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Outsider Status: Jephthah

In her essay “When I Was a Child,” Marilynne Robinson explores the role of the “outsider” in American literature. “In [Walt] Whitman the outsider is the visionary. In Thoreau he is the critic. In the . . . tradition of Western myth he is a rescuer and avenger.” In the book of Judges, the outsider has an important role to play: the role of deliverer.

Notice the outsider qualities of the men and women cited so far in God’s story of rescue in Judges. (Othniel, the first deliverer mentioned in chapter 3, is the exception to this rule.) Ehud was left-handed. Shamgar was a Gentile. Deborah, Jael, and Abimelek’s assassin were women. Gideon was the weakest member of his family, and his family was the weakest clan of Israel. And finally, we arrive at Jephthah, son of a prostitute and outcast of Gilead.

In Judges, God delights to use the most unexpected people to deliver Israel. In His wisdom, He uses the hand of the weak, not the strong; the hand of the powerless, not the powerful; the hand of the outsider, not the insider. Divine “foolishness” is greater than human wisdom, divine “weakness” greater than human strength.

In our introduction to Jephthah, we immediately notice similarities to the scoundrel Abimelek. Jephthah’s pedigree, as the son of a prostitute, is less than savory (v. 1). And, as if to confirm his outsider status, he has banded with a group of good-for- nothings (v. 3). But Jephthah did not vie for power; he negotiated for the more influential position of “head” rather than “commander,” rather than consolidating his rule by murdering his rivals (v. 9). And unlike Abimelek, who never expressed allegiance to the God of Israel, Jephthah sought to make the Lord a witness to his commissioning
(v. 11).

Apply the Word

Perhaps you’ve been estranged from your family, relocated to new place, or marginalized by dominant cultural values. Take heart from the story of Jephthah! God doesn’t require a royal pedigree or fame or fortune! Ask the Lord how you can serve Him where you are with the abilities He has given you, and trust in His strength to work through you.

BY Jennifer Michel

Jen Pollock Michel is a regular contributor to Christianity Today’s Her.meneutics blog. Her first book, Teach us to Want: Longing, Ambition and the Life of Faith, is published by InterVarsity Press. Jen earned her BA in French from Wheaton College and her MA in Literature from Northwestern University. She lives in Toronto, Canada, with her husband and five children, and serves on staff at Grace Toronto Church.

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