The Book of JUDGES
James J. Barker
- For 45 years the people of Israel enjoyed peace and security, thanks to the leadership of Tola and Jair (Judges 10:1-5).
- We know very little about these two judges but from what we do know they were faithful men who did a good job protecting Israel during the dark days of that era (cf. Judges 21:25).
- Unfortunately, after the death of Jair, the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and once again they served Baal and all of the other heathen idols (10:6).
- Once again they provoked God to anger and thus we see the wheel turning again – rebellion, retribution, repentance, and restoration (10:7-16).
- The children of Israel gathered together and were encamped in Mizpeh (10:17). They were prepared to fight their enemies, the Ammonites, but they needed a leader (10:18).
- And it is the same way today. We are in a fierce battle but the church needs leaders (cf. Matt. 9:36-38).
- Israel had an army but they needed a strong general (10:18). This brings us to chapter 11 – “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor...” (11:1).
- Jephthah was an unusual judge, and what distinguishes him from the other judges is his strange vow.
AN UNUSUAL JUDGE
- Right away we are told that Jephthah “was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of an harlot…” (11:1).
- Apparently his father’s legitimate sons did not accept Jephthah. We are told that they thrust him out of the house and called him “the son of a strange woman” (11:2).
- The term “strange woman” means “harlot” (cf. Proverbs 2:16-19; 5:3-23; 6:24-33; 7:5-27; 22:14; 23:27-35).
- Jephthah was not to blame for his birth, but he suffered because of his father’s sin.
- After being kicked out by his half-brothers, Jephthah moved to the land of Tob (11:3). There he gathered “vain men” (mercenaries) and put together his own militia (11:3).
- Ironically, the same men who had rejected Jephthah and cast him out soon came looking for his help (11:4-8).
- Jephthah was willing to lead the Israelites against the Ammonites if the elders of Israel would name him their “head” (11:9), i.e., their ruler. The elders agreed to it (11:10, 11).
- Jephthah’s rise to the head of Israel reminds us of Joseph. He too was rejected by his brethren but later became the second-in-command to Pharaoh. Joseph’s brothers threw him in a pit but soon went to him for help.
- David was the least likely of all of Jesse’s sons to be the king of Israel. And our Lord Himself was rejected by the people of Israel as well as by His own brethren. But Israel will receive Him when He returns the second time. “And they shall look upon me whom they have pierced, and they shall mourn for him, as one mourneth for his only son, and shall be in bitterness for him, as one that is in bitterness for his firstborn” (Zech. 12:10).
A DIPLOMATIC SOLDIER
- Before declaring war, Jephthah wisely tried to negotiate with the Ammonites, but his peaceful negotiations were unsuccessful (Judges 11:2). Jephthah knew history and he knew the Word of God. “So then faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17).
- Jephthah’s arguments were compelling but unfortunately the king of Ammon was obstinate and unreasonable (11:28, 29).
- A summary of Jephthah’s arguments:
- Moses and his fellow Israelites had asked the Ammonites for safe passage through their territory, but the Ammonites would not allow them passage. This led to war and God gave Israel the victory (11:13-21).
- Jephthah told the king of Ammon that the God of Israel gave Israel the victory. Israel did not steal any land; they captured it fair and square from the Ammonites and the Amorites (11:22, 23; cf. Num. 21:21-35).
- Whenever a heathen nation captured enemy territory, they always gave credit to their god. Jephthah wanted the Ammonites to know that the LORD God of Israel was the true God and He gave them the land (11:24).
- Jephthah wanted to know if the present king of Ammon was any better than Balak, the king of Moab, who was unable to stop the Israelites (11:25; cf. Num. 22-24).
- Jephthah wanted to know why the Ammonites waited 300 years before asserting claim to the disputed territory (11:26-29).
A STRANGE VOW (11:30, 31).
- Scofield calls it “Jephthah’s awful vow.” Matthew Henry calls it his “dark vow.” In fact, Matthew Henry believed that Jephthah offered up his daughter as a burnt offering.
- In OT times, vows were not unusual, and the Lord expected people to keep them (cf. Eccl. 5:1-6).
- However, vows that violate the moral law of God should not be kept. Herod made a rash vow that resulted in John the Baptist losing his head. Herod should have retreated from such a foolish vow but unfortunately he did not.
- Jephthah’s vow was a bargain with the Lord. If God would give Israel victory over the Ammonites, Jephthah would sacrifice to the Lord whatever came out of his house first when he arrived home from the battle (11:30, 31).
- God did give Israel the victory and Jephthah did keep his vow. But the question is, “What exactly was the vow?” (11:32-40). Another important question would be: did God condone Jephthah’s vow?
- Before we go any further we must stress that the Bible condemns human sacrifice. And Jephthah knew the Word of God.
- Referring to the popular heathen practice of human sacrifice, Deuteronomy 12:31 says, “for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.”
- Hebrews 11:32 tells us that Jephthah was a man of faith. Judges 11:29 tells us that the Spirit of the LORD came upon him. Why would a Spirit-filled man of faith, who knew the Word of God, offer up his daughter (his only child – 11:34) as a human sacrifice?
- Why would a man of God do something that God hates?
- Even if Jephthah had meant to kill his own daughter, it is unlikely that his friends and relatives would have let him. King Saul made a foolish vow but his soldiers would not let him kill his son Jonathan (cf. I Samuel 14:24, 43-45).
- Nowhere in the Bible are we told that Jephthah actually killed his daughter, nor do we find anybody mourning her death. “Bewailing her virginity” is not the same as “bewailing her death” (11:37-40).
- I believe that Jephthah gave his daughter to the LORD to serve Him at the tabernacle. She would remain a virgin which meant that she would not know the joys of motherhood.
- It also meant that Jephthah would have no one to perpetuate his inheritance. He would have no grandchildren.
- If Jephthah’s daughter was burnt alive, it would seem very strange that the women would commemorate it every year as a four-day holiday (11:40).
- Some Christians explain this by saying that in those days there was no king in Israel and every man did that which was right in his own eyes (17:6; 21:25).
- Jephthah’s vow is vague and the circumstances are not very clear.
- However, one thing is clear – Jephthah said, “for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back” (11:35b). If you make a (good) vow to the Lord, then you must keep your promise.