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Remember what was prophecied of the Lord Jesus Christ: “the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone.” (1 Peter 2:7-8; Ps. 118:22 – “This is the Lord’s doing; it is marvelous in our eyes.” Acts 4:11-12) All of the judges point to the ultimate Deliverer in some form or fashion. Today we are going to be amazed at the love of God for His people and the grace of God to make leaders out of cast off rubble. Whatever our past may have been, by the providence of God it can be used to shape us and mold us for great usefulness to the Lord in the future. But before we get to the extended story of Jephthah which will take us two weeks to cover – we need to briefly mention two minor judges that are recorded at the beginning of Judges 10 by way of transition.

Transition: Two Minor Judges Highlight the Grace and Longsuffering of God’s Covenant Loyalty:

1) (10:1-2) TOLA – 23 years

“Now after Abimelech died, Tola the son of Puah, the son of Dodo, a man of Issachar, arose to save Israel; and he lived in Shamir in the hill country of Ephraim. And he judged Israel twenty-three years. Then he died and was buried in Shamir.”

His name means “worm” – perhaps lowly in contrast to lofty ambitions of Abimelech

Jordan: can also refer to the scarlet-colored cloth made from a dye created by crushing worms. Such would be a robe of honor, signifying the dignity of the office of Judge.

Note that this region of Israel needed “saving” once again after the disastrous reign of Abimelech.

Came from tribe just across the border from Shechem

Block: The simple details “he lived, he governed, he died, he was buried” suggest an orderly and stable tenure.

2) (10:3-5) JAIR – 22 years (a few more details given here)

“And after him, Jair the Gileadite arose, and judged Israel twenty-two years. And he had thirty sons who rode on thirty donkeys, and they had thirty cities in the land of Gilead that are called Havvoth-jair to this day. And Jair died and was buried in Kamon.”

His name means “may God enlighten” or “splendid”

Probably time period of book of Ruth

Block: the image of thirty sons riding on thirty donkeys conveys a picture of peace and prosperity, in contrast to the insecurity and danger that characterized the days of Shamgar and Jael.

Maybe this is what normal life could have looked like in the time of Judges without all of the roller coaster drama.

Motyer: As for Jair, what is the importance of his thirty sons with their thirty asses and thirty cities? They might possibly be meant as a bad sign (indulgence, ostentation, dangerous worldly trends). But I am more inclined to see Jair’s rule as twenty-two further years of the Lord’s kindness to Israel added to the twenty-three years under Tola. Elsewhere in the Bible large families mean prosperity and divine blessing, and he who rides on an ass rather than a warhorse is one who comes in peace. Sound judgment on the Deborah pattern, and a time of relative prosperity and peace, were what the people of God needed at this juncture.

But not what they deserved…in all fairness and honesty, Israel should not have survived. How it happened that Israel did survive, and what that tells us about Israel’s God, is one of the most important issues in the book. . . Justice must demand the rejection of this impossibly faithless people. By rights, as Polzin says, Israel should not survive. She has forfeited every claim on God’s approval.




A. (:6-9) Provoking the Lord to Anger

1. (:6) Diversity of Idolatry

“Then the sons of Israel again did evil in the sight of the LORD, served the Baals and the Ashtaroth, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the sons of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; thus they forsook the LORD and did not serve Him.”

Look at how worship is defined in terms of serving the deity rather than in terms of extracting some personal blessing for yourself

Rom. 12:1-2 tone

Inrig: Each time they did the evil in the sight of God and chose paganism over God’s truth, they sank lower and lower until, finally, here in Judges 10, they reached one of the bleakest times spiritually in the nation’s history. In fact, as we read verse 6, we realize they would have worshiped almost anything or anyone, rather than the Lord God. There are seven false religions mentioned here, and they include some of the most perverted and depraved practices ever known to man.

2. (:7) Discipline of the Lord

“And the anger of the LORD burned against Israel, and He sold them into the hands of the Philistines, and into the hands of the sons of Ammon.”

Davis: Yahweh meets intense apostasy with severe retribution, a double oppression

Western enemy = Philistines (story of Samson)

Eastern enemy = Ammonites – from across the Jordan

Inrig: They were a desert people who lived on the eastern side of the Dead Sea. They first overpowered the two and one-half tribes which had chosen to stay in the area east of the Jordan River, a region called Gilead, and occupied by Reuben, Gad, and half the tribe of Manasseh. Then Ammon gained sufficient power to cross the Jordan and to attack the central tribes in Israel – Judah, Benjamin, and Ephraim.

3. (:8-9) Distress of the People

“And they afflicted and crushed the sons of Israel that year; for eighteen years they afflicted all the sons of Israel who were beyond the Jordan in Gilead in the land of the Amorites. And the sons of Ammon crossed the Jordan to fight also against Judah, Benjamin, and the house of Ephraim, so that Israel was greatly distressed.”

Strong words are used here to describe Israel’s situation: afflicted and crushed … 18 years is a long time;

Look at how temptation to conform to the ways of the world seems attractive at the time but never pays off in the long haul; the people are left in a distressed and afflicted state; they seem unable to make the connection between obedient faith and God’s blessing

B. (:10-16) Pleading With the Lord for Mercy

1. (:10) Sorrow That Leads to Regret

“Then the sons of Israel cried out to the LORD, saying, ‘We have sinned against Thee, for indeed, we have forsaken our God and served the Baals.’”

2 Cor. 7:9-10 difference between regret and repentance

Block: We must read on to find out whether or not this is more than a utilitarian manipulation of deity to be delivered from a painful situation or authentic heartfelt repentance.

Lots of people make the pronouncement that they have sinned once they have been found out – yet by that confession their heart knows no repentance – cf. Pharaoh as the plagues came upon the land of Egypt – in an evangelistic sense, it is not enough to just get someone to mouth a sinner’s prayer; God must be involved in changing the heart

2. (:11-14) Pattern of Unfaithfulness That Puts Mercy At Risk

“And the LORD said to the sons of Israel, ‘Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians, the Amorites, the sons of Ammon, and the Philistines? Also when the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you, you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hands. Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods; therefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.’”

Irony and sarcasm – “you made your bed, now sleep in it!” Very sad historical record; talk about repeating the mistakes of history

3. (:15-16) Repentance That Rekindles God’s Covenant Love based on His Compassion

“And the sons of Israel said to the LORD, ‘We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to Thee; only please deliver us this day.’ So they put away the foreign gods from among them, and served the LORD; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer.”

Inrig: He is a God of incessant love and infinite mercy. . . He is the God of all grace.

Jordan: God will deliver them this time, not because of their half-hearted repentance, but because He loves them in spite of their sins. The longsuffering of the Lord has not yet come to an end. God will raise up for them a deliverer, Jephthah, who will show them their own spiritual shortcomings by exemplifying them.

C. (:17-18) Promoting the Valiant Warrior to Save the Day

1. Battle Lines Formed

“Then the sons of Ammon were summoned, and they camped in Gilead. And the sons of Israel gathered together, and camped in Mizpah.”

Unusual to get to this stage before the issue of leadership has been determined; later in Israel’s history we will see the troops of Israel stymied by the taunting Philistine champion Goliath until David steps forward to trust the Lord and lead the way

2. Brave Leader Must Be Found

“And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, ‘Who is the man who will begin to fight against the sons of Ammon?’”

Somebody needed to lead the charge

3. Big Time Legacy Furnished

“He shall become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.”

This is the carrot that is put out there


A. (:1-3) Jephthah as Despised Reject (but developing leader)

– 1. Valiant Warrior

“Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior,”

“The Lord has opened the womb” — had quite the reputation; this characteristic is put first by way of importance, given the desperate situation of the people

– 2. Son of a Harlot

“but he was the son of a harlot.” – but there are some mitigating negative factors that would make him a surprising choice

James Jordan: Bastards could not be full citizens of Israel until the tenth generation (Dt. 23:2). . . Judah was the royal tribe in Israel; yet most of Judah were bastards (Gen. 38). Thus, they had to wait ten generations before they could take up full citizenship in Israel, and thus it was ten generations before any Judahite could become king. The genealogy in Ruth 4:18-22 shows that David was ten generations away from his bastard ancestor. This fact shows one of the reasons why Israel was not to have a king during the period of the Judges. Only someone from Judah could be king, and virtually all of Judah was temporarily excluded. This fact shows the folly of what Jephthah tried to accomplish . . .

Is. 56:1-8 promises the Lord’s mercy to those in these target categories (eunuchs, illegitimate, Moabites and Ammonites) who come under the obligations of the covenant

– 3. Father was Gilead

“And Gilead was the father of Jephthah.”

Prominent father; same name as that given to the entire geographic region

– 4. Brothers cast him off

“And Gilead’s wife bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, ‘You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.’”

Did not even give him any sustenance to take with him; drove him off empty-handed;

Will be a humbling thing for these same half-brothers now to acknowledge their need of him to return as leader and military champion of the people

– 5. Lived as an outcast

“So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob;”

From a dysfunctional family; looks like he will amount to nothing; living like Swamp Fox

Inrig: became a kind of Hebrew Robin Hood, a leader of a military band who functioned as an unofficial police force. He skillfully brought together this refugee band, and, for a price, they protected the Hebrews and attacked the enemy. This provides another interesting parallel to the life of David because he did exactly the same thing in the period while he was hiding from King Saul.

– 6. Displayed leadership abilities and charisma

“and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him.”

Swamp fox type of band of renegades; 1 Sam. 22:2 – parallel to David’s experience

Jordan: Nehemiah 5:13 shows that the word translated “worthless” in verse 3 really only means “impoverished.”

Down on their luck; outcasts from society

Inrig: Alone except for God. The grace of God was at work in this man’s life, rescuing him from an apparently hopeless future. God does not submit to human prejudices, and He is not limited by the social, parental, and environmental factors that men consider determinative. A Christian knows that God is the great Determiner, and in that knowledge there is freedom. I am not a prisoner of my past, no matter how desperate that past was. God delights in using the unusable and in making the ugly beautiful.

Tob means “good”

B. (:4-11) Jephthah as Desired Recruit

1. (:4-6) The Desperate Search Committee

“And it came about after a while that the sons of Ammon fought against Israel. And it happened when the sons of Ammon fought against Israel that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob; and they said to Jephthah, ‘Come and be our chief that we may fight against the sons of Ammon.’”

They knew who he was and where to go to retrieve him

2. (:7-8) The Debated Proposal

“Then Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, ‘Did you not hate me and drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?’ And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, ‘For this reason we have now returned to you, that you may go with us and fight with the sons of Ammon and become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.’”

3. (:9-11) The Divine Witness

“So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, ‘If you take me back to fight against the sons of Ammon and the LORD gives them up to me, will I become your head?’ And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, ‘The LORD is witness between us; surely we will do as you have said.’ Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and chief over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD at Mizpah.”

Jordan: The whole deal is ratified in the presence of the Lord, which probably means that the Ark of God was in the field at Mizpah (2 Sam. 11:11).


– King David – the son who was looked over – 1 Samuel 16:7

– Lord Jesus Christ – the rejected stone


A. (:12-13) Ammonite Issue – The Land Rightfully Belongs to Us

“Now Jephthah sent messengers to the king of the sons of Ammon, saying, ‘What is between you and me, that you have come to me to fight against my land?’ And the king of the sons of Ammon said to the messengers of Jephthah, ‘Because Israel took away my land when they came up from Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok and the Jordan; therefore, return them peaceably now.’”

B. (:14-20) Historical Justification – You Have the Facts All Wrong

“But Jephthah sent messengers again to the king of the sons of Ammon, and they said to him, ‘Thus says Jephthah, Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the sons of Ammon. For when they came up from Egypt, and Israel went through the wilderness to the Red Sea and came to Kadesh, then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, Please let us pass through your land, but the king of Edom would not listen. And they also sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained at Kadesh. Then they went through the wilderness and around the land of Edom and the land of Moab, and came to the east side of the land of Moab, and they camped beyond the Arnon; but they did not enter the territory of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab. And Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon, and Israel said to him, Please let us pass through your land to our place. But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory; so Sihon gathered all his people and camped in Jahaz, and fought with Israel.”

C. (:21-24) Theological Justification – The Lord Gave Us This Land

“And the LORD, the God of Israel, gave Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them; so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country. So they possessed all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and from the wilderness as far as the Jordan. Since now the LORD, the God of Israel, drove out the Amorites from before His people Israel, are you then to possess it? Do you not possess what Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the LORD our God has driven out before us, we will possess it.”

Jordan: Problem – Chemosh was the god of Moab, while Molech was the god of Ammon. Was Jephthah misinformed? Impossible. Was he being sarcastic, deliberately insulting? Possibly. Were the Ammonites, always close to the Moabites, in a temporary historical phase of worshipping the Moabite god? Possibly. There is not sure answer, though the third is most likely.

D. (:25-26) Statue of Limitations Justification – 300 Years of Possession

“And now are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive with Israel, or did he ever fight against them? While Israel lived in Heshbon and its villages, and in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities that are on the banks of the Arnon, three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?”

E. (:27-28) Closing Summary – the Lord Determines Right and Wrong

“’I therefore have not sinned against you, but you are doing me wrong by making war against me; may the LORD, the Judge, judge today between the sons of Israel and the sons of Ammon.’ But the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him.”

There is someone who has set the standard for right and wrong; who knows the standard and who can make righteous judgments to hold people accountable to the standard.


We never want to underestimate the Lord’s love or His grace. In His providence and sovereignty, He works according to His ways to accomplish His purposes. We do not want to prejudge or make assumptions about how God can use us or even use others, despite their past or their circumstances.