Junior Level

This week we will be looking at an event in the life of a man named Jephthah.  Jephthah was a mighty warrior and was chosen to help deliver Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites.  God had already heard the cries of Israel and was going to deliver them, however Jephthah still felt the need to make a bargain with God.  It was a bargin and vow that he did not clearly think through, and it would change his life forever.

Handout: Jephthah

Judges 11

 1Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.  2And Gilead's wife bare him sons; and his wife's sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah, and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father's house; for thou art the son of a strange woman. 3Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.
 4And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel. 5And it was so, that when the children of Ammon made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob: 6And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon. 7And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father's house? and why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?
 8And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, Therefore we turn again to thee now, that thou mayest go with us, and fight against the children of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead. 9And Jephthah said unto the elders of Gilead, If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head? 10And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.
 11Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh. 12And Jephthah sent messengers unto the king of the children of Ammon, saying, What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?
 13And the king of the children of Ammon answered unto the messengers of Jephthah, Because Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan: now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.
 14And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon: 15And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon: 16But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh; 17Then Israel sent messengers unto the king of Edom, saying, Let me, I pray thee, pass through thy land: but the king of Edom would not hearken thereto. And in like manner they sent unto the king of Moab: but he would not consent: and Israel abode in Kadesh. 18Then they went along through the wilderness, and compassed the land of Edom, and the land of Moab, and came by the east side of the land of Moab, and pitched on the other side of Arnon, but came not within the border of Moab: for Arnon was the border of Moab.
 19And Israel sent messengers unto Sihon king of the Amorites, the king of Heshbon; and Israel said unto him, Let us pass, we pray thee, through thy land into my place. 20But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. 21And the LORD God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they smote them: so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites, the inhabitants of that country. 22And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan. 23So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it? 24Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess. 25And now art thou any thing better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? did he ever strive against Israel, or did he ever fight against them, 26While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and her towns, and in Aroer and her towns, and in all the cities that be along by the coasts of Arnon, three hundred years? why therefore did ye not recover them within that time? 27Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me: the LORD the Judge be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.
 28Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him. 29Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.
 30And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 31Then 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. 32So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. 33And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.
 34And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
Jephthah had just come back from war with a great victory, how happy he must have been until he looked and saw his only child, his daughter run out to meet him.  The horror that must have crept up in his heart when he remembered his vow!  No!  How could this be?  This isn’t how it is supposed to be!  This is not the fairytale ending he was imagining!  Why did Jephthah make such a vow to begin with?  Knowing the result we sometimes judge him harshly.  How could he make such a foolish vow?  Jephthah was not a foolish man, his actions as he was leading the army of Israel shows us that he was an excellent negotiator and brilliant at military strategy.  He did not just charge at the Ammonites.  He intended to settle the issues verbally first, but he did not hesitate to use other means when the verbal attempts failed.  His actions were consistent with his words.  He explained the issues of the conflict so that everyone understood the cause then the response from the King of the Ammonites determined his next action.  The Ammonite King refused to listen, therefore Jephthah was forced into battle.   Jephthah was also a man whom God would use, because God’s Spirit came upon him.  It tells us that in the 29th chapter of Judges chapter 11.  We know that before Christ died that the Holy Spirit did not dwell in men and women but it would come and go with the exception of David.  The Spirit of the LORD would come upon a person to empower the person to complete a specific task or mission.  So the LORD was using Jephthah to fight and win this battle against the Ammonites.  So why then, did Jephthah make such a vow?  I’ll share with you now a commentary from my study Bible that has been helpful to me.

Life Application Study Bible (KJV)

In God’s law, a vow was a promise to God that should not be broken. (Numbers 30:1-2; Deuteronomy 23:21-23) It carried as much force as a written contract.  Many people made vows in biblical times.  Some like Jephthah’s were very foolish.  When Jephthah made his vow, did he stop to consider that a person, not a sheep or goat, might come out to meet him?  Scholars are divided over the issue.  Those who say Jephthah was considering human sacrifice use the following arguments:

  1. He was from an area where heathen religion and human sacrifices were common.  In his eyes perhaps, it may have not seemed like a sin? 
  2. Jephthah may not have had a background in religious law.  Perhaps he was ignorant of God’s command AGAINST human sacrifice. 


Those who say Jephthah could not have been thinking about human sacrifice point to the other evidence:

  1. As a leader of the people, Jephthah must have been familiar with God’s Law; human sacrifice was clearly forbidden (Leviticus 18:21; Leviticus 20:1-5)
  2. No legitimate priest would have helped Jephthah carry out his vow if a person was to be the sacrifice.


Whatever Jephthah had in mind when he mad the vow, did he or did he not sacrifice his daughter?  Some think he did, because his vow was to make a burnt offering.  Some think he did not, and they offer several reasons:

  1. If the girl was to die, she would not have spent her last two months in the mountains.
  2. God would not have honored a vow based on a wicked practice.
  3. Verse 39 says that she never married, not that she died, which could imply that she was set apart for service to God, not killed.


Jephthah’s rash vow brought him unspeakable grief.  In the heat of emotion or personal turmoil it is easy to make foolish promises to God.  These promises may sound very spiritual when we make them, but they may produce only guilt and frustration when we are forced to fulfill them.  Making spiritual “deals” only bring disappointment.  God does not want promises for the future, but obedience for TODAY…right now!

We must be very careful the vows we make.  God’s word tells us that it is better not to make a promise or to vow than to make one and break it. (Ecclesiastes 5:5)  We must think and pray before we speak such things.  Remember Saul’s vow in 1 Samuel 14?
Saul had made a vow that if anyone ate before evening they would die.  His son Jonathan, not being aware of the vow, tasted some honey.  If it had not been for the soldiers intervening, Saul would have killed his son.  In the New Testament a vow was made by Herod Antipas to give Herodias’s daughter anything she requested when he was pleased by her dancing before him.  She and her mother being very wicked, demanded John the Baptist’s death by beheading.  This grieved Herod, but because he made the oath in front of witnesses, he had it done.  (Mark chapter 6)

In my own opinion, I do not believe that Jephthah thought his vow through.  In those times it would not have been strange for an animal to be the first out the door.  Also, Jephthah, when he made his vow said WHATSOEVER not WHOSOEVER, when he made his vow.  I do not believe that he was considering human sacrifice at all.

Judges 11:31 “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.”

I believe that Jephthah was thinking of animals when he made the vow.  Animals were often stabled in a small room inside, and quite near the entrance of, the typical Israelite house. And animals were a common object of sacrifice in ancient Israel.  The Bible does not explicitly tell us if Jephthah killed his daughter, perhaps he did offer her up to service to God such as Hannah did with Samuel.  The grief both done by father and daughter could have been to the concern of the loss of the normal Israelite role of a wife and mother that she would have had otherwise.  Also, her being Jephthah’s only child, without her having children, Jephthah’s patrimony would have been lost forever.

I also want to note that Jephthah is listed in the Hall of Faith in Hebrews chapter 11 for his faith in the LORD.  It is good to know that even if we make brash decisions sometimes, still God honors us when we faith in HIM!

We must learn from this lesson that even the most intelligent of people can make a mistake and speak before thinking things through sometimes.  We must pray and ask God what He would have us to do and obey that and not try to bargain with God.  He wants our prompt obedience.  With that let us end this lesson with Proverbs.

Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the LORD with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. 6In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and he shall direct thy paths.

Dear Heavenly Father,
Thank You for who You are.  Thank You for loving us even when we make mistakes and when we sin.  You are good and Your mercy does indeed endure forever!  Lord I ask today that You help us to pray and seek You in all things before we make vows and say things.  You know the future, You see the big picture and we know that if we look to You and obey what You say, then we will never go wrong.  Thank You that we can trust You!  You are ALMIGHTY and there is none like You.  Thank You for providing for us and keeping us.  I pray today for all those who are listening or reading this lesson that You will bless every home that is represented and heal the sick and feed the hungry.  I ask that You save the lost ones and bless the saved ones in the name of LOVELY JESUS I pray…Amen.

July 4, 2010