-The saga of Jephthah, Israel’s 9th judge, is chronicled in this breathe-taking chapter. Jephthah is first described as a “valiant warrior” as the chapter commences. But, he, like Abimelech, was an illegitimate son, the son of a harlot. Gilead was his father. Gilead’s wife had sons, which drove him away without inheritance in their father’s house since he was not fully of the family. “So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him (Judges 11:1-3).” Rough beginnings.
-But, it came about in the land that the sons of Ammon and the sons of Israel began to fight, which led the elders of Gilead to reach out to Jephthah, the warrior, for military superiority. They called him to be their chief. This brought Jephthah to say, “Did you not hate me and drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” The elders’ about-face was humbling for them indeed, and they ate their crow. But in the end both parties resolved to unite against a common enemy with Jephthah being acknowledged as the head if indeed the LORD would deliver them from the sons of Ammon. These words of verification they all spoke before the LORD at Mizpah (Genesis 31:49, Judges 10:17; 11:4-11).
-Now Jephthah sent his messengers to the king of the sons of Ammon asking why they had come to fight against his land. Ammon replied that Israel had taken their land when they had come up from Egypt and it was rightfully theirs. To this, Jephthah initiated a lengthy response explaining the history of his people in justification for their actions. The LORD had given these kingdoms into their hands for a possession. Jephthah mocked their god, Chemosh, in the reply to their claims. He also said that they had had plenty of time to make their arguments and defenses, but they had not done so. Therefore, they were unjustified in their attempt to make war with his people. He summed it all up with these final words, “May the LORD, the Judge, judge between the sons of Israel and the sons of Ammon.” The king of the sons of Ammon disregarded Jephthah’s retort dispatch, and war became inevitable (Judges 11:12-28).
-“Now the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon.” He was gaining strength, but then did a very foolish thing. He made a vow before the LORD, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” The battle was actually won by Jephthah and the armies of Israel against the sons of Ammon. They were given into God’s peoples’ hands completely. The LORD struck them with a “very great slaughter” from Aroer to the entrance of Minnith, 20 cities, as far as Abel-keramim. But tragedy occurred upon Jephthah’s return to his home at Mizpah. His daughter, his only offspring, came out to him with tambourines and dancing in celebration of what had been accomplished. His response showed that he had remembered his obtuse vow before the LORD. He tore his clothes saying, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.” Complete sadness after his greatest victory. She accepted her fate with resilience and courage, “My father, you have given your word to the LORD; do to me as you have said, since the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” She requested to have just two more months of life alone to go and weep upon the mountains because of her virginity along with her companions. Jephthah allowed for this, and she returned as promised after the two months were completed. Jephthah did to her according to the vow which he had so foolishly made. His only child was sacrificed to the LORD, a thing which the LORD never requested or sought. “Thus it became a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year (Judges 11:29-40).”
-*Application* Never after this was anyone in Israel so insensitive as to make a vow of this nature. It teaches us to think about all the possibilities before uttering things out of our mouth. Just watch our current day politicians for examples about ridiculous promises or bravado that can end of making them look foolish. Jephthah, for all his weaknesses, was considered in the hall of faith chapter in Hebrews when the New Testament rolls around (Hebrews 11:32). He did fear the LORD and followed through with his commitments to Him. This shows his moxie, even though he was very impetuous. We need to have wisdom in our vows along with our faith though as this narrative teaches.
Verses to Memorize: Judges 11:32, 35