The story of Jephthah demonstrates not only that God uses imperfect people, but that God loves to transform zeroes into heroes. He loves to restore those whom the world has rejected to a position of honour among men.
The story of Jephthah demonstrates not only that God uses imperfect people, but that God loves to transform zeroes into heroes. He loves to restore those whom the world has rejected to a position of honour among men. And that’s just what he did with Jephthah. I would like to break his story into three chapters beginning with Jephthah childhood (Judges 11:1 TLB). Jephthah was what you might call the product of an adulterous relationship between his father, who was already married, and his mother, who was a prostitute. Gilead did not try to cover it up or deny that the child was his; rather, he embraced Jephthah and raised him as part of his family. The other members of Gilead’s household, however, were not quite as loving or accepting. When Gilead died and the time came to divide the inheritance, they chased Jephthah out of the country. So Jephthah fled from his father’s home and lived in the land of Tob (vs. 2-3 TLB). The second chapter in Jephthah’s life centers on his climb to prominence. Years after being run out of town by his relatives, Jephthah had developed quite a reputation as a “mighty man of valor” or a “great warrior.” “When the Ammonites attacked, the elders of Gilead sent for Jephthah in the land of Tob. The elders said, ‘Come and be our commander! Help us fight the Ammonites!’” (Judges 11:5-6 NLT). Jephthah was not blinded by a desire to seek revenge by refusing to help them. Immediately the people presented their request to him, Jephthah saw it as a sign that God was about to grant his desires of many years. After considering their offer, Jephthah accepted. He returned home, became the new spiritual and military leader of his people, and prepared the Israelite army for battle. The final chapter in Jephthah’s life spotlights his character. Before sounding the charge, Jephthah made a promise to God. God heard Jephthah’s prayer and promise and he gave Jephthah a decisive victory over the Ammonites. After the battle was won, Jephthah returned home, but his heart sank into his stomach when his daughter came bouncing out to greet him. When he saw her his heart broke, yet his daughter encouraged him, “Father, you must do whatever you promised the Lord, for he has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites. But first let me go up into the hills and roam with my girlfriends for two months, weeping because I’ll never marry” (Judges 11:36-37 TLB). Jephthah did as she requested and then he kept his vow to God. Bible students have argued for centuries about whether or not Jephthah physically sacrificed his daughter. Some believe that he did. Others do not. I am one of the latter. Let me explain why. First, Jephthah undoubtedly knew that God strictly forbids human sacrifice and calls it a detestable abomination (Leviticus 18:21). Furthermore, we notice that Jephthah’s daughter requests time to mourn the fact that she will never marry, not the fact that she was about to die. In fact, the Bible is quick to point out, “Jephthah did to her what he had promised. Jephthah’s daughter never had a husband” (Judges 11:39 NCV). What likely happened here is that Jephthah “sacrificed” his daughter to permanent religious service in the Tabernacle. She, essentially, became a nun. Jephthah’s only daughter would never marry, never know the joys of motherhood and never bear a child to carry on their family name. Jephthah was a man of his word. He told his little girl, “I made a promise to the Lord, and I cannot break it!” (Judges 11:35 NCV). What promises have you made to the Lord? Have you kept them? God always expects his people to be men and women of integrity.