Jephthah the Faithful

Judges chapters 11-12 begins with a married man by the name of Gilead, committed adultery with a prostitute, who gave birth to a boy who was named Jephthah. Jephthah grew up in his father’s household with his stepmother who also gave birth to other sons by Gilead. As the boys grew up, Jephthah’s half-brothers resented him and eventually drove him out of the family. You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman. Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him. Consequently, Jephthah became a mighty warrior (Judges 11:1-3).

Sometime later, the Ammonites came to make war against Israel. The leaders of the tribe of Gilead sent for Jephthah, seeking military assistance. They offered to serve Jephthah if he helped them defeat their enemy, to which Jephthah agreed. Initially, Jephthah sent a conciliatory message to the Ammonite king attempting a peaceful solution. But they rejected, making war inevitable.

By now, Jephthah had an only daughter, and they lived in Mizpah. Foolishly, Jephthah promised God, saying, 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).

Well, Jephthah went to battle against the Ammonites and defeated them. Upon arriving home, his daughter was first to come out of the house to greet him (Judges 11:29, 32-34).

How could this have happened?

Apparently, it was customary for people of that time and place, to have animals living in the ground level of their house. Possibly Jephthah expected an animal to greet him first, not his daughter. As you can imagine, this unexpected surprize caused him enormous grief. What’s more surprizing, was his daughter’s response when he explained his vow to her. She accepted the consequences, only asking for two months to mourn first (Judges 11:37–38). At the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made (Judges 11:39).

Jephthah kept his vow to God, and the event became an Israelite custom for the daughters of Israel to mourn the event yearly for four days (Judges 11:40).

However, following Jephthah’s defeat of the Ammonites, the Israelite tribe of Ephraim became angry with him for attacking the Ammonites without inviting them to help. They threatened to burn his house over him with fire (Judges 12:1). This led to a battle between the tribes, with Gilead killing 42,000 Ephraimites. Jephthah went on to judge Israel for six years (Judges 12:6-7).

Lessons from Jephthah:
1) God can use us now and in the future regardless of our background, our history, or what others think of us.
2) Be careful not to make rash promises.
3) Even when we do the right thing, we may have to endure hardship from others.
4) Like Jephthah, who lived a righteous life as judge over Israel, we too can faithfully walk with the Lord, despite our irregularities, our failings, and even our occasional foolish decisions.
5) God never withheld His Spirit’s blessing from Jephthah, who is recorded in 1 Samuel 12:11 and Hebrews 11:32, as a man of faith whom God used.
6) God does not look for reasons to discriminate against His children. Nor does He hold past faults against those who are repentant, forgiven, and cleansed in Jesus (Romans 8:1; 1 Corinthians 6:11).

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