THE FAITHFUL JEPHTHAH
Dr. W. A. Criswell
4-10-60 8:15 a.m.
You who listen on the radio are sharing with us these services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This morning now we are in the tenth chapter and the eleventh chapter of the Book of Judges. Following the life of these judges, we have come to Jephthah.
In the eleventh chapter of the Book of Hebrews, in the thirty-second verse, the author writes, “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah . . . [Hebrews 11:32], In following through the Book of Judges, we have spoken of Gideon, we have spoken of Barak, and this morning we have the high privilege of speaking of Jephthah, The Faithful Jephthah.
Now there is a format in the book that is followed as these men are presented. In the tenth chapter the Book of Judges, and the sixth verse, it starts again:
And the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord—
and the seventh verse, always the same judgment—
And the anger of the Lord was hot against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the Ammonites. And they were vexed and oppressed for eighteen years.
Now the tenth verse:
And the children of Israel cried unto the Lord, saying, We have sinned against Thee…
And the Lord said unto the children of Israel, I have delivered you from the Egyptians… the Ammonites…the Philistines…the Zidonians, the Amalekites… when they oppressed you; and you asked Me, and cried unto Me, and I delivered you…
Then you have forsaken Me, and served other gods: why should I deliver you now.
Go and cry unto the gods which ye hath chosen: let them deliver you in the time of your need and your tribulation.
I want to pause there and speak for just a moment. It is an unusual thing for a man to give the energy of his life, and the strength of his life, and the devotion of his life to the gods of this world; then when he has need, cry to the great Jehovah God above. Do you think that’s right? Do you think it ought to be honored that a man would give himself to this world, and devote the strength and glory of his manhood, or of her womanhood to this world, then in an hour of need, of illness, or of age, or of death, call on the name of the Lord?
Call on the name of the god that you give your life to, and let that god deliver you. If you love the pleasures of this world, and you are of need, call upon them. If you love the fashion of this world, call upon the fashion of this world in your hour of need; don’t call on Jehovah God. That’s what He says here. He says, “Yet ye have forsaken Me, and turned to these other worldly gods. Now go and cry unto them… and let them deliver you in your time of need and time of tribulation.” Let them respond to the prayer that you make. You know, I repeat: that’s a strange thing about people, how in the hour of distress and illness and death they will call upon God, yet in the hour of strength and of manhood, they give themselves to the pleasures and the fashions of this world. Yet that is one of the truest things that I know of.
I received through the mail an illustration of that. Now there are some of you who have said to me, “Now pastor, we come to church all that we can, and all that we have strength for. But we are getting older now, and we cannot come as much we once did, and especially is that true at night. It is hard for us to get out at night.” I understand that. I have watched that in my own parents, and I watched that in the lives of all of our people. As we get older, we are not able to do as much and to come as often, and especially at night. But if a man has the strength, and if a woman has the strength, and if they are able to attend the services of church at night, they ought to be here. This is the place appointed of God.
The reason I say that is, Jesus appeared to His disciples at night. The first time He appeared to His disciples was at night [John 20:19], Sunday night [John 20:19]. The next time He appeared to His disciples was at Sunday night [John 20:26]. Paul preached to the people at Troas at night. The Bible says he preached until past midnight [Acts 20:7]. That’s all right. God would bless a man that could hold an audience until past midnight, just like He blessed Saul. And the Lord’s Supper was instituted at night [1 Corinthians 11:23-26]; and you eat supper at night. These services are built around, in the New Testament, they are built around evening hours.
Now there are worlds of people, world without end, that take the Lord’s Day and use it for pleasure, and especially do they do it in the evening; so much so, that if you were to add up all the churches of Christendom, practically all of them are closed on Sunday night. And some of our Baptist churches are coming to the place where they close the door and turn out the lights on Sunday night. Now why do they do that? They do that in order to entertain or be entertained. Sunday evening is to be used as an evening of entertainment, of worldliness, “I am going to look at the television, or I am going to the picture show, or I am going to some other excursion, or we are going to entertain, or we are going to be entertained.”
Now what I received through the mail this week was a very unusual thing. One of our members had been to another church, and in that church in their bulletin was an “Open Letter to Ed Sullivan.” Now I can hope that nobody in my congregation ever heard of Ed Sullivan or ever knew who he was. I am afraid, however, lots of my own folks know all about him, and his long face, and his droll ways. Well, he is a great emcee, and [has] a television program that is going on at the time you ought to be at church. So here is an “Open Letter to Ed Sullivan” in this church bulletin:
Dear Ed Sullivan,
I am writing this letter to you because you have become my god. Instead of going to church on Sunday night, I have stayed away and listened to you. It took so little effort to relax on Sunday evening to listen to you. Now understand, I am not lazy, for I always go to work on Monday mornings. Then too, I don’t get convicted listening to you like I would if I were in church.
Ed, I am in the hospital now, and I need your help. I can’t go to the pastor, for I have slapped him in the teeth every Sunday night when he preached. And I said in effect, “What you have to say doesn’t interest me.” I can’t lower myself to ask him to pray for me now. Then I can’t go to God, for I have put Him second to you, and He knows that whenever I get well, I will do Him as I have always done Him, and keep listening to you on Sunday nights. Surely God wouldn’t expect me to give up my favorite program just to worship Him.
Please, Ed, will you help me to get well? Also, the bills are piling up. Will you help me meet my obligations? And if per chance I should die, will you see that I get to heaven? If I do get well, you can count on me to be in my place on Sunday night, supporting your program. I will be a faithful listener, so please, Ed, don’t let me down.
A devoted supporter.
Isn’t that an amazing thing? That’s exactly what you have here in this book. That’s the reason what you read in this book is just as timeless, as pertinent, it’s as now, it’s as fresh as the morning newspaper and its headlines that happened today.
They sinned. They were oppressed. They cried unto the Lord [Judges 10:10], and the Lord said, “You go to those gods, these that you love and worship all in the days of your life. You go to them and let them deliver you” [Judges 10:13-14]. And the children of Israel said unto the Lord, “We have sinned: do with us whatever seemeth good unto You; only, we pray Thee, remember us” [Judges 10:15].
Now isn’t this like the Lord? “And the Lord was grieved for the misery of Israel” [Judges 10:16]. Isn’t that an amazing thing and astonishing thing? Here is a man who has given his life to the world—to sin, and indifference, and neglect, and pleasure—just following his own bent and will; no time for God, no time for the church, no time for the Lord, and then he comes back and he repents and he says, “Lord, I have sinned [Judges 10:15]. My life, and my days, and my time, and my energy, I have spent for worldly things, and I have left Thee out. But Lord, I’m sorry. I’m coming back.” And the Lord was grieved for the misery of Israel, and it touched God’s heart [Judges 10:16]. And the Lord was moved. That’s the Lord: forgive their sins and raise up a deliverer for them [Judges 2:16, 3:9].
Now you come to the deliverer, the eleventh chapter of the Book of Judges, and his name is Jephthah [Judges 11:1]. Now the Lord does unusual things, unusual things. And here is another instance of a marvelous thing that God will do, and it will be just as fresh today and just as pertinent today as it was back yonder in this one thousand two hundred years before Christ. “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of a harlot” [Judges 11:1]. Now just to read that sentence brings to your mind a situation that is as fresh today as it was then, “Jephthah, the son of a prostitute.”
And the father of the boy, “Gilead’s wife,” his father’s name is Gilead:
… bare him sons, legitimate children; and his wife’s sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shall not inherit in our father’s house; for thou art the son of a strange woman.
So to preserve his life, Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in a far off and strange land [Judges 11:3].
That’s as fresh today as then. There are illegitimate parents, but remember, there are no illegitimate children. These children that come into this world come from the hand of God. And this Jephthah who was an illegitimate son, this Jephthah himself was beloved of the Lord. And the strength of God was in him, and the favor of the Lord was upon him [Judges 11:1, 29].
I have helped in several instances families, young couples who are childless, to get children who were what you call “illegitimate.” Some of the finest children I have seen in this earth are those children. Their parents did not do right, but the child is blameless. And when the child comes into this world, God, the special loving favor, is upon that little baby. And I repeat now, it is an astonishing thing how out of those circumstances, and out of those conditions, come some of God’s mightiest servants. It is just an example, and it is just an instance of the almighty elective purpose of God.
Now I want to show you how that thing is as fresh and new today, as it was back there a thousand two hundred years before Christ. I went to the Southern Baptist Convention a few years ago, way off away from here, and I sat there in the auditorium and I listened to the pastor of one of the great, great, great churches of America, the pastor of one of the great, great churches of our Southern Baptist Convention. He delivered the annual convention sermon that year. He did it magnificently. He paid a marvelous, marvelous, loving devotion and tribute to Christ in the message. It was a God-honoring, Christ-honoring sermon, and I thrilled to hear him preach.
On the way back from the convention on the airplane returning to Dallas, the plane being filled, a man boarded and sat down by my side. He was very talkative, which was fine if you were in a humor to listen, and I was that day. So, he began to talk to me about this, that, and the other, and everything and nothing. And he found out I was a preacher. And he said, as we continued our conversation, “So you are a minister. Well,” he said, “you know, I knew of a boy in our little town. He grew up with us in that little town, and he turned out to be a Baptist minister just like you. You say you are a Baptist preacher.” He said, “I have often wondered what has become of that little boy who turned out to be a Baptist preacher. Well,” he said, “his mother gave birth to the little boy out of wedlock, and in our little town…” I knew exactly what he was talking about. In a big city, you hide these things, but in a little rural community and little country town—I know every syllable of what he said. That girl who gave birth to this little boy without a father, she was ostracized. She was shunned.
“And,” he said, “she took a little house on the edge of town, on the wrong side of the railroad tracks. And he said, “That little woman took in washing, and she sewed, and she worked, and she provided for herself and that little boy. Well,” he called his name—first name, “and the little fellow grew up, and we all had that attitude toward him, had that feeling about him. But,” he said, “we all admired the devotion and the love of that little girl that gave birth to that boy. She was true to her assignment: she worked for him, she educated him, and did you know,” he said, “that boy became a Baptist minister.”
He called him by his first name while he was talking to me. And so I said, “What is his name?” I would tell you his first name but I am afraid some of you would get back in the lists of these preachers who preach the annual convention and pick him out. I said, “What is his name?”
And he told me the boy’s name, and I put my hand on his knee, and I said, “Listen, fellow. I wish you could have been with me this week. I wish you could have sat down by my side and listened to that illegitimate boy, who grew up with you, stand before a vast audience of twelve thousand people and preach the annual convention of our Southern Baptist Communion.” I said, “Man, you would have thrilled to the depths of your soul, for that boy, that boy is the pastor of one of the great, great churches in America. And that boy is one of the great, great preachers of our generation.”
It doesn’t make any difference to God. The sin of a parent is something else, but the favor and the love of God upon Jephthah was marvelous to behold. Now the boy, driven away and upon the cold mercies of the world, he learned war. I suppose he had no opportunity to learn anything else. Then the day came when Israel was in trouble, and the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob [Judges 11:5]. And they made Jephthah—eleventh verse, Judges 11:11, “Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them.” Then you have a long conversation which shows how intimate Jephthah was with the favor of the Lord upon Israel. He knows all about those intimate stories of his people [Judges 11:14-28]. Then the twenty-ninth verse [Judges 11:29]:
Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah…
And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If Thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s—
or if it is of a nature that it can be sacrificed—
I would offer it up for a burnt offering. And Jephthah—
And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house—after the war was over and he had won it and the Lord had delivered his enemies into his hands—and Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances.
By the way, every once in a while, somebody will ask me, “Dancing…dancing, and David danced before the Lord [2 Samuel 6:14], and here you say that dancing, ballroom dancing, is a worldly sin; yet they danced in the Bible.” And I cannot imagine, it is inconceivable to me how people think. This dancing that is in the Bible, outside of that vulgar, voluptuous, sinful dancing of Salome the daughter of Herodias, at whose dancing John the Baptist’s head was cut off [Matthew 14:6-11]—outside of that kind of a thing, the dancing in the Bible is what you would call, “shouting before the Lord,” clapping your hands and shouting and dancing, just so full of the gladness of the Spirit of God that you can’t be still, and your voice can’t be quiet, and you just shout and dance before the Lord. I have seen that.
And this daughter who was so happy and so glad over the great victory given to her father that she came out with timbrels and dances, just—that’s not dancing with a boy, she was just happy and glad, and the maidens who were with her were happy and glad, the servants in the house.
And she was his only child; and beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou has brought me way low, thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.
“What ever shall meet me,” if it is a person, devote it to God; if it is of a nature of a sacrifice acceptable to God, “I would offer it up for a burnt offering [Judges 11:31], and you’ve come.” And this noble, wonderful, devoted, consecrated girl, said unto him, “My father,” there is no “if” there, it’s in italics in the King James Version:
My father, thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath answered your prayer and you made it a vow to the Lord.
And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.
And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went away with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
And it came to pass at the end of two months that she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
Now you will find, in your study of this passage, a raging controversy for the years and the centuries about what kind of a vow Jephthah made, and whether he burned his daughter in the fire.
Now I have some words to say about that. First, the book says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah [Judges 11:29], and in that Spirit of the Lord he made this vow unto the Lord [Judges 11:30]. And in the twelfth chapter of the Book of Deuteronomy and in the last verses of that chapter, you have a severe and an awful interdiction against human sacrifice. It was interdicted in Israel; the heathen offered unto their gods their children; they burned them in the fire in the arms of Moloch, but “You are not to do it,” says God, “you are not to do it” [Deuteronomy 12:31].
Now in the twenty-seventh chapter of the Book of Leviticus, there are—well, let me read it to you: “And the Lord spake unto Moses, saying, Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When a man shall make a singular vow,” an unusual vow, “when a man shall make a singular vow, if he made the vow concerning persons” [Leviticus 27:1-2], then you have the redemption of the person [Leviticus 27:1-2]. If a man made a vow concerning his children or concerning people or his family, then you have the redemption of that vow [Leviticus 27:3-8]. Then if it is made concerning animals, in the ninth verse, then you have the redemption of that vow [Leviticus 27:9-13]. In the fourteenth verse, If he made his vow and it concerns the house then you have the redemption of the house [Leviticus 27:14-15]. And then, in the sixteenth verse, you have the redemption of the field, if the vow concerned a field [Leviticus 27:16-25].
Now God made provision for the redemption of the vow concerning persons. And the vow that Jephthah made concerned two things, persons and animals. Whatever met him first, if it was an offering that was clean, no other could be offered unto God, if it was an offering that was clean, he would offer it as a burnt sacrifice. Or, if it was a person, he was devoted unto the Lord; dedicated unto the Lord—give whatever, whoever it was unto the Lord [Judges 11:30-31]. And his daughter came up to meet him [Judges 11:34].
Now the sorrow that was involved in this consecration was this: you see, Jephthah didn’t have a boy, and he didn’t have any other child; he didn’t have any other son; he didn’t have any other daughter [Judges 11:34]. And this daughter was his only child, and for her not to be married and for her not to have a family, meant that the line of Jephthah ended; it died.
All Israel looked forward to the coming of the Messiah, and it might be that all Israel was like this; every mother, “This may be the Man Child that shall save my people.” Eve thought that Cain was that promised Seed. Eve thought that; the first child that was born, Eve thought that this was the Savior of the world [Genesis 4:1]. We cannot describe today the holy sanctity by which the maidens of Israel looked forward to the child, to the family, like Hanna. However Elkanah was good to her, “Why am I not better to thee,” says Elkanah, “than ten sons?” [1 Samuel 1:8]. Nevertheless, Hanna was burdened in her heart as she prayed to God for a baby boy [1 Samuel 1:10-11].
Well, they were all that way, and for this daughter to be denied the home and the privilege, and the happiness of being a mother, meant to Jephthah and to this child the death of the family, the end of the line. So when the father said to her, “I made this vow to the Lord” [Judges 11:35], she said, “Thou hast made the vow, do to me according to that which has proceeded out of thy mouth; only,” she said, “let me weep, especially two months, that the family dies in us, and that I shall never have a home and never have a child.” And the father said, “Go.” “And she knew no man” [Judges 11:36-39]; that is why that was written there. Not that he had devoted her to the flames and the fire as a burnt sacrifice; that’s impossible, unthinkable, but she was kept apart, devoted to the Lord. And the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament, tanah. Tanah is a Hebrew word meaning “to give presence to,” and in the piel form it means “to praise or to celebrate.” So four days in the year, the daughters of Israel, as long as this daughter lived, went to see her and to celebrate her devotion to Christ, her devotion to Jehovah God [Judges 11:40].
Now you will find that thing among some of our young people, but not among all of them. I have to quit. It is 9:20; I should always cease speaking at 9:15, but I cannot without saying this: there are many of our young people, like this girl here, who really give themselves to God. And yet among our finest young people, I will talk and pray against the mixed marriage; it doesn’t do any good. And I do not know of any sorrow that comes into this earth more than a mixed marriage, for one of our fine Christian girls to marry an infidel, to marry an unbeliever—God says you are not to do it [2 Corinthians 6:14]. Or for one of our fine young men to marry a girl who is in the world, God says you are not to the do it [2 Corinthians 6:14]. And the issue of that marriage is always misery and unhappiness, and it never honors the Lord. How much better is it, infinitely better, for our young people to say like this girl here, “My life belongs to God, and if I marry, I will marry in the Lord. And what I do, I will do in the Lord.” Oh, the devotion of our young people sometimes is infinite!
This one little thing and I am through: a physician said to one of our young men, “You go to Africa and you will die, you are not able.” And the young fellow replied, “Sir, in the building of a great bridge there are stones in the earth on which it stands that you never see. But without them the bridge could not be built. I am going to Africa, and if I die, it will be one of those stones buried in the earth for which the bridge stands that the world never sees.” He went and according to the physician who knew it well, he died. But in that consecration, on those great stones, God builds His bridge. God builds His church. It is consecration that does it, and without it the kingdom of God is dust and ashes.
Now in this moment that we sing, in this balcony on this lower floor, somebody to give his heart to the Lord [Romans 10:8-13], somebody to put his life in the fellowship of our church, a family or one somebody you [Hebrews 10:24-25]. While we sing the appeal, would you come? On the first note of the first stanza, would you make it now? While we stand and while we sing.