Judge Jephthah

Photo by EKATERINA BOLOVTSOVA: https://www.pexels.com/photo/person-holding-a-gavel-6077422/

Jephthah was the eighth legitimate judge of Israel. Whereas Gideon was a frightened man hiding near a grape press when God called him, Jephthah was a “mighty man of valor” who overcame great obstacles in his life.

Jephthah Did Not Let Abuse Define His Life

Judges 11:1-2 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah. 2 And 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.

The name Jephthah” (Hebrew yip̄tāḥ, pronounced yif-tawkh’) means “he opens”. He is called Jephthah the Gileadite because his daddy was Gilead, a branch of the Tribe of Manasseh. The two half tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh together formed the HOUSE of Joseph (of the coat of many colors, the young man sold into Egyptian slavery by his brothers). Joseph would grow up – despite all the adversity in his family – to be second hand to the King of Egypt, and the savior of Israel.

Jephthah, just like Joseph, was hated of his brothers. Joseph’s brothers hated him because Jacob loved Joseph more than he did any of his other sons, because Joseph was born when Jacob was very old (Genesis 37:3-35). This set up jealousy and envy, which caused his brothers to abuse him. Jephthah was hated because he was the son of an harlot. Whether this was a Temple Prostitute (many false religions employed prostitutes to worship their gods) or a street prostitute, we do not know. But since Jephthah was the child of a prostitute, his half brothers thrust out Jephthah. They threw him out of the family at a young age in violation of God’s Law. God told His people:

Leviticus 19:33-34 if a stranger sojourn with thee in your land, ye shall not vex him. 34 But the stranger that dwelleth with you shall be unto you as one born among you, and thou shalt love him as thyself; for ye were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.

After Joseph was blessed of God so that he could save Israel from destruction, in time Joseph died and Egypt began to treat the Jews as strangers and slaves. God told His people to remember that He Himself saved them out of slavery. As Israel was given undeserved Grace, Israel was to give Grace to the strangers among them.

The sons of Gilead – of the Tribe of Manasseh, of the House of Joseph – benefited directly from God’s Grace. They should have extended Grace to their half brother, for he had no control over his birth!

Word Study: The Bible says that God executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. 19 Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19). Jephthah’s half brothers thrust him out (Hebrew gāraš, to drive away or forcibly expel). They took him by the seat of his britches and tossed him out in the street like garbage. We can learn quite a bit from how Jephthah handles this abuse.

When treated badly by others, we can choose to:

GIVE up, GRIEVE or GRUMBLE about our treatment, or we can, LOOK up, and LET God LIFT us up.

Judges 11:3 Then 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.

Jephthah fled” from his brothers and went 15 miles east-northeast of Ramoth-Gilead, just outside the eastern boundary of Israel. In this desolate area Jephthah learned to fight the enemy. Rather than give up and grumble, or plot vengeance on his half brothers, Jephthah used the situation to grow. This is why we are told in verse 1 that Jephthah is a “mighty man of valor”. The angel of God called Gideon a “mighty man of valor” (Judges 6:12) when God called him from the winepress to the battle field. Jephthah became a “mighty man of valor” while in exile. Jephthah trusted the Lord. The Bible says “the LORD sent Jephthah to deliver Israel out of the hand of her enemies” (1 Samuel 12:11). God uses trials to draw us to Him, to strengthen our faith, and to make us usable for His glory. In 1 Peter 1:6-7 the Apostle said:

In this you rejoice, though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

In “The Nature and Purpose of Trials” Grace Theological Seminary notes:

Like gold, our faith is tested by fire; literal fire tests gold and other precious metals, and metaphorical fire (trials, persecutions, sufferings, griefs, etc.) tests our faith: Psalm 66:10 “For you, O God, have tested us; you have tried us as silver is tried.” Proverbs 17:3 “The crucible is for silver, and the furnace is for gold, and the Lord tests hearts.” James 1:2-4 “Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing.”

We see in James 1:2-4, suffering promotes endurance and perfection of character, and the apostle Paul also reiterates this in Romans 5:3-4 where we see that we are to “rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope.”

Word Study: Jephthah runs from the brutality of his brothers, but only about 15 miles. He settles in the land of TOB” (Hebrew ṭôḇ, pronounced tobe), which means “the land of GOOD”. Though he has been chased away from his family and his rightful heritage, it was for his good. While in the land of GOOD we are told that:

Judges 11:3 … there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.

The false judge Abimelech, we are told, hired vain (rêq, empty) and light (pāḥaz, reckless, wanton) persons, which followed him” (Judges 9:4). Abimelech sought out worthless “yes” men, then hired them to follow him about. The situation is different with Jephthah. Jephthah was considered rêq or useless, empty, and without worth by his hate filled brothers. So Jephthah went to “Good” to live – and there learned to fight. As he looked to God for blessing, God taught Jephthah … and others who were considered rêq or useless, empty, and without worth GATHERED to Jephthah. Adam Clark in his commentary notes, “The word {translated vain} may, however, mean in this place poor persons, without property, and

without employment”. These were broken and discounted people who gathered with Jephthah. Adrian Rogers wrote:

People throw broken things away, but God rarely uses anything until He first breaks it. David said in the Psalms: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and a contrite heart—these, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). Some of us are not being used by God because we’ve never been broken. If God breaks you and you become broken bread and poured out wine, He will use you. God took a little boy’s lunch and broke it and fed the multitudes. Mary took an alabaster box of ointment and broke it and lavished her love upon the Lord Jesus Christ. The prophet Jeremiah said: “Break up your fallow ground, and do not sow among thorns” (Jeremiah 4:3). You’ll never have the crop you ought to until you put the plow in, until the old clods are broken. Even the Lord Jesus Christ took the bread at the last supper and said: “This is My body which is broken for you.”

Trusting and following God, in time the tables turn. We read:

Judges 11:4-6 And it came to pass in process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel. 5 And 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: 6 And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.

The Ammonites were descended from Abraham’s nephew Lot, when Lot had an incestuous relationship with his youngest daughter (Genesis 19:38). God told Moses that the land of the Ammonites was not to be taken, though God often used the Ammonites to punish His wayward people. When the Ammonites attacked Israel, the elders of Gilead” – among whom were step brothers of Jephthah – came and asked Jephthah to lead them into battle. Jephthah replies:

Judges 11:7 And 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?

The elders of Gilead”, the half tribe of Manasseh of the House of Joseph came to Jephthah with hat in hand – and Jephthah challenges them! He could have taken vengeance on them, and refused to come to their aid. The Scripture tells us:

Romans 12:19-21 (ESV) Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave it to the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.” 20 To the contrary, “if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink; for by so doing you will heap burning coals on his head.” 21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

There is a temptation to give back as good as you got, but this is of the flesh, not of the Lord. Jephthah followed the same path that his forefather Joseph did. When Joseph’s brothers discovered that he was second only to the King of Egypt, the Bible says:

Genesis 50:18-21 (ESV) His brothers also came and fell down before him and said, “Behold, we are your servants.” 19 But Joseph said to them, “Do not fear, for am I in the place of God? 20 As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today. 21 So do not fear; I will provide for you and your little ones.” Thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them.

Joseph took the long view, believing that God allowed his suffering for an ultimate good. Jephthah could easily have killed the delegation of elders who came to him – or could have ignored them and stayed where he was. Instead, Jephthah forgave.

But Jephthah was not a stupid man. Not only was he a “mighty man of valor”, but he was a diplomat and a tactician. We read:

Judges 11:8-10 And 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. 9 And 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? 10 And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, The Lord be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words.

Jephthah had been tossed out of his home before as a “worthless son of a whore”. He wanted assurance that – if he led them into battle and helped them avert this crisis – that when the crisis was passed he would remain as their judge. The Lord Jesus told us:

Romans 12:18 (ESV) If possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.

We should practice restraint. We should give others the benefit of the doubt. But no where does God tell us to be a door mat or a punching bag. We should not let others defile us, nor should we “cast our pearls before swine” (Matthew 7:6). Jephthah was not going to be abused again. If they wanted his expertise during the crisis, they would have to agree to keep him as judge afterward. The elders of Gilead vowed, “The LORD (Yᵊhōvâ) be witness between us”, invoking the most holy name of God. With this, Jephthah made his vow and took his oath of office:

Judges 11:11 Then 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.

Mizpeh” or Mizpah is the same place where Jacob and his uncle Laban set up a memorial unto God, and made a covenant with one another. At that memorial Laban called it “Mizpah; for he said, The LORD watch between me and thee, when we are absent one from another.” Mizpeh was a place that was supposedly watched by God. So as Jephthah took his oath of office at Mizpeh, he “uttered all his words before the Lord”. God was his Witness.

Jephthah Is A Skilled Diplomat

Judges 11:12-13 And 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? 13 And 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.

And Jephthah sent messengers”. Unlike the judges up to this point, Jephthah does not start out by drawing the sword and attacking the enemy. Instead, Jephthah starts with diplomacy. Again, the Scripture says “follow peace with all” (Hebrews 12:14) and “if it be possible on your part, live at peace with everyone” (Romans 12:18). Our initial response to an attack should not be all out war, but diplomacy. Jephthah’s demeanor shows that he is both skilled, as well as a humble leader. Jephthah used three arguments against war. The King of the Ammonites said that the reason he wanted to fight was that “Israel took away my land, when they came up out of Egypt”. Jephthah replied:

Judges 11:14-23 And Jephthah sent messengers again unto the king of the children of Ammon: 15 And said unto him, Thus saith Jephthah, Israel took not away the land of Moab, nor the land of the children of Ammon: 16 But when Israel came up from Egypt, and walked through the wilderness unto the Red sea, and came to Kadesh; 17 Then 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. 18 Then 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. 19 And 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. 20 But Sihon trusted not Israel to pass through his coast: but Sihon gathered all his people together, and pitched in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. 21 And 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. 22 And they possessed all the coasts of the Amorites, from Arnon even unto Jabbok, and from the wilderness even unto Jordan. 23 So now the Lord God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?

Jephthah explained that Israel did not take the land from the Ammonites, but from the Amorites who inhabited that country. The Amorites had previously conquered the Ammonites and took the land from them.

Judges 11:24 Wilt 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.

The god of the Ammonites Chemosh allowed the Amorites to take their land. When Israel took the same land from the Amorites (not the Ammonites), then it was because Jehovah decreed it.

Judges 11:25-26 And 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, 26 While 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?

Jehovah allowed Israel to hold that land as their own for THREE HUNDRED YEARS without dispute from the Ammonites. Jephthah told the King of Ammon, that if it were really their land, why had Israel held it for so long and without dispute? When Israel came into the land, God decreed that Israel not attack the Ammonites, the Moabites (both of whom were kin to one another through Lot), nor the Edomites (the children of Esau. See Deuteronomy 2:5, 9, 19). Israel was obedient, and did not attack those nations, nor try to get their lands. Jephthah then suggested that either …

– The Ammonites did not try to get the land back for 300 years because they knew it belonged to the Amorites, which lost it to Israel, or

– The God of Israel Jehovah was much greater in power than the false god of Chemosh, which is why Israel now has the land.

Judges 11:27-29 Wherefore 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. 28 Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him. 29 Then 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.

Jephthah has done all that he can to avert war. He now tells the King of Ammon that if he pursues war, then it is on HIS head, not on Jephthah. Having followed the Lord’s leading, the Spirit of the Lord came over Jephthah. With this, Jephthah begins to lead his armies toward the children of Ammon. The Bible tells us:

2 Timothy 1:7 For God hath not given us the spirit of fear; but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.

The Holy Spirit has given Jephthah courage. He travels through Gilead, through the tribal territories of Gad and Manasseh, and calls soldiers to follow him. Gathering the armies of Israel Jephthah moves toward Ammon. But then he makes a terrible mistake.

Jephthah Makes A Foolish And Unnecessary
Vow Unto God

Judges 11:30-31 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 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.

God did not ask Jephthah to make a vow. The Spirit had already moved on him, and led him in building an army to destroy the enemy. But Jephthah allowed doubt to creep in, so he made a bargain with God. Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord. He promised that, if the battle went well, and Israel won, then when Jephthah returned from battle whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me would belong to God, and would be offered as a burnt offering. What was in Jephthah’s mind when he did this? In her book Texts of Terror (page 97) Phyllis Trible notes:

The making of the vow is an act of unfaithfulness. Jephthah desires to bind God rather than embrace the gift of the Spirit. What comes to him freely, he seeks to earn and manipulate. The meaning of his words is doubt, not faith; it is control, not courage. To such a vow the Deity makes no reply.”

Jephthah was probably thinking of an animal when he made the vow, but the foolishness of the vow is that he cannot control what or who will greet him on his return. With this vow in place, Jephthah leads his troops to battle. We read:

Judges 11:32-33 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands. 33 And 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.

The Lord blessed Jephthah in battle, destroying around 20 cities of Ammon. The Ammonites were utterly destroyed!

Judges 11:34-40 And 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. 35 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 the Lord, and I cannot go back. 36 And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon. 37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. 38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel, 40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

When Jephthah came home, the “whatsoever” that greeted him was his daughter. As she was his only child, Jephthah had dedicated her to the Lord. She would never be able to bear children, nor to carry on her family line. Some commentaries suggested that Jephthah offered up his daughter as a burnt offering, but the Bible doesn’t say this. God specifically forbade human sacrifice! You shall not give any of your children to offer them to Molech, and so profane the name of your God: I am the Lord” (Leviticus 18:21). “ Take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, ‘How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.’ You shall not worship the Lord your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the Lord hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods.” (Deuteronomy 12:30-31). God did not want nor expect Jephthah to offer his daughter up as a sacrifice. But she was dedicated to God, to His service – and was unable to marry (Exodus 38:8; 1 Samuel 2:22). This would cause the line of Jephthah to cease. Yet the Book of Hebrews lists Jephthah as a hero of our faith:

Hebrews 11:32 … Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets

The Keil & Delitzsch Old Testament Commentary notes:

The father fulfilled his vow upon her, and she knew no man; i.e., he fulfilled the vow through the fact that she knew no man, but dedicated her life to the Lord, as a spiritual burnt-offering, in a lifelong chastity. It was this willingness of the daughter to sacrifice herself which the daughters of Israel went every year to celebrate-namely, upon the mountains whither her friends had gone with her to lament her virginity, and which they commemorated there four days in the year.”

About bibleteacherorg

A searching Pastor, I am looking for a people who love the Lord and love one another. Daily I pray for the Church. Most of what the world sees today is not the Church, but clubs pretending to be the Church. God is calling to Himself a people willing to be righteous, not self righteous, serving not served. I am called to pastor God's people, those who want to change the world by willingly and willfully following Jesus Christ. Only God is able to change the world, and we must follow His Christ. He is able! Praise His Name! Come quickly Lord Jesus!
This entry was posted in Judges, Sermons Preached and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.