Filled with the Spirit, Failing in Judgment
Life is full of decisions, both big and small. Sometimes, even when we’re earnestly seeking to follow God, we can find ourselves making choices that lead to unintended consequences. This reality is illuminated in the story of Jephthah from the book of Judges. Jephthah, a man chosen by God to be a leader, faced challenges that pushed him to make difficult decisions. Through his experiences, we can uncover valuable lessons about the importance of seeking God’s guidance and making choices that align with His will.
Jephthah’s Unlikely Rise
When the sons of Ammon fought against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob; and they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the sons of Ammon.” — Judges 11:4-6 (NASB1995)
In the book of Judges, we encounter the story of Jephthah, a man chosen by God to lead His people. Despite his challenging upbringing, God positioned Jephthah as a leader. His leadership was tested when the Ammonites sought to expand their kingdom and targeted Jephthah’s homeland of Gilead. Despite the odds, Jephthah confronted the Ammonites, highlighting his determination and faith.
Defending the Truth
But Jephthah sent messengers once again to the king of the sons of Ammon, Judges 11:14 (NASB1995)
Jephthah understood the importance of standing up for the truth. When the Ammonites spread false claims about being the rightful inhabitants of Gilead, Jephthah countered their lies by sending messengers to explain the reality (Judges 11:14-27). However, the Ammonites were unyielding and prepared for war. This episode reminds us that defending the truth requires courage, even when faced with opposition.
Jephthah’s Spirit-Filled Journey
But the king of the sons of Ammon disregarded the message which Jephthah sent him… Now the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah… and Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed hand over to me the sons of Ammon, then whatever comes out the doors of my house to meet me when I return safely from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” — Judges 11:28-31 (NASB1995)
Jephthah’s reliance on God’s Spirit is evident in his journey. In Judges 11:28-31, we read that God’s Spirit came upon Jephthah. Filled with this divine guidance, Jephthah confronted the Ammonite army, making a vow to God in exchange for victory. He promised to offer as a burnt offering whatever came out of the door of his house upon his return.
A Heartbreaking Decision
But Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, and behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. And she was his one and only child; besides her he had no son or daughter. — Judges 11:34 (NASB1995)
Victorious in battle, Jephthah returned home, only to have his joy shattered. His daughter, his only child, came out to celebrate his return. Tragically, this encounter led Jephthah to realize the weight of his vow. In a moment of despair, he tore his clothes, a sign of his deep distress (Judges 11:35). His daughters life was tragically cut short as Jephthah would have lived up to his word.
Lessons from Jephthah’s Choice
Jephthah’s story teaches us that even when filled with the Spirit, we can still make poor decisions when we let pride in. Having God’s Spirit within us doesn’t guarantee flawless choices, only the power to choose correctly. Jephthah’s commitment to offer a sacrifice, while likely not intending a human sacrifice, shows the importance of consulting God’s Spirit in our decisions. The Holy Spirit is our counselor, guiding us to be in alignment with God’s will, igniting the Word to reinforce and confirm the right decisions.
Guided by the Spirit
God never demands human sacrifices from us. Rather, He desires that we make good on our promises and live by the words we speak, especially in relation to Him. While Jephthah’s choice had tragic consequences, it reminds us of God’s ultimate sacrifice—offering His only Son for our salvation. Unlike Jephthah, God foresaw the future and orchestrated Jesus’ death and resurrection to positively impact humanity’s future.
Seeking God’s Guidance
“But I say to you, make no oath at all, either by heaven… or by the earth… of by Jerusalem… But let your statement be, ‘Yes, yes’ or ‘No, no’; anything beyond these is of evil.” — Matthew 5:33-37 (NASB1995)
We should approach promises and commitments to God with caution. Let the Holy Spirit guide your decisions, aligning your life with God’s purpose. It’s essential to make plans and set goals, but remain open to God’s alterations. Jesus’ teachings in Matthew 5:33-37 and James 5:12 underscore the importance of honest, uncomplicated speech without oaths or vows.
Applying the Lessons from Jephthah’s Story
Throughout Jephthah’s story, we glean valuable insights that can shape our own lives and decisions. Here are some practical takeaways that we can apply:
- Seek Wisdom and Counsel: Jephthah’s story emphasizes the importance of seeking God’s wisdom and guidance. When facing decisions, whether big or small, take time to pray and seek counsel from wise and godly individuals.
“Where there is no guidance the people fall, But in abundance of counselors there is victory.” — Proverbs 11:14 (NASB1995)
- Be Mindful of Your Promises: Jephthah’s ill-fated vow teaches us the significance of being careful with our words and promises, especially in our commitment to God. Instead of making impulsive promises, let your “yes” be “yes” and your “no” be “no,” as Jesus teaches in Matthew 5:37.
“But above all, my brethren, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or with any other oath; but your yes is to be yes, and your no, no, so that you may not fall under judgment.” — James 5:12 (NASB1995)
- Yield to the Holy Spirit: While Jephthah was filled with the Spirit, he still made a decision that led to tragedy. This underscores the importance of yielding to the Holy Spirit’s leading in our lives. Allow the Spirit to guide your choices, and when in doubt, seek His counsel in prayer.
“But I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh.” — Galatians 5:16 (NASB1995)
- Embrace Flexibility: Plans can change, and it’s essential to be flexible when God redirects our paths. Remain open to God’s leading, even if it means altering your initial plans.
“The mind of man plans his way, But the Lord directs his steps.” — Proverbs 16:9 (NASB1995)
- Lean on God’s Understanding: Jephthah’s story highlights the danger of acting without fully understanding the implications. Trust that God sees the bigger picture and knows what’s best for your life.
“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” — Romans 12:2 (NASB1995)
- Value Truth and Integrity: Jephthah defended the truth against the Ammonites’ false claims. Similarly, let truth and integrity be your guide in your interactions and decisions.
“Therefore, laying aside falsehood, speak truth each one of you with his neighbor, for we are members of one another.” — Ephesians 4:25 (NASB1995)
Navigate Decisions With Greater Wisdom and Discernment
Jephthah’s story serves as a poignant reminder that even when we’re filled with the Spirit and seek to follow God, our decisions can have far-reaching consequences. By taking these lessons to heart and applying them to our own lives, we can navigate decisions with greater wisdom and discernment. Let’s embrace the guidance of the Holy Spirit, prioritize truth and integrity, and remain open to the changes God may bring to our plans. Through it all, we can find comfort in knowing that God’s ultimate plan is one of love, grace, and redemption.