Judges - 10 the Philistines

Chapter 10

Sixth Recovery under Jephthah
Despised Philadelphia Used of God
Sixth Enemy: The Philistines

After Abimelech died, Tola (“a worm”) and Jair (“He will enlighten,” or “enlightener”) (Judges 10:1-5) defended Israel. Once again, we encounter men who the LORD raised up to defend (save) His people and who did so without much being recorded of their lives. These are called minor judges, but that is only in the sense that little is recorded of them, and they evidently were not involved in great accomplishments against the enemy. We can only say of them that God has His men who, when they are raised to a work (not a position) by Him, can produce conditions of peace and tranquility, even though their work may not appear to be so startling or outwardly evident.

God has recorded the useful service of these two judges who preserved the nation for 45 years (if their years are combined; they may have served concurrently). We might seek to learn from them that it is a great work for God to maintain the testimony for the LORD, even though there might not be much to record. We need those in every day of the church’s testimony who are exercised to fulfill the work that God has called them to do.

Tola as Judge
Tola’s name suggests that he represents a man who was a contrast with Abimelech. In his name (“a worm”), we discern the character of a man who was like our blessed Lord, meek and lowly. A man like this can counteract the devastation and ruin resulting from a man (Abimelech) who wanted place and power. His father was Puah, a name of uncertain meaning but which means, according to some, “utterance”. Dodo (“beloved”) was his grandfather, so that we sense the influence of a man who acted in lowliness by depending on God’s Word and knowing a close relationship with God. This type of man could preserve the LORD’S people during those troublous times.

Tola was of the tribe of Issachar, but he served as judge in Ephraim. It is possible that this was because the tribe of Issachar had not fully settled in the area assigned to them at this point; they were still scattered through the other tribes of the area. (Issachar’s designated possessions were to the north of Ephraim.) Yet it is clear that Tola had influence among those where he was living and he provided wise and effective leadership in troublous times.

We can only surmise the conditions in that area following the tumult of Abimelech’s rule, so a judge who could maintain peaceful conditions was very valuable. It is always good to see a faithful brother who is a “peacemaker” (Matthew 5:9), one who can provide such conditions for the recovery and preservation of the people of God.

Jair’s Judgeship
Then our attention turns to Jair. His name means “enlightener” (“witness,” or “testimony”). It is possible that his period of work was coincidental with that of Tola; they served God and His people on opposite sides of the Jordan. We particularly notice that Jair was a Gileadite (10:3). From this, we note that the focus of the book’s activity has shifted to the area east of Jordan with the result that the judge who followed him in the divine record was Jephthah, also a Gileadite. This is the first time that the book mentions a judge from this area. Being farther from the center of Canaanite worship of Baal, it may be that the effect of that evil worship had just begun to affect that side of Jordan.

God raised up a man at the right time to use him to preserve and deliver His people. God meets the need at the time when that need requires it. It seems that his work continued what Tola began, though in a different area, so that Israel enjoyed this unusual type of deliverance for a prolonged period. Men who act in humble dependence on God and effectively use His Word will always have this effect on the saints. It is sad when this is not the case.

Where these tribes lived was more distant from the central area of the purposed inheritance in the land. They had chosen to settle on the east side of the Jordan because of favorable conditions existing there (Numbers 32). We learn that choosing attractive places for flocks and herds (material possessions) does not deliver a people from problems and oppression by the enemy. Normally it is the place where we encounter more problems. We can observe a vivid example of this in Lot’s choice when he separated from Abram (Genesis 13). He, like the 2½ tribes of Israel, made his choice based entirely on physical attractiveness and economic enhancement. A pathway that seems right and good to us may be exactly the one that will place us in the most danger and expose us to the fiercest attacks of the foe. However, God did not leave them to themselves, even in this location; He raised judges and saviors to deliver them and Jair was one of them.

Jair had 30 sons riding on 30 ass colts who occupied 30 cities. There are two thoughts that are worthy of our consideration in this seemingly unimportant statement. One is, as Leon Woods has put it in “Distressing Days of the Judges,” that it seems to indicate a tendency toward a kingly lifestyle. To have such a large family indicates that he had many wives, which was the manner of the eastern monarchs of that day. In addition, his control over 30 cities through his sons seems to indicate that he was exerting a dominating power in the area. It would be normal, after Abimelech, for the people to continue to desire some kind of king, and this tendency continued until God finally gave them Saul.

On the other hand, he was evidently an able man, and he served in a manner that God approved of. In addition, he was sharing his responsibility with others who were of his own nature and who had an influence that reached farther than his own. He was not one to concentrate all power into his own hands and act dictatorially. Riding on ass’s colts indicates their peaceful purpose, and as they had an effect over 30 cities, it must have been for the benefit of all who were included. This is always an important principle to observe; government in an assembly or among God’s people is not reserved for one man; God intends that a plurality of men will fulfill that responsibility. This is a safeguard against dictatorial rule, such as Diotrephes exercised in the assembly where Gaius was (3 John). Plurality of government in any assembly is a necessity.

Departure Once Again
The record of the positive influence of these two judges covers only five verses. Then we read, for the sixth time, that the children of Israel did evil in the LORD’S sight and began to serve the gods of the nations around them. Not only that, but they also forsook the LORD and served Him not. In the overview that is found in Judges 2:12-13, we read that they forsook the LORD God of their fathers, but this is the first time that this departure is directly linked with a period of their history.

This result is inevitable, because doing evil and departing from the worship of the LORD is essentially forsaking the LORD to become identified with other gods. “Ye cannot serve God and mammon,” said the Lord in Matthew 6:24. The LORD tells us that He is a jealous God (Exodus 20:5 and 5 other references) and will not share His honor with another. Paul could say to the Corinthian believers, “Do we provoke the Lord to jealousy? Are we stronger than he?” (1 Corinthians 10:22). Their involvement in activities connected with the idol’s temple was a means of doing so, even though they did not realize it.

Sold unto Ammonites
As a result, in Judges, the LORD sold them into the hand of the Philistines and the children of Ammon. Israel, we read (Judges 10:6-7) had been serving (worshipping) the gods of the Philistines and the Ammonites, along with other gods of the nations around them. As a result, the LORD delivered them into the hand of the same people with whose gods they had identified themselves. These nations vexed and oppressed those who lived on the east side of the Jordan for eighteen years.

It is interesting that the extent of their oppression was so great! The Philistines lived on the west side of Israel’s inheritance but they joined Ammon to vex the Israelites who lived on the east side of the land. In addition, Ammon, who lived to the east, also crossed over Jordan to oppress those of Israel who lived on the west side of Jordan (10:8-9).

Forsaking the LORD seems to lead to widespread and extreme vexation by the enemies of the LORD’S people. What we may do in our own departure and sinfulness also seems to have a wider effect on the entire number of the saints. Note the truth of Hebrews 12:15, “Looking diligently lest any man fail of the grace of God; lest any root of bitterness springing  up trouble you, and thereby many be defiled”. This is a truth that we see in the case of Achan in Joshua 7. It is very important to seek to live carefully, constantly realizing that our actions will influence the lives of others who also belong to the Lord. This means that we should and must be exercised to maintain faithfulness in ourselves regarding our own lives.

We suggest that the Ammonites typify the rationalization of man’s natural thinking as it would intrude into the realm of the spiritual. The Corinthian believers were evidently reverting to this kind of reasoning and bringing it into the assembly, 1 Corinthians 1:17-2:8. As a result, Paul reminds them that it was the simple preaching of the message of the cross that had reached them and blessed them, for they were not great, noble or wise naturally.

The Philistines, as we know, represent the impact of religious men who claim “Christian” ground, but who have never known the redemptive value of the work of Christ personally. They were in the land, but had “wandered” there (meaning of the name), and had never passed through the experiences of Israel that typify the pathway of a soul in salvation. These are two great enemies of the saints in every day, and departure from simple dependence on the Lord and His Word will always result in domination by these two elements.

Confession and Repentance
The resulting distress of God’s people was so great that it caused them to confess their sin (Judges 10:10, 15), even to the extreme extent of casting themselves unreservedly on God’s mercy (10:15). Sinful departure of saints is never good, but if it results in their coming to genuine repentance to cause them to recognize that all they can do is to depend on the mercy of God, then it will have a lasting effect. They knew that their condition was their own fault and as a result, they could plead nothing else that could deserve anything good from God’s hand.

Paul commends the saints of the assembly in Corinth in 2 Corinthians 7:8-11 for their “sorrow according to God” (margin of the Newberry Bible) that resulted in a genuine change in their behavior and attitude. They became willing to submit to the truth that Paul had expressed and, as a result, they carried out the actions that were necessary. We see a picture of this in the response of Israel during this time of trial in their history.

Having come to this point before God, He would not leave them without a deliverer to express His mercy toward them. Though the LORD had said that he would deliver them no more (10:13), no doubt that statement was intended to test the depth and reality of their repentance, for it grieved the LORD to see their misery (v. 16). Our God always is a merciful God, One whose heart longs to bring blessing and restoration to His people when they truly repent (2 Chronicles 7:14).

However, their deliverance required further humbling of the nation (at least those of Israel who lived in the area of Gilead). God was going to use a man that they had previously driven out of their midst because of their jealousy and hatred (Judges 11:1-2) to bring about their deliverance. It must have been humbling for them to send for Jephthah at this time after showing such animosity toward him. Yet it was part of God’s design to use a rejected man to bring about their deliverance.

We remember that the One who will bring eventual deliverance to Israel because of their future repentance is the same One who “was despised and rejected from among men”. The despised Man will be exalted and received by Israel without reservation in that day (Isaiah 53:3-5, Zechariah 12:10-14).

Jephthah’s Beginning
Notice that Jephthah did not have a good beginning. He was the son of a harlot, a sinful union with his father that resulted in his birth. In that respect, his birth was on a lower level than that of Abimelech, who was the son of a concubine. However you might read verse 1, it does not appear that his father dealt very honorably with his wife or his family. Of course, that bad beginning was not Jephthah’s fault! He was reaping the results of what his father had done, and he experienced the reaction of the vicious hearts of his brethren. Perhaps they were acting out of selfishness, not wanting to share the inheritance with a half-brother who had this bad reputation from birth.

Whatever might have been their reasons, Jephthah was thrust out and then went away to the land of Tob. It teaches us that whatever we sow in our wrong behavior will be reaped eventually, though the attitude of Jephthah’s family was deplorable. If they were refusing to share their father’s inheritance with this son of their father’s illicit relationship, it only manifested a spirit of selfishness that would keep everything for self.

Underlying many actions and reactions toward other brethren in Christ may be a spirit of resentment, selfishness or exclusiveness that results in divisions and disharmony. We need to judge our own spirits in relation to any act that may seem, on the surface, to be justified. It may only be a cloak for our own wrong desires.

Suggestions of Philadelphia
Since we are relating this book to the periods of church testimony and what the Lord says to the churches in Revelation 2-3, we need to consider how this relates in some faint way to the next assembly, Philadelphia. We might recoil at associating Jephthah with Philadelphia, and it is true that we can only make vague and incomplete suggestions at best. This is sometimes true regarding Old Testament pictures of New Testament truths.

Jephthah, at his best, was a very strange man; he was a mixture of what was spiritual and what was carnal, or fleshly. He rises above Abimelech, in that he had desires for God and appreciated his need of God’s power. He also was willing to fulfill promises made to God, even though he seems to have acted in a certain measure of ignorance of Divine truth or of God’s holy character. However, in some of these ways, he can represent those of this church period who, while commended by the Lord and not reproached as others were, yet were far from perfect. We would acknowledge that this is true of all of us. Is it not evident, that while differing measures of spiritual exercise exist among us, there also can be found a certain measure of carnality, or walking according to the flesh, in all of us as well? We know that even the best of men are only men at the best! Moreover, is it not true that we also did not have the best of beginnings? In addition, would we not acknowledge that the world and natural relations would reject any believer who has any character of Philadelphia about him or her?

Looking at Revelation 3:7-13 and what the Lord writes to the assembly in Philadelphia, we learn certain things that correspond with the story of Jephthah. We learn, for instance, that it is the Lord who opens the door in His own time, and this door provides an opportunity for His people’s service (3:7). Clearly, it was the Lord Who opened the way for Jephthah to come from exile to lead the people to battle.

Then we also note there was a synagogue of Satan that opposed these believers (3:9), but the Lord would make those of that synagogue to come and worship at the feet of these humble believers. In the changed attitude of his brethren toward Jephthah, we see a suggestion of this same alteration and learn how God can bring about a similar change of heart to exalt His own despised people in His own time.

Just as Philadelphia, Jephthah had only a little strength in that he exhibited no character that would have given him a place of leadership among Israel. His strength was in the Lord, who had prepared and brought him to that place. We also see that the result of Jephthah’s victory was jealousy by Ephraim that resulted in conflict between brethren rather than unity. We also cannot avoid noticing that Jephthah’s men expressed a certain form of legality in their dealings with the Ephraimites that resulted in them slaying quite a number of them at the crossing.

All this has its application to conditions that we would rather not think about with reference to the possible condition of the saints typified by Philadelphia, but we should acknowledge it, even though it is not very appealing. It represents a tendency toward legalism that sadly has been seen in the history of the recovery of truth, a legalism that would impose stringent requirements on others and judge them severely, without love or grace, on those grounds. Even in days of recovery of truth and with the exercise to carry it out through faithfulness to God, elements of behavior can exist that are contrary to the high ground that we profess to hold.  

Jephthah’s Preparation
Jephthah gained a name for himself as a “mighty man of valor” (11:1) through personal victories during his rejection. We recall that the angel of the Lord so called Gideon (6:12) before he had engaged in any battles. Jephthah had attracted a following of men so that he became qualified as a leader. These men are assumed to not have had a high standing, since they are described as “vain men” or men without a purpose. However, Clarke says, “The word may, however, mean in this place poor persons, without property, and without employment. The versions in general consider them as plunderers.”

We remember that similar men followed Abimelech (9:4), but in this case, these men were not making war against their own fellows but against the enemies. Perhaps there is a difference (and the word is not used), but David was identified with men who in some respects were similar when he was in the wilderness (1 Samuel 22:2). It seems possible that Jephthah and his men had a higher character than empty persons expressed; Leon Wood has suggested (“Distressing Days of the Judges”) that

“He and his band probably operated more in the manner of David and his group years later, protecting cities and settlements from marauders. Particularly in this day of Ammonite incursion, much of this protection likely was involved with occasions when the Ammonites made strikes into the land areas north of Gilead.”

While Jephthah’s circumstances were not the best, God was preparing him for the work that he would yet accomplish through him. He was in Tob, a name that means “good,” located not far away, so that he was available and accessible when the time came that Israel needed his services. He still maintained as close a relationship with them as possible, despite the conditions of his rejection.

Israel’s Cry to God and Appeal to Jephthah
The attacks of Ammon seem to have predominated in this case and now they were intensified (11:4) to the extent that the Israelites became desperate for deliverance. The elders of Gilead made the 80 mile round trip themselves to appeal to Jephthah to emphasize the importance and authority of their appeal.  

Jephthah’s response to their appeal seems to express two things. One is that he showed his continuing resentment toward the way they had treated him, not the entire nation, but those who were his own relatives. Jephthah was evidently not a man who could or would forget past insults and abuse. Retaining resentments and holding grudges against brethren can be a source of division and problems. What they did to him cannot be excused, but he would have been a better man if he had left their wrong in the past and refused to dwell on it. Our lives are too short, and the work we should be doing is too great, that we should permit ourselves to nurse attitudes such as this, but, sadly, at times it is the case.

However, it also seems that it was a further means of God’s humbling the nation so that they were forcibly reminded of their past behavior. To seek the aid of a rejected man and to be reminded of their commitment to make that deliverer their head (10:18, 11:8) would further remind them of their weakened condition and how desperate they were. Therefore, they promise to make him their head (captain) over them. His language seems to indicate that some of his brothers were now occupying that position of authority in Gilead (11:7).

Jephthah could be criticized for seeking a commitment from them that they would give him that place. However, he was going to represent the nation in his dealings with Ammon, and it was only in that capacity as their leader that he could adequately do so. It suggests to us that God intends that deliverance by Christ is to establish His headship and authority over those delivered; we remember that Christ’s work for our salvation is to have the intended result that we, as believers in Him, willingly submit to His authority.

Jephthah’s Manner
It is remarkable that Jephthah began by seeking to negotiate with the Ammonites. Keeping in mind that he was a man of war and had been more accustomed to fighting than discussing, it is most unusual. In addition, the normal pattern for one who has been brought back to fight the enemy, especially by those who have despised him in the past, is to immediately seek to display his abilities in that  area.

However, it is commendable that he sought to avoid bloodshed, even though he surely knew that his efforts would be for naught. We see that Jephthah’s speech displayed himself as a man who knew Israel’s history and God’s Word when he spoke to the Ammonites. Some have criticized him for trying to negotiate with the enemies but then failing to show a similar grace to his brethren (12:2-4). This may be a justified criticism that points out the failures existing in all of us. He was right to seek peaceable means to resolve Israel’s problem, but he was clearly wrong to react to the criticism of Ephraim. We will look at that more extensively when we get to that point of the story.

Jephthah’s message to Ammon displays a number of interesting features. One is that he recounts the history of how Israel came to possess that land. What he says is accurate, and it dispelled any possibility that their possession was illegal. He attributes their victories to God, which is what we should always do. Then we notice that he identifies Ammon with the god Chemosh (11:24). Chemosh was the god of the Moabites, while Milcom was the god of the Ammonites (1 Kings 11:33, 2 Kings 23:13). This seems to indicate that Moab had become part of the Ammonite territory and that possibly Ammon had included the Moabite god as one of their own. Then we also note his statement in 11:26 concerning the 300 years that Israel had possessed the land. Jephthah’s life can be dated to about 1078 BC, so that with 300 years plus the 40 years of wilderness wandering, we arrive at an early date for the exodus from Egypt, about 1400 BC. (Leon Wood, “Distressing Days”)

Without closely examining the discussion he engaged in with Ammon, we can learn that knowledge of God’s past dealings and the truth of His Word is a valuable tool to combat the foe. We can always test the claims of rationalism or worldly reasoning by the Word of God, and when we do this, it always reveals the emptiness of the claims made by natural men. The Lord, in Revelation 3:8, commends the church in Philadelphia for having “kept my word,” which seems to indicate that they knew His Word and guarded it as being valuable. Jephthah knew that Ammon had not been dispossessed by Israel; that had taken place prior to Israel’s coming into the area and the Ammonites had lost their territory to the Amorites who were defeated by the children of Israel (Numbers 21:21-25). In addition, Jephthah falls back, as we always should, on the claim that it was the LORD’S work to give this land to Israel (11:23) and that He was the Judge whether their claims were right or not (11:27). He lays bare the fact that their claim was unjustified by the facts, but God’s enemies never willingly submit to or acknowledge the truth of God’s Word.

Without any details being given in the historical record, we learn of his great victory and the deliverance that he wrought by God’s power (“the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah,” 11:29). The Ammonites were subdued under his hand and he delivered Israel. Being empowered by God for this work, he accomplished it without any difficulty, or so the record appears. The lack of any recounting of events seems to indicate that the battle, or battles, were not prolonged or detailed, and that Ammon was defeated handily.

Jephthah’s Vow
Zeal should always be accompanied by scriptural and spiritual intelligence, but it seems that Jephthah lacked these qualities when he vowed to the LORD. One has said that Jephthah’s vow was not a genuine vow but rather was a bargain with the LORD (C. A. Coates). In this way, it was much like Jacob’s promise to God at the end of Genesis 28. As a bargain with God, it was unnecessary, since the Spirit of Jehovah was upon him and he really did not need more than that to gain a victory. It seems to express an unspiritual condition in his soul. It is evident that we can promise much for God and zealous activities may take place without the confirmation of God’s Word to guide. We always need to be instructed by and restrained by His Word in what we promise or in what issues from our mouths.

The question of what he actually did in relation to his daughter is one that will likely never be answered by what we might say. It seems that his promise in 11:30-31 leaves ample room to think that she was devoted to the LORD for the rest of her life. This is based on several arguments:

1. Jephthah was intelligent enough in God’s Word to know that the LORD would never accept a human sacrifice from anyone. In addition, what priest of Israel would be willing to participate in this act? And if he were to sacrifice her privately, it would not have been a sacrifice to the LORD, but to a pagan god, since God never accepted such sacrifices. That kind of sacrifice was characteristic of pagan worship. How could those of the nation of Israel who would hear about it tolerate this kind of action? It seems impossible that this would actually take place.

2. Jephthah’s words seem to exclude the possibility of offering a human sacrifice, even though the idea of one issuing out of the doors of his house would seem to preclude any animal to be sacrificed. He uses the word “and” which, according to many expositors, can be translated “or.” So that he expressed, it seems, two options in his vow: one is that it would be devoted to Jehovah and the other is that it would be offered up for a burnt offering. If that which met him was suitable for a burnt offering and acceptable to the LORD, then it would be offered in that manner; if not, it was to be devoted to the LORD and its value, if unclean, would be given to Him.

3. If Jephthah’s words only include the idea of a human sacrifice, then we can understand why he was so distraught when his daughter came out to meet him; it would involve a very great personal cost! However, it is equally true that his concern would have been the same if he knew that she would be devoted to a celibate life with no prospect of a family or children. Having a family and bearing children was considered a very important and valuable function in the lives of an Israeli family. Either way, she (and he) would bear the burden of the fulfillment of his vow.

4. If Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering, then how could he be included in the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11:32? Would it have been God’s character to commend a man who had violated the principles of God’s Word in such a serious manner?

5. If his daughter was to be sacrificed as some think, then why did she spend the last four months bewailing her virginity and not her short life? Why, also, did she spend that period with her companions and not with her sorrowing father? In addition, how could the daughters of Israel go to lament the daughter of Jephthah four times a year (11:40) if she had been sacrificed? How would Israeli opinion and priestly convictions permit such an action in her case? In addition, some translations render the expression, “to lament,” as “to rehearse” or “to talk with” the daughter of Jephthah. This indicates that she was living, not dead.

6. The fulfillment of his vow in 11:39 is immediately followed by the statement that “she knew no man.” This seems to indicate that the fulfillment of his vow was the devotion of her to a celibate life in service for the LORD, not a sacrifice on an altar.

Adam Clarke, in his commentary, includes a lengthy quotation by Dr. Hale on this question that exposits the question from many aspects with the conclusion that she was devoted to the LORD and not sacrificed as a burnt offering.

Whatever one might conclude about this case, it only emphasizes the seriousness of making any vow to the Lord. Whether vows are to be made by believers in our day is another question, but we do know that whatever one might promise to the Lord in any manner should be considered seriously in view of what it will cost. Rash promises are always unwise, but they are often made in a situation of great anxiety and with the desire that as a result of doing so, God will be required to respond as we request. Nothing can put God in a position of obligation other than fulfilling His own will and manifesting His own character. We learn from Ecclesiastes 5:1-7, that God expects one to fulfill promises that are made to Him and this is demonstrated in many ways in the Old Testament as well as the New.

One might just suggest that Jephthah’s daughter is a picture in this case of our Lord Jesus in that she was absolutely submitted to her father’s will. She made no resistance to his decision and as a result, there were those who remembered her and honored her action perpetually. Her pure life was given in devotion to the LORD and as our blessed Lord, she was left without any natural generation but with those who were identified with her in memory.

Jephthah’s Failures
One would rather pass over the sad history of Judges 12:1-7, which records the failure of Jephthah to reconcile his own brethren, but it is a part of the Divine record and must be considered. It suggests that there are aspects of failure in our own lives and in that of men who have sought to be faithful to God in their day, but who have also failed in some critical points. It is sad that a man who could defeat the enemies of God’s people could not show more grace to his brethren even though their actions were far from commendable. Gideon had his failures at the end, but he was a man who had learned that “a soft answer turneth away wrath,” (Proverbs 15:1), a lesson that surely we all should seek to learn.

Ephraim’s Resentment
It seems evident without doubt that Ephraim was wrong. They seemed to be a kind of people who were sensitive to being slighted by any omission, always wanting a prominent place and recognition. They had responded in the same way to Gideon in Judges 8:1-3. However, Gideon was one who knew them better than Jephthah did, and he had the temperament to deal with and appease them. Brethren like this have not ceased to exist today, of course! There always will be those who resent anyone else accomplishing anything or gaining any victory without including or recognizing them as well.

These Ephraimites showed the same character as the Philistines when they threatened to burn Samson’s father in law’s house upon him with fire (Judges 12:1 with 14:15). We need to be very careful that we do not imitate their threats by retaliating against our brethren who have done something for God but who have not included us in the honor, possibly unwittingly. It is also so easy for any one of us to be much like them, jealous against others who might have done something more than we have and who have gained some honor that we think we should share. Envy leads to contention and it causes divisions between brethren.

However we may see their attitude, we know that, though it is not an easy thing to conciliate such brethren, we all have a tendency to react and retaliate against them. Jephthah represents a man who was quick to respond to insults and slights. He had not forgotten what they had done to him in his earlier years, and he had failed to learn the lesson of problems that they had caused by refusing to give others a place (Judges 11:1-2). His brethren had left him out of the inheritance, but instead of identifying with those of like experience, he acted much as his own natural brothers had acted toward him.

His reaction to their insulting behavior caused him, first of all, to defend himself. He emphasizes in 12:2-3 what HE had done. Notice the repeated expressions, “I,” “my people,” “me.” They are found 11 times in 2 verses. He is essentially accusing the Ephraimites as if to say, “You were the cause of your being left out of the battle since you failed to come when I called you.” This may have been true, though there is no record of it in chapter 11. However, his words betray an attitude of righteous indignation against them that, instead of removing the cause of the conflict, only increased the intensity of the animosity between them. His attitude of resentment carried over to his men, the Gileadites, who reacted against Ephraim because of the insults being hurled against them (12:4). The antagonism increased, instead of being abated, so that it led inevitably to the carnage of brethren against brethren in vs. 5-6.

Conflict Resolution
Do we learn anything about the causes of and resolution of conflict between brethren from this story? Ephraim should have considered the incendiary nature of their words in the first place and Jephthah should have recognized the innate sensitivity of the Ephraimites as well. If some wisdom and grace had been exercised, 42,000 Israelites, their brethren, would have been living instead of lying dead on the banks of the Jordan. We should learn something about the dangerous nature of our words against brethren as we read this account so that we might express a different attitude toward those who are our own brethren today, albeit the fact that they may be difficult to accommodate.

Division between Brethren
However, another point needs to be touched on and that is the ease with which brethren can be divided, often in the very place where they should be united. The Jordan was certainly a point of their unity, speaking of their common entry into the land as a united people under Joshua’s leadership. Yet, it became a point of division and death.

The test of fellowship was an issue that involved the native manner of pronouncing one word that was linked with that river. “Shibboleth” and “Siboleth” both meant “a stream, or flood,” so that they were both saying the same thing but with words that sounded different. It is not hard to see how often brethren can be divided on issues or principles that may not be as significant as one might think.

That is not to say that there are not principles that are essential, doctrines that are vital. However, one should be very careful lest we allow elements that represent our own views or perceptions of Scripture to be over-emphasized so that they become elements of division that are unwarranted. At times, we have to admit, we can allow our own application of God’s Word to be so used that it becomes “the issue” that determines what we think of another believer.

For a simple example, there have been those who would condemn a brother for wearing a red tie to a meeting or for sisters who might wear a certain kind of shoes. Or the question may have been one’s view of certain issues concerning doctrine or practice. The list could go on almost indefinitely, but we understand that what we might believe about the application of certain truths may be held as a personal conviction but should not be applied to other brethren or sisters. When the Word of God is clear and we can teach the truth from it, then we must stand firmly on it, but do so “speaking (holding) the truth in love” (Ephesians 4:15). If we could learn this principle from Romans 14 and other passages of the New Testament, it would be a great blessing to assembly fellowship.

There are matters that must be dealt with in an assembly, or other practices that would limit fellowship. However, there can be a form of legalism that is especially evident to any who might be looking on impartially and who wonder how these things could ever become such great issues. We may not always perfectly agree with other brethren in everything; however, we should and must seek to go on in harmony with them as far as possible and not cut them off like Jephthah did to those who were, in reality, his brethren. If he had exercised more grace and wisdom and if they had displayed more humility, such a slaughter of brethren by brethren would have never taken place on the banks of the river Jordan.

Problems and differences of this nature have caused divisions and splits among the saints for years. The case of what is called “the Bethesda question” by many is only one example, but the principle upon which men like Mr. Darby and others acted, continued to the point of dividing and cutting off families and assemblies. Such an action is contrary to the Scripture, but it seems that we can fall into it so easily, especially when brethren are conscientiously concerned to uphold right principles. God says to us, “Be of the same mind one toward another. Mind not high things, but condescend to men of low estate. Be not wise in your own conceits.”  (Romans 12:16), and “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” (Romans 12:18).

Fellowship with the saints is a precious thing in God’s sight and we must seek to maintain it as far as possible by the power of the Spirit of God. We read in Ephesians 4:2-3, “With all lowliness and meekness, with all longsuffering, forbearing one another in love; Endeavoring to keep (guard) the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace.” Again, Psalm 133 reminds us of the preciousness of unity among saints. May the Lord preserve us from being instrumental to cause divisions among God’s people!

It seems instructive that we read that Jephthah judged Israel only six years (12:7). Six is a number of man in his weakness, and a man such as he was would be a weak man to lead and judge God’s people. Previous judges had maintained peaceful conditions among the people of God for much longer periods, but they were different men from Jephthah. One who cannot handle men any better than he did would not be capable of such a responsibility. May we learn these truths from the examples of those who have gone before and seek to be the better for it!

Evil Again!  The Philistines
For the seventh time, we read that the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the LORD (13:1). Their evil resulted in the LORD delivering them into the hand of the Philistines. These people seem to be different from the other enemies that had oppressed Israel. We have noted that they had come, possibly by way of Egypt, by a different route than Israel took to enter the land. Their previous location and origin is difficult to determine, but they had been in the land for many years prior to the exodus.

We learn in Genesis 21:32, 34 that Abraham went into the land of Abimelech, the land of the Philistines. We find the same situation existed in Isaac’s excursion into the same area (Genesis 26:1, 8, 14, 15). We learn in Genesis 10:13-14, that the Philistines were descended from a common ancestor with Egypt (Mizraim) and Jeremiah 47:4 tells us “the LORD will spoil the Philistines, the remnant of the country of Caphtor.” Archeological evidence also links them with Caphtorian culture.

They came out of Egypt (see Exodus 13:17) into the land and had occupied the area along the coast, southwest of Israel. God had intended that Israel would take and occupy all the land of the Philistines, but they failed to do so until they seem to have dominated that area during the reign of David and Solomon (1 Chronicles 18:1). However, there was war with the Philistines throughout the remainder of Israel’s history in the land until the captivity in Babylon.

It seems that the Philistine domination was the other half of the Ammonite control that Jephthah countered. During the same time that Jephthah was battling the Ammonites, Samson began to harass the Philistines. Israel was between these two enemies, but God raised deliverers who fought against them to bring a measure of liberty to His people. According to the suggested timeline of Judges, the Philistines began to dominate Israel about the middle of Eli’s priesthood. If that point was when his sons were carrying on their evil behavior (1 Samuel 2:12-17, 22), one can see another reason why they experienced such opposition from this quarter.

Philistines Represent
We have noted that the Philistines were a people who had come out of Egypt, as Israel had. Their name means “wanderers,” and these represent people who have possessed the land belonging to God’s people, but without Divine direction. They had not come by the same route or by means of the same delivering power. They had never been in bondage in Egypt, neither had they cried for deliverance. They were never guarded by the bloodstained door, nor had they passed through the Red Sea. All the experiences of Israel at Mt. Sinai, with what God had revealed to them of Himself, were missing in their experience. They had their gods that seemed to mix the truth of Jehovah with false deities to some extent.

Therefore, we see them as a people who represent religious profession, occupying a place that has never been provided for them by the work of Christ, taking ground that is not truly theirs to enjoy in the realm of spiritual profession. They compose the vast mass of “Christendom” composed of church members, workers, religious do-gooders who pretend a place as Christians, but without the spiritual evidence of the new birth, nor the revelation of God to their souls. We are surrounded by these people and they are the greatest opposers of the gospel and the truth of God. For some of them, their appearance is so close to genuine Christianity that they seem real, so that there is an attraction and a similarity that causes difficulty to discriminate and recognize who they truly are.

These Philistines are notable in Judges 13 in that they are the only foreign nation that dominated Israel without causing any concern on Israel’s part. We are amazed that they had control over Israel (at least the southwest part) for the longest period of time (40 years) and Israel was seemingly content to remain under their oppressing force. They were so reluctant to disturb the “status quo” that they intended to deliver their savior, Samson, into the hands of the Philistines (15:11-13). The implication is that there is something unique about Philistine bondage.

When God’s people are cold at heart toward God and warm at heart toward self and the world, they would rather accept religious profession and accommodate themselves to it rather than oppose it. It goes under the pattern of religious compromise, of acceptance of all who claim the name of Christ. We see it in the attitude that would rather accept wrong conditions than to cause any problem or difficulty. It is an attitude of toleration, of “getting along,” rather than standing for the truth of God’s Word.

It is an indication of extreme spiritual departure and weakness when this condition exists. Many, who profess to be God’s people today, a day of Laodicean conditions, are drifting back into the religious world, accommodating themselves to religious practices that profess to represent true Christianity, but which are in reality far astray from the truth. It takes spiritual courage and determination, true repentance and exercise, to resist these conditions and to continue in faithfulness for the honor of the Lord Jesus and the truth of His Word.

Paul warned Timothy in his closing letter about these conditions. He spoke of men loving pleasure rather than loving God, then he says that they have a “form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” (2 Timothy 3:4-5). The only thing that will enable a man of God to effectively oppose this condition is the infinite power of God’s Word, inspired and applied so as to save and deliver the people of God (2 Timothy 3:16-18). We recognize those conditions in our day, and we must refuse to become complacent and never be satisfied to allow this enemy to oppose and bind the people of God.

We will notice that God was not satisfied for them to remain in that condition either; He raised up a deliverer, a most remarkable and strange man, a man named Samson.