January 18: Jephthah

Read Judges 11

Known as a mighty warrior, Jephthah’s leadership skills attracted others.  When his half-brothers banished him because he had a different mother, Jephthah went elsewhere and became a leader in his own right.

But when his brothers came into war against the Ammonites, they un-banished and begged him to lead them to victory.  He finally agreed.  Before the Lord. (See verse 11.)

This man did not take words lightly.

By faith, he used words to remind the Ammonites that it was Almighty God Who had given His people this land (v24).  But the messages and words made no difference to the Ammonites.  And the two sides went to war.

Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.  He . . . advanced against the Ammonites.  (v29)

He didn’t just go, however.  He also made a vow.

If you give the Ammonites into my hands, whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return . . . will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.  (vv30-31)

I can’t imagine what on earth made Jephthah make such a promise. Clearly, he should’ve thought it through.

What did he imagine coming out to meet him?  A cow?  His dog?  We will probably never know.

When Jephthah got home after the Lord gave him the victory, we can imagine his horror as his daughter, his only child, came out to meet him, dancing around celebrating his success.

But the horror he felt did not take precedence over the power of his word that Jephthah had given to the Lord.  The vow he took.

The Lord had given him the victory.  Jephthah had given the Lord his word.

And the victory Jephthah saw was overshadowed by grief and unimaginable regret.

I have to admit that it would be much easier to believe the interpretation some scholars use for this portion of Scripture. Namely, that Jephthah did not actually place his daughter on an altar and kill her before the LORD.

I guess, short of asking God face to face we will never know.

What we do know is this: God takes our vows seriously. Even words from broken people, of which Jephthah was one.

Still, God used Jephthah despite his rash judgment.

A difficult story to handle no matter how we look at it.  It speaks of rash vows, regret and sorrow even in the midst of what should have been victory dances and celebratory cheers.

But it also tells the power of our words and the importance of a vow.


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