Summary: You will never understand Jephthah’s vow in Judges, Chapter 11, until you put this story in the context of Judges, Chapter 10. God cannot lie!
Title: “Jephthah was Not an Idiot”
In my younger years as a minister, I have preached on this text. I entitled my message, “Jephthah’s Foolish Vow.” And so it seems at first glance.
In the heat of the battle, Jephthah makes this vow to God, “If you help me obtain victory over the enemy, I will sacrifice to you the very first thing that comes out of the door of my house.”
God gives Jephthah the victory. Jephthah returns home. It is his daughter, his only child, that comes out, through the door of his home. She greets her father with timbrels and dance. She is to be sacrificed.
As I studied for the message, I went to sermoncentral.com on the internet to read what other ministers were saying about this passage. Every minister that I read, came out against Jephthah. One minister even called him an “idiot!”
I also read several commentaries on the passage. Again, every commentary that I read came out against Jephthah.
It is a very hard thing for me to do, but I feel compelled to come out against them all! Certainly, “flesh and blood” did not reveal the following truth to this Pastor. But, I do believe that I have the mind of the Lord concerning this passage.
The only way to correctly understand Judges, Chapter 11, is by studying this passage in the context of Judges Chapter 10.
In Chapter 10, the Children of Israel cry aloud for the Living God for help.
Once again they are threatened by the enemy. Once again, they look to God to deliver them. However, God gives this message to them, “I will deliver you no more.”
His reasoning? “I have delivered you time and time again, and immediately after every deliverance, you fall right back into the sin of idolatry. Trust in your heathen gods to deliver you, but I will deliver you no more!”
The people of Israel repent and seek God. They continue to be much grieved by their enemy. And God is also grieved because he cannot deliver them. God is a God of his word. God has made the vow, “I will deliver you no more!”
Yet, in chapter 11, God delivers Israel. Has God lied? Has God gone against his word?
“Houston, we have a problem!”
It is with this in context that we can now enter into the 11th Chapter on the book of Judges. God will draw an exact picture of his heart through the story of Jephthah.
It is God who calls Jephthah a “mighty man of valour.”
His father is a notable man in Israel, Gilead, but his mother was a harlot. The ligament sons of Gilead expel Jephthah from their family. They want nothing to do with him. He cannot have part of their father’s inheritance.
Then the Amorites come and surrounds Israel. Now, they are in trouble. They need a leader. There is only one man capable of leading them into victory. It is the brother of whom they have cast out, Jephthah!
They make him a promise, if you bring us deliverance over our enemy, we will serve you as our King.
Jephthah agrees to help on that condition.
He leads the nation of Israel. In the midst of the battle, he knows that he needs God’s help. He also knows that this victory will require the sacrifice of something special, and something personal. He also knows that he has only but one child. When he makes the vow concerning whatever comes first through the door of his home he would sacrifice unto God, it would come down to either his wife or his child. Think about it.
Now, here is where we must again look back to Judges, Chapter 10. Remember the vow that God made to Israel in this Chapter? How could he promise not to deliver them in Chapter 10, and then go ahead and deliver them in Chapter 11?
The answer: In order for a person to be released from their vow, they would have to die. Think about it.
Abraham said to Isaac in Genesis 22, “God would provide himself a sacrifice.”
Consider this: the only way that a holy God could bring deliverance to mankind regarding their sin was to have his only begotten Son to die as the sacrificial offering. In this way, God would be released from his vow in Judges, Chapter 10. The eternal sacrifice of his only begotten son, would allow him to do so!
And so you see, Jephthah’s vow was not so irrational after all.
I am not sure that Jephthah realized the eternal picture that he was portraying at the time of his vow, but I am sure that God knew of it. God always paints with stories and word pictures. Jephthah’s vow pictures the redemption of mankind.