THE STORY SO FAR…
Series 24 takes us from the nothingness of Tola and Jair to Jephthah’s well-rounded but emotionally charged leadership. It is an eye opener on the critical leadership skill of negotiation, ultimate leadership qualities of knowledge, understanding, discretion and integrity, and the most important attitudes needed for effective leadership – humility, focus, perseverance, determination, commitment, and a healthy disrespect for negative perspectives. It also delivers a warning on the need to manage emotions in the high tensions of leadership roles.
Gilead was aware of his own importance but not much more. A great grandson of the patriarch Joseph through his son Manasseh and direct descendant of Manasseh’s only son Makir, the blessing of wealth pronounced on his grandfather Joseph had easily settled on every one of the family lines. The grandfather originally called Gilead had built cities spreading across the mountainous region east of the Jordan River and all around the Jordan river. Though the tribes of Reuben and Gad shared territory with the half tribe of Manasseh, the sheer fertility of the broad areas around the Jordan river made Gileadites wealthy with the least effort. Everything Gileadites touched turned to gold. Of course, not discounting that upon the patriarch Joseph had been pronounced wealth without measure by their father Israel.
Gilead’s social influence had spread like the mountainous territory and ancestor he was named after. It had been easy for Gilead to acquire wealth. But wealth was all that Gilead had. He did not know how to use it for anything else beyond acquiring things and people for his household
Jephthah was not surprised by the action taken by his brothers to drive him away from sharing the inheritance of cities that being their father’s sons brought. They were so greedy that nothing was enough for them. What surprised him was their father’s silence despite the brutish manner they had treated him and his mother. He thought his father loved his mother. After all, he spent most nights in the household his mother had put together after she became Gilead’s ‘harlot’. She was not good enough for him to marry, but she was good enough to listen to him and welcome him night after night. With the total lack of support from his father, Jephthah was sensible enough to know that this was a fight he could not win. In order not to jeopardize his mother’s comfort and security, he left the city.
Kicked out of the ‘gentry’ he had grown up in, Jephthah considered his best chances for life. He loved people. He felt the pain of his own illegitimate birth and always thought of how he could protect the marginalized. This passion led to his devising a career that could be fulfilled without jeopardizing his father’s name and the possibility of the inheritance he hoped he could recover. He became a public protector from the land of Tob, where he had settled. Fighting the Ammonites who plagued the country-side and recovering the loot they picked off unprotected Israelites became his full time career. He learnt to mobilize and train even the most raggedy of youth. He learnt to listen to their stories, identify their strengths and weaknesses, and place them in the best suited roles in what he privately called ‘his battle teams’.
Gilead carried the burden of being a showcase of this heritage of power and wealth, and the benefit of it. His very name meant ‘heap of testimony’, and gave validity to the firm teaching in Israel that it is the blessing of the Lord that makes rich. What was problematic was that Israel expected the people of Gilead to manifest leadership responsibility along with the blessings of wealth and position. As Israel labored under instability for long stretches of time after seasons of prosperity under Judges, it became increasingly clear that a clear succession line for leadership needed to be established. Yet no particular tribe or family line stood out for this most intricate of tasks. The people needed leadership. Who would give it?
With the success of his raids grew the respect he so craved from all the Israelite communities. Jephthah taught his followers that trust was key to respect. He had learnt that from the precarious environment of living with servants who saw his mother first as a harlot, before the mistress she was to them. He taught the roughest of his band not to touch the property of any innocent person. That would make them thieves. He learnt to communicate clearly with the roughest hue. With the integrity Jephthah came to be associated with, it was not surprising to him when the elders of Israel turned up at his tent door one evening. ‘Come and take over the reins of your kinsman Jair. Lead us to fight the Ammonite raiders’. His opportunity had come. They had bypassed all the sons of his father and recognized his capabilities. He knew what he wanted. ‘Give me an inheritance among the tribes. I am a son of a scion, not a bandit’. With shifting eyes, they agreed. After all, they needed him more than he needed them. They would convince his father, because they knew he was worthier that all the other strutters Gilead called his sons.
Though eyes often turned to Joseph’s people for direction because of their known wealth and stretch of territory, Ephraimites had become known more for complaining and refusing to fight when they were called on to do so, than any other attribute. Was there no balm in Gilead too, as the direct descendants of Manasseh?
Everyone had thought that his cousin Jair would be a good judge because he came from Gilead. He wasn’t. Israel just grew more corrupt in the time that he led it. Now Jair was dead, and Gilead felt the pressure of the illustrious name he carried. Trouble was, he had no inclination or capacity to undertake the intellectual focus needed to study and understand the law enough to be an effective Judge of the people. Neither was he prepared to invest time in the incisive strategic thinking needed to make battle plans to stop encroaching enemies. And he definitely did not have the empathetic abilities needed to mobilize the many tribes of Israel. Most of all, with his personal needs satisfied, Gilead felt no motivation to indulge in the sacrificial giving of self required from those who listened to and solved social issues. This was the same way his sons from his wife felt about the troubles that surrounded their cocoons of luxury. All they had expertise in was guarding their various inheritances. They had thrown out his son with the harlot because of the strength of character Jephthah could not help showing. And Gilead had not had the ability to stop the cruel acts. So there was no balm from Gilead.
Now Gilead’s troubles were getting compounded. Rumors about Jephthah’s stellar rise to political power in the Israel country-side were awash in the cities. With no material resources and no backing from his family name, Jephthah had become the focal point of strength for the weak and strong in Israel. Leadership was showing up where material and every other kind of resource did not exist
Jephthah sighed with relief the night of his official installation as Judge of Israel. He prayed earnestly and committed himself wholeheartedly to God at Mizpeh. He had found the key to stardom. A healthy disregard for unfavorable circumstances and people who imagined that circumstances made the man. They did not. Men created their own circumstances. It took an appreciation that one needed others and so the art of collaboration was another key to winning in life.
Jephthah had also grown to realize that circumstances were never static. They could change. And with each change, it required a set of skills, values and attitudes to create gold out of challenges. A focus on material resources reversed the equation. Intangibles were needed to create the tangible. Not vice versa. A key that had surprised him was knowledge. This key opened the door to understanding, which opened the door to more acceptance and power. The old men had told him that, to successfully lead Israel, he had to know the lawand worship God. So he had set his face to study the law of Moses and the history of his people. How invaluable that knowledge had proved in his confrontations with the king of Ammon. His clear mastery of the history between his people and those previously controlling the promised land has so boosted the morale of his men, that defeating the Ammonites was easy. From thereon, his thirst for knowledge became insatiable. Knowledge increased his ability to negotiate excellent deals with each group he had to contend with. Jephthah smiled all the way to stardom, while his father frowned into obscurity.
What made Jephthah politically successful in poverty, when his father Gilead and his legitimate sons seemed incapable of garnering an interest in utilizing their wealth beyond themselves? What was it about prosperity that seemed to get in the way of Gilead or his household’s ability to muster courage to lead others to safety? What made Jephthah different, when he lived in the fire of adversity? The right mix of qualities that made one man more fit than the other to lead himself and others to excellence was definitely hard to get. It didn’t come from luxury or an ancient line of wealthy people. It came from much more, and Gilead had to accept this as he looked at the bumbling array of sons he had every evening.
At the height of his glory, Jephthah had become utterly traumatized. The walk of sacrifice he had developed with God, the integrity he brought to every word he uttered seemed to have trapped his soul in the biggest test of his life. He had made this pledge to God on his way to battle ‘If you bring me back safely, I will sacrifice whatever comes out of my house when I return.’
When he reached home, his only daughter was the ‘who’ that came out first. He was inconsolable. She was inconsolable. His wife was inconsolable. How do you sacrifice a girl, an only child, as a burnt offering? His wife was adamant that since his word was to sacrifice ‘whatever’, it did not include ‘whoever’. But Jephthah’s utter attachment to his word could not let him resile from the pledge. How do you not honor your pledge to God? A compromise was reached. His only daughter would remain a virgin forever. Dedicated to God all the days of her life. As she roamed the hills with her virgin companions singing dirges and the feast of lamenting virgins became established in her honor, Jephthah’s life ended quietly in his breast. He knew that he could never quite reconcile all the pieces of ‘honor’ that he had strung together on the road of leadership. The cost of the high standards he lived with, and his emotional attachment to his function as leader, had proved too high for him. He had even managed to fight and kill his tribal brother Ephraimites who would not join him in his task of delivering Israel. Jephthah was dead within 6 years of his high office.
Gilead stood at the graveside of his son with the harlot. Jephthah’s mother was on his right. His daughter was on his left. Even the wind was quiet and respectful