The Judges: Jephthah - From Loser to Leader

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Jephthah - From Loser to Leader

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The Judges: Jephthah - From Loser to Leader

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The story of Jephthah may be one of the most difficult stories to understand in the Bible. Yet, there are abundant lessons to learn. Is it possible to go from a reject to ruler? A loser to leader? Is God unreasonable having a skewed sense of justice and mercy? How can a violent man such as this be listed in the faith “Hall of Fame”? This study will take a deeper look at the life of Jephthah and uncover lessons we can learn for today.

Transcript

[Steve Myers] Check one, two. I guess we are live. Are we on? We are on. Well, good evening, everyone. Welcome to our Beyond Today Bible study tonight. Glad you were able to make it. We’ve got a beautiful summer evening here. Well, not quite summer, almost summertime in Cincinnati. So glad you’re able to come out tonight, glad you’re able to join us on the web, and those of you watching in the archives later on as well. We’re going to continue our study in the book of Judges tonight, so let’s go ahead and ask God’s blessing and then we’ll jump right into a new Judge for the evening. So, let’s bow our heads.

Loving Heavenly Father, God Almighty, thank You so much for Your wonderful blessings. We are so thankful, Father, that You are such an awesome God and amazing Creator who has made us, formed us and a Father who wants us as a part of Your family forever. And we are so thankful for Your plan, and Your purpose, and Your mercy, and Your love. Thanks for Your Word. Thanks for the opportunity to be able to get together tonight and look at Your inspiring Word, Father, so that we can understand a little bit more about You and Your way and how You look at each of us, and lessons that we can learn and apply to our lives today. So we’re so thankful for that, Father. We want to put this study into Your hands. And so we do that asking all of these things in and by and through the authority of our Savior, Jesus Christ we pray. Amen.

Well, tonight, we are continuing our studies in the book of Judges. There is a couple of Judges that are still left that we’ll probably be covering in future studies. But tonight we’re going to focus on Jephthah. Jephthah is basically a judge that’s found in chapter 11 and chapter 12 in the book of Judges. And, of course, one thing to keep in mind when you consider this time period. We’re talking about 400 years spanning this time of the Judges and we’re after Israel has come into the Promised Land. We’re after the time of Moses and Joshua, and as the people came in for the conquest of the land. So we’re after that time and there was no great leader like a Moses or a Joshua anymore. There were these more localized leaders that came up over time. Because if you remember this cycle that we had talked about, through this time period, that there would be a time of peace when the people were obeying God, and things were going great. But then what happened next?

Then they fell into disobedience and idolatry. And once that began to happen, and they disobeyed God, they couldn’t survive the way God wanted them. So He wants to bring them back to Himself. So the consequences of disobedience was punishment. And so oftentimes, God sent other nations, other peoples to battle the Israelites. And so this cycle continues through this time of Jephthah. Of course, because of the punishment, because of the difficulties that they struggled with at that time, what was the result of that? Well, then they cried out to God, and they asked for mercy. And that’s when God would send the deliverer. He would send someone, a judge, who would come and deliver Israel from whatever the consequences were of their disobedience, to deliver them from the nations that were oppressing them. And then, of course, once that deliverer had come, then there was once again peace. And this cycle continues throughout all the various judges, throughout this book that God has inspired us to have. So finally, you would have peace. You would have peace.

A different way to think about that very thing is that they would fall into sin. There would be slavery or servitude. Ultimately, there would be supplication where they would cry out to God and then God would send a savior or there would be salvation through that deliverer, through that judge. And that cycle continues throughout the book of Judges. So by the time we get to chapter 11, guess where they’re at? They’re approaching this time that they are in idolatry. They have been defeated and they’re facing the difficulties of potential captivity and war. So if you turn with me over to the Judges, we see there is this continuation of what you might say a major theme in the book of Judges, and that’s forsaking God. They would forsake God. They would walk away from God. Once things were great, they forgot about Him. And, of course, this probably ring some bells in our minds that sometimes we have a tendency to be like that. Any tendency of our people, our nation to be like that, when things are going great, we forget about God?

Well, that was Israel’s pattern of behavior. Every time things got to be good, they forgot about God, which also led them to one of the key phrases throughout the book of the Judges. This phrase comes up over, and over, and over, and over again throughout this entire book. And that phrase is, “Everyone did what was right in their own eyes.” Everyone did what was right in their own eyes. They ignored God. They forgot about Him. And that key phrase pops up over, and over, and over again. So by the time we pick up the story of Jephthah at the end of chapter 10 of Judges, that’s about where they’re at. In fact, let’s notice the story. This is chapter 10, look at verse 17. Because of Israel’s disobedience, “The people of Ammon gathered together and encamped in Gilead. And the children of Israel assembled together and encamped in Mizpah.” So no war yet, but we’ve got an encampment going on. We’ve got this big threat coming on. “The people, the leaders of Gilead, said to one another, ‘Who is the man who will begin to fight against the people of Ammon? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.’”

So now we see they’re already crying out for a deliverer. They’re looking, “Who’s going to save us? Who’s going to help us? How is this going to come about?” Well, let’s think about the backstory to this event. What was going to happen? By this time, the Ammonite nation was right there at its peak. They were strong, and of course, the Ammonites were actually descendants of Lot. So they were from that lineage, these Ammonites, and they were threatening Israel. And as we picture that scene, that’s where Jephthah walks on and take center stage. Chapter 11, “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah.” So Gilead is his father. His mother is a prostitute. “Gilead’s wife bore sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, ‘You shall have no inheritance in our Father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.’ Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him.”

And so as we consider the beginning of Jephthah’s story, it’s kind of an interesting one as the story begins. Father is Gilead. Mother, a harlot. Why did the sons drive him out? I mean, you might just read that through and say, “Well, obviously, he’s got a prostitute for a mother. They don’t want any of that.” But that’s not the case. I mean, what was life like back then in Israel? Well, there were concubines. There were prostitutes. The morality of the people was about as low as it could get. So they weren’t driving him out for any of those kinds of reasons. The reason is, and it’s stated if you really caught it there, verse 2, it says, “You shall have no inheritance in our Father’s house, for you’re the son of another woman.” This is illustrating the plight of those illegitimate children in Israel. There was no inheritance. You see, the legitimate sons and daughters for that matter would have an inheritance in the land.

But Jephthah was illegitimate. He had no attachment by right to the property, to the head of the household. And so it wasn’t the fact that all the family was ashamed by all of this. No, there was polygamy all around them and prostitution. Illegitimate children at that time would have been commonplace. It would have been commonplace. But he was rejected because, well, there’d be one less share to go around. “You don’t have to share anything with him. So let’s get rid of him.” So they chased him out. And as you consider that, he has been rejected. He’s been rejected over a dispute of inheritance. And the interesting thing is, as we begin Jephthah’s story, what did he do to deserve that? He didn’t do anything. He was born. He was born. And so it really wasn’t his problem. And he ends up suffering because of someone else’s choices, because of what someone else did. So he flees and he settles in Tob, T-O-B, verse 3, and it says he was there with “worthless men” that they banded together with these worthless men. I think some translations say “vain men.” Vain or worthless men, it sounds like these are just no-goods. They got nothing. They’re terrible. They’re awful. It’s like joining the gang, you know, in the inner city or something like that.

But that’s not the case with this either. He was actually banding together with some pretty powerful men who also were rejected. If you look up this word for “worthless” in the Hebrew, it’s not really saying they’re of no value. It’s really saying they have no value, which kind of harkens back to that idea of inheritance. They have nothing. They have nothing. They’re worthless men because they aren’t worth anything. They have no common interest in the land. So because of that, the Hebrew word there is reyq, reyq . And it can mean their pockets were empty. They had no money. They had no real estate, right? Nothing real, so they were worthless. So don’t think of it in the sense of they were lousy, rotten, terrible men. That’s really not what the context is telling us here.

He was banding together with others, it seems, who were rejected, who then had a common cause and a common cause together. Okay, let’s go back then to verse 4 because they had nothing to live on, they band together. Verse 4, “It came to pass after a time that the people of Ammon made war against Israel.” So we go from encampment to war. Verse 5, “And so it was, when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. Then they said to Jephthah, ‘Come, be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon.’ So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, ‘Now, wait just a minute here.’” Okay, he didn’t say it exactly like that. He said, “Well, didn’t you hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you’re in distress?” “Oh, now you want my help. You kick me out. You run me off because I have no inheritance of the land. You recognize the fact I am a mighty warrior. I have value even though you didn’t see it as anything valuable. But now that you got problems, you want me back.”

That story sounds vaguely familiar at all? I mean, could God be saying those same words instead of Jephthah? “Oh, you got problems now? You drove me out of your land. You didn’t want anything to do with Me. Now you got problems, now you want Me?” And so I think we see that representation here. Jephthah, like God, was rejected. They put him out of their lives. Now that they’ve got problems, now that the difficulties have come, now they’re crying out. Now, there’s all the supplication for someone to intervene. So Jephthah is a pretty smart guy by this time. He’s not just going to take their word for it that he’ll be this leader for them or anything like that. He’s a little bit wary of them which he probably should be. So if you skip down to verse 11, here’s his reaction. “Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.”

Now, it’s interesting that he speaks these words, in other words, here he’s talking these things before God. What is God doing? God is witnessing an agreement. He’s witnessing a covenant. So, in fact, if we skip back to verse 10, it says, “The Lord will be a witness against us, if you don’t do according to your words.” So they make this agreement. They make a covenant. They make a contract, and God is the witness. So he speaks these words before God, and that legitimizes this contract between the elders and Jephthah, that “you will be our leader.” And, of course, it’s interesting, who’s choosing to send this deliverer? I mean, who’s actually behind all of this? Well, God is. God has chosen… even though they rejected Jephthah, God has chosen him to be that deliverer. And so they’re assuring him, by this contract, “Okay, you will be our true leader. Please help us.”

And so through the next several verses, it tells the story of what Jephthah is going to do to defend the people from the Ammonites. Now, what basically happens in the next several verses, the king of Ammon wanted the land. It was a big dispute. He wants the land of the Israelites. What does Jephthah do? Well, he doesn’t get out his sword and shield and go after them. He’s pretty wise guy. He’s smart. He knows his stuff. So he tries to reason with them. He tries to reason with the king. He sends the king a message and he begins to explain to the king how this land really belongs to Israel, how the land came into the possession of God’s people, and the fact that Ammon has no claim over it. They have no right for this land. He points out several reasons through the next several verses. First one, he said, “Well, it never was your land, never belonged to Ammon, so why do you want it? We actually took the land from the Amorites, not the Ammonites, but the Amorites. So the king of Ammon, you have no claim. We didn’t take the land from you anyway.” So that was one of the things he talks about in these verses.

He also talks about the fact that there’s no contest here, “Because we’ve been here 300 years and nobody said anything about it now all the way up to this point. If you had a problem with us being here, you should have said something a long time ago.” And then he gives an interesting reason as well, why they have this land, and probably the best reason, why do they have the land? God gave it to them. God gave them this land. And he uses an interesting, cynical kind of way to approach this. He says, “Well, you know, our God who is the God, the only God, by the way, He gave us this land. Why don’t you take the land that your pagan god gave to you?” And, of course, Chemosh or, you know, any of it didn’t give them any land. And so Jephthah uses that little cynical approach to point out the fact, “You don’t have anything because your God isn’t anything. And, ultimately, our God is the final judge. Our God is the God who has the right and owns everything. He has the right to give us this land.”

And so, as a result of that, the king of Ammon says, “Oh, you’re right. I guess I’ll leave you alone.” No, he doesn’t say. He says, “Forget it. I don’t care what you say. We’re taking this land.” So the king ignores Jephthah’s information. He ignores his explanation. He ignores it all and what happens? War. War breaks out. So Jephthah has to go into battle. In fact, well, in my Bible, I got to flip the page, we can go down to verse 28, verse 28. Something amazing happens here that is powerful that does show God has chosen Jephthah to be the one to intervene, to be the deliverer for His people. Notice verse 28, it says, “…Ammon did not heed the words of Jephthah.” Then verse 29, “The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah,” so now Jephthah has God’s Spirit. He “passes through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.”

So here comes the battle. Now, he’s not only equipped with weapons but probably the most powerful thing, he’s got the Spirit of God with him as well. Verse 30, “Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.’” And so Jephthah makes a vow. God gives him His Spirit in preparation for the battle. He has the courage and he makes an agreement with God. He makes a promise to God. He vows to Him. And what does God do? Well, verse 32, “Jephthah advanced toward the people of Ammon to fight against them, and the Lord delivered them into his hands.”

In fact, if you look through the different commentaries, history books, this was a tremendous victory, something like over 20 towns of the Ammonites were just totally wiped out. He drives out the rest of the people. They are gone. They are out. And so there was a fantastic victory that God gave to Israel through Jephthah. You might say, “Well, that’s great. Nice. End of the story. Everything’s wonderful. It shows the powerful things that God can do.” But it’s not the end of the story. There’s more to the story from there as well. So as we consider this very thing, “Oh yeah, there was this vow that he made. He made that vow before going into battle.” And he said, verse 31, “Whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me,” and the end of the verse says, “…I’ll offer it up as a burnt offering.” So Jephthah goes home. It’s a great victory. And what happens? Verse 35, “It came to pass…” Oh, let’s go to verse 34, verse 34, “When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter.”

And so what we find, his daughter comes out to meet him. Think about that. He made a promise to God, whatever comes out. And his daughter comes out first. Of course, this vow that he makes, his promise, this is a serious thing. This isn’t just like, “Oh, had my fingers crossed. I didn’t really mean it.” You know, nothing like that. When you look at what the Bible says about making promises, keeping your vows, it’s pretty serious. In fact, there’s a passage in Numbers 30:2 Numbers 30:2If a man vow a vow to the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
American King James Version×
. Take a look over at Numbers 30:2 Numbers 30:2If a man vow a vow to the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
American King James Version×
. Here we’ve got Moses speaking, but he’s quoting God. Notice what God says about making a vow. Numbers 30:2 Numbers 30:2If a man vow a vow to the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.
American King James Version×
says, “If a man makes a vow to the Lord, or swears an oath to bind himself by some agreement, he shall not break his word; he shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth.” So God is holding him responsible to fulfill that vow. In fact, you can look a number of times throughout Scripture, the similar words are spoken over and over again. There’s a passage in Ecclesiastes that says it a little bit differently. It’s in Ecclesiastes 5, notice verse 2. Ecclesiastes 5:2 Ecclesiastes 5:2Be not rash with your mouth, and let not your heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and you on earth: therefore let your words be few.
American King James Version×
, it says it just a little differently here. It says, “Do not be rash with your mouth, and let not your heart utter anything hastily before God. For God is in heaven, and you on earth; therefore, let your words be few.”

In fact, it emphasizes it a little more a couple of verses later. Verse 4, “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed — better not to vow than to vow and not pay.” And I’m sure Jephthah had an understanding of these passages. If you look through the Bible, he’s not the only one that made rash vows. There were others that did, well, even kind of similar kinds of things. There was King Saul that made a vow that anyone who eats before the day is over is going to die and he didn’t let everybody know and his own son ends up eating some honey. That was certainly one of those rash vows. Can you think of any others in the Bible?

You can think of Herod Antipas. He made a vow, remember, to the dancing girl? “You can have anything you want. I would give you anything,” Herodias’ daughter. So what did she ask for? John the Baptist’s head. And so here’s Jephthah in this position that he’s made a promise to God. Remember, he said the words before God. He petitioned God directly. “If You’ll do this, I will follow through.” And so you consider this, God doesn’t want us to make foolish promises. He expects us to make sound contracts or sound covenants like baptism, like a marriage covenant, those types of agreements. And so when you consider what Jephthah had promised, this is something he can’t back out of. I’m sure he was aware of these passages, that these are serious things, and God expects you to pay for what you promised. He expects that.

Now, when you go back to chapter 12 again, if you go back to Judges 12, one of the things that is kind of interesting, what did Jephthah promise when he made this vow? It was kind of vague to begin with. He doesn’t specifically name anyone. In a sense, he’s leaving whatever comes out of the house up to God, just leaving it in somebody else’s hands. You can’t help but wonder, “Well, did he think maybe a goat was going to come out of the house? Or maybe a lamb, or maybe better than his own daughter? Maybe a servant or someone like that?” I mean, that would be reasonable, when it talks about the house there, whatever comes out of the house in, you know, the Middle East, oftentimes homes had, you know, areas for the animals on the first floor and the people live above them. So it wouldn’t be unreasonable to think that.

But had he really considered human sacrifice? I mean, you know the time of the Judges, this wasn’t something that was uncommon. You know, there was human sacrifice in Israel at that time. Many Israelites worshiped Malkam. They worshiped these pagan gods and they would pass their children through the fire. So this wasn’t something that was unheard of. They did worship Chemosh, the god of the Moabites. Malkam would have been the Ammonite god. Chemosh, the god of the Moabites, also another one of those gods that they offered human sacrifices to them. And so even the Bible records that for us. And it’s interesting then when you see what his daughter’s reaction is. I mean, it’s really amazing here. If you look at verse 36 of chapter 12, she says to her dad, “’My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.’ She said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.’ So he said to her, ‘Go.’ He sent her away for two months; she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains.”

And so she doesn’t resist. In fact, she even kind of implies that this victory over Ammon was worth her life. It was worth her life, and told her dad, “You got to do what you got to do. You got to do what you got to do.” Now, she bewails her virginity, which is an interesting way to say that. Well, why would that be so critical? Because having a family was everything in Israel. You know, that’s your heritage. To be married and have children was the highest honor that a family could have. You pass down your heritage. The worst fate that you could imagine, worst fate for Jephthah, would be having his descendants cut off, having no descendants. This was his only daughter. That would mean his name would be cut off. There would be no heritage. There would be no children or grandchildren, and that was a terrible fate. No family line in ancient times like this? It was horrible. It was absolutely a disgrace. And so when you consider that, having no family line, no wonder she’s bewailing her virginity. It means, really, like you might think it would, you’re weeping in grief. You’re overcome with sorrow and humiliation. Humiliation, because of the situation here.

And then, in a sense, Israel itself is mourning the loss of Jephthah’s descendants as well because here’s this great man who gave them the victory over the Ammonites, and yet his line, his lineage is cut off. He won’t have any descendants, none at all. And so when you consider the critical nature of this promise that Jephthah made, boy, it’s certainly a reminder, don’t make rash promises to God. Don’t make a promise that you can’t fulfill. And so you think, what did he have on his mind when he made that promise? What did he do then once this came about? Because he would have had to have known it would be a sin not to carry out your vow. You promised God. You break a promise with God, you’re sinning. There’s no way around it. There’s absolutely no way around it.

But there’s also this challenge. Did he not know that human sacrifice is a sin as well? To promise a burnt offering? That goes against the Word of God very clearly. If you look at Deuteronomy 12, notice verse 31. You would certainly think that Jephthah would have been aware of what it says here in Deuteronomy 12, in verse 31. God makes it very clear of His intentions. Deuteronomy 12:31 Deuteronomy 12:31You shall not do so to the LORD your God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hates, have they done to their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.
American King James Version×
, “You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way; for every abomination to the Lord which He hates they have done to their gods.” So this is the way the pagans have worshipped. What do they do? “They burn even their sons and daughters in the fire to their gods.”

And so that made it so clear, this is unacceptable before God. Human sacrifice is unacceptable. So people read these things. They read the story of Jephthah, they recognized that God was very clear in saying, “This is inappropriate. You can’t do this.” So someone who is looking to put down God, detract from the Bible, would say, “Look at that. God’s contradictory. What kind of fair God is this? Tells him not to kill his sons and daughters, and yet here He’s going to make Jephthah sacrifice his daughter? And what kind of God would that be?” God would have known full well that Jephthah was going to win the battle. And He allowed him to go ahead and make a promise like that? And He didn’t even say anything? God never said a word about it? No, no. He didn’t send a prophet to him to say, “Hey, don’t make any vows?”

He didn’t do any of those kinds of things. And you think about Jephthah, how could a man who’s supposed to be a mighty man of valor, a deliverer, a judge of Israel, how in the world could he be so unscrupulous to murder his own daughter? You see, and the detractors come up with all those different ideas of how ridiculous that is and it points to the foolishness of the Bible. And, in fact, look at the daughter, how in the world could the daughter encourage her dad to kill her? I mean, that sounds ridiculous and so contradictory.

And so those arguments and those who would try to take away from the Word of God point to all of those things to say, “What kind of God is that?” But is that really what’s going on here? Is that really what’s happening? If we go back to Judges 12 one more time, let’s go back to Judges 12, and we’ll take a look at verse 30 again. Judges 12. Notice verse 30. Oh, I’m sorry. No, let’s see. I think it’s in 12, isn’t it? Oh no, it is 11. Yeah. Judges 11. Sorry about that. Judges 11. Notice verse 30, notice verse 30 again. “Jephthah makes this vow to the Lord. He says, ‘If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.’”

So a couple things we can notice about this promise, it is a conditional one. “If You do this, I will do that.” So it’s conditional. It’s also interesting to notice he uses this phrase in the New King James, he says, “Whatever comes out of the doors of my house, whatever comes out to meet me, whatever comes out…” Interesting that if you look this up in the Hebrew, it points to the fact of the one that comes forth to meet me, which doesn’t leave much room for it to be an animal, does it? Someone’s going to actually meet you. Animals really aren’t put on that same level in that sense. That it seems to be pointing to a human being in that regard. And, in fact, when you look at verse 31, it’s interesting that this phrase, “It shall surely be the Lord’s and I will offer it up as a burnt offering,” that translation of that particular verse, and most translations do record it in that way, is probably not the best translation for that particular phrase.

You can look it up in the number of different commentaries. In the Nelson Study Bible, here’s what it says about that particular phrase, and this is so important. It says, “The conjunction in Jephthah’s pivotal statement in verse 31,” that’s and, “whatever or whoever come out of the door ‘shall be the Lord’s and I will offer it up as a burnt offering,’” Nelson says, “It could be translated ‘or.’ Instead of ‘and’ it could be ‘or.’” So it’ll read, “It will surely be the Lord’s or I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” So, interesting, there could be two things going on here. “It shall surely be the Lord’s, or I’m going to offer a burnt offering.” If you read this in the Jamieson, Fausset and Brown Commentary , they say something very similar. Here’s what they say, “Shall surely be the Lord’s; [or] I will offer it for a burnt offering — The adoption of the latter particle, [or] introduces an important alternative, that if it were a person, the dedication would be made to the service of the sanctuary; if it were an animal or a thing, it would be offered on the altar.”

So that’s a critical difference. If a person came out first, well, you don’t sacrifice people. We know that’s against God’s law. That person would be the Lord’s, would be dedicated to God. If it was an animal, he would offer it as a burnt sacrifice. A person dedicated to the Lord or, if an animal, I’ll offer it as a burnt offering. A couple of interesting things with that, what if it was a dog or something like that, an unclean animal? You can’t offer unclean animal. Well, you could dedicate it to God, I suppose, in the sense, and so that could certainly be part of what’s going on here as well.

Now, it’s also interesting when you look at the same clause here, “Or I will offer it up as a burnt offering,” could also be translated in an alternative way. And a number of the commentaries back this up as well. Instead of saying, “This person would surely be the Lord’s, or this animal I’ll offer as a burnt offering,” that phrase could be translated, “I will offer Him a burnt offering.” So if it’s a person that comes out, I’ll offer the person to the service of God. If it’s an animal, let’s say it’s an unclean animal, I can’t offer that. But I’ll offer God a burnt offering, a correct, legitimate sacrifice that He would basically choose. And so when you look at these alternate translations, it left Jephthah imagining what could be a person, and on the other hand, it could be an animal. Either way, I’ll either offer the person as a sacrifice to God and offer them in dedication to God, or I’ll give God a burnt offering. Perhaps an animal that came out or another sacrifice.

And so when you put all of these things together, I think a better translation, putting these various translations together and the alternate meanings here, if you look at verse 31, you could read, “The one who comes forth to meet me I will consecrate to God, or [if no one comes out]” no person, an animal, “I will offer him, [the Lord] a burnt offering.” And when you begin to look at those things, that fits with this conditional vow that Jephthah made. If God would give Jephthah the victory, He brings him home safely, he will dedicate a person to God or offer a burnt offering. And once God fulfilled His part, Jephthah is obligated to fulfill his part of the promise. Now, of course, what happens, Jephthah left the choice in God’s hands. His daughter comes out. Is there any record here that he sacrificed her? Well, if we read on through the last couple of verses, because we didn’t quite get there, verse 39, it says, “It was at the end of two months she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. And it became custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.”

So there was this national mourning in a sense for the heritage of Jephthah, but it doesn’t say he killed her, doesn’t say he sacrificed. Where would you sacrifice a person? Where would you sacrifice, you know, an animal for that matter? Well, you’d have to go to the altar. Well, are the true priests of God going to accept a human sacrifice? That’s not going to happen. It’s just not going to happen. And so Jephthah, obviously, has to fulfill his vow, which meant the person that came out to meet him would have to be dedicated to God, would have to be dedicated to God. And so what would that mean for her? Well, she would serve at the tabernacle at this time and she would remain unmarried. She would always be a perpetual virgin in that sense, and she would be dedicated to God’s service.

When you look through Scripture, there’s a number of different areas that talk about women who served at the tabernacle or even served at the temple. There’s a notation in Numbers. Well, let’s go back to Exodus first. Let’s go back to Exodus 38:8 Exodus 38:8And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the mirrors of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
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. Exodus 38:8 Exodus 38:8And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the mirrors of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
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gives us a reference to this, as the temple is first being constructed. Moses is putting together all the plans and bringing everything together. They’re making all the accouterments, everything that they need. And he makes this reference in Exodus 38, notice verse 6. Well, let’s go down to verse 8, Exodus 38:8 Exodus 38:8And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the mirrors of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.
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, “He made a laver of bronze and its base of bronze, from the bronze mirrors of the serving women who assembled at the door of the tabernacle of meeting.” So there were ladies who served at the tabernacle and they performed various duties and various jobs that they gave them to do. In fact, you can even fast forward into the New Testament, and there were ladies who served at the temple as well. Trying to think of the prophetess… Anna served at the temple. You can look her up in the book of Luke, in the book of Luke I think it’s right there at the beginning. Luke 2 talks about Anna serving at the temple, one of those ladies that served at the temple.

And so they perform different duties, whether they were door porters, or singers, or musicians, oftentimes seamstresses for all the repairs and the valuable service that they had to do in order to keep up, you know, all of the walls and the things of the temple. They helped with those things. And so we find that’s most likely what was happening here. Jephthah dedicates his daughter to the service of God at the tabernacle which then meant he would have no grandchildren since his daughter was his only child. There would be no heirs, and, ultimately, he would certainly be overwhelmed with grief, because he had to carry out this vow. And certainly points to that very fact that there’s such an importance of what we agree to when it comes to the promises that we make to God.

And so I think when you put these various translations together, it helps paint that picture of what was really going on here. And it doesn’t detract from the power of God. There isn’t some big disconnect between human sacrifices and the worship of the true God. Jephthah is dedicating his daughter. And I think what it also helps us think about a couple of the lessons here there. There’s probably multi-layers of lessons that we can think of when you consider what went on in this lifetime of Jephthah, in fact we’re not even going to get through the whole thing. We can’t get to the next chapter that kind of continues his story because his story isn’t over yet.

But just thinking about the lessons you can learn from this experience up to this point. Up to this point, he made a vow with God. And what a powerful lesson it is for us to keep our word. We have to keep our word. Look at how difficult this was for Jephthah, how heartbreaking it was. This was so heartbreaking yet what did he do? He dedicated his daughter to God. He followed through on that vow and he kept his promise. The Psalms talk about this. Notice Psalms 15:4 Psalms 15:4In whose eyes a vile person is contemned; but he honors them that fear the LORD. He that swears to his own hurt, and changes not.
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. In Psalm 15, we can see this. That is a powerful Psalm. In fact, if you look at the beginning of verse 1, Psalms 15:1 Psalms 15:1Lord, who shall abide in your tabernacle? who shall dwell in your holy hill?
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, David poses a question. He says, “Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?” Ultimately, not a physical tabernacle looking forward to the Kingdom of God, looking forward to eternal life. Who can be in the family of God? Who can dwell with God? Verse 2, “He who walks uprightly, and works righteousness, and speaks the truth in his heart; he doesn’t backbite with his tongue, nor does evil to his neighbor.”

What else does he do? Verse 4. It says at the end, “…He who swears to his own hurt and does not change;” he does not change. What a reminder. Never make promises that you’re not going to keep. Never make promises that you won’t fulfill. Does God hold us accountable for those words? Absolutely. It doesn’t change. You can say, “Oh, that’s an Old Testament verse.” What did Christ say about those things? Didn’t He say, “Let your yes be yes and your no be no”? Didn’t He say very clearly that every idle word that we speak we’ll be held accountable for? We have to give account. That’s what Christ himself said. “By your words, you’ll be justified. By your words, you’ll be condemned.” So it’s critical. Words matter. And this is so contrary to the world that we live in where people can say one thing and do something totally different as though it means nothing.

Well, God says, “That’s not the case at all. Words do matter.” And so I think the lessons here in the story of Jephthah have to bring us to the point that we’ve got to ask ourselves, “Am I forthright with what I say? Can people trust me? Can they trust the words that I… do they believe me when I say something when I promise to do something? Are my words truthful or are they not?” You see, if we say we’re going to do something, do we really follow through with it? I mean, that’s what it means to be Christian. That’s what it means to be spiritually mature. That’s what it means to be responsible. We are supposed to be this living, breathing example of what Christ-like character is all about. And so if there’s a disconnect there, how can we claim to be God’s people? If those words and our actions don’t go together if they don’t coincide, what will be the impact? How will others, you know, look at us? What is our character? How can they take anything we say for truth if we don’t follow through with our words? So I think, wow, what an important lesson there.

I think the second lesson we can think about for a moment is being faithful. We have to be faithful. Yes, and that includes being trustworthy. I mean, think about this promise he made to God. Oftentimes, you don’t associate that with faithfulness. But I think it really does when you consider what Jephthah was going through. Yes, this was an unwise thing to say. He should have not probably done that. But what was his reaction? He followed through. He did it. His daughter said. “Okay. You vowed, let’s do it. Let’s do it.” She followed through, that kind of like Isaac and Abraham kind of thing going on there. But Jephthah has certainly understood the importance of keeping that vow, even, what we read in the Psalms, even to his own hurt, he kept that vow. So doesn’t that point to being faithful? You say, “Well, what does that have to do with faith? That doesn’t sound like it’s such a faithful thing.” Well, your heritage was everything. Having an heir was everything. That was what was most important. So did he look to that or did he look beyond that?

See, he looked far beyond that. He was willing to give up having grandchildren. He was giving up hope of perpetuating his lineage. He was giving up all of the hope that this world has to offer, even the social stigma from having no descendants. And why did he do it? To obey God. He did it to obey God. And when you put it in that context, was his hope in his daughter? Was his hope to have some grandsons? Was his hope… No, he saw beyond that. He saw the hope that it talks about in the book of Hebrews because Jephthah is listed there in that Hall of Fame of Faith. And when you consider it in that regard, Jephthah had eyes of faith to have a different vision of a better hope than what this world has to offer. More than any physical blessings. And doesn’t that point to his faith?

In fact, maybe we could even just recognize that he’s there. If you go to the book of Hebrews, Hebrews 11, of course, the faith chapter in Hebrews 11. He’s got a brief mention here in verse 32. Hebrews 11:32 Hebrews 11:32And 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:
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, after going through a number of different individuals, we see a number of people just kind of rattled off here as we get towards the end of the chapter. Verse 32 says, “What more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barrack and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises,” and the list goes on.

And that vision that he had, verse 39, “All of these, having obtained a good testimony through faith, did not receive the promises, God provided something better for us, that they should may not made perfect without us.” Because they saw beyond all of this. Jephthah saw beyond this to the true hope. And so he’s certainly acted by faith and I think to show the way that we can, too. We can, too. If he can, he isn’t that much different than us. So when you consider that, that’s a powerful lesson in this story. Now, there’s probably quite a few that you can come up with, but I came up with a third one. A third one that I think is also important is the fact that rejection is not the end of the story. You know, rejection, he had to deal with something that wasn’t even his fault, wasn’t his problem. It was what his father did, and when his half-brothers kicked him out and weren’t going to give him any of the inheritance, he’s driven out of town, but was he lost? Now, he’s just a loser. He’s just a reject. He’s a loser and a reject that defines who he is. Life is over. That’s done.

But, see, you trust in God. You put your faith there. Can you come back? I think that’s part of the greatness of the story of Jephthah is you can come back from rejection and face it. What is life like? I mean, can anybody go through life unscathed when it comes to experiencing some sort of rejection? I think we all do. I think we all do. And so the story here really points to, you know, the critical aspect for all of us, for all of us, because rejection can bring us closer to God. And I say can because if we respond to it right. Because, really, you got two choices. You got two choices: either we’re rejected and we’re going to go to God. We’re going to draw closer to Him. We’re going to rely on Him or we’re going to pull away from God. I mean, those are the two choices. And what did Jephthah do? You know, he had the humility to draw closer to God. And so have you ever thought about it in that way? That when I’m put down when people make fun of me when people reject me, do I look at that as an opportunity?

I mean, it really is. It’s an opportunity. Will I draw closer to God, or will I pull away from God? And Jephthah points out the fact we can be restored, we can be brought back. I mean, this sin wasn’t even his fault why he was driven off and yet God brought him out of that and used him in powerful ways. And so I think when we see rejection in that way, it should change our whole perspective. In fact, there’s a beautiful Psalm, in Psalms 34:17 Psalms 34:17The righteous cry, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.
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. Psalms 34:17 Psalms 34:17The righteous cry, and the LORD hears, and delivers them out of all their troubles.
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is a wonderful reminder of this very fact. Psalm 34 [37], notice verse 17. Here I think it applies to this important lesson about the real end of the story. Psalms 37:17 Psalms 37:17For the arms of the wicked shall be broken: but the LORD upholds the righteous.
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says, “The arms of the wicked shall be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.” Kind of sounds like the Ammonites in Jephthah. “The Lord knows the days of the upright, and their inheritance shall be forever.” Verse 19, “They shall not be ashamed in the evil time, and in the days of famine but they shall be satisfied.”

And so what a powerful lesson this is when you recognize that God does hear. God delivers us. He delivers us and watches over us. So, powerful lessons here. And, in fact, if we turn over to Psalm 27, as bad as it can be, in Jephthah’s case, even the Psalms addressed this. Psalm 27, notice verse 10. Psalms 27:10 Psalms 27:10When my father and my mother forsake me, then the LORD will take me up.
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, “When my father and my mother forsake me, then the Lord will take care of me.” And so put that into Jephthah’s life story, and we find the very fact that he didn’t allow his circumstances to define who he was. Just because he was rejected by his family and the people there as well, his whole city rejects him in that sense, that didn’t define him. That didn’t determine his future. And so he makes the choice. He doesn’t pity himself. He doesn’t look down upon himself. He didn’t see himself as some illegitimate son, but he saw himself as a son of God. And he used those things to rely on God and, ultimately, becomes this great man of valor.

And in the story, it’s pointed the fact we can be a Jephthah. We can be like Jephthah. Instead of looking at our suffering, and the difficulties, and the challenges, and letting all of those things weigh us down, we need to realize there is hope. There is hope. We’re not a reject. God allowed certain things to happen in order to build his character, in order to bring him to be more like Christ. And He can do the same for us. And we’ve got a God that loves us, and cares for us, and watches over us, and gives us this story. I think it’s a powerful lesson in so many different ways.

In fact, maybe one more passage we can turn to that I think is an important reminder, it’s a passage at the end of the Judges, but it’s not actually in the book of Judges. It’s in the book of 1 Samuel. It’s in 1 Samuel 15, notice verse 22. 1 Samuel 15:22 1 Samuel 15:22And Samuel said, Has the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to listen than the fat of rams.
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, this is a quote from Samuel. Samuel, really, the last of the judges, even though he’s in the book of 1 Samuel here. Notice what he says. He says, “Has the Lord great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the Lord?” In other words, he’s saying, “What’s better? Sacrifices, burnt offerings, or obedience? Which is better?”

Conclusion, “Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to heed” or to listen, to do, “than the fat of rams.” So Samuel, in a way, summarizes Jephthah’s story, that it’s possible for all of us to move from being a reject, you know, to being responsible, to being like Jephthah, a ruler. We can move from being a loser to a leader in God’s eyesight. That’s God’s intent. And so we need to keep His Word. We need to follow and obey what we promised to obey. Keep our word as well and stay faithful to God, exhibit that faithfulness in our life, in our choices, which always help us then to never lose hope. Of course, if we apply those lessons from the story of Jephthah, there’s no doubt we can have a life of courage, a life of faith, a life of integrity, a life of vision, and certainly a life of hope.

All right, that concludes our story of Jephthah for this evening. If you want to read on ahead, you could read through chapter 12. The story’s not over in the Judges about Jephthah. We just got through that one particular event. The story actually goes on, so maybe what we’ll do is we’ll try to take chapter 12 maybe for another time for our Bible studies. All right, well, that’s it for tonight. Thanks for coming out. Thanks for joining us. We look forward to seeing you all next time.

Comments

  • twocents
    James' instruction [James 4:15 KJV]: "For that ye ought to say, If the Lord will, we shall live, and do this, or that." Paul's example [1 Corinthians 4:19 KJV]: "But I will come to you shortly, if the Lord will..." Psalm 15:4 (AMP): "He keeps his word even to his own disadvantage and does not change it [for his own benefit]." Lesson: Use words like "Lord willing, I plan to" or "Lord willing, I intend to" or "No promises, but here's my plan" or some such phrase. Current usage example: If you sign a check or use your credit card, you are obligated to pay that amount. In other words, it is a contract with the obligation to fulfill its terms. Weigh your words very carefully before you promise anything to anyone. Life is very serious; take it very seriously; God does!
  • EvanToledo
    An intention or personal promise is NOT the same as a vow before God. A Godly vow involves detailed prayer declaring your promise to HIM, not physical people.
  • dust_i_am
    This study and section of Judges can lead to serious soul-searching. Have we ever made a vow to God that we ignored, perhaps without realizing it? Is He enforcing that on us in some way now? And how do we define a "vow"? If I promise to get the family a roast for dinner and then find chicken on sale at the store, have I broken a vow by purchasing the chicken - especially if God hears everything we say?
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