Picture of Pastor Gettys

Sermon delivered May 17, 2008 by Pastor Don Gettys

McDonald Road Seventh-day Adventist Church

McDonald, Tennessee

Biblical quotations are from the New International Version NIV unless otherwise noted. Divine pronouns and titles are capitalized.

The Mizpah Maiden

Matthew 18:1-5

(RealAudio Version available)

I would like to speak with you this morning about the Mizpah maiden. What is the Mizpah? Well, you can find it here in the Bible. Come over here to Genesis in your Bible. Do you have your Bible? If you do take your arm, you’re armed, use this. Genesis, chapter 31 and verse 49, okay? Genesis 31, verse 49, says, “May the Lord watch between me and thee while we are absent, one from another.” That's the Mizpah. It’s beautiful, isn’t it? It's a blessing that is given when you're saying goodbye, when you're leaving someone. You say, “May the Lord bless you and watch between you and me while we’re absent one from another.” That's a beautiful thing, and Mizpah means ‘watchtower’. It's a very nice way to say goodbye as Christians. It's a very nice way to bless somebody that's been a blessing to you.

Mizpah actually was a tiny town located, not in Luxembourg as you might think of tiny things, but in Palestine, east of the Jordan River a few miles, and Jephthah lived there and he and his daughter are the subject of our sermon today. And he was, Jephthah was at one time about like Jesse James. He was an outlaw. He was a bandit. He was probably the oldest son of Gilead. Gilead was also a person and not just a place. He had a good dad, but his mother was bad. He had a bad mother. His mother was a prostitute. His brothers eventually drove their half-brother out because they did not want him to receive any of the inheritance. You know money often times divides families, and so they drove him away and he fled to the land of Tob and lived in Tob. He lived as the chief, the commander, the senior commander of a band of others who were outcasts. They were adventurers. He probably raided caravans or in a mafia style, he extracted protection money from passing caravans as they came through his godforsaken country. He was an outlaw. He was a dictator. He was a strong man and he and his vile gang of cronies were notorious for their warfare and their strength.

In the meantime, the Israelites were living nearby. They lived in the promised land, and Jephthah had to live way over in the land of Tob, way over on the other side of the Jordan River, because he was kicked out of his own country. And the Israelites began to worship idols. They began to bow down to Baal. They began to turn their back on God. They rejected God, and so God left them. You know, if you choose to leave God, God allows you to leave, and they were invaded by the ruthless Ammonites. These Ammonites came in. They eventually took over. They were strong, and they made God’s people just about like slaves. They had been slaves in Egypt, and now they were slaves again, and it finally dawned on their intelligence that maybe the reason was that they had rejected God, and you know that's a stroke of wisdom, when you can come to that conclusion.

When you leave God, when you don't attend church, when you don't read your Bible, when you don't have time to pray, and then bad things start happening to you and it dawns on you, “Maybe I haven't been what I ought to be.” That's a stroke of intelligence. And they finally got that. They woke up. They repented and they gave up their idol worship, the Bible says, and they returned to God, and God returned to them. God will always do that. You know, you can be way out there in the boonies, you can flee the Lord, but when you come back, He will always open His arms and receive you. That's the type of a God we serve.

And God provided an unlikely savior to save them from the Ammonites. Jephthah. Now Jephthah had never been considered a part of his pious family. They were holy. They lived in Israel, and he lived way out in Tob. He was illicit. So, like Jesus, he was despised and rejected, Isaiah 53, verse three. Rejected, that is, by his family, until his clean-cut, sophisticated family got into a little bit of trouble. And then in their pain they suddenly remembered Jephthah. It's interesting how your family does that. When you win the lottery, all your relatives crawl out of the woodwork and they all come and say, “Oh, you know, I've been missing you, I really love you,” and that's how they came up to Jephthah. They suddenly poured on the love. Did you ever have a family that treats you like that? It's funny how your estranged, legalistic family suddenly can find the love when you have something that they desperately need.

So look now at the beginning of this story. It’s found in Judges, chapter 11. Judges, chapter 11 verse five. You know, there were elders in the Old Testament. I’m an elder. I’m called elder Don Gettys, and there were elders in the Old Testament and the New Testament. It's a Biblical term that we call ourselves. Judges, chapter 11, verse five. “The elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob.” They remembered where he lived. They had forgotten him all these years, but now they remembered him, and one day, you could just picture this group. This timid little delegation of thin, emaciated elders, pious with their lily white hands coming to find Jephthah in the land of Tob. They fearfully showed up near his hideout to ask their estranged, illegitimate brother, quote- end-quote, for help, and he was surrounded by his big buddies, you know, these desert rats. They were all out there. He had a well armed band of big, bad, burly outlaws standing there around the cave or wherever they lived. They smelled bad. They looked bad. They were bad. They were mean.

And look at what happened in verse six. Judges 11, verse six. “’Come,’ they said. ‘Be our commander. Be our senior commander, so we can fight the Ammonites.’” Verse seven. “Japheth said to them, ‘Didn't you hate me? Aren’t you the ones that used to hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why do you come to me now when you're in trouble?’” That's a good question, a lot of logic to that type of rationale and the upshot of all this was that they actually made this strong bandit their chief. In fact, they made him their judge. So that's how Rambo-like Jephthah became one of the judges in our Bible. An outlaw judge.

Now let's pick up the story at the point where he and his band of thugs have moved to Mizpah apparently, and are now ready to go out, and they're ready to do serious battle with these heathens, the Ammonites, who oppress God’s people. Let's pick it up now in verse 29. There's a lot of correspondence and letter writing that goes on here, but look at verse 29. “Then the” what? “The spirit of” who? “Of the Lord came upon” who? You can’t pronounce it either, can you? Nobody said Jephthah. When the Holy Spirit comes upon a yielded vessel miraculous things can happen. And that's what happened. The Holy Spirit fell upon Jephthah.

But, does the presence of the Holy Spirit in your life make you perfect? Yes or no? Well, does it? Look at what happened to him. Jephthah was far from infallible, I will tell you that. His spirituality was languishing. The very next verse sees him make a stupid vow, if I could reverently use the word ‘stupid’. He tried to, he tried to bargain for God's blessing, jeopardizing his whole family in the process. Look at Judges 11, verse 30. It says Jephthah made a what? He made a vow. To who? To the Lord. “He said, ‘If you give the Ammonites into my hands,’” verse 31, “‘whatever comes out the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord's. And I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.’” Is that a wise vow? He probably pictured a goat coming out the door or a sheep or a turkey or something. I don’t know what all lived in there. That's probably what he figured would come out, and those types of animals lived in the house.

So he went off to fight, which was nothing new for him. He enjoyed fighting. He was a good fighter. He was strong, and the Holy Spirit was with him and God delivered His people. He delivered the Israelites from the Ammonites through Jephthah and his band of armed men. The leadership of Jephthah proved victorious and with the power of God he devastated 20 Ammonite towns. Destroyed them. And as Zerubabel was told in Zechariah chapter 4 and verse 6, “It is not by might nor by power, but by” what? “By my Spirit saith the” what? “Sayeth the Lord.” That's what it is. Not by might. Not by power. It happens by the Holy Spirit. Jephthah had been empowered by the Holy Spirit, but there was trouble.

When he got back home, notice what happened. Verse 34. ”Then when Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah.” Apparently they had moved into a house in that town because it speaks about the house. Who should come out to meet him, but his daughter dancing to the sound of tambourines. You know what a tambourine is, and she was an only child. Now here's his only child, a daughter, not a son. If your only children are daughters, that's good. Daughters are great, and here his only daughter came out, dancing to the sound of the tambourines. “Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.” Verse 35. “And when he saw her he tore his clothes and cried, ‘Oh, my daughter. You, you have made me miserable.’” What? He's blaming it on her? “’You have made me miserable and wretched because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.’” Verse 36. “’My father,’ she replied, ‘you have given your word to the Lord. Do unto me as you promised. Now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies the Ammonites, but grant me this one request,’” she says. “’I just have one request. Give me two months, two months, to roam the hills and weep with my friends because I will never marry. I'll never be married.’” Verse 38. “’You may go,’ he said,” and he let her go for two months and she and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry and after two months she returned to her father. And what did he do? He did to her as he had vowed, and she was a virgin.

Now let's change our focus away from Jephthah a minute and look at the Mizpah maiden, as we will call her, because this little maiden lived in Mizpah. We don't know her name. She was probably a young girl, maybe about the age of Katie. I don't know. Might have been a teenager, and his foolish vow threw her into a dark nightmare. This youngster now had to be subjected to this terrible vow that her father had made, and he didn't even have to make a vow like that. Did he have to make a vow like that? No, not at all. Judge Jephthah certainly lived up to his name. You know what his name means? ‘He openeth his mouth’. Well, he opened it and stuck his foot in it, or his daughters foot, or something. Usually wisdom came from, and good judgment came from his mouth, but not this time. This time the opposite happened. He opened his mouth rashly and evidently he must have opened his heart to the Lord, but did he have to sacrifice his daughter? This is a question that we just have to wrestle with, or did his vow mean that she would never marry, maybe. What happened here, really? Or perhaps she spent the rest of her life, maybe, in temple service. Never having children.

Let's discuss the vow first. What about making a vow? Do you want to make a vow? Are vows a good thing? Well, at your marriage it is. You vow, you promise to, I'm going to love you in sickness and in health, and so forth. In riches or in wealth or however it is.

You know what he's doing here, he’s bargaining with God, and that's wrong. He's saying, “If you will help me beat up the Ammonites, I'll give you whatever comes out the door first.” If you'll do this, then I'll do this. And we do that. We say, “Lord, if you'll help, if you'll rid my body of this disease, I'll pay tithe.” Well you ought to pay tithe in the first place. We say, “Lord, if you'll help me to pay my bills, I'll actually read my Bible every day.” You ought to be reading your Bible every day anyway. Don't bargain with the Lord, right? That's not what we’re supposed to do. Actually, I think Job had it right. Job said in Job 13, verse 15, “Though He slay me, yet well, I trust in Him.” I’m going to be faithful, regardless of what. It doesn't matter. If I do this then you’ve got to do this. Don't bargain with the Lord. Don't base your offer of worship to God on some blessing that you expect God to give you. Don't bargain with God. God's services are not for sale. Just be faithful all the time. Be faithful all the time and be slow in making a vow. A vow will put you into a quandary. You have to perform that vow. In a spiritual vow like a wedding that might be necessary. Look at Deuteronomy, chapter 23, verse 22. God does not cause us to have to make vows. He says in Deuteronomy 23:22. “But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty.” So don't make these rash vows, but if you do make a vow, then keep your vow.

Now the New Testament mentions Jephthah over here in Hebrews. Come over here to Hebrews, chapter 11 in your Bible, and it mentions that he will be saved. According to Hebrews 11. Let's begin now with verse 32. “And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and” who? “Jephthah. David, Samuel, and the prophets who through faith conquered kingdoms, administered justice, and gained what was promised.” That's beautiful. Here he is listed on the golden roll of all those people that had true faith. Now ponder these two verses that we just read. There’s something neat tucked into these two verses that maybe you've thought about and maybe you haven't. It strikes me deeply that in the Old Testament, back here, all the heroes of the Old Testament are mentioned, and it mentions both their bad points and their good points. It just lays it out like it is. The Old Testament is not slow to mention their faults, but here in Hebrews, chapter 11, in this official record, only the good points are mentioned. You don't see any bad points in Hebrews 11 about these people. Only the good in their life is brought up. They were all vessels of clay. They all made mistakes, but in God's sight their flaws are all gone. That’s God’s grace. Amen? That's how God views your life, whether your name is Shannon or Sally or Steve or Don, that's what God thinks of you. God views you, when your sins are forgiven your life is as though you had never sinned. Only the good is there. Only the good. It's as if the only thing that happened was good. All the bad is gone. It’s gone forever. God considers that you are one of His heroes. Isn't that neat? Something neat in those verses.

Okay, let's get back to Jephthah. Did he sacrifice his daughter? Well, I think not. I don't think so. Let me read you something from the Clear Word Bible. Verse 39. “At the end of two months Jephthah gave her to the Lord. And she served Him as a virgin for the rest of her life.” Verse 40. “This started the custom among the virgins of Israel to meet together once a year for four days to commemorate the dedication, the willingness of the beautiful daughter of Jephthah to stay unmarried, in order to serve the Lord.” And I read in God's Word translation. It says that she never had a husband. That's what it simply means. He didn't kill his daughter. How could he be listed as a hero here and he killed his daughter back here? Human sacrifice is condemned in the Bible. That's what the heathens did. I think she asked for time to bewail her virginity, not to bewail the end of her life. If she believed that she was going to die, she wouldn’t have wanted to spend her last two months with her girlfriends because who did she love? She loved her daddy. She would have wanted to spend the time with her family.

And let me say something about a foolish vow. Every vow that you make, that is in accordance with God's will, you ought to keep. But I kind of wonder, you should break a vow that is contrary to God's will, shouldn't you? Shouldn't God come first? You must always keep a vow that is in accordance with His will. When parents, we have a lot of parents that come up here on the platform. Have you been up here? Yes, you brought your children up here to dedicate them to the Lord, and when you dedicate your children to the Lord, you are basically vowing, you are promising to the Lord that you will bring your children to Sabbath School. You will bring your children to church. You will have family worship with your children. You're going to do your best to help that child to be in the kingdom of God. That's what you're basically doing. A baby dedication is not the dedication of the baby, but your dedication. You're dedicating yourself to bring that child up properly, and you need to keep that vow. You can't break that vow without a dreaded consequence. You need to quickly keep that.

The real heart of the story here is the Mizpah maiden. The life of this young, sweet girl. She was an example of what every one of the children of today can be. She loved her daddy. She saw her daddy coming, and she had everything ready. She called all of her loved ones and her girlfriends and said, “Okay, let’s get the music, let’s go,” and out they went to greet her daddy. She loved her daddy. There would be a party to celebrate the wonderful victory, and so she was the first one out the door. Why? Because she loved him the most. She ran up to her daddy, and he told her about the vow, and she said, “It's okay.” She smiled, I imagine and said, “I can do that. I love you. I'll do it.” She loved God. She was willing to give up her chance to be a wife. Her chance to be a mother, for God. That's dedication. That is sweet dedication. There was no hesitation. I don't see any hesitation here on her part. She willingly yielded herself to God's will. She magnified the fifth commandment which says honor your mother and honor your father. She held back nothing.

One of the things that a young maiden looks forward to the most is getting married. You know, back in my day we used to have a card game called Old Maid. Had you ever heard of Old Maid? Probably none of, a few of the old timers, and we always hoped that we would not be the old maid. Never wanted to be an old maid. Well, that was important in those days, and she may have even been engaged to be married. These friends maybe expected that now since her father had become great they would dance for joy at her wedding.

She spent two months weeping and roaming the hills with her girlfriends and I want to talk about those girlfriends. You know, she chose correct friends. How do we know that? Because they did not try to talk her out of her vow, of keeping her daddy’s vow. You know, peer pressure is something. You want to choose friends that won't try to talk you out of doing something noble that you want. She said, “I will give my life to be a servant in the temple of God.” You want to choose friends that won't talk you out of that. You kids be careful what friends you choose. When you go to that high school, when you go to that elementary school, you choose good friends.

Ten teenagers entered a room where there were three charts. I'm going to hold up a chart. There were three charts that were displayed and each chart had three lines on it. A long line, a short line and a line between. And they were asked to raise their hands when the teacher would point to the longest line. “As soon as I point to the longest line you all raise your hands,” and so that's what they were told to do. One teenager in the group had not been told and did not know that all of the other nine teenagers were told that when the teacher points to the medium-sized line you raise your hand. Don't raise your hand at the longest line. One teenager did not know that the other nine had been told that. And so the lone teenager often looked confused when all the other teenagers, when the teacher pointed to the medium-sized line all the other teenagers raised their hands. And one put her hand up too, put his hand up too. Peer pressure. 75% of the time they would go against what they knew. They knew that's the longest line, but they would raise their hand with the others. Doing what they knew was wrong. Why? Because of peer pressure. That's why. So you kids be careful when you choose your peers, because they will pressure you. Do you hear what I'm saying? They will pressure you to do what you know isn't right.

The Mizpah maiden exhibited rare love for God and rare love for her father. She was like Esther, Queen Esther. She was willing to give up the pleasures of life to do God's will. The Mizpah maiden was also a type of Jesus Christ. You know, Jesus never got married. He lived a life of total service. He was innocent. He was pure. He loved His Father. Many times Jesus exhibited the fact, “not My will, but Thy will be done.”

The Mizpah maiden placed God first, and that's what we want to do. Parents do your best for your kids. Don't get exasperated at them. Don't beat them. Set a right example before them. If you want your kids to go to church you attend church. If you want your kids to attend Sabbath School, then you come to Sabbath School. If you want your kids to study the Bible then let them see you studying the Bible. Let them see you praying. Let them see you involved in the Lord's work.

A father had been quite irritable to his lively children and yelled at them and scolded them and berated them harshly and said “You all go to bed. Not even dark yet. You go to bed.” Well he put them all to bed. The next morning he got up and he found a note attached to his bedroom door, and the note said, “Be good to your children, and they will be good to you. Your’s truly, God.”

Well, do unto your children as you would love for them to do unto you. Love your kids, you adults, and you kids love your parents and all of you love Jesus. God bless you.

Let's sing our closing hymn, number 323. Oh For a Heart to Praise My God

Hymn of Praise:  #223 Crown Him With Many Crowns
Scripture: Matthew 18:1-5
Hymn of Response: #323 O For a Heart To Praise My God

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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 6/3/08