What do you really know about Jephthah? All your life you have heard about the violent man who made a rash vow and lived to regret it when he killed his daughter as a burnt offering to God. If you have not read the first of these two articles, close this one now and go do so. No one knows anything good about Jephthah because we have let our preconceived notions keep us from looking at his life any further—who wants to use a man who killed his daughter as an example? Today we are going to fix that.
One of the most obvious things about Jephthah is his desire for peace. Jephthah—a peacemaker. Does that surprise you? Here is a man run off by his half-brothers because his mother was a prostitute, who takes up with a band of renegades out in the wilderness to survive. Does that remind you of anyone? David’s run from Saul comes instantly to mind—David, “a man after God’s own heart.” So don’t judge Jephthah’s living arrangements harshly, unless you are willing to treat David likewise.
Despite his companions, when Jephthah was approached to save his people from the Ammonites, instead of rushing immediately to war, he tried to reason with the enemy. He practically quoted two whole chapters of Numbers. This man knew the writings of Moses—another reason we know he knew the law—and was not impulsive at all. So much for “rashness.”
How about us? Do we know God’s word well enough to quote it when needed? And do we try to keep the peace, even with our enemies, or are we chomping at the bit to get into a fight so we can strut our stuff? Jephthah knew the cost of violence, and he didn’t want anything to do with it if he could stop it. Spiritual fighting works the same way. There will be casualties when the need arises. Don’t rush into it if things can be settled peacefully and the truth remain unsullied.
Jephthah kept his vow. Don’t think for a minute that his daughter was the only one who lost out in this case. Remember the culture. She was his only child, the only descendant, and descendants and inheritances in the Promised Land were a big deal. In fact, he knew that because of his vow, those half-brothers who had run him off in the first place would now receive his inheritance. But this man who put God in every part of his life, kept the vow anyway. “If Jehovah give me the victory,” he said to his half brothers. “Jehovah our God gave us this land,” he told the Ammonite king. “Whoever Jehovah our God dispossesses, we will dispossess,” he added. He made the vow, “unto Jehovah.” And notice this, “The Spirit of Jehovah came upon Jephthah…and Jephthah vowed a vow,” 11:29,30. Surely the Spirit of Jehovah would have left him if he intended to sacrifice anyone in a bloody way.
Jephthah was a man of faith. The Hebrew writer holds him up as our example. He remained faithful despite ill treatment from both his family and the people of God. How many times have you heard the excuse for leaving the church, “They treated me wrong? If that’s the way the church is I don’t want anything to do with it.” Jephthah put God first in every consideration. He knew that God was with his people so that’s where he needed to be, despite how he had been treated. His own feelings were not more important than the plan of God.
Would you have ever known the examples this man set if you had not gotten past the barrier of ignorance surrounding his devoting his daughter to God? It isn’t even logical to believe that he killed her. Who would have offered the sacrifice? Only a priest could offer an acceptable sacrifice, and which one would have ever dared? Jephthah knew the law and would never have done it himself. Saul did offer a sacrifice and lost his kingdom for doing so. King Uzziah did burn incense on the altar of incense and was immediately struck with leprosy. Jephthah did not know about them, but we do. God does not stand for disobedience in the rituals of His service. He would not have stood for it from Jephthah either. The man obviously obeyed God’s laws in all its particulars, including the manner in which he devoted his daughter to God.
Remember context. Remember word studies. Remember to think. And don’t ever forget the lessons Jephthah has to teach us.
And what more shall I say? For time would fail me to tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets-who through faith conquered kingdoms, enforced justice, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, were made strong out of weakness, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight…Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, Heb 11:32-34; 12:1.