Judges: Day 12

Jephthah Becomes Israel’s Leader

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Today's Text: Judges 11:1-40, Leviticus 18:21, Leviticus 20:2-5, Matthew 5:34-37

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.

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  • Emily Gates

    J and me have so much in common. I mean, human sacrifice isn’t the way I go, but rash decision making because I’m ready for something now. Good intentions, but the follow through… doesn’t follow through. BE STILL. Not all things have to happen so quickly. Enjoy your time with God and move forward with anticipation that His daughter will rise.

  • Kristen Elizabeth

    I’ve always thought that the daughter sacrifice was so strange. I like this commentary to explain it a bit. Too many times I want to rush ahead of God because, let’s face it, sometimes I think I know better if God appears to be a bit slow in my thinking. It’s a good reminder to wait for God’s perfect timing.

  • Melody Coney

    I just graduated nursing school and got my RN license recently and while I watch all the other people in my cohort get jobs and move forward while I’m still with no job, its‘ hard not to want to take things into my own hands. I definitely want the Lords will and I my prayer is that He would take the wheel, that He would lead me to the right job with the right people at the right time. I trust Him fully but I’m human and sometimes I feel my prideful self wanting to speed up the process of doubt where He has called me. Jesus I trust you. I need your guidance and provision in my life.,

    • JKS

      I actually just went through the exact same thing – I graduated with my BSN in May and became an RN in June and tried for months to get a job. It was frustrating to feel like God was not providing a way for me in the area where I knew He had so clearly called me to be. All of my friends were getting jobs left and right and I wasn’t even getting interviews. I wrestled with it and prayed about it for weeks, and then the very day I found out I passed the NCLEX, I got a call about an interview on my first choice floor, and three more calls followed in the weeks to come. Now I’ve started on a floor that I didn’t even apply to, one that is so far out of my comfort zone. But I know it’s exactly where the Lord has called me to be. His timing is perfect. His plans are good. I know He has something perfect in store for you, and it’s always worth the wait.

  • Jenny Fowler

    Wow. Excellent commentary! Thank you!

  • KC Derond

    So to offer a sacrifice meant to give it to the Lord. She would be the Lord’s forever. That’s why they mention at the beginning that he was an only child (all his brothers had a different mother) and that she was his only child (he would never have his family name carried on) and would never truly be related to his fathers’ grandchildren. It makes so much sense now!

  • I listened to a teaching on this from Calvary Chapel Philadelphia that’s much different; reminds us that Jephthah is one Hebrews Hall of Faith . . . that he probably did not kill his daughter. I recommend it. https://subsplash.com/ccphiladelphia/lb/mi/+b6b3b90

  • Naomi LaBoo

    I don’t believe he killed his daughter! She became like a nun! That is why she asked to go away not mourn the end of her life but the fact that she would never marry. God would not give victory to a person who would sacrifice his own daughter.

    • Colleen Marie Olson

      YES! She would never marry, or bare children. It was a time for “mourning” the “death” of her life.

    • Anna

      That’s exactly what I thought and many commentaries agree. I don’t think it was human sacrifice but rather a spiritual sacrifice. She was consecrated to the Lord…like a nun as Naomi said.

    • Kailee Tidball

      I’m intrigued. His prayer to the Lord says he will offer “as a burnt sacrifice” and then at the end of the 2 mo that it days her father “did to her according to the vow which he had made” so that sounds as though he offers to her as a burnt sacrifice. Though, it says AND she had no relations with a man which sounds like it was a part of the vow. Lots to study! Thanks for bringing this up!

    • Sarah Peachey

      Yes^^ all the Bible commentaries I read say that he committed her to “perpetual virginity” which would still be a great loss bc Jephthah’s bloodline would end.

    • Sarah Peachey

      In addition, Judges 11:37-39 supports that it was a vow of perpetual virginity and God’s law harshly condemns anyone who practices human sacrifice. See also Deuteronomy 12:31-32. For God to honor J’s vow, allowing him to overcome the Ammonites while knowing he would then sacrifice his own child, would mean God was going against His own law…..

  • Alexandria Weaver

    I’m so at odds right now…what if I am making things happen in my way and not in his? I have gotten approved for a car and I don’t see all the Funds to get into it( I can afford payments but it’s the getting into the is were I am short at the moment. I’m not sure if it’s going to work or happen.) I will walk away but I am really excited over that idea of having that freedom that a car gives. I am stuck and need the wheels to get out and explore the city of been living in for the last six months in a more deeper experience. But after this Devo I now question it all! My will or his!
    Lord forgive me for my selfishness and pride and trying to correct myself towards understanding and following your well may I please not forget this and moments from now to the end of my days. May I walk full aware of your will for everything and moments for my life! Thank you for grace and goodness!

    Y’all pray for me in this!

  • This video from the Bible Project was also helpful in understanding some of the meaning in Judges! https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=kOYy8iCfIJ4&t=211s

  • The Head Reads Truth devotion helped me better understand the meaning of this passage, definitely would recommend checking it out!

  • Phew this was a tough passage. Here is a commentary I found on it that seemed to help understand it: https://thetorah.com/did-jephthah-actually-kill-his-daughter/
    Whether he killed his daughter or not, the main thing that take away from this is that I need to rely on God’s promises and not my own/the world’s. His are faithful and trustworthy.

  • I am sorry, but your take on this is off base and leaning toward there being a contradiction where there is not one. Jephthah did not make a burnt offering out of his daughter. He did not “kill her” because that would have been a sin. He offered her up as a living sacrifice to the Lord. In vs. 38 she went out to weep for two months not to weep for her impending death. Rather, she went out “and wept for her virginity on the mountains.” If she had been facing death she would not have wept for her virginity, but would have wept for her life. Would God had allowed Jephthah to have won after making a vow to offer a sacrifice if that sacrifice were to be human? Absolutely not! God is Sovereign over all things! Jephthah offered his daughter up, his only daughter, as a living sacrifice to the Lord. She would serve the Lord for the remainder of her life and remain a virgin. Hence her weeping over her virginity. The Bible is without error and without contradiction.

    • Gina

      Thanks so much! Ivwas so confused aftercreading the scripture and the devotion.

      I also did not get that Jepthah was sort if sneaky. Not sure if I am missing it or not, but I thought he was brave.

    • Allison Janusch

      The scripture does say that he offered whatever was the first to come out of his house to the Lord as a burnt offering. After his daughter came out of his house, and went to the mountain for 2 months it says, “39 And at the end of two months, she returned to her father, who did with her according to his vow that he had made. She had never known a man, and it became a custom in Israel 40 that the daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.” It specifically says that her father, Jephthah “did with her according to his vow that he had made.” This communicates that he offered her as a burnt sacrifice. This also would explain why the daughters of Israel every year would lament for her for 4 days. That is just my take on what the scripture says in this verse.

    • Anna

      Angie,

      I am also conflicted about Jephthah’s vow. Why did he make it? Was it necessary, or does it show his lack of faith to trust God to deliver him? God’s will is His will, and bargaining with God seems to be just another way of feigning personal control, rather than fully submitting. It is an interesting point that she may have been a living sacrifice — but then why does verse 31 say that she would be a “burnt offering?” Regardless, it seems to me that the point is more showing that Jephthah was trying to grasp personal control of the situation, rather than putting his full faith in God, and he paid the price of his vow with his daughter.

      • Kristen

        Please go to the resources I posted under Kristen. The YouTube video really clarifies this. It’s by J Vernon MaGee, a credible Bible teacher. Thank you! It will really help. If you don’t want to listen to the whole teaching go to the last 15 minutes.

  • Sometimes I go through scenes over and over in my head but then I feel the knowledge in my heart, the Holy Spirit telling me “be quiet”. And I’m reminded that God has it under control. In His timing.

  • Lynn Johnson

    God waits for us to lead us back to a His Will. I need to remember my timing is not the Lord’s timing…

  • I am not a Bible scholar either, but I heard a teaching about this. After he made the vow, he sends his daughter away. She mourns her virginity. Since God doesn’t ever want us to participate in child sacrifice, she must not marry or be with a man as long as she lives. In other words, he didn’t actually kill her, but her life as planned was different. As far as the woman going to commentate her, it was for her loss of a life with a husband and children. I can’t remember who did the teaching, but I’ll post it later if I find it.

    • Kristen

      I found this teaching. I’ll look for more! https://www.jba.gr/Articles/jbadec06b.htm

      • Kristen

        I found this teaching too. Good points: God didn’t let Abraham sacrifice his son, Jephthah is mentioned in Hebrews 11, and also the commandment not to kill. Please check out this link. If you don’t want to listen to it all, go to the last 10-15 minutes. https://youtu.be/wA8rJAyEzD0

    • Deborah Craytor

      That doesn’t sound right. In verse 39, my Bible states, “At the end of two months, she returned to her father, and he kept the vow he had made about her.” The only vow that Jephthah made about his daughter is that he would sacrifice her (as the first person who greeted him upon his return) as a burnt offering.

      • Deborah Craytor

        Never mind. Before Kristen posted the teaching she had located, I read Warren Wiersbe’s commentary, which convinced me that there may have been an error in my translation.

  • I know in my own life what a struggle it is to keep culture at bay. God’s ways are so counter cultural. So Jephthah has a heart for God and a soul that contains the Holy Spirit…just like me….but when he gets caught off guard by excitement or some other BIG emotion, he says something regretful!! Again, me! Why did he not feel like he could repent of that rashness and not follow through? Was it cultural again…the “gods” he had experience with weren’t big on letting you change your mind?
    This is one of those sections of Scripture that I just cannot totally “get” and I want God to have stepped in LOUDLY and prevented the terrible sacrifice of the daughter. But He doesn’t seem to?

  • Churchmouse

    Jephthah went too far. Jephthah struck a deal with the Israelite elders who had previously scorned him. He would fight the Ammonites on their behalf and if the Lord gave them to him, then Jephthah would be the new Israelite leader. Would be a win – win. Jephthah knew the one true God. He knew the history of Israel. He recounted it through his messengers to the Ammonites. He gave credit to the Lord God of Israel for his nation’s past victories. Indeed, the Spirit of the Lord descended on Jephthah. Jephthah only needed to go into battle but he opened his mouth and made a rash and binding vow to the Lord. Jephthah went too far. He did not seek the Lord’s will before he spoke. What impresses me in this passage is that my words matter. My actions in following the Lord are important. My words are equally important because they also reflect my heart. Japheth didn’t need to add a vow to up the ante before going in to battle. Was that pride? Was he trying to impress the masses? That’s a heart attitude revealed. Rash promises made in the heat of the moment can have disastrous results. Better to be silent before the Lord. Seek His will. No need to add anything to what He has clearly directed. Indeed, what could I possibly offer to improve on His will? Lord, keep my will from rising up. Your will be done. Yours. Just Yours. I’ll keep my mouth shut.

    • Kristen

      I just wrote about this. There are scriptures we know that tell us about the power of our words. There’s life and death in the power of the tongue. Kind words are like honeycomb to the soul and health to the body. When I think about how all my words are recorded and known by God, that should be enough to shut me up. I pray that I think of that frightening fact and get convicted to be quiet. I need to not be proud or feel that I have a right to spout off my mouth. I truly need the help of the Holy Spirit. That’s my prayer. May my words be pleasing and acceptable to the Lord!

    • Mari V

      Love this Churchmouse! Especially your last sentence. “ I’ll just keep my mouth shut”.

    • Jennifer Martin

      Amen!

    • Anna

      Churchmouse — do you have a blog? I would love to follow — your responses are always so insightful!

      • Churchmouse

        Oh my no. Not my calling. But thank you for your sweet words. I’m just churchmouse

  • Havilah Angle

    I wonder if this can be a lesson/warning to those that proclaim Christ of the *deathly* results/consequences of attempting to placate or accommodate both God’s design for His people AND culture. Jephthah was obviously deeply steeped in a culture he had spent time in who practiced human sacrifice to gods. But he also knew and loved the God of Israel and communed with the Spirit of the Lord. When he attempted to marry the two, it cost him the life of his child. I believe this can happen in contemporary Christianity, and is happening. We risk our children’s spiritual lives when we try to worship at both the altar of current culture’s interpretation of life and the Word of God. I believe it sows such deep confusion that our posterity no longer believes in absolute truth.

  • What is it about ourselves that can’t wait – we have to take charge, do it ourselves, be the leader, whatever the circumstance or situation may be. This gets me in a lot of trouble. Our society, though, takes such pride in do-it-yourselfers. We have gone terribly wrong. To turn ourselves and our hearts to God and to wait. Just wait. Our human nature balks at having to wait. Having to be told what to do. But then we get ourselves in a pickle, and then find ourselves crying out to God to save us. Sometimes we can be so wretched, but God is so very loving. I am oh so thankful that God continues to faithfully love and rescue from the beginning of time with Adam and Eve until the world is no more. He is infinitely patient. All glory and praise to our God! “Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth.” Psalm 46:10 “But I have stilled and quieted my soul; like a weaned child with its mother, like a weaned child is my soul within me. O Israel, put your hope in the Lord both now and forevermore.” Psalm 131:2-3

  • Monica Davis

    Amen.

  • Kelly Chataine

    God’s timing. I have Jesus residing within me and I am still able to force my own timeline. Slow down. Quiet down. Wait and be ready.

  • I’m no Bible scholar, but I’m just not sure I completely agree with this interpretation. The text says in verse 29 that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and then in verse 30, he made a vow to the Lord. This seems to me that he had the Spirit of the Lord upon him when he made this vow. My Bible includes a cross reference to 1Samuel 1:11, where Hannah makes a vow to the Lord that if he gives her a son, she will dedicate him to the Lord, which she does with Samuel. I don’t know…it just doesn’t seem like this vow Jephthah made was done in a rash way..but maybe I’m missing something?

    • Deb

      I think of David, who was a man after God’s own heart. He still made choices at times that grieved God. So even tho the Spirit of God is on us we can still let our prideful, sinful nature get in the way. I think the Leviticus verses show that God abhors human sacrifice. He didn’t require this sacrifice from Jephtah. Jephtah made a rash promise to God and then for whatever reason, pride, saving face, felt compelled to follow thru with it. These are just my thoughts, I am absolutely no bible scholar. I do think we so often take matters into our own hands, when if we stepped back, took a breath and seek God, other options would become known.

      • Barbi Gardiner

        I wonder why, since it shows us in Leviticus that GOD abhors sacrifice, that he didn’t stop the sacrifice of Jephtah’s daughter like he did Abraham’s son.

        • Kay

          Maybe the difference is that Abraham was being obedient to God, and He (God) never truly planned for Issac to perish, but Jephtah made a rash vow that God never sought from him (nor ever would). As others have commented, even as followers, we can make monumental mistakes, and choices God certainly never asked or planned of us. All choices have consequences. The final words of the devotion is truly where Jephtah failed: “God waits to lead us back.”

    • Christy

      Maybe both? Jephthah’s vow was made in sincerity and seriousness to the Lord, but that doesn’t necessarily mean what he vowed was not foolish and rash. Hannah’s vow was both sincere and wise, Jephthah’s not so much.

    • Kayla Nickey

      I agree with you. Ultimately everything comes from God. It’s not like this caught God by surprise. He’s sovereign over all.

  • Discisions that we make that come up and bite us… Ouch! Man, how large is this page…!!!

    But God…

    Thank God for the Merciful Father that he is, new every day.. For the Gracious Father that He is.. Ahhh, for the Loving Father that He is…
    What would I be without Him…?
    Where would I be without His out stretched, Loving Forgiving, ever Faithful ready to rescue arms..
    Don’t bear thinking about…
    Thank you God.. Thank you…. Thank you… for everything.. Thank you..

    Happy Friday my beautiful made in God’s image Sisters… every blessing and joy always…xxx

  • I know how Jephthah felt losing a child. My loss though was not because of a promise to God, it was because an 18 year old boy made the wrong decision at the wrong time which ended up in his death. I do know, though, my son is in heaven with the Lord right now because of some correct decisions he made prior to that one wrong one. As the fifteenth anniversary of his death nears I remember that he is rejoicing with many other family members and the One true King. I praise the Lord that my son had accepted Christ as his savior before his untimely death.

    • Tina

      ♥️
      Sending you the biggest hug I can send via the airwaves Dorothy.. Praying the memories, though bittersweet, give you peace and that our God, will be ever near to comfort when the sadness comes..
      ♥️

    • Kelly Chataine

      Dorothy, I have no idea what you went through and what you are still going through but I know who goes through with you!
      My sister died, almost ten years ago, and I still watch my parents struggle with her passing. She was their first child. She was also 51 years old at the time.
      Your son and my sister are safe with Jesus!

    • Kristen

      My first child was stillborn on August 23. She would be 23. I know this is a different loss, but I felt like my plans and dreams died that day. I didn’t understand that she was with Jesus and would never have to suffer the things of this world. You are right that we can rejoice bc our loved ones are in His Presence where there is fullness of joy and laughter. Praying for your peace and comfort.

  • Tiffanie Walker

    Wow, this was good! I struggle with this. I sometimes forget that me wanting to step ahead and just do it is not God’s way. It is so hard to wait on God especially when its something we desperately want or think we need.

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