A Tragic Vow of Jephthah – Jess Whitlock

Jess Whitlock

Jephthah is the 9th judge of Israel and serves as such for 6 years. Jephthah is a Gileadite. Gilead was located on the east side of the Jordan. His mother was a harlot, which caused his brothers to hate him and drive him away (Judges 11:1-3).

Israel appeals to Jephthah for deliverance (Judges 11:4-11). Israel had rebelled against God once more. Thus, they are given into the hands of the Ammonites. This oppression lasted for 40 years. Israel needed a leader and looked to Jephthah. When Israel came out of Egypt, they had been told not to attack Moab or Ammon (Deut. 2:9-19); because they were descendants of Lot (Gen. 19).

Jephthah informs the Ammonites, (1) the land had belonged to the Amorites and not the Ammonites; verses 15-20, (2) just stay in the land that your god Chemosh has given you; verses 21-25, (3) it has been 300 years, so why now? In Judges 11:28-30 we learn that the king of Ammon is ready to fight. Pay close attention to this fact: “Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah…” (Judges 11: 29). This brings us to the rash vow that Jephthah made to the LORD.

If Thou wilt indeed deliver the children of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatsoever cometh forth from the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, it shall be Jehovah’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering” (Judges 11:30-31). He is given an awesome victory over Ammon; but the vow was totally unnecessary! Why? Because “the Spirit of the LORD” was already upon him (Judges 11: 29). Did Jephthah fulfill his vow? Yes!

How did Jephthah fulfill his vow? As a “boy preacher” a long time ago, I taught that Jephthah offered his daughter as a literal sacrifice to Jehovah. In further study I have come to the conclusion that Jephthah actually offered her in service to the Lord God.

  • Jephthah’s daughter is the first one to come out of his house. His heart is broken. “And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, 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 Jehovah, and I cannot go back” (Judges 11:35). Much controversy surrounds his vow!

  • Human sacrifice was forbidden under the Law of Moses (Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10; Jer. 7:31-32; 32:35). Surely no priest of God would have taken part in such an offering due to the Law. The offering of children as sacrifice was one of the main reasons that God wanted the Canaanites driven out of the land of promise. A human sacrifice to God would have been an insult to Jehovah, since man is made in the image of God (Gen. 1:26-28).

  • None would deny that Jehovah gave the victory to Jephthah over the Ammonites (Judges 11: 32-33). Would God have done so knowing that the daughter of Jephthah was to be offered as a burnt offering? Keil and Delitzsch have commented: “…nowhere is it stated that the Spirit of God came upon a worshiper of Moloch and endowed him with His own power, that he might be the helper and savior of Israel…” (pg. 391-392).

  • Let us not forget that things vowed, which involved persons, could be redeemed according to the Law (Lev. 27:1-9). Jephthah could have taken advantage of the Law regarding the making of rash oaths (Lev. 5:4-ff). We know that Jephthah was knowledgeable of the Law.

  • The text clearly states that Jephthah “did with her according to his vow which he vowed: and she knew no man” (Judges 11:39). His daughter requested of her father that she might “go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my companions…and he sent her away for two months: and she departed” (Judges 11:37-38). Adam Clarke’s Commentary states: “for a woman to have no offspring was considered to be a state of the utmost degradation among the Hebrews.” (p. 153). A woman denied male children was considered as cause for pity in Israel. To die being not a mother in Israel was justifiable reason for mourning. Why the delay for two months, if Jephthah was going to offer her as sacrifice? How much time did Abraham delay when he made ready to literally offer his son, Isaac as sacrifice to God?

  • In God’s “Hall of Faith” we read, “what shall I more say? For the time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah” (Heb. 11:32).

God did not need or request a vow from Jephthah, He needed faith! Whether you agree or disagree, we know this for a fact; Jephthah kept his vow! “When you make a vow to God, do not delay to pay it; for He has no pleasure in fools. Pay what you have vowed—better not to vow than to vow and not pay” (Eccl. 5:4-5).

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