The Story of Jephthah
The Old Testament tells the story of Jephthah, a military leader and judge whose Scriptural illiteracy lead to a disastrous outcome.
The story of Jephthah demonstrates the importance of understanding the nature of God something that has not changed since, says Jon* of the Program for Theological Education by Extension (PTEE).
In that time, the Israelites fighting the Ammonites and Jephthah was appointed as leader. After this appointment he made a vow, Jon says.
“If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering”(Judges 11:30-31 New International Version).
Jephthah was met with great success and returned home. However, it was his daughter and only child who walked out of the house. The two both agree that regardless the vow must be fulfilled and the daughter is sacrificed. Though some scholars interpret this verse as the daughter being set to a life of celibacy and solitude.
Jephthah and Scriptural Illiteracy
“That story, it gives us pause as believers when we read it because it just does not feel like the right thing has been done. But the story doesn’t really say ‘did you do the right thing did he do the wrong thing?’ The narrator is quite silent and I think that’s on purpose. I think that the storyteller, the person who wrote the book of Judges, is inviting us to test our Bible knowledge to see whether Jephthah did the right thing or not,” says Jon.
In fact, Leviticus Chapter Five warns against making rash vows. There is even a way to atone for such a rash vow via an animal offering.
“I suppose, he did not know the Torah. And then the second part is why would he think it’s okay that God would enjoy and be pleased with a child sacrifice,” Jon says.
Jon points to the culture of Jephthah’s time, where his enemies, the Ammonites, practiced child sacrifice.
“It looks as though Jephthah in Gilead had been polluted and influenced by the majority culture around him. That for some reason, he thought that his God, our God, the God of Israel would be pleased with something that a pagan god accepts,” Jon says.
This tragic event could have been prevented by an understanding of God and provides an example for believers to avoid repeating.
“We need to know our Bibles, not just our favorite passages of Scripture, but the whole thing because all of it is God’s word.”
Pursuing Bible Literacy Among Arab Christians
PTEE has dedicated itself to improving Bible literacy among Arab Christians to help form that understanding. The organization is run locally by Arab Christians who are uniquely equipped to face the challenges of Middle Eastern believers. Learn more about PTEE’s work here.
Not only do believers face persecution in some countries, but countries like Jordan are shedding believers. Many Christians have left the region leaving the local church to weaken to secularization or the dominant worldview of the region.
“The churches are either A becoming less active or closing, unfortunately. Or B, they are retreating and almost forming, there’s a tendency or a temptation just to form Christian fortifications or strongholds,
Christian Bubbles where the church can survive,” Jon says.
Here, like in history and other places around the world, Biblical literacy is a major need.
How to Pray
“Pray that God would continue to light fires of renewal in this in this place where his name was once absolutely above all.”
*Name changed for security