The Elders, Force, and Bad Decisions
“And it came to pass in several days time that the Sons of Ammon fought with Israel. And as the Sons of Ammon fought with Israel, the Elders of Gilead went to take Jephthah from the land of Tob.”
And thus, the thing predicted took place: The Ammonites wage war in Gilead and the leaders of Gilead send for Jephthah. I find it interesting, typically in conversations with those outside of the Reformed movement, how often people think of the office of Elder as a New Testament construct. Yet, that could not be any further from the truth. Here we see one of many examples where the Elders of the community are making decisions that will affect the welfare of all within. Even Moses was instructed to address the Elders of Israel (Exodus 3:16). In fact, if you happen to read the Greek translation of Exodus 3:16 found in the ancient Septuagint, you will discover that Moses is instructed to speak to “the Council of the Sons of Israel.” The simple principle that we must always keep in the forefront of our minds is that the church considered themselves not to be something entirely new, but to be the continuation of the work God had begun in the Garden of Eden. Thus, they chose titles and offices familiar to the Jewish people. The Christians were the continuing Jewish church amongst a Jewish nation that had apostatized in their rejection of Jesus.
Interestingly, the term that is used to refer to the way that the Elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from Tob implies that they used force to bring him to Gilead. Most commonly, לקח (laqach) means to grasp or seize something or to take by force. These leaders were not taking a casual stroll in the country. They sought a great warrior to deliver them and Jephthah was the man they chose; he was going to deliver them one way or another. And so, they took him from the land of Tob to bring him to Gilead.
One of the themes that is found regularly in the Bible is the theme of waiting on the Lord. True, the idea can sometimes be a hard one because, how does one know for sure that the Lord has opened a door for you in this direction or in that direction. At the same time, it is easy to see examples of the catastrophes that ensue when one does not wait upon the Lord’s timing. Here is one of those examples. Rather wait for the Lord to relent at the repentance of his people, the people seek out a leader after their own image — Jephthah the son of a prostitute who grew up in a pagan land with pagan friends who had no good character. Folks, it shouldn’t take too much to figure out that very little good is going to come from this arrangement. It never does.