Friday, March 31, 2017

Jephthah Counts the Cost - the 9th Judge

Jephthah doesn't have an asterisk next to his name for tainted leadership but he is known for a vow that had supposed negative consequences.

Like Abimelech, Jephthah was also a concubine's son. Unlike Abimelech, he was asked to lead after he was removed from living with his family in Gilead as he was considered a man of valor; a great warrior. His family was being attacked by the Ammonites and Jephthah was the chosen deliverer. When his brothers begged him to lead he does so with direction from the Lord.
But Jephthah said to them, “Aren’t you the ones who hated me and drove me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now when you’re in trouble?”
“Because we need you,” the elders replied. “If you lead us in battle against the Ammonites, we will make you ruler over all the people of Gilead.”
Jephthah said to the elders, “Let me get this straight. If I come with you and if the Lord gives me victory over the Ammonites, will you really make me ruler over all the people?”
“The Lord is our witness,” the elders replied. “We promise to do whatever you say.”
So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him their ruler and commander of the army. At Mizpah, in the presence of the Lord, Jephthah repeated what he had said to the elders. Judges 11:7-11
When Jephthah becomes the leader, he sent a message to the king of Ammon questioning the need for war. The king replies with a false statement - you stole our land. Jephthah sends a reply which basically reiterated what happened and ends with this firebomb that demonstrated his absolute belief in God:
So you see, it was the Lord, the God of Israel, who took away the land from the Amorites and gave it to Israel. Why, then, should we give it back to you? You keep whatever your god Chemosh gives you, and we will keep whatever the Lord our God gives us. Are you any better than Balak son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he try to make a case against Israel for disputed land? Did he go to war against them?
“Israel has been living here for 300 years, inhabiting Heshbon and its surrounding settlements, all the way to Aroer and its settlements, and in all the towns along the Arnon River. Why have you made no effort to recover it before now? Therefore, I have not sinned against you. Rather, you have wronged me by attacking me. Let the Lord, who is judge, decide today which of us is right—Israel or Ammon.” Judges 11:23-27
The king of Ammon then ignored everything Jephthah said and decided that it was a good idea to go to battle with a man of God.

It is at this point that Jephthah makes his infamous vow. First, the Spirit of the Lord comes over him as he builds his army. Then he vowed to the Lord, "If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.

My initial thoughts upon reading this were along the lines of "What was Jephthah thinking?" Because he promised to sacrifice and make a burnt offering, maybe he thought an animal would come through the door first. With one child, he may have thought the chances were pretty slim that she would come through the door first, but he had to know after he made the vow that she and anyone and anything would be fair game. Perhaps he wasn't thinking at all, or maybe he became overconfident and thought he could control what would come through the door first. Maybe in his desperation to defeat the King of Ammon, he said the first thing that came to mind without any additional thought.

But maybe it was said as a zealous desire to serve the Lord, regardless of the consequence,  - and this is the view I'm taking for the following reasons:

  • His daughter's response - she wasn't sacrificed on an altar but did not fight against the vow. She said she would honor the vow her father made but she needed some time to get used to her new life. (Judges 11:36-40) "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."
  • The vow was made subsequent to the influence of the Spirit. Through scripture, we have seen instances where the actions of being moved by the Spirit don't seem to make any sense to you and I. The Spirit of God has many manifestations from speaking in tongues to great physical strength.
  • Jephthah wasn't being careless when he spoke - he counted the cost and was willing to sacrifice mother, father, daughter, or son if it impacted his service to the Lord. 
  • There was no additional condemnation of Jephthah; as a matter of fact, he is remembered for his faith. (Hebrews 11:32-34)
  • Jephthah had recently recounted all that God had done for the Israelites to the king of Ammon. He was intimately familiar with the God he served. Nothing could separate him from being on God's side. (Romans 8:31-39)
  • He recognized that when it came to serving God, it's a personal decision; it's every man for himself; every woman for herself. You can influence those around you, but you can't make them choose God. Those around him saw the impact of his faith and respected it as evidenced by his daughter's response.
  • We are all called to be living sacrifices - totally consecrated and obedient to God. (Romans 12:1)
  • Whatever the case maybe he said what he said and God honored it - it was a well-pleasing sacrifice to the Lord.
The vow made by Jephthah in Judges 11 is framed by Jephthah's character before and after the vow. He didn't lose his daughter, but he gained no additional heirs because she was a literal living sacrifice for God. When I was growing up, there used to be an expression of "being sold out for Jesus." It was considered a lofty goal. Jephthah's vow gives life to this phrase. It's not a careless or foolish vow but a desire to serve God regardless of the cost. It is clearly possible, and more likely probable, that Jephthah, under the Spirit’s guidance, was using the language of sacrifice symbolically in this context, symbolic of complete and total dedication to the LORD. (

If you love your father or mother more than you love me, you are not worthy of being mine; or if you love your son or daughter more than me, you are not worthy of being mine. Matthew 10:37

Then Peter began to speak up. “We’ve given up everything to follow you,” he said.
“Yes,” Jesus replied, “and I assure you that everyone who has given up house or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or property, for my sake and for the Good News, will receive now in return a hundred times as many houses, brothers, sisters, mothers, children, and property—along with persecution. And in the world to come that person will have eternal life. Mark 10:28-30

Are we like Jephthah in our dedication and service to God?


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  1. Love your breakdown of what you learned, and your references to scripture. Great post, awesome insight :)

  2. I've always found this an interesting passage of Scripture. Both good and bad, tragedy and victory - like most of the Book of Judges. Thanks for sharing your thoughts.

  3. This is one of those challenging Bible stories. Right along with Abraham sacrificing Issac.


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