Bloodline. Lineage. Heritage.
In ancient Israel your parents, your parents’ parents, and their parents were a pretty big deal. Lineage and bloodline mattered A LOT. In a world of blessing, birthright, and tribal inheritance, having a clean and clear bloodline meant everything.
In this week’s Haftarah portion we dive into the always exciting, never dull, book of Judges; a book of the Bible that makes Game of Thrones look like family friendly television. This roller coaster of a book has a cyclical pattern that goes something like this; Israel is prosperous and strays from the Lord, Israel gets overtaken by their enemies, Israel cries out to God for help, God sends a savior (Judge) to save the Israelites and bring them freedom and victory, and repeat.
This particular piece of Judges stands out because the main character we are introduced to, the Judge/Savior is a man by the name of Jephthah. Here’s how Jephthah is introduced to us:
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. And Gilead's wife also bore him sons. And when his wife's sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, ‘You shall not have an inheritance in our father's house, for you are the son of another woman.’ Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him. After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. And they said to Jephthah, ‘Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites.’ (Judges 11:1-6, ESV)
Jephthah is a son of illegitimate birth. Despite this fact, he becomes the hero of the story and defeats the Ammonites. The son who is counted out because of his questionable lineage becomes the savior those same people cry out to for help. This detail, however, isn’t incredibly out of place or surprising. Perez, David, and Elijah are a few other examples of key biblical figures whose lineage is a little muddied in less than ideal origins. God seems to laugh in the face of the ancient notion “it’s your bloodline that matters” with His alternative narrative “it’s your heart and spirit that matters.” When the world says “Ishmael,” God says “Isaac!” When Isaac says “Esau,” God says “Jacob!” When Israel wants the tall, dark, and handsome King with amazing military qualifications, God chooses the lowly, younger shepherd boy with a humble willingness to trust and follow. The moral of the story is that God doesn’t play by our rules. What we consider to be important for getting into the club, God completely ignores. In a world where birthright, bloodline, national origin, political identity, or social clout is what counts, God looks at humility, faith, servanthood, and integrity.
This is one of the core messages of the gospel. In Christ alone do we find our value, hope, and status in God’s Kingdom. We don’t get a special spot based on purity of bloodline. We don’t have a reserved seat because of what tribe we come from. Whether Jew, Gentile, man, woman, slave, or free, we all have a level playing field and all share the same calling to become a new creation in Him. That’s where our status is found. Yes, God can even use the son of a prostitute to bring salvation from Israel’s enemies.
Paul puts it this way:
Therefore remember that at one time you Gentiles in the flesh, called ‘the uncircumcision’ by what is called the circumcision, which is made in the flesh by hands—remember that you were at that time separated from Christ, alienated from the commonwealth of Israel and strangers to the covenants of promise, having no hope and without God in the world. But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far off have been brought near by the blood of Christ… And he came and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit. (Ephesians 2:11-13, 17-22, ESV)
It is those who want to make a good showing in the flesh who would force you to be circumcised, and only in order that they may not be persecuted for the cross of Christ. For even those who are circumcised do not themselves keep the law, but they desire to have you circumcised that they may boast in your flesh. But far be it from me to boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. For neither circumcision counts for anything, nor uncircumcision, but a new creation.” (Galatians 6:12-15, ESV)
It’s not “who your daddy is” that matters. It’s who “our Father” is.
It’s not our bloodline, but His blood that was poured out for us.
It’s not the children of Abraham; it’s the “son of promise” in whom we find our faith, freedom, hope, and safety. Now that’s good news.