Judges 11:1-3, 11 – Before he ever came to the plate, Jephthah had three strikes against him.
He was an illegitimate child. Strike one.
He was the son of a barmaid and a brute. Strike two.
He was raised in an atmosphere of hatred and hostility. Strike three.
Nurtured in an overcrowded cage of half-brothers, he was the constant target of verbal put-downs and violent profanity. Putting it mildly, Jephthah wasn’t wanted. He compensated by becoming the meanest kid on the block.
Kicked out of home before he reached young manhood, he took up the lifestyle of a rebel among a tough bunch of thugs that hob-nobbed in a place called Tob. Earning a reputation as the hardest hard-guy, he was elected leader of a gang. They ripped and rammed their way through villages like a pack of wild hyenas. Had they ridden motorcycles, their black leather jackets could have read “The Tob Mob” as they raced over hills, outrunning the law of the land. Read Judges 11:1-3 for yourself. It’s all there. A societal reject, Jephthah was Charles Manson, the Boston Strangler, and Clyde Barrow all wrapped in one explosive body. Having him and his apes drop into the Tob Pharmacy for Saturday night malts was about as comfortable as taking a swim with the Loch Ness monster.
Suddenly, a change occurred. The people of Israel encountered a barrage of hostilities from their not-so-friendly neighbors to the east—the Ammonites. The longer the battle raged against this hateful enemy tribe, the more obvious it became that Israel was against the ropes. Defeat was inevitable. The Jews needed a leader with guts to stand up against the fiery foes from Ammon. Guess who the Israelites thought of? Right! They figured that only a guy with his record would qualify for the job, so they called the man from Tob. Tremblingly, they said:
Come and be our chief that we may fight against the sons of Ammon. . . . and [you may] become head over all the inhabitants of Gilead. (Judges 11:6, 8)
What a deal! Asking Jephthah if he could fight was like asking Al Hirt if he could blow some jazz or A. J. Foyt if he could drive you around the block. That was Jephthah’s day in court. After a brief cat-and-mouse interchange, the mobster signed the dotted line. Predictably, he annihilated the Ammonites in short order and the Tob Evening News rolled off the presses with the headline:
HOODLUM BECOMES HERO—
EX-CON ELECTED JUDGE!
Jephthah the judge. Fellow gangsters had to call him “Your Honor.” What a switch! Jephthah had no rightful claim to such a high calling.
That would have been true—except for one thing: God’s grace. Remember now, God is the One who builds trophies from the scrap pile . . . who draws His clay from under the bridge . . . who makes clean instruments of beauty from the filthy failures of yesteryear.
To underscore this truth, consider Paul’s stunning remark made to a group of unsophisticated Corinthian Christians:
Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. (1 Corinthians 6:9-11a NIV)
Don’t rush over those last eight words:
And that is what some of you were . . .
Our Father, in great grace, loved us when you and I were Jephthah—a rebel or a drunk or a gossip or a crook or a liar or a brawler or a Pharisee or a playboy or an adulteress or a hypocrite or a do-gooder or a dropout or a drug addict. Looking for sinners, He found us in desperate straits. Lifting us to the level of His much-loved Son, He brought us in, washed our wounds, and changed our direction. All our church-going and hymn-singing and long-praying and committee-sitting and religious-talking will never ease the fact that we were dug from a deep, dark, deadly pit. And may we never forget it. Classic misfits . . . we.
But there is one major difference between Jephthah and us. God chose to reveal his past for everyone to read, while He chose to hide ours so none would ever know what colossal misfits we really are. Talk about grace!