis with arguments from history, theology, and precedent.
First, Jephthah argues historically in verses 16-20 by emphasizing that Israel acted peacefully until attacked by Sihon the king of the Amorites and that Israel never fought with the Ammonites. He moves from historical argumentation to theological argumentation in verses 21-24. He argued that only a deity gave victories. The Ammonites believed that their god Chemosh gave them land whereas Israel believed that the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob gave them this land. Notice that Jephthah intentionally includes Moab in verse 15, notes Chemosh the god of Moab rather than Molech the god of the Ammonites, and references Balak of Moab later. This seems to be an intentional choice rather than a careless confusion of deities. Finally, he appeals to precedent in (25-26) when he references Balak the king of Moab who never made a claim to the land and nor was a claim made in the 300 years since the supposed incident. Why now would the king of the Ammonites suddenly have this problem with Israel?
Jephthah rightly concluded that Israel had not sinned. Rather, it was the king of the Ammonites who was wrong by making war against Israel. Jephthah demonstrates that the king had an agenda that did not include peace. He appeals to God to judge between them, which happens in the resulting battle.
It appears Jephthah graduated from Tob Liberal Arts University. Okay, so this is a shameless plug for Cedarville University, since we educate students across every degree to think well, write well, and communicate well. That is the idea behind a liberal arts education. Jephthah, a man of war, demonstrates that he is a man of words too. He analyzed the king’s accusation, formulated an excellent response, and communicated it well.
We should respond this well to confrontation. So often when we are faced with confrontation, we assume that we know the facts without understanding the other side of the story. Sometimes we escalate the situation by replaying it over and over in our minds. With each rerun, the situation escalates, we assign motives, and our inner boiler heats up a little hotter blowing the situation out of proportion. Even when we ask the right questions, we must be willing to listen to the response. Jephthah asked the right question, listened to the accusation, formulated a reasoned response, and sought a peaceful solution.
5. He did what he had to do. Sometimes our best efforts don’t work. Sometimes we learn that other side has an agenda or has already made up their mind. We cannot be afraid to take a stand, but that should be our last course of action.
As I looked for application in a seldom-preached Old Testament narrative about a lesser-known judge who usually draws more criticism for a rash vow than praise for wisdom, I found a hidden gem. So the next time you find yourself in a confrontation, “Just Jephthah.”
And by, “Just Jephthah,” I mean lead well by asking a question, understanding the accusation, responding with logic, seeking a peaceful solution, and taking a stand when necessary. By going directly to the person rather than taking up arms on Facebook, Twitter, the gossip corner, or the rumor mill, you too will come to appreciate this unexpected gem in the narrative of Jephthah.