Hidden within Israel’s annuls is a reference to an ostracized man called to lead the struggling nation through some of its darkest days. The son of a prostitute and a carousing father who was driven away by angry half-brothers intolerant of his existence, “Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob . . .” (Judges 11:3). That is why what happened next was so remarkable, for some time after Jephthah fled, the elders of Israel hunted him down and extended to him an invitation. “Come be our leader,” they asked, “that we may fight the Ammonites” (11:6).
Jephthah—their leader? But weren’t these elders associated with the very half-brothers who drove Jephthah away? In a land where depravity was rampant and everyone did as he pleased in his own eyes, Jephthah’s circumstances would appear routine. And yet they did drive him away. Now they want him back—Jephthah, the son of a prostitute?
Jephthah’s response reveals his surprise: “Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” Oh . . . now you need a tough guy who hangs out with worthless, brooding rabble-rousers to come and save your necks from the enemy. How convenient! Nonetheless, he ultimately agrees to go and lead the nation. Jephthah’s feats are legendary. God’s Spirit gave him everything needful to attain victory, and through his leadership Israel became free—for a season—from the heavy hand of foreign influence.
Which leads to an interesting question. Can God use an outcast and make him outstanding? Could God use you?
Before you answer consider a couple of important thoughts. First, your environment and experience is no excuse for spiritual shallowness or ineffectiveness. Few could hardly compete with Jephthah in the victimization department. And yet it evidently did not keep him from being useful in the hands of the Almighty. Note Jephthah’s commitment in Judges 11:11: “Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD. . . .” Jephthah made a choice to let the Lord be the object of his devotion.
Secondly, your environment and experience can be useful assets for the Lord’s work. The fact was that Jephthah lived a rather rough life and had rough experiences that prepared him to be battle-ready and to confront chaos. Indeed, a rabble-rousing chieftain may have been the perfect person to drive the Ammonites away from Israel’s land. The leaders of Israel said in verse 8, “That is why we have turned to you.”
Could God use you? If you are hesitant to represent the Lord in your realm of influence because you see your past as less than honorable or glorious, look no further than Jephthah—and the God who takes outcasts and makes them outstanding.