This is one of those bizarre stories in the Bible, but to understand it, you must first understand the nation of Israel. They were God’s people. God had led them, as a people out of Egypt, through the wilderness, and into the Promised Land. They had accomplished this task as an entire group, and through the process God had taught them that when one tribe was hurting, the whole nation should be hurting, when one tribe was in danger, the whole nation should respond. Because they were ALL God’s chosen people.
The men of Ephraim (one of the tribes of Israel) crossed the Jordan River to make war with Jephthah because they weren’t able to get the glory of winning the battle against Ammon. They weren’t concerned about the people of Gilead, they just wanted to get the glory for winning the battle, and were jealous of Jephthah and his men. Jephthah responded by saying, “First of all, I sent a memo letting you know that we were in a battle and wanted your help. But you never showed, so I took my life in my own hands.” Ephraim wasn’t there when the people of Gilead needed them. Second, Jephthah said, “How dare you come to make war with us today.” Instead of rejoicing over their brother’s victory, the people of Ephraim were jealous.
God gave Jephthah another victory, this time over the people of Ephraim. As the Ephraimites fled, the people of Gilead captured them and killed them. They even used a trick, asking the people of Ephraim to say a word that showed their accent (Kind of like asking a southerner to say, “you all” and they’d say “ya’ll”). The point of this story is that God’s people should have rushed to the aid of their brothers, and then rejoiced when they gained a victory.
The church is God’s people today. But sometimes, the church acts just like the people of Ephraim. When our brothers are in trouble, we don’t run to their aid. Just the opposite, many times when a fellow Christian is hurting or in trouble, his brothers or sisters in Christ will add insults and hurt to the problem. And when a sister has achieved a victory, and something awesome has happened in her life, fellow Christians will get jealous, and treat her with contempt, instead of rejoicing with her.
The church ought to be a place where God’s people come together to find refuge, safety, and fellowship. We ought to “weep with those who weep, and rejoice with those who rejoice.” The application for this passage is simple. As the people of God, the church is to be a community of faith experiencing God’s grace and power together. When one person in the community hurts, we all should suffer with them. When one has a joy or victory, it is a group experience. But all of this takes ever deepening relationship together. If everyone does this, then God’s people would act like God’s people.