The following study is based on Hebrews 11:32, “And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:”
Jephthah is probably one of the least famous characters in this list of illustrious characters in Hebrews 11. Only one chapter is devoted to him. There is a few verses in another chapter, but nothing of much significance. His story is found in Judges 11.
1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah. 2 And Gilead’s wife bare him sons; and his wife’s sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father’s house; for thou art the son of a strange woman. 3 Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.
- The introduction of Jephthah seems to start off well. He is a mighty man of valour. He was a brave man, a strong man, an able man, and a virtuous man.
- But we get a bit more detail about him that is not so good as well. He is a son of a harlot. His dad slept with a prostitute and gave birth to him. And even though he was the son of his father, his other brothers from Gilead’s wife did not accept him but threw him out of the house. They didn’t want to have anything to do with him.
- Jephthah had every reason to be a bad man, a drunkard, an outcast of society because he was cast out of his home and rejected by his own flesh and blood. But he didn’t let his circumstances get the better of him. He chose to be a better person even though life handed him sour grapes, even though life didn’t give him the best start and the love that he needed in the home.
- Here we already get a glimpse into the faith of Jephthah and the sort of man that he was. He didn’t give himself excuses as to why he was allowed to act in a sinful way, but rather became better because of it!
Already we learn an important lesson.
- We must never give ourselves excuses as to why WE are allowed to act in a certain wicked or evil way.
- We must not blame our past or our upbringing because God’s grace is sufficient to overcome every cultivated and inherited tendency to sin.
- Judges 11:4-8
4 And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel. 5 And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob: 6 And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon. 7 And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress? 8 And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.
- However as the story progresses, the children of Ammon make war against Israel and they all run back to Jephthah to ask him to lead them in battle.
- It was obvious even to those that cast him out that he was a man of valour, a virtuous man, a man that God was with! And at the first sign of trouble, they knew who they could trust and who they could turn to. They were quick! No second thought!
Sadly, this attitude is prevalent with us today as well. Not only with people, but many times with God. We easily forget God when we lack nothing, when there is no trouble. We become too proud to call on God, to bend our knees and pray to Him because of the many blessings that we enjoy. But when things get difficult and all else fails, we come running back to God as our LAST resort!
God is not a spare tire only to notice when we have a flat tire. We must have a close relationship with Him, just as Jephthah did. When he was rejected by men, he came even closer with God. We must learn to make Him the center of our lives! It is better to live a life constantly close to God rather than just remembering Him when tragedies strike. Remember the time will come when one day you will seek God and He will no longer be found
- Isaiah 55:6
Seek ye the Lord while he may be found, call ye upon him while he is near:
Well, Jephthah agrees to come and lead the children of Israel to battle.
- Much of Judges 11 is the conversation that Jephthah has with the Ammonites. The Ammonites said that some of the land belonged to them and they were just coming to take back what belonged to them. Jephthah recounts the history that they actually didn’t intend to take it but when the Israelites were passing through from Egypt to Canaan hundreds of years ago, but it was the Ammonites that came out to fight against Israel and God and gave them into their hands.
- Small important fact. Know your history! How important it is to understand these things.
- Furthermore Jephthah said, we have been living here for 300 years already. Why didn’t you come earlier?
Anyways, he goes over to fight. And the battle is not detailed much at all. This is all that is said:
- Judges 11:32-33
32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. 33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
- God gives the victory!
However, what we have studied so far is not at all made Jephthah famous. Actually, Jephthah makes a vow, a promise, to God just before the battle. He is basically asking God for help! Here is his vow.
- Judges 11:29-31
29 Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. 30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 31 Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
- Many people read this vow from the angle that Jephthah will sacrifice whatever would come out from his house when he got home if God gives him the victory over the Ammonites.
- Who came out of his house?
- Judges 11:34-35
34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.
- But did Jephthah really sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering? SURELY NOT!
- Even Abraham never went through with it, and we don’t know anyone in the Bible that has ever done that before!
- Many people point to this story that Christians are serving an unreasonable and illogical God. Many have had a hard time understanding this chapter. So let’s go through this slowly.
How do we know that Jephthah didn’t sacrifice his daughter?
First, Jephthah would have known about the laws pertaining to this sort of act:
- Leviticus 18:21
And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the Lord.
- Deuteronomy 12:31-32
31 Thou shalt not do so unto the Lord thy God: for every abomination to the Lord, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods. 32 What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.
- Deuteronomy 18:10-12
10 There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch, 11 Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer. 12 For all that do these things are an abomination unto the Lord: and because of these abominations the Lord thy God doth drive them out from before thee.
- It was clear that Moses wrote against it. God calls it an abomination. Surely He wouldn’t allow such an act to proceed.
- And if Jephthah really did go ahead with it and it was an abomination, surely we would not have seen his name in Hebrews 11 listing out men and women displaying great faith!
Moreover, we read in Judges 11:29-30 that when Jephthah made this vow, he made it under inspiration.
- Judges 11:29-30
29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. 30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
- How could a person who is lead by the Holy Spirit to make such a vow, intending to burn his daughter alive?
Let’s take a closer inspection into the vow of Jephthah.
- Judges 11:31
Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.
- None of the other modern Bible translations really offer much insight. Instead it seems to support even more the fact that she was offered up as a burnt sacrifice.
- BUT how does the literal Hebrew actually render it though? This is an interlinear Bible.
- At the end you will see how it is read differently:
- Whoever comes forth from the door of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, that whoever comes the Lords, and I offer up an offering.
- It could be read this way – and I offer up to God a burnt offering.
Logically, it must be read this way. Why?
- What was Jephthah expecting to come and meet him from out of his house? Surely no cattle or sheep lived in the house right? He wasn’t about to offer a dog or a cat for a burnt offering right? That would not be accepted!
What was the vow of Jephthah then?
- Whoever came out of the house he would offer to God? Not as a burnt offering. But just like Hannah devoting Samuel to the work of God, whoever came out of his house he would also offer to God, to devote to the service of God.
- The dedication of Jephthah’s daughter apparently meant that his daughter would remain as a virgin for the rest of her life. She would serve in the temple and tabernacle as a virgin.
- Judges 11:37-39
37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. 38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
- These verses above now make more sense. She wasn’t bewailing her virginity because she was about to be sacrificed! She was mourning her virginity because she knew that she would never be married and have children!
- Her dad was sad as well, not because he would be sacrificing her, but because she was his only child, and so his lineage would stop right there. He wouldn’t have any grandchildren and his blood line would end! This meant for certain that the Messiah would not come through his tribe and family.
Now that we know that Jephthah did not burn his daughter alive, then we understand a little of why he made it into the chapter of faith in Hebrews 11. He was faithful to his vow and his word. He still chose to trust God in spite of what God allowed to happen. Even though he had wrought such a great victory for the children of Israel, when the trying circumstance came in right after that, he didn’t complain, he didn’t doubt God or get angry and him. He still chose to be faithful to Him and follow through with his vow.
This is a very important lesson for us to learn today.
- Learning to be men and women who are true to their word.
- The Bible puts it this way:
- Deuteronomy 23:21-23
21 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee. 22 But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee. 23 That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.
- Matthew 12:36-37
36 But I say unto you, That every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment. 37 For by thy words thou shalt be justified, and by thy words thou shalt be condemned.
- Matthew 5:37
But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.
- Deuteronomy 23:21-23
- As Christians, we must be keepers of our word. Never make a promise that you are not able to keep. If you cannot keep it, then make sure you don’t make any promises at all. Can people trust us with our words? Are they able to believe us when we say something? Are we truthful with the words that we say? And are we responsible for putting into action the promises that we make?
- This is what we call RESPONSIBLE and MATURE. If you want to be a Christian who will be a light to the world so that people will be attracted to Jesus Christ, then we need to become men and women of our word.
Jephthah’s vow may have appeared to be hasty. Maybe he was hoping for a servant or someone else to walk out of the house. But regardless, he was still faithful to what he had promised. There was no sin in committing his daughter to the Lord to serve. His daughter was not rebellious and she understood the calling of the Lord in her life. She followed God’s plan for her faithfully.
Have you made promises to God before? To serve Him? To give Him your life or possessions? Have you made a promise to Him to give Him a certain amount of your finances? Sometimes it’s tempting to tell God, God I really don’t have much this month – surely you understand! Jephthah could have said to God – this is my only child! Surely you don’t want me to go childless right? God you’ll understand right? But he didn’t. He followed through with his commitment.
And today, God is waiting for His children to be true to Him. True to your word. True to your promises. Even though it comes at a sacrifice and calls for self denial. That means you have to make a promise today, to resolve in your hearts, to make a firm decision, to purpose in your heart that you will follow through with what you’ve promised.
Let’s learn to have faith, to trust God – that through this commitment that we make, He will do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask and think. May God help us to trust Him to that end!