We come next to that which shows the failure of Jephthah, which opens up a very interesting question. It is in the eleventh chapter and thirty-fourth verse of Judges. Jephthah had made a vow that if the Lord should give the children of Ammon into his hand, whatever came out of his house he would offer it for a burnt offering to the Lord. It should be the Lord's. I do not propose to go very fully into what I know is an exceedingly interesting question in the abstract. That is what Jephthah did with his daughter. I must confess, that with all I have read on the subject, I have never been able to disabuse my mind of the fact that Jephthah did what every simple soul who reads the passage believes he did. I have never been quite able, though I would be glad to do so, to think that the stern, self-righteous, self-opinionated man - and, dear friends, there is no tyranny like the tyranny of a self righteous conscience, there is no suffering like the suffering inflicted upon oneself under the goadings of a legal conscience - that a man of Jephthah's makeup, who a little later on could take the fords of Jordan, and with a good conscience cut the throats of forty-two thousand of his fellow Israelites, was a man too tender-hearted to do, just what he said he would do, to his daughter, offer her up as a burnt offering to the Lord. I will mention what is frequently taken as the explanation of it, that he dedicated his daughter to perpetual verginity.
But, as I say, I confess that whatever others may think, it seems to me that Jephthah's whole character was such that he was perfectly capable of carrying out such a vow. People say he knew the Scriptures too well. Well, he knew about Abraham. How a distorted conscience might very easily make a wrong use of God's commandment to Abraham, might forget that God arrested Abraham's hand, so that he did not do what He told him to do. A morbid, self-righteous conscience, and one who had all the time felt the galling character of his brethren's scorn of him; one who was self-occupied, and self-centered to a good degree personally, was not above having a wrong conception of such a thing as this.
And how sad it is when we think that those who sometimes are most faithful in overthrowing heresy, often fail to discriminate between the overthrow of the real heretic, and the destruction of that which is nearest and dearest. It is a mater of history, and a matter of experience, that unflinching firmness with the enemy, oftentimes is followed by equally unflinching firmness in the same degree with our brethren. Is it not true, beloved, that Jephthah's offering up the daughter of his bosom is followed by his slaughter of his brethren? Is it not true that the man, apparently, reduced everything to a dead level? He had his sword drawn, and as he had slain the Ammonites, he would slay his daughter, if he promised God to do it. As he had slain his daughter, he would take the fords of Jordan and slay the Ephraimites. Were they no arraying themselves against the truth of God in a certain sense? And so you will find this sternness and harshness of the man carried him beyond mere faithfulness to God on to the work of destruction of his own brethren. Ah, brethren, need I interpret that for us? Need I speak of that spirit which , alas, we have seen so much of, which makes no discrimination; which, as the epistle of Jude says, does not make a difference of some, saving them with fear? Have we not seen something of treating foe and friend alike? Have we not seen too much of that, of treating the people of God just exactly as we would treat the enemies of God?
Now, it seems to me, that there is just where Jephthah's failure comes in. It is a hard and fast use of Scripture, if I may so apply it, which makes no discrimination at all. Here is one who loves Christ, whose heart is filled with love to Him, one who desires to please Him. Am I to treat such a one in the same way that I would a teacher of blasphemy, one who brings in all kinds of false doctrine as to the Person of the Lord? Are Ammonite and Ephraimite to be the same, and is the same judgement to be meted out to both? Surely not, brethren. I am to remember that the Ephraimite,- even if he is self conceited, even if he does as he does here, taunt the Gileadites with being fugitives from Ephraim, and jealously complain that Gilead has won a victory that by rights belonged to Ephraim, is a fellow Israelite, and a brother.
I can deal with Ephraim, as I surely should, but it is quite another thing for me to take the fords of Jordan, and compel every one that goes through those fords to say just thus and so. To compel him to say shibboleth, and if he cannot say it quite, to cut him off. Shibboleth is the flood, you know, that which divides.
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