Jephthah, in English is pronounced jef'-tha, and he was the son of Gilead and a harlot (prostitute). He was from the Gilead region east of the Jordan and from the Israelite tribe of Manasseh. The other sons of Gilead rejected him, so he left his homeland and entered the land of Tob. While there, he gathered a bunch of hooligans or as the Bible says “vein men” who became a fighting force under his command. He was not held in any regard, except as a “Mighty Man of Valor”. When the Ammonites started oppressing the Israelites, yet again, the Israelites or more specifically the Gileadites, called out to Jephthah to lead their fighting force as their Captain. He fought and defeated the Ammonites, but that’s only part of his history.
Jephthah did not trust by faith that God would be with him in this conflict, so he made a vow to God. “And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 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.” (Judges 11:30-31) The average home of an Israelite of that era, about 1130 BC, had two stories. The lower level was for cooking, work activities and securing the animals at night. The second floor was for sleeping and entertaining guests. The same house design as when Jesus eat his last Passover meal with his disciples in the upper room, just before he was crucified. So, Jephthah was probably thinking an animal or possibly a
servant would come out of the house first, but no, his one and only child, his daughter came out of the house dancing with timbrels in her hands celebrating her father’s return. When he saw her he rent (ripped) his clothes, which was a sign of deep gut wrenching sorrow in those times. He was a faithful man of God, defender of his people and now a Judge over Israel, so he had to fulfill his vow to the Lord.
His vow was that whatever walked out of the house first was to be offered to the Lord as a burnt offering. Many scholars, including Hebrew scholars believe that Jephthah’s daughter was then sacrificed to God (killed and burned). Other scholars and I have a few problems with this interpretation. First, human sacrifice was prohibited by the Law of Moses, second, his daughter was not morning her pending death, but her pending life as a perpetual virgin, third, it was common practice for families to offer their firstborn to God as a servant in the Temple. God said to Moses, “Sanctify unto me all the firstborn, whatsoever openeth the womb among the children of Israel, both of man and of beast: it is mine.” (Exodus 13:2) This indicates to me that Jephthah’s daughter would be sent to work in the Temple, never to marry, never to have children, and never pass on her father’s bloodline. As Israelites, this life-changing event was devastating to a family with only one child. But even in his sorrow Jephthah fulfilled his vow to God without killing his daughter.
What can this lesson teach us? Why is it relevant to us, in our walk with the Lord? First, it teaches us to obey God by faith alone. Jephthah was basically trying to manipulate God by offering a vow with a prize for God if He helped him and Israel win against the Ammonites. The prize was a sacrifice. Second, make no vows. “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest ye fall into condemnation.” (James 5:12) We are humans, so we have trouble keeping vows in the first place and when Jephthah was forced to keep his vow he was horrified and ripped his clothes in anguish. God want’s our faith not our vows. Third, we can take away from this lesson that when we promise God something, we should always be willing to follow through with our promise. Jephthah was a true man of God. He was faithful in his service to the Lord, offered his daughter up as a living sacrifice, in accordance with the Law, defended Israel and became a Judge over Israel for 6 years. He was a faithful man of God that should have never made that vow. He should have trusted God by faith alone.
Study and learn the Bible, so that you know what God’s will is, and live by faith, so that God’s will becomes the only will that matters.