The Greatest Story Ever Told   4 comments

The question for this week’s blog hop is “What is the greatest story ever told?”
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In terms of literary reference, that would be the Bible. Themes from it can be found in pretty much every Western book published prior to World War I and a majority of them up to World War 2.

Image result for image of a biblical battleThat said, the Bible is a huge source. There are literally hundreds of stories in the Bible. I always thought it was cliche for a writer who is a Christian to write stories based directly on the Bible, but a while ago a friend challenged me to do just that. I haven’t done it yet, but I’ve found about a half-dozen that I like that haven’t been done yet … as far as I know … so it doesn’t seem so cliche.

If you’ve never heard of Japhthah before, don’t feel bad. He’s a second player in the Book of Judges. You can be excused for missing his story. I was teaching a Sunday School lesson on the Roll Call of Faith from Hebrews and his name appeared. I’d never near of him before, so I had to research him.

The story begins with Israel again forsaking God and failing to serve Him. In a twist of irony, the “gods” Israel was worshipping belonged to the nations that God’s people had conquered in battle because Yahweh had given them the victory. Instead of worshiping Him, Israel is worshipping their “gods”.

 

To teach them a lesson, God turns the idolatrous Israel over to be slaves of the Philistines and Amonites, which afflict Israel for 18 years. God loves His people enough to discipline them with the goal of bringing them back to Him. Eventually, Israel repents, which is the first time Israel acknowledges her sin in the Book of Judges.

Okay, could be a standard Bible tale right now. Israel drifts away from God, God disciplines Israel, Israel returns to God.

Even though the Israelites confessed their sin, their repentance is short lived. God had granted them victory in the past, but rather than asking Him for a battle strategy, the Israelites seek out a human leader, rejecting Yahweh’s authority over them.

Jephthah was the illegitimate son of Gilead. His half-brothers had driven him out of their community and gone to live in Tob where he became a warlord, surrounded by other aggressive thugs. Jephthah’s brothers are unaware that they rejected the man who would be their savior. God has a good sense of humor. Jephthah turns out to be the most gifted guy in the family. God chooses the weak and foolish people of this world to shame the wise and strong.

As the Israelites face off against the Ammonites, Israel realized they need a general to lead them into war, so they ask Jephthah to be their leader. Jephthah responded: “Why now? You dogged me out, and now that you’re in need, you come crawling back on bended knee?” Jephthah and Israel agree that if he destroys the Ammonites he will become their “head and chief”. In this dialogue, Jephthah shows a lack of faith and manipulates the elders with shrewd diplomacy. He uses his powers of persuasion to assure himself of leadership.

In an attempt to avoid war, Jephthah preaches an eloquent and persuasive sermon to the King of Ammon. Basically, he says:

  • God gave Israel the land that they now occupy. Israel has lived on the land for centuries.
  • If the Ammonites declare war on Israel, they will be fighting against the Lord, which will result in disaster and defeat.

Jephthah tries to reason with the King of Ammon, but in the end, the King disregards the message.

As the battle between Israel and Ammon begins, Jephthah makes a vow to God that if He delivers the Ammonites into his hand, he will offer the first thing that comes out of his house upon his return as a burnt offering. It was a totally unnecessary vow, given in an attempt to manipulate God. Jephthah is a loud-mouthed braggart who wanted to look good before other men.

They win the battle, so when Jephthah comes home to Mizpah, his only child — his daughter — comes out to greet him. He tears his clothes and mourns that his daughter will now be sacrificed. He sent her away for two months to travel about with friends. Her final fate is not entirely certain. Textual critics believe that she was pledged to God’s service rather than actually killed. The reason they believe this is the emphasis on her virginity. Jephthah sacrificed a lasting legacy. Since there are other places in the Old Testament with a strong opposition to human sacrifice, I tend to believe this version of  the story, although I could write it either way and make it believable.

In later years, Jephthah turned on Israel. The tribe of Ephraim is insulted because he didn’t take them to fight the Ammonites, but Jephthah responded that he had called on them, but they didn’t show up. Jephthah and his men fight Ephraim, capture the land, and play a game of Bible Password. 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.

I love flawed characters. They are so much more fun than perfect characters. I also like stories where God overcomes the flaws of people.  To me, Jephthah is an example of how God uses flawed people to accomplish His purposes and then gives him credit centuries later, even though he remained imperfect.

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Posted February 27, 2017 by aurorawatcherak in Blog Hop

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4 responses to “The Greatest Story Ever Told

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  1. Wow, thank you for the story of Jephthah, I’ve never heard of him before.

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    • I know. He’s in the Hebrews Roll Call of Faith and yet almost nobody seems to have looked him up. I must have read that passage 20-30 times and never did until I was teaching a Sunday School class to Straight A teenagers and didn’t want to be unprepared. What a great character, right?

      Like

  2. It is a pretty fantastic source for stories.

    Like

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