In the lists of people’s ‘favourite stories of the bible’, the story of Jephthah is not likely to be one of them. And with good reason – it is a story of human brokenness from start to finish. Broken families, broken promises; and with tragic irony the one thing that apparently can’t be broken is Jephthah’s hubristic promise to sacrifice the first human or animal who appears from the door of his house after his victory.
But hidden in the midst of this most starkly human of stories is a story of grace. And one very simple encouragement: God’s Spirit is a gift. We don’t deserve it; we can’t earn it. He simply, freely and gladly gives it to us. It is all the grace of God.
Why did God choose Jephthah? On the face of it, there is no good reason. His upbringing was traumatic. His current lifestyle – a violent gang leader – was repulsive. There is barely a less deserving character…. and yet God restores him and anoints him with the Spirit.
No-one is beyond the rescue of God. No-one is outside the reach of the kingdom of grace. But there is a warning here, too. The fact that the Spirit is a gift means that it cannot be bought, or earned, or bargained for. The tragedy of Jephthah’s story is that, having received this extraordinary gift of grace he then tries to bargain for God’s favour by making a daft, and ultimately gruesome, promise.
The point is, he didn’t need to. He already had God’s Spirit. He already had His forgiveness, His favour. And we too must never assume that the path to greater spiritual wholeness is to bargain with God. ‘If you do this… then I’ll do that…’ Rather, we live in a new reality. We are God’s beloved children, nourished by a Father who gives us all things. Jephthah never grasped his new identity as God’s beloved child, and the tragedy is that this needlessly cost him his own beloved child.
So how do we grow? We learn to become what we already are. We fix our eyes on grasping and internalising what God has already given us, that we are new creations, that – in Christ and through the indwelling Spirit – we already have all that we need. This wells up to become a spring of gratitude inside us, and fosters a surrendered heart, in other words a strong determination to keep offering all that we are to God, because it’s His anyway.
Wherever you find yourself today – whether facing Jephthah-sized challenges or not – take a moment to dwell on who you are. You are God’s beloved child. His grace to you is all gift. And let the gratitude of your heart be your offering.