21st Sunday after Pentecost | Read Judges 11:29 - 40
Jephthah presided over Israel for a period of six years (Judges 12:7). He lived in Gilead. His father's name is also given as Gilead, and, as his mother is described as a prostitute, this may indicate that his father might have been any of the men of that area. Jephthah led the Israelites in battle against Ammon and, in exchange for defeating the Ammonites, made an unsolicited vow to sacrifice whatever would come out of the door of his house first.
We read about Jephthah in Judges 10:6–12:7, and while he delivered Israel from its enemies, his story ends in one of the most unforgettable tragedies in Scripture—a tragedy of his own making.
Before Jephthah was a judge, the Israelites were basically worshiping any god that wasn’t Yahweh. They worshiped the Baals, Ashtorahs, the gods of Aram, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the Ammonites, and the gods of the Philistines. But not their own God. When the Israelites’ enemies oppressed them, they cried out to God, and he refused:
“When the Egyptians, the Amorites, the Ammonites, the Philistines, the Sidonians, the Amalekites and the Maonites oppressed you and you cried to me for help, did I not save you from their hands? But you have forsaken me and served other gods, so I will no longer save you. Go and cry out to the gods you have chosen. Let them save you when you are in trouble!” —Judges 10:11–14
But the Israelites repented, getting rid of their foreign gods and once again serving the Lord. And he showed mercy through Jephthah.
Israel fought with the Ammonites, and knowing Jephthah was a mighty warrior, they went to the land of Tob to ask him to lead them, promising to make him the head of Gilead if he agreed. He accepted and began by negotiating with the Ammonite king, attempting to resolve the conflict peacefully.
The king refused, and the Israelites began driving the Ammonites out of the land. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah (Judges 11:29), and Jephthah made a foolish (and completely unnecessary) vow:
“If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.” —Judges 11:30–31
What he didn't know is that he was committing to sacrifice his very own daughter. As Christians, we must know that this sacrifice was not necessary, because God had already given victory to Jephthah. Once again, we see another leader who wants to get the victory by their own means, rather than trusting God.
What we know... - Jephthah (Hebrew) to open; to release; God opens. He was a known, famous (Popular) warrior in his society. Probably, people and his siblings fear him for he was a man of "will" or "Character." We know that Jephthah was a man without strong family ties but with great discipline, for he was able to gather a band of worthless rebels, who at the end were not worthless after all.
This is one of the stories of the Bible that are difficult to digest. It is not a story that makes us feel good or hopefully but remind us of the cruelty of reality where we often send young people to die because of the things that others do or promise.
However, you should stop paying so much attention to Jephthah because he isn't the hero of the story. In fact, the hero of the story is Jephthah's daughter who tells him..
11:36 And she said, “Father, if you have made a vow to the Lord, you must do to me what you have vowed, for the Lord has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites.
She was committed to being faithful, even if it was unfair.
This should remind you of the story of Jesus, and how he was committed to being faithful, even if it was unfair to die for the sake of other people's behavior and sin.