Jephthah: Zeal without Wisdom

KEY VERSE: “There is a way that seemeth right unto a man, but the end thereof are the ways to death.” —Proverbs 14:12

SELECTED SCRIPTURE: Judges 11:7-10, 29-35

JEPHTHAH was the son of a harlot. Because of this, his birth would have excluded him from the right to share in the inheritance of his family. However, he did not deserve to be turned out destitute as a malefactor, as was his fate at the hands of his brethren. Jephthah migrated to the land of Tob where he gathered a number of men to himself who were trained in the art of war. It does not appear they made war on their brethren, but rather reprisals on those nations that opposed them, and in the course of time they gained a reputation for hardiness, boldness, and military skill. When the Israelites knew that the children of Ammon were going to make war upon them, the elders of Gilead went to Jephthah and asked him to join with them as the captain of their combined forces in meeting the threat of the Ammonites.

Jephthah’s reaction was a natural response, “Did not ye hate me, and expel me out of my father’s house? And why are ye come unto me now when ye are in distress?” (Judg. 11:7) These elders were probably Jephthah’s brethren for they did not deny the charge made against them. But now in their distress they felt the need of his talents and pleaded that they desired to make him their captain in order that amends might be made for their former injustice. After Jephthah received assurances from his brethren, he agreed to accept their offer and “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.”—Judg. 11:11

Jephthah evidently realized the terrible consequences of war and desired to settle the matter with the Ammonites without battle if possible. He therefore sent messengers to the Ammonites saying, “What hast thou to do with me, that thou art come against me to fight in my land?” And the Ammonites replied, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from Anton even unto Jabbok, and unto Jordan; now therefore restore those lands again peaceably.” (vss. 12,13) Then Jephthah responded with a rather long and detailed history of the difficulties of the Israelites in their migration from Egypt to their Promised Land, relating how the Israelites were not permitted to pass through the land of the Amorites by their king, Sihon. And “Sihon gathered all his people together … and fought against Israel. And the Lord God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel; … so Israel possessed all the land of the Amorites. … Wherefore I have not sinned against thee, but thou doest me wrong to war against me. The Lord, the Judge, be judge this day between the children of Israel and the children of Ammon.”—Judg. 11:20-27

Before the battle, Jephthah made a vow unto the Lord. The King James translation of this vow from the original Hebrew leaves much to be desired, and seems to imply a human sacrifice was made. Professor Benjamin Wilson, the translator of the Emphatic Diaglott, offers the following corrected translation, with which we concur. “And it shall be, that whoever comes forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be Jehovah’s, and I will offer to him a burnt offering.” (Judg. 11:31) This vow contains two parts: one, that the person who met him on his return, should be Jehovah’s, and be dedicated forever to his service, just as Hannah devoted Samuel before he was born; two, that Jephthah himself would offer a burnt offering to Jehovah. Human sacrifices being prohibited by God (Deut. 21:31), the priests would have refused to offer his daughter, as the Common Version incorrectly suggests. It may be safely concluded that Jephthah’s daughter was committed to perpetual virginity. This agrees with the statements that she went to bewail her virginity, and that the women went four times in every year to mourn or talk with her, and that Jephthah “did with her according with his vow, … and she knew no man.” (Judg. 11:39) Jephthah demonstrated zeal for the Lord and was pleasing to God because he kept his vow even though, as a father, it was very painful to inflict its consequences upon his innocent daughter.

Dawn Bible Students Association
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