This is a very sad story of a man who made a foolish vow before God, and his precious daughter suffered the consequences. It is a warning to anyone who does not think before they speak.
It is important to remember, in the events that follow, that in the time of the judges, “In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes” (Judges 21:25) This book is filled with the consequences of people who did not look to the LORD in all their decisions. Thankfully, now we have these words to live by: Proverbs 3:5-6 “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge him, and he shall direct thy paths.”
In Judges Chapter 11, we have the tragic story of Jephthah and his beloved daughter, whose name we are not told.
Judges 11 opens with the first mention of Jephthah. V1 “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah“. So we know that Jephthah was born with a strike against him, he was not the son of his father’s wife, and indeed in V2-3 we learn that in the passage of time, “Gilead’s wife bare him sons; and his wife’s sons grew up, and they thrust out Jephthah and said unto him, Thou shalt not inherit in our father’s house; for thou art the son of a strange woman. Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob…” But then V4-6 when times got tough, who came to mind to help in the situation but Jephthah – “And it came to pass in the process of time, that the children of Ammon made war against Israel and it was so that…..the elders of Gilead went to fetch Jephthah out of the land of Tob. And they said unto Jephthah, Come, and be our captain that we may fight with the children of Ammon.” And remembering that Jephthah was previously driven out, Jephthah asks for glory for himself, even knowing that a victory would come from the LORD. V9 “If ye bring me home again to fight against the children of Ammon, and the LORD deliver them before me, shall I be your head?” So Jephthah is given a place of honor and respect, V10-11 “And the elders of Gilead said unto Jephthah, the LORD be witness between us, if we do not so according to thy words. Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and captain over them: and Jephthah uttered all his words before the LORD in Mizpeh”
And so V12-23 Jephthah sends word to the king of the Ammonites, relating the events leading up to the possession of the land by Israel and saying V23 “So now the LORD God of Israel hath dispossessed the Amorites from before his people Israel, and shouldest thou possess it?
But in Verse24 Jephthah makes a rather strange remark “Wilt not thou possess that which Chemosh thy god giveth thee to possess? So whomsoever the LORD our God shall drive out from before us, them will we possess.” Jephthah seems to be saying that Chemosh, the god of the Ammonites, is powerful enough to give them what they now possess, and it seems as if he is contrasting him with the LORD, a very foolish thing to do. He would have done well to remember the words of Deuteronomy 6:16 “Ye shall not tempt the LORD your God…..”
Verse 30-31 Jephthah makes a very, very rash vow, one which will have severe consequences “And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” Notice he says “whatsoever” not “whosoever”
Deuteronomy 23:21 “When thou shalt vow a vow unto the LORD thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it; for the LORD thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.
Ecclesiastes 5:2 “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few.
Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 “When thou vowest a vow unto God, deter not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay”
Matthew 5:37 “But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.”
James 5:12 “But above all things, my brethren, swear not, neither by heaven, neither by the earth, neither by any other oath: but let your yea be yea; and your nay, nay; lest he fall into condemnation.”
Jephthah has made a very foolish vow, to sacrifice as a burnt offering, the first thing that comes from his house. It was the practice to sacrifice animals as a burnt offering, Psalm 66:13 “I will go into thy house with burnt offerings: I will pay thee my vows, which my lips have uttered, and my mouth hath spoken, when I was in trouble. I will offer unto thee burnt sacrifices of fatlings, with the incense of rams; I will offer bullocks with goats. Selah.” What was it that Jephthah expected to come from his house?
Jephthah has victory V32-33 “So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands. And he smote them…… with a very great slaughter……” and now, remembering Jephthah’s very foolish vow, in V34 “Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house and behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.” What would be more wonderful after a war and victory, than to come home and be met by his beloved daughter, lovingly and happily with instruments and dancing. But now the full extent of the foolishness of his vow becomes apparent. V35 “And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.” Jephthah must offer up as a burnt offering his only child. We think of Abraham whose faith was tested by being commanded to offer up Isaac, and yet a ram was provided in his stead. Here is no commandment of God, Jephthah has made a rash vow, one to cause much sorrow.
Now we learn in a few brief verses, of his daughter. She was obedient, brave, and accepting of what must surely happen to her. Verse 36 “And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.” There is no anger, or fear in her voice, she is ready to do the will of her father, and the will of the LORD. This girl is one who has great faith. The only request she makes is to V37 “let me alone two months that I may go up and down upon the mountains and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows” She now realizes that she will never be a wife, or a mother, and wishes to have some time to mourn that fact with her friends. V38 “and he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.” and V39 “and it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man….”
After that it was the custom that V40 “the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.” We do not know this brave girl’s name, only that she was mourned by her friends. –
Now it is said by some that Jephthah could not have offered his daughter as a burnt offering, as this was forbidden, yet we must take the word of God, our bible, for what it says, and it clearly states that her father “did with her according to his vow which he had vowed”. and what was that vow? V31 “whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” There seems no getting around it by trying to change the meaning.
And so Jephthah would spend the rest of his days mourning his beloved daughter, and regretting his rash vow.
Galatians 6:7 “Be not deceived God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap”