Summary: 5 of 5 messages on Judges. This message is on Jephthah and his terrible vow.

The Verdict on Judges

One Crumpled Leader

What a story line…

Boy unhappily born and unwanted, goes bad, is called home by his humbled, repentant family, and then saves his tribe from the enemy in a fierce battle and rules over the people happily ever after. The credits roll and the story is over and we are ready for some out-takes.

That’s in Hollywood. It’s not in this story! In the story of Jephthah there a subplot – a minor story line – that is so terrible; so tragic; and so dark that it casts a shadow of evil overwhelming the glorious victory with deep despair and unbearable agony. And it all happens because Jephthah makes two terrible mistakes – the second error was one of pride built upon the stupidity of the first.

Oh, you are going to have a hard time with this story. I did. Let’s begin at the beginning…

Jephthah was born to a prominent soldier and a common street prostitute. It’s an old story – as old as war and soldiers. Jephthah was an accident, unloved and unwanted. The story is told in Judges 11.

Jephthah – The Unlikely Judge

Jephthah was a strong soldier from Gilead. His father was named Gilead, and his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead’s wife had several sons. When they grew up, they forced Jephthah to leave his home, saying to him, “You will not get any of our father’s property, because you are the son of another woman.” 3 So Jephthah ran away from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. There some worthless men began to follow him.

Judges 11:1-3

Jephthah was an outsider

His father was Gilead but his mother was a prostitute. Daddy was sowing his wild oats and there was a crop – Jephthah. Unplanned, unwanted, and unloved, Jephthah was a treated like human trash.

Jephthah was an outcast

When he was old enough to fend for himself his half-brothers drove him away because they had no intentions of sharing any of their inheritance with him. In those times the eldest son inherited a double portion, the rest divided equally between all the brothers. These brothers made sure their portions would be as large as possible.

Jephthah became an outlaw

No surprises here. Jephthah – unloved and angry, became a streetwise punk with a flair for attracting others to him. Jephthah became the leader of a gang of outcasts, brigands, and punks. He became the first “Robin Hood” – except he stole from the rich and kept it for himself and his friends.

But this is when the story takes a sharp turn toward God. Gilead was attacked by Ammon and the best fighter in the clan was named – you guessed it – was Jephthah.


4 After a time the Ammonites fought against Israel. 5 When the Ammonites made war against Israel, the older leaders of Gilead went to Jephthah to bring him back from Tob. 6 They said to him, “Come and lead our army so we can fight the Ammonites.”

Judges 11:4

So the outsider becomes the ruler of the tribe. The outcast becomes a skilled negotiator and diplomat – unsuccessful mind you – but skilled none the less. And the outlaw becomes a mighty warrior. Jephthah leads the Gileadites into a fierce battle and they crushed the Ammonites.

So where is the problem? What is dark side of this story. Well, the problem is a little itty-bitty promise that in Jephthah made to God. Jephthat struck a bargain with God. He made a vow. It’s recorded for us in the 30th verse.

Jephthah made a Vow

30 Jephthah made a promise to the LORD, saying, “If you will hand over the Ammonites to me, 31 I will give you as a burnt offering the first thing that comes out of my house to meet me when I return from the victory. It will be the LORD’s.”

Judges 11:30

This was a foolish vow. No, it was more than that. It was stupid promise for two reasons. First, it was made without thinking it through. Second, it was completely unnecessary. Let’s look at each of these reasons in order.

It was a foolish promise because Jephthah – rash and undisciplined, didn’t consider all the possible consequences. Homes in those days and those locales were not only for the people but also for their valued animals. There were rooms for people and right nearby – often attached were pens for camels, sheep, goats, and cattle. These animals were the measure of your wealth and were kept close to you as you slept. If you let them wander off just anywhere they could be easily stolen by marauders.

Given Jephthah’s years as an accomplished camel rustler he probably took no chances and kept a close eye on his wealth.

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