The Vow of Jephthah

Jephthah. Photo Credit: studyJesus.com

Jephthah. Photo Credit: studyJesus.com

Fifty years ago, business transactions are done deal with a word and with a firm handshake. Goods are delivered and payments are made, all because of a man’s word of honor. Today, business contracts are notarized and company lawyers or personal lawyers study every page finding a loophole and avoiding every possible way not to get double-crossed or scammed by the other party. So much has changed and so much for the worse.

The book of Judges records the events from the death of Joshua to the time of the monarchy under King Saul, a time span of about 300 years. This is the time where Israel was caught up in the evil cycle wherein they would abandon God to serve false gods. God would punish them by allowing their enemies to defeat and enslave them. In their times of trouble they would repent and God would raise a judge to deliver them.

And Jephthah was one of those judges appointed by God to rescue His people. In chapter 11, verse 29, we find that the Spirit of God came upon him. But who is Jephthah? Consider his CV in Judges 11:1-3:

-A mighty warrior or mighty man of valor

-His mother was a prostitute

-He was born out of wedlock

-His father had other children w/ his wife

-Rejected by his family

-An outcast from society

– He earned his hardship degree from the university of life

His background sounds like a soap opera material. His father, Gilead, is from the tribe of Manasseh. After their father’s death, his half brothers refused to share the inheritance with him because he is an illegitimate son and they kicked him out from their home. He went to a land called Tob (in modern day-Syria) and there he became known as a mighty warrior.

Then something happened in Judges 11:4-11 that changed his life forever. At one point, he was rejected, but now the elders of his own people have come to ask him to lead them; it was a calling from God. There are so many lessons we can learn from this:

1. When God calls us into the ministry, we must be ready to serve Him

2. The things that happened in our lives (whether good or bad) are God’s own way of preparing us for the challenges that we are going to face soon

3. God is an expert in making the useless to become useful vessels in His kingdom – we should not doubt His love

Let’s look at Judges 11:29-31: 29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 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.”

The Vow and its consequence –  In the case of Jephthah, while the vow is not required (because God will give him victory anyway whether with a vow or without a vow), it was also binding. A “vow’ is “a binding promise that involves a gift or sacrifice.”  Vows in the Bible are never made to men, but always to God.

Let’s continue in verses 32-34: 32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon. 34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter.

The victory was totally devastating and the Ammonites were defeated. Israel regained her independence that day. This is a reminder for all of us that the LORD wants to give victory for all His children. He is subduing our enemies so we can experience His power and His deliverance in our lives.

When Jephthah saw her daughter came out from the door of their house, the excitement of the victory was forgotten. In its place was the searing pain of loss. And he felt miserable!

In verses 35 to 36:  35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.” 36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.

The Cost of keeping the promise – Jephthah is “a man of his word” – it means doing what he said he will do regardless of the personal cost or inconvenience. The idea of the extinction of a family line is an extremely tragic matter for an Israelite, yet Jepthah understands that regardless of the consequence, he must fulfill his vow.

His daughter’s pain and obedience – Oblivious of her own pain, she willingly obeyed her father. She sacrificed her dreams to help her father honor his vow to God. It means she will die without feeling a husband’s embrace. She would die without experiencing the joy of being a mother. She is the last of her father’s blood line and when she is gone, her father’s name will be lost forever among the clans of Israel.

So how did Jephthah kept his promise to the Lord?  There are two possible ways:

  1. Sacrifice her daughter as a burnt offering before the Lord
  2. Or, consecrate her to serve the Lord at the Tabernacle, separated from her father all the days of her life

Offering children to a deity by burning them is detestable before the LORD. God declared punishment to the other nations surrounding Israel who are practicing this abomination. (Deut. 18:9-10 / Deut. 12:30-31 / Lev. 18:21 / Lev. 20:1-5) God will not tolerate such actions. You cannot ask God to help you by promising to offer Him a sacrifice that is detestable in His own sight. No priest would dare participate in desecrating the altar of God by sacrificing a human being as a burnt offering.

The following Scriptures would also shed light on what happened to the daughter of Jephtah:

Lev. 22:18-19 – a burnt offering should be male

Lev. 27:1-3 – Jephthah can easily redeem her daughter with 30 shekels of silver

Lev. 6:8-11- God only accepts burnt sacrifices offered by Levitical priests

From the text, it appears that Jephthah made the vow, not in a literal sense. I think it stands to reason that Jephthah gave his daughter to the Lord to serve in the Tabernacle, along with the other women who served there. (Exodus 38:8; 1 Samuel 2:22).

Because he kept his promise, God honored him. He is listed in The Hall of Faith in Hebrews 11. God rewarded him for his sacrificial giving, being immortalized in the Hall of Faith alongside Abraham – the man of faith.








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