Summary: Jephthah tasted being a Reject, then a Spare Tire. He craved for Acceptance, got it, then Oops, he made a foolish vow. Worse, he kept it! His daughter willingly devoted herself whatever the cost. She rejoiced in his victory. Vow, but vow wisely. Vo
Jephthah stood at the door of his wilderness house. He had things pretty well fixed up, like he wanted them. After all, there was a day he would have liked to live in town, but that had been impossible. You see, it was because of his mother. The Bible says his mother was a harlot. Some scholars have wanted to say she was an innkeeper, but the harsh reality of his rejection implies the truth was that his mother was more likely a Canaanite prostitute. His half-brothers called her “that other woman.” The one that made the whole family ashamed. Jephthah was a —
Jephthah’s father was named Gilead. This is also the name of a man several generations earlier. It may also have been the name of the whole district.
Rabbi Telushkin suggests, “there might have been a certain ironic sensibility in so naming the father, comparable to saying, ‘And the father’s name was New York’; in other words any male in Gilead might have been Jephthah’s father. Many of Gilead’s citizens therefore might have mocked him, not just members of one family.” (Telushkin, Biblical Literacy )
But Jephthah’s father’s name must have also been Gilead because the text describes his brothers, sons of the same man by his lawful wife driving Jephthah from home and from sharing in their inheritance. (Keil and Delitzsch)
Jephthah was “a child of shame. His father had chosen to sacrifice upon the wayside altar. His father had had his fling. He had sown his wild oats and of necessity there was a harvest.” Jephthah’s mother was no better. She was “a professional outcast.” “The first eyes into which he looked were the eyes of an unclean woman.” “Ugly names were flung at him before he was old enough to know their dark and sinister meaning. He was forbidden to go to the big house of his father before he knew why he was not allowed to go. He was excluded from the games of those more fortunately born than he….” (Clovis Chappell, Sermons on Biblical Characters)
Perhaps Gilead provided for Jephthah and his mother until he died, but then everything changed. There was a law protecting sons of a less favored wife, but not protecting the rights of a son of a harlot by the same father.
So Jephthah was denied any inheritance. This godly (well, really, godless) society could go on their wicked way and some people could get away with their sins, but Jephthah had to be reminded of his parents’ sin again and again.
The angry bitterness, even hatred, of his brothers did not matter. They could act any way they pleased. Jephthah just had to put up with their scorn.
Kicked out of home, separated from family and from his countrymen, Jephthah had to fend for himself. Other roughnecks heard about him and sauntered out to the wilderness, to the land of Tob, to hang around with him. A kind of gang developed.
Jephthah was followed by a band of hoodlums. The Hebrew is qyr (rake). It means at least poor, without property. Most scholars have treated them as plunderers. Josephus says they raided the territory of Israel’s enemies and carried off plunder. Interestingly, this is the same thing that David did when he was driven out by Saul. Driven by force from home, he at least defended and befriended his own people by attacking their enemies.
Edersheim says Jephthah’s name means “the breaker through.” (Alfred Edersheim, Bible History) I wish I could gain an insight into what faith prompted someone to name him that!
I also acknowledge a number of insights from Wesley Tracy ( What’s a Nice God Like You Doing in a Place Like This?) Jephthah was tough! Courageous. He had always had to fight to survive, but now living in the wilds had given him a new toughness, a shell of harshness that kept other people at a distance. Even his own men, he had to manage with tough reserve.
Now he was watching an assembly of the elders of Gilead trooping up the hill. Heads down, except for an occasional nervous glance to see whether Jephthah and his ruffians might attack them. “What in the world did they want?” They raised their hands in a gesture of surrender and pleading.
“Please, come help us! Please be our captain. The Ammonites are unbearable! They have destroyed our towns. Please, can you help?”
Jephthah had often tasted the pain of being a reject, but now he was a —
II. SPARE TIRE!
They were in dire need. In Ch.10:18 you can read they had just offered the commanding office to any in Gilead who would take it. Apparently, no one stepped forward. Now they have humbled themselves to come ask for Jephthah to take over, or at least drive out the Ammonites.