Jephthah is one of those Bible characters that really intrigues me. Despite having a difficult start in life he became a national hero. He reminds me a little of King David in that he learned much of his military and leadership expertise while in exile yet grew to command the respect of the nation.
His story is in Judges Chapter 11, where we fist meet him as the rejected son of Gilead – rejected by his half-brothers because he was the son of a prostitute. So he fled and like David gathered around him a group of malcontents, whom he forged into a small but successful army. When the Ammonites threatened his home province and a man with military skill was needed, the people turned to Jephthah for help.
As you read the story of Jephthah, you find a man of forgiveness, wisdom and diplomacy, a student of his own history and a man who was filled with the Spirit of the Lord, faith and devotion. His devotion is evident by his famous vow of 11:30-31, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the LORD’s and I will offer it up for a burn offering”.
The unfortunate twist in this story is that after Jephthah’s victory, the ‘whatever’ that came out to meet him was his daughter, ‘his only child’ (v.34). There has been much discussion as to whether Jephthah actually offered up his daughter as a burnt offering, or if, rather, she remained a virgin. My conclusion is that he, “did with her according to his vow that he had made” (v. 39).
Either way, the tragedy of this story is that Jephthah simply did not know his Bible, the Law. Not only of God’s hatred of human sacrifice, but that God had actually made provision for this kind of scenario. Lev 27:2, ‘…if anyone makes a special vow to the LORD involving a person…’ and v.4 ‘If the person is a female, the valuation shall be thirty shekels’. In such a situation as this, the law required that the person be redeemed at a given price. Thirty shekels of sliver was a lot of silver, this was not a cheap option.
We should not be surprised however that people did not know the law at this time in Israel’s history for ‘the word of the Lord was rare in those days’ 1 Samuel 3:1 and Micha’s Levite at the end of Judges (Chapter 17) was certainly not fulfilling his role in teaching the people the law.
In my 29 years of involvement with the SBS, it has not been unusual for me to hear concerns about the danger of SBS students just getting ‘head knowledge’ of the Bible. “Knowledge putts up”, knowledge leads to pride”, “the Word without the Spirit brings death”, etc. Certainly our students graduate with a lot of knowledge, they know the Bible better than most, and yes, this can lead to pride. But every SBS leader I know is aware of this and works to lead their students to humble engage with the Bible in a life giving way.
Yet Biblical ignorance is a huge danger also and knowing the content of the Bible is crucial. Without this believers are vulnerable to every new doctrinal fad, to shallowness in their knowing God and to irrelevance in their engagement with the world. If we are going to make a significant contribution to any spheres of society it must come out of the foundation of simply knowing our Bibles, Old Testament as well as the New. This book has transformed nations because those whom God used for such an end actually knew the whole of their Bibles. Jesus interestingly, exhorts us to love God with all of our heart, soul, strength and our MIND, Luke 10:27.
The wonderful gift God has given our mission in the SBS is that our students have the unique opportunity to engage responsibly with every paragraph of the Bible. What a privilege and responsibility we have, for revival is transformed into reformation on the anvil of engagement with the whole breadth of Scripture.
Yes, as SBS leaders and staff, we all covet the working of the Holy Spirit in our lives, and the lives of our students, with poignant personal applications that come from dynamic revelation, but let us not underestimate the importance of simply knowing the Bible. This knowledge then provides the bedrock that all else can be built on.
As over these last years we have seen the prayer movement, the worship movement, evangelism and church planting movements, I pray there will come a ‘knowing the Bible movement’, and SBS, let’s be ready for when it comes!
Jephthah thought he was pleasing God with his costly devotion, when in actual fact what he was doing was an abomination! If only he had known Leviticus!
Phil Leage….Phil has been involved with the SBS since his school in 1983 under the leadership of Ron and Judy Smith. He now works out of England traveling regularly to teach in, and support SBS schools, and has developed the online internet-based SBS to serve YWAM staff who cannot take the regular 9 month residential school and also to serve the wider body of Christ.