Recently, Mark West, a writer, and commentator wrote an excellent article explaining the life of Jephthah, an Old Testament character who overcame the shame of his past and served Yahweh's people proudly and became an effective and successful warrior. You can read about him in the eleventh chapter of the book of Judges.
According to the text, Jephthah lived in Gilead and was a member either of the tribe of Manasseh or the tribe of Gad. We read that his father's name was Gilead, which probably means that his father was simply one the men of that area. But also that his mother was known to be a prostitute, which reflected on the way people viewed him. Right from the start, the first three verses give us a clear background to Jephthah:
“Jephthah was a soldier from the region of Gilead. Jephthah’s father was named Gilead. His mother was a prostitute. Gilead’s wife also gave birth to sons. When his wife’s sons grew up, they threw Jephthah out. They told him, “You’ll get no inheritance from our father. You’re the son of that other woman.” Jephthah fled from his brothers. He went to live in the land of Tob. Worthless men gathered around Jephthah and went out on raids with him” (Judges 11:1-3)
When you read Judges, chapters 11–12. You discover that the Israelites "again did what was evil in the sight of the Lord . . . they forsook the Lord and did not serve him. So the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he sold them into the hand of the Philistines into the hand of the Ammonites."
Being an illegitimate child, his brothers, like so many kids, would bully Jephthah over his shameful past, eventually chasing him away from home. Sure, what his mom was, wasn't his fault. But that didn't matter in their eyes. He eventually took up with a rough crowd: "Outlaws collected around Jephthah and went raiding with him."
Now, if you ask most scholars about this story, they only thing they will mention is that because of his success in battle, Jephthah made a stupid vow that required him to sacrifice his daughter. Yeah, that was pretty shameful, and the Lord dealt with it later.
But before that event, Jephthah was apparently under the mistaken impression that because his mother had a shameful past, he needed to hang out with shameful characters. However, the elders of his community saw something in Jephthah that he didn’t even see in himself and offered him a deal to lead their army into battle against their enemies. In exchange, they would make Jephthah their ruler.
I am not sure that he actually trusted the people who had caused him so many emotional wounds, but, what the heck. The offer was one he couldn't refuse, and he agreed to lead their soldiers. In spite of his shameful past, Jephthah became a national hero by defeating Israel's enemies.
If you read the entire story of Jephthah, you find out that there was a reason for his success. It wasn’t merely because Jephthah pulled himself up by his bootstraps, or that he became a “self-made” man, or that he read a book on how to overcome low self-esteem. No, despite all of weaknesses and memories of his past, Jephthah was empowered by the “Spirit of the Lord, ” and through God’s direct intervention and guidance, he was able to accomplish great things. As a result, others were rescued and blessed. All because Jephthah turned and yielded himself to God! They ignored all the negatives in his life, and he overcame his shameful past.
No, I doubt most of us can directly identify with Jephthah’s past, but if we are honest with ourselves, I bet we struggle with our own shameful pasts. Some that were thrust on us and others were the result of our own mistakes. Been there - done that!
Too many choose a life of rebellion and never live to repent. They try to run from their past. They even engage in destructive behaviors, believing that their choices will soothe or remove the shame they carry. But my friends, none of those decisions lead to freedom from the guilt we chose to carry. No, we continue to fool ourselves and live ruined and destructive lives.
No, the only freedom is found through the power of the “Spirit of the Lord” indwelling us, as He did with Jephthah. The only way we will be free from our guilt, and our pasts are by surrendering to the Spirit's leading and anointing.
While you and I may never be a national hero, we can choose to embrace the same God that transformed Jephthah’s life and becoming a blessing to others who might be struggling with their own shameful pasts.
“I leave the past behind and with hands outstretched to whatever lies ahead I go straight for the goal—my reward the honour of being called by God in Christ” (Philippians 3:13-14)
“If the Son sets you free, you are really free! ” (John 8:36)
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