Understanding the Old Testament

Jephthah's Reckless Vow

(All quotations are from the New American Standard Bible translation)

Two faithful judges ruled Israel for 45 years: Tola son of Puah, an Ephraimite, and Jair of Gilead, from the tribe of Gad.

But after that, the Israelites again turned to idolatry by worshiping the many gods of the surrounding pagans. (Judges 10:6) For eighteen years the Lord allowed them to be oppressed by the Philistines from the west and the Ammonites from the east. (Judges 10:7) The Ammonites coveted the land east of the Jordan River which the Israelites had taken from the Amorites. (Judges 11:12-28)

This time when the Israelites asked God for deliverance, He refused: “Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you. . . .” (Judges 10:14) Yet when His people rid themselves of their idols and returned to serving the Lord, He relented and sent them Jephthah from Gilead.

Jephthah was the illegitimate son of his father, Gilead, and a prostitute. When Jephthah grew up, Gilead’s legitimate sons drove him away, and he became the leader of a gang of “worthless fellows.” (Judges 11:2-3) He must have developed quite a reputation, because the elders of the city of Gilead made him their leader in return for his help in fighting the Ammonites. (Judges 11:5-11)

As the day of battle approached, Jephthah made a rash vow to the Lord: in return for victory over the Ammonites, Jephthah promised to offer as a burnt offering “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return.” (Judges 11:30-31)

When Jephthah returned after a spectacular victory over the Ammonites, his daughter—his only child—ran to meet him. (Judges 11:34) Although heartbroken, Jephthah carried out his vow two months later, sacrificing his only child.

Questions to ponder or discuss: God did not demand that Jephthah make a vow, nor did He command Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter. And as we have observed before, the Lord had forbidden child sacrifice. Yet He did not stop Jephthah from carrying out his vow. Why do you think He didn’t? Does God have a responsibility to save us from our own stupidity? Why or why not?

Copyright 2018 by Don Davidson

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Beyond Blind Faith: Reasons for the Hope We Have (1 Peter 3:15):

Why Reasonable People Should Consider Christianity

Stories of the Faithful (with some church history)

Christmas Stories

Understanding the Old Testament

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I am a member of Trinity Arts Writers Workshop, in Bedford, Texas.