Scripture Reading: Judges 11:1-40, Leviticus 18:21, Leviticus 20:2-5, Matthew 5:34-37
When God delivers His people, He “raises up” a deliverer to lead them. Take Moses and Gideon (Exodus 9:16; Judges 6:12), Othniel and Samuel (Judges 3:9; 1 Samuel 2:35), Jeroboam and Cyrus (1 Kings 14:7; Isaiah 45:13), and of course, Jesus (Jeremiah 23:5)—just to name a few.
But when we read about these deliverers in Scripture, we see that God’s people were often impatient, just like we so often are. And so instead of waiting for God to raise up a leader of His choosing for them, they would drudge up their own. They sought out their own solutions instead of seeking God’s perfect will.
That’s what’s happening in this passage with Jephthah. God didn’t raise up Jephthah to be Israel’s leader. Instead Jephthah, who had surrounded himself with worthless men (Judges 11:3), got the call to lead from the elders. He wasn’t raised up by God—he was urged to leadership by men who were gripped with fear and desperation.
That should have been their first red flag: the desire to circumvent God’s way of doing things. David later explained it this way, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labor in vain” (Psalm 127:1). But it’s hard to wait on God, and it seems much easier to just get on with our own solutions. However, apart from God, our own solutions can go terrifically wrong. But God is also kind, and He often forestalls judgment as we find our way back to Him.
Jephthah wasn’t a totally bad guy. He knew the Scriptures, and he knew the history of Israel. He tried to get the land back and reclaim Israel’s territories. But, like you and me, while Jephthah loved goodness and sought to do right, he also had some sneaky, low-dealing tendencies.
The combination of human error and ignoring God’s way brings us to Jephthah’s horrifically rash vow. I don’t know if human sacrifice was on his mind when he made the extravagant promise, or why he persisted in carrying out the vow after he realized his daughter would be its victim. But it’s a chilling image of what can happen when a people ignore God’s way and stubbornly turn away from His principles. Jephthah took his bad promise too far, and a celebration was turned into a funeral.
May the Lord protect our hearts from rushing to do things—even good things—our own way and on our own terms. May He give us courage to relent and humility to repent when we make bad decisions. May we lean on His strength and His promises, not our own, and may our “yes” mean “yes,” and our “no” mean “no” (Matthew 5:36-37). We can stop and turn our hearts toward Him. Even when it seems like we are already too committed to our own way, God waits to lead us back to His.