Jephthah’s Vow and His Faith Heroism

In Judges 11 we read the history of one of Israel’s heroes of faith.  Hebrews 11 speaks of him as belonging to that series of great men who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises and stopped the mouths of lions.  And Scripture goes on to tell us of the works of this man of God.

We recall how our school teachers used to tell us what a rash man Jephthah was and how he thoughtlessly made a vow which later he was forced to fulfill.

Perhaps something should be said of this man.

We read that he was a Gileadite and that he was a mighty man of valour.  We read also that he was born of a harlot and that he was not the son of his father’s later wife.  He was put out of his father’s house by his brothers, who refused to let him share the inheritance because he was born of a strange woman.  Because of this exile, Jephthah took up his abode in the land of Tob.  He was an outcast in the land of Gilead.  Yet it is to Jephthah that the elders of Gilead turn when they are faced with a war against Ammon.  In their hour of need they turn to the very man whom they once exiled.  Scripture does not acquaint us with how he gained his reputation as a man of valour; perhaps by fighting the warlike tribes that roamed the country at that time.  We do not know.  We only know that Jephthah was the man whom God chose to lead Israel and when the elders asked him to be their head, he also makes sure that he shall remain their head.

Jephthah was a man of God.  He knew that the apostatizing and adulterous Israel had fallen into evil ways.  He does not wish to deliver Israel and then turn his back on them and let them again be entangled in the yoke of bondage.  So it is that Jephthah decided to become leader to the men of Israel.

First, Jephthah sends messengers to the king of Ammon, seeking to find out the reason why they war against Israel.  Later, he sends still more messengers to attempt to dissuade the king of Ammon from continuing with his undertaking.  In this he fails and the result is that he must fight the Ammonites.

It is in the midst of his war with Ammon that he makes the well-known vow.  The content of his vow was that if the Lord will grant him the victory in this battle, then he will offer unto the Lord as a burnt offering whatever comes forth to meet him from the doors of his house when he returns.

Ah, but he was a rash man, we are liable to say.  It seems that he makes a vow on the spur of the moment.  But let us examine this a bit more closely.  We read that Jephthah had but one daughter and no sons either.  And not even the most rash person plays with the life of his dear ones.  No, dear reader, Jephthah was not a rash man.  Jephthah was a man of God.  The Spirit of the Lord was upon him also when he made that vow.  We read this plainly in the 29th verse of chapter 11.  You may be sure, therefore, that Jephthah knew what he was talking about when he made that particular vow.  I would remind you that Jephthah had but on child, an only daughter.  Jephthah knew when he made his vow that it would not be an ox, a sheep or a cow that would come to meet him.  He said in his vow that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my HOUSE to meet me that shall surely be the Lord’s.  He was not talking about the first fruits of his vineyard or whatever cometh forth from the cattle stalls that shall be the Lord’s.  He is speaking of his house, in the strict sense of the word.  His house wherein dwells his wife (perhaps) and his daughter.  Someone might say that the vow was rash since he could be aware of its implications.  But let us not forget that the Spirit of the Lord was upon him and presently, we shall see why God caused him to make this vow.

He was indeed a man of strong faith.  The vow which he made was certainly contrary to the flesh.  Of himself, I do not think Jephthah or any other man would have made such a vow as he had made.

Jephthah goes to battle.  And the Lord delivers the children of Ammon into his hands.  We read that he slew them with a great slaughter.

And what of his vow?  We read that when he comes to his home, his daughter runs to meet him with timbrels and with dances.  She is evidently overjoyed that her father is home again.  At this meeting, Jephthah rent his clothes and says: “Alas, my daughter, thou hast brought me very low and thou art one of them that trouble me, for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.”  Jephthah is conscious of the vow he has made and it is contrary to the flesh.  But he is a man of God and he will not break the pledge he has given.  Here we find that, although Jephthah is a man of God, his daughter is no less a child of God, and also filled with the faith.  She says: “If thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which has proceeded out of thy mouth.”  So before she knows exactly what her father has vowed, she places herself at his disposal and submits to the consequences of the vow.  She has but one request, she wishes to go into the mountains and bewail her virginity.  For in those days, the people regarded it as a curse if they could not reproduce their kind.  How different is the world today, where the fulfillment of the ultimate purpose of marriage is disregarded.  Jephthah’s daughter also would have desired to become mother of the covenant seed.  But he also realized that the ways of the Lord were beyond understanding and that His ways always worked for good for them that love Him.

And so, when her two months are up Jephthah does with her as he had vowed.  This does not imply that he made an altar and literally sacrificed her.  The implication is that he dedicated her to the Lord.  She became a servant of the Lord, as it were a hermit, so that she might be a testimony against the adulterous Israel.  We read that yearly, the daughters of Israel went four days per year to lament the daughter of Jephthah.  The word lament means literally to talk with, to comfort, to fellowship with and perhaps to sympathize.  So we find that Jephthah’s vow was not the work of a rash, imprudent man, but the work of one who stood ready to devote his life and all to the cause of God.  And the peculiar life which his daughter led was a constant testimony against the apostatizing and adulterous Israel, calling them to love the Lord and walk in the ways of consecration and holiness, in the path of life.