Haftarah Reflections 39
Torah portion Numbers 19 : 1 to 22 : 1
Haftarah portion Judges 11 : 1 - 33
Listen to the Prophets
Imagine, if you can, the period of time from the days of Martin Luther to today. Think of some of the amazing things that have happened in those years. Then try to imagine what might be included in an abbreviated history of that period. You may be sure that everything which would be included was both momentous and important.
After the Israelites began to occupy the Land of Promise, they were led by a succession of people who were known as “judges”, righteous living, honourable people, who feared God and kept His statutes. In all, the books of Joshua, Judges and the first part of 1 Samuel, occupy a time frame of about 450 years (approximately the same time as from Martin Luther to today). They recount illuminating events of history, and they are there for our example and edification. “All scripture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness”. (1 Timothy 3:16).
So as we look at the haftarah parashah today, be assured that this unusual story has important lessons for us to learn.
Jephthah was an outcast. His family resided in Gilead. This was what we today know as Jordan, just to the south of Syria. The circumstances of Jephthah’s birth, caused angst with his half-brothers, and even though Jephthah is described as a ‘mighty man of valour’, (read pretty tough) he chose to leave the family home rather than continue a squabble with his siblings.
He moved to the “land of Tob” (no-one knows the precise location of Tob, but it must have been close to a trade route and not very far from Gilead). There he befriended some “worthless men” and headed up a gang of thieves (bandits). We also know from later revelation in our parashah, that he had a degree of familiarity with the Ammonites (next door neighbours to the Gileadites).
For what seems the umpteenth time, the Israelites again lost sight of the covenant they had made with Almighty God and were serving the gods of the Baals and Ashtoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites and Philistines. And for that, they paid a terrible price.
God has allowed each of us the opportunity to serve Him, but always under His conditions. He also allows us to exercise ‘freewill’ to go our own way, and we often do, just like the Israelites in our parashah. The lesson from this story of Jephthah is that there is a price to pay. In their case, they were harassed by the Ammonites for another eighteen years. Left to their own devices they floundered, had trouble they couldn’t even imagine, until they again turned back to the Lord for help.
We may all have a personal story to recount of times when, having started out with good resolve to live righteously, we turned our back on God, at first slowly, a bit at a time, a compromise here, a compromise there, and before we knew it we were living in a ‘different kingdom’.
There is no doubting that God was angry with the Israelites. And yet, His mercy towards them knows no bounds. That, my dear friends is the nature and character of the God we serve. Do you remember the old hymn we used to sing:-
“His love has no limit, His grace has no measure,
His power no boundary known unto men,
For out of His infinite riches in Jesus,
He giveth and giveth and giveth again.”
That hymn speaks of the love of God towards us who believe. But it doesn’t stop God’s disappointment and even anger at our behaviour when we forget the promises we made when we came to faith in Him.
Jephthah was invited back from his life of crime to lead the people against the Ammonites. He tried to reason with them. He tried to appeal to their sense of fairness. Nothing influenced a change in their behaviour towards the Israelites. We are not told what sort of an army Jephthah assembled, but we do know that the Spirit of God was with him, and the army of the Ammonites was defeated.
But even that is not the end of the story.
Jephthah made a promise to God. Read the account for yourself in (Judges 11: 30-35). It is very difficult for us to understand that part of the story, but the vow was made by Jephthah, not by God. Because he was a man of honour he kept his word.
One more ‘reflection’ regarding Jephthah. Read again the beginning of our parashah. What an unlikely person God used to rescue His chosen ones from unfaithfulness and chaos. Does it occur to you, as it does to me, that if God is able to use an outcast who gave his life to crime, He can use anyone He chooses. You see “man looks at the outward appearance, but God looks at the heart”.