Words Matter

Today – we will continue in our study of Jephthah and we will also cover 3 more judges (though they are only mentioned in brief):

1) Othniel – half blood foreigner from the tribe of Judah, son of Kenaz, Caleb’s younger brother = 40 years of peace

2) Ehud – Left-handed man from a tribe called “of the right hand” (Benjamin) the two tribes who would inherit the land of Israel today (Judah and Benjamin) of the line of Rachel = 80 years of peace

3) Shamgar – Foreigner – slew 600 Philistines

4) Deborah – Woman Judge = 40 years of peace

5) Gideon – Timid servant = 40 years of peace

6) Tola, who will judge Israel for 23 years, from the tribe of Issachar and

7) Jair, who will judge Israel for 22 years, probably from the tribe of Manasseh

8) Jephthah, the eighth judge of the 12 covered in the book of Judges - also of the tribe of Manasseh – 6 years

9) Ibzan – from the tribe of Zebulun (most likely) – brings in 30 foreign women for his sons and we will read about that – 7 years

10) Elon – from the tribe of Zebulun – 10 years

11) Abdon – from the tribe of Ephraim – 8 years

Scene 5: Jephthah turns on his own people (12:1–7). Just when you thought things couldn’t get any worse, they do! The author of Judges writes in 12:1, “Then the men of Ephraim were summoned, and they crossed to Zaphon and said to Jephthah, ‘Why did you cross over to fight against the sons of Ammon without calling us to go with you?” The word “us” is emphatic in the Hebrew text. Ephraim’s gripe is that they are somebodies and you don’t treat somebodies like nobodies. This tribe wants to be on the front page of the Jerusalem Times. They are glory hounds! So in their outage, Ephraim exclaims, “We will burn your house down on you.” This statement is dripping with irony, for Jephthah just finished burning his own house (i.e., lineage) down. In 12:2–3, Jephthah responds by explaining that he had called on the Ephramites, but they had left him in the lurch. In fact, Ephraim had eighteen years (Judges 10:8) to step up and get involved in the battle, but they never did. Nevertheless, the Lord Himself gave Israel the victory over Ammon.

This is not the first time Ephraim is whining about missing the battle: Judges 8:1 (right after Gideon starts chasing the Midianites).

1 The Ephraimites said to him, “Why have you done such a thing to us? You did not summon us when you went to fight the Midianites!” They argued vehemently with him. 2 He said to them, “Now what have I accomplished compared to you? Even Ephraim’s leftover grapes are better quality than Abiezer’s harvest! 3 It was to you that God handed over the Midianite generals, Oreb and Zeeb! What did I accomplish to rival that?” When he said this, they calmed down (Judges 8:1-3).

Now, once again we find the Ephraimites talking big after the battle is won, suffering from wounded pride because they wanted greater glory.

God sends no one away empty except those who are full of themselves.  - D. L. Moody

British actor Michael Wilding was once asked if actors had any traits which set them apart from other human beings. "Without a doubt," he replied. "You can pick out actors by the glazed look that comes into their eyes when the conversation wanders away from themselves."

I gave a little tea party this afternoon, at 3. "Twas very small, 3 guests in all - I, myself, and me. Myself ate all the sandwiches while I drank all the tea. "Twas also I who ate the pie and passed the cake to me.

The trouble with some self-made men is that they worship their creator.

I confess, aside from Jephthah’s horrible vow, I like this guy. He is the underdog and I like rooting for the underdog. Unlike the ego flattery employed by Gideon, Jephthah deals with the Ephraimites as he did with the king of Ammon. He is polite, but he speaks the truth in a forthright manner. There is no “mealy mouthing” going on here. His diplomacy employs plain speech, the meaning of which cannot be missed. And it is also clear that he is unwilling to bend the truth in order to avoid conflict. He speaks the truth and is willing to back it up with military might if need be.

Notice two things about the Ephraimites’ words. First, they were untrue. They accused Jephthah of failing to give them the opportunity to join in the battle against the Ammonites (now that the battle had already been won). Jephthah sets the record straight. He did summon the Ephraimites for the battle. The problem wasn’t his failure to call them to battle; it was the Ephraimites’ failure to answer the call and to assist in the battle. These folks talk big, but they do little. They want to be there when the battle is won and the medals are being passed out, but they don’t want to engage in the battle. When Jephthah realized that they weren’t coming, he went to battle without them, facing the dangers that presented. And there was something else these Ephraimites needed to know. The battle was the Lord’s. Had the Ephraimites engaged in this battle, the glory for victory would not have been theirs to claim. It was God who won the battle, and it was God alone who should receive the glory.

The second thing we should note about the words of the Ephraimites is the violence that is threatened. Those who were not courageous enough to engage the Ammonites in battle were now “mighty in word” when it came to their threats against their Israelite brethren. They actually threatened to burn down Jephthah’s house, no doubt with him and his family (a guess that just leaves his wife) inside. The Ephraimites seem prone to anger.

Jephthah’s words were not well received by the Ephraimites. Like the Ammonites, the Ephraimites had come armed for battle. And so it was necessary for Jephthah to engage in battle with his fellow-Israelites. There was a deeper rift between the Ephraimites and Jephthah and the Gileadites. We know that Jephthah was a Gileadite. The land of Gilead was east of the Jordan and was possessed by Ruben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh. The Ephraimites spoke disparagingly of Jephthah’s people. The Ephraimites spoke of Jephthah’s people as renegades, people who fall short of the high standard set by the “blue bloods” of Ephraim and Manasseh (verse 4).

This scene concludes with a tragic civil war. Initially, the Israelites were fighting together, against their common enemies. Now, the Israelites are fighting among themselves. How do we know this, well, Gilead is from the tribe of Manasseh (Numbers 26:29) – Ephraim and Manasseh were brothers, sons of Joseph (half Israelite and half Egyptian).

Joseph was the only son of Israel (Jacob) to forego an inheritance in the land of Israel by instead giving the land to his two sons (Genesis 48).

Manasseh was the first born, but when Ephraim and Manasseh were blessed by Jacob, grandpa Jacob switch his hands and blessed Ephraim (the younger brother) first – just like Jacob who took the blessing as the younger from Esau. To Ephraim, Jacob said he would become greater than Manasseh and become a multitude of nations.

Ephraim is at the beginning of their punishment here, however, since they were given the choicest of lands and used it for their own glory. Scriptures will go on to call Ephraim a land filled with fat drunkards and even compared to Tyre (the place that was a land under Satan’s direct rule) – (see Isaiah 28:1, 4 Jeremiah 31:18; Hosea 9:13; Hosea 10:11).

Hosea 10:11: “Ephraim is a trained heifer that loves to thresh; so I will put a yoke on her fair neck. I will drive Ephraim, Judah must plow, and Jacob must break up the ground.”

Brothers fight a lot in Scripture, unfortunately, and their children’s children then pick up the sword for generations to come. This is what we call generational curses.

The Bible mentions “generational curses” in several places (Exodus 20:5; 34:7; Numbers 14:18; Deuteronomy 5:9). God warns that He is “a jealous God, punishing the children for the sin of the fathers to the third and fourth generation of those who hate me.”

The cure for a generational curse has always been repentance. When Israel turned from idols to serve the living God, the “curse” was broken and God saved them (Judges 3:9, 15; 1 Samuel 12:10-11). Yes, God promised to visit Israel’s sin upon the third and fourth generations, but in the very next verse He promised that He would show “love to a thousand [generations] of those who love me and keep my commandments” (Exodus 20:6). In other words, God’s grace lasts a thousand times longer than His wrath.

In 12:4–6, Jephthah and his men fight Ephraim, capture the land, and play a game of Bible Password. The Ephramites who tried to escape are asked to say the word “Shibboleth,” meaning “stream.” Unfortunately, the Ephramites cannot pronounce the “sh” sound so they say “Sibboleth.” This is true today. My Indian brothers have difficulty producing the “v” sound; it comes out more like a “w” sound. Other races have their own unique pronunciation problems. There are sounds in Spanish that I cannot even begin to approximate. So every Ephramite who played Bible Password that day lost. The death toll reached 42,000! Jephthah exacts revenge when offended and does not know the true character of the Lord or the content of His law.

Verse 7 concludes with these words: “Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in one of the cities of Gilead.” The Jephthah cycle ends without declaring that the Ammonite menace has been eliminated or that the land was secured during his tenure, let alone attributing this newfound security to the Lord.

SOFTWARE: I own a high-tech piece of computer software called Fireworks. I have been using Fireworks since 2006. Over the course of many years, I have moved from version 3.5 to the brand new version 8. Yet, I am ashamed to admit that I have never read the user manual or watched the online videos. I keep saying, “I’ve spent hundreds of dollars on Fireworks and the various updates; I really need to learn all of the potential of this software program.” But I never do. I have all kinds of great intentions, but the tyranny of the urgent always keeps me from mastering the potential of this valuable software. When I talk with Fireworks users, I admit that I am probably only utilizing 5–10% of the software’s capacity.

When it comes to the Bible, you may know just enough to be dangerous. Maybe you get by on the bare minimum. Yet, you know God has entrusted you with a great deal of knowledge and many resources. Perhaps the following statements reverberate through your heart and mind, “To whom much is given, much is required.” “Right theology and a thorough understanding of the Bible are essential.” If so, make a commitment that today you will seek to live out God’s Word like never before. A biblical mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Let’s look now at Ibzan – Judge #9

“Brought in 30 daughters – from elsewhere – for his sons.”

After the Jews’ return to Jerusalem at the end of the Babylonian Captivity, Ezra, one of the leaders of the people, was given some bad news: “The people of Israel, including the priests and the Levites, have not kept themselves separate from the neighboring peoples with their detestable practices, like those of the Canaanites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites, Ammonites, Moabites, Egyptians and Amorites. They have taken some of their daughters as wives for themselves and their sons, and have mingled the holy race with the peoples around them. And the leaders and officials have led the way in this unfaithfulness” (Ezra 9:1–2).

These marriages with people of other nations that worshiped false gods were forbidden in the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 7:3–4). Ezra’s heart was grieved. He tore his tunic and cloak, pulled hair from his head and beard, “and sat down appalled” (Ezra 9:3). Idolatry was one of the sins that had resulted in Judah’s being conquered by Babylon. Now, upon their return to the Promised Land, Judah was again toying with the same sin.

In Ezra 10:2–3, as Ezra was praying, a large group of Israelites came to him in repentance. They made a proposal to rectify the situation: “We have been unfaithful to our God by marrying foreign women from the peoples around us. But in spite of this, there is still hope for Israel. Now let us make a covenant before our God to send away all these women and their children, in accordance with the counsel of my lord and of those who fear the commands of our God. Let it be done according to the Law.” The purpose of this covenant would be to once again set apart the Jewish people as fully devoted to the Lord and remove all connections with those who worshiped other gods. The agreement required the men of Judah to divorce their pagan wives.

Ezra agreed that this covenant was the proper course of action. He commanded, “You have been unfaithful; you have married foreign women, adding to Israel’s guilt. Now honor the Lord, the God of your ancestors, and do his will. Separate yourselves from the peoples around you and from your foreign wives” (Ezra 10:10–11).

This is why God does not want us to be unequally yoked (joined) with unbelievers (2 Corinthians 6:14). But the Lord does not want us to divorce if we already are. Being on the New Covenant comes with revised directives:

We know that God hates divorce (Malachi 2:16), and some have asked how this event is related to the issue of divorce in today’s society. A couple of relevant points can be considered. First, this event took place during a previous dispensation, in a time when God’s chosen people were to live according to the Law of Moses. Christians today should not look to this account for justification to divorce a spouse.

Also, 1 Corinthians 7:15–16 gives the related principle for today’s believers married to unbelievers. Paul wrote, “If the unbeliever leaves, let it be so. The brother or the sister is not bound in such circumstances; God has called us to live in peace. How do you know, wife, whether you will save your husband? Or, how do you know, husband, whether you will save your wife?” In other words, a believer is called to stay with an unbelieving spouse whenever possible. However, if the unbelieving spouse abandons the relationship, the believing spouse is not to dispute the matter.

Peter addressed this as well in 1 Peter 3:1:

“Wives, in the same way submit yourselves to your own husbands so that, if any of them do not believe the word, they may be won over without words by the behavior of their wives.”


Our text contains many lessons, directly and by way of inference. Let me conclude by suggesting a few areas of application.

First, our text teaches us the importance of history. It is interesting and significant to me that in both instances in our text, when Israel went to war it was due, in part, to a distortion of the facts of history. The king of the Ammonites sought to wage war with Jephthah and Israel because he believed (or at least claimed to believe) that centuries earlier the Israelites had forcibly taken possession of Ammonite territory. Jephthah’s diplomatic efforts were based largely on a corrected view of history. Israel had not taken Ammonite territory; Balak chose not to fight with Israel, and 300 years had passed without a challenge to Israel’s possession of this land. History also warned the king of the Ammonites regarding his rejection of Israel’s reasonable diplomacy. He would be well advised not to reject Jephthah’s words and not to engage the people of God in battle. History should have taught him that this was folly.

So, too, the Ephraimites should have learned to recall history correctly and not attempt to revise it to suit their desires and ambitions. They should have learned a lesson from their confrontation with Gideon years before. Likewise, they should have rightly recalled how things actually happened in the present conflict. Jephthah did summon them and ask for their help, but they did not join in the battle. Now, they wanted to share in the glory that belonged only to God. An accurate understanding of history would have saved the Ephraimites from losing face, and 42,000 men.

We are now living in times when many feel a great freedom to adapt and modify history to suit their own ideologies and practices. Some have been so brazen as to attempt to deny the historicity of the holocaust. Others have twisted the truth regarding the terrorist attack on 9/11. We may not bend and distort history to suit our own ends. It is a correct view of history that sets us straight. No wonder the Bible is filled with history. Let us embrace God’s Word as the basis for our understanding of history, as well as being the source of the only message by which men may experience the forgiveness of sins and the gift of eternal life.

Second, our text teaches us that words really do matter. The title of this message is “Words Matter.”

“We are masters of the unsaid words, but slaves of those we let slip out.” Winston Churchill

The words of Scripture which record the history of God’s dealings with Israel matter. The words of Jephthah’s vow mattered. Had he chosen his words more carefully, it would not have cost him his daughter.

Words mattered to those Ephraimites who attempted to cross the Jordan River, and who tried to say the word “Shibboleth.”

The Scriptures have much to say about the importance of our words:

Death and life are in the power of the tongue,

and those who love its use will eat its fruit (Proverbs 18:21).

“Let your word be ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no.’ More than this is from the evil one” (Matthew 5:37).

“I tell you that on the day of judgment, people will give an account for every worthless word they speak” (Matthew 12:36).

Our words, like those of Jephthah, can have unintended consequences. I am convinced that Jephthah never intended that his words would cost him his daughter, but that is what happened. I know that my words have many unintended consequences.

HEALTH CARE BILL: When the Affordable Heath Care Act (HR 3962) was passed by the House of Representatives in November 2009, it was nearly a 2,000-page health care reform bill. It is frightening to me to think of all the intentional consequences of such a bill, but can you imagine the immensity of unintentional consequences this monstrous bill will have? Look at this picture. Shirley Dobson and I were outside of Congressman Aderholt’s Office and these are all the bills that have come through his office in 1 year. No wonder Proverbs contains a warning concerning many words:

When words abound, transgression is inevitable,

but the one who restrains his words is wise (Proverbs 10:19).

Now think about the Bible, with all of its pages and many words. If it were merely a fallible book written by men and containing human error, how would we ever be able to stake our present and eternal well being on such a book?

The Canonized English Bible that we have in our hands today, has 1189 chapters, and the King James Authorized Bible has 783,137 words. How many words is that? If you can type at 60 words a minute, it would take you just over 217 and a half hours to retype the entire Bible. Can you imagine how long type-setting must have taken in the early days of printing?

Words do matter, and no words matter more than the words of Scripture:

But he answered, “It is written, ‘Man does not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God’” (Matthew 4:4).

“You study the scriptures thoroughly because you think in them you possess eternal life, and it is these same scriptures that testify about me” (John 5:39).

God’s Word is inspired, inerrant, relevant, and reliable. His words are without error, so that we can trust them (and the God they present) without hesitation:

“Look, today I am about to die. You know with all your heart and being that not even one of all the faithful promises the Lord your God made to you is left unfulfilled; every one was realized – not one promise is unfulfilled! (Joshua 23:14; see also 1 Kings 8:56).”

The Lord’s words are absolutely reliable.

They are as untainted as silver purified in a furnace on the ground,

where it is thoroughly refined (Psalm 12:6).


5 Every word of God is purified;

he is like a shield for those who take refuge in him (Proverbs 30:5).

1 After God spoke long ago in various portions and in various ways to our ancestors through the prophets, 2 in these last days he has spoken to us in a son, whom he appointed heir of all things, and through whom he created the world. 3 The Son is the radiance of his glory and the representation of his essence, and he sustains all things by his powerful word, and so when he had accomplished cleansing for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high (Hebrews 1:1-3).

1 Therefore we must pay closer attention to what we have heard, so that we do not drift away. 2 For if the message spoken through angels proved to be so firm that every violation or disobedience received its just penalty, 3 how will we escape if we neglect such a great salvation? It was first communicated through the Lord and was confirmed to us by those who heard him, 4 while God confirmed their witness with signs and wonders and various miracles and gifts of the Holy Spirit distributed according to his will (Hebrews 2:1-4).

Third, a society which is in decay has a declining respect for women. I have observed a declining respect for women in the book of Judges by the culture of men. As I think about it, this makes a lot of sense. We begin with a prize winner like Deborah, a woman all could respect. But then we come to Jephthah’s daughter, who is sacrificed because of her father’s foolish vow. But if this is not bad enough, the book will end with a Levite casting his concubine out of doors to satisfy the perverted desires of the townsmen. And then he will heartlessly summon the woman to get up from the threshold where she lies dead, only to cut her into pieces and send them throughout Israel.

WOMEN: In our society, some women feel that they are just now beginning to come into their own. They are enjoying things that women a few years ago would not have imagined obtaining. And yet I cannot avoid the strong sense that as much as it appears that women are gaining greater status in our country, just the opposite is taking place. I fear that women are actually valued less, that they are receiving a declining respect in our world, particularly by men. If so, this is yet another evidence of the decline of our nation. I find it interesting how our society views women. Someone sent me an image and it is very true (American woman talking to Middle-Eastern woman). It shows a woman in a bikini walking by a woman in a full hijab and burka. The bikini-clad woman is saying to herself, “everything covered except her eyes, what a cruel, male-dominated culture.” But the irony is that the woman completely covered says, “nothing covered BUT her eyes, what a cruel, male-dominated culture.” There is a growing exhibition of the female body and the foolishness of the females involved is that this is somehow strengthening the cause of women – while all the while doing the exact opposite.

The women of the Scripture are strong, wise, God-fearing women whom are respected with deep understanding – knowing how to manage their homes and businesses. But like Deborah, they understand their role and how to honor their husbands while working for God. This was counter-cultural and the more the society disrespected the women, the more decay we find in their society. Christ performed at least 6 miracles for women and revealed He was the Messiah to a woman first (John 4) and a woman was the first to see Him resurrected.

Fourth, the degree to which we are shocked by how far Jephthah would go to honor his vow is a measure of how lightly we take vows today. Think about that for a moment. We wonder why Jephthah did not find some way to break his vow, and yet even his daughter encouraged him to keep his vow. Our vows today mean very little, because we are nothing like Jephthah in our commitment to keep our vows. The divorce rate in our country (even among Christians) is a reflection of our lack of commitment to keep our promises.

13 You also do this: You cover the altar of the Lord with tears as you weep and groan, because he no longer pays any attention to the offering nor accepts it favorably from you. 14 Yet you ask, “Why?” The Lord is testifying against you on behalf of the wife you married when you were young, to whom you have become unfaithful even though she is your companion and wife by law. 15 No one who has even a small portion of the Spirit in him does this. What did our ancestor do when seeking a child from God? Be attentive, then, to your own spirit, for one should not be disloyal to the wife he took in his youth. 16 “I hate divorce,” says the Lord God of Israel, “and the one who is guilty of violence,” says the Lord who rules over all. “Pay attention to your conscience, and do not be unfaithful” (Malachi 2:13-16).

Fifth, our text cautions us regarding making heroes of men. There is only one True Deliverer, only One who is worthy of our worship and our praise. If we are looking for heroes in the Book of Judges, we are destined for disappointment. The more closely we look at Israel’s judges, the more obvious their flaws become. They have weaknesses and besetting sins. We should learn from these leaders that all leaders – every one of them – have flaws. If we look long and hard enough, we will see them. Some are so obvious we don’t even have to look hard to see them.

We dare not idolize men, for we will surely be disappointed. But we can be encouraged as we see the kind of instruments God uses to achieve His purposes. He uses homemade swords wielded by left-handed men, tent pegs, ox goads, and mill stones. He uses plain and ordinary people like Jael and the woman with the mill stone. When God uses the simple and even foolish things to achieve His purposes, then it is only He who should receive the glory. Let us be encouraged by the kinds of people God uses to achieve His purposes.

God saves those who are unworthy of salvation, not because of men’s works but solely because of God’s mercy and grace. Are you not amazed to find men like Gideon, Barak, Samson, and Jephthah, and women like Rahab in the “hall of faith” (Hebrews 11)? It is not the greatness of our deeds, but the gracious work of God in the person of Jesus Christ, that saves unworthy sinners. Jesus bore the penalty for our sins on the cross of Calvary. He offers the forgiveness of sins and the promise of eternal life to all who place their trust in Christ Jesus and His work on their behalf. He is the Hero! He is the only Deliverer who can deliver condemned sinners from the penalty of death. Have you acknowledged your sin and placed your trust in Him alone for your salvation? If not, I plead with you to do so, for your eternal well being.



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