DID JEPHTHAH DO IT?

By Dr. Ken Matto

(Judg 11:39 KJV) 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. And it was a custom in Israel,

On the History Channel on TV in the USA, they sponsor a program called “History’s Mysteries.” I guess one can call Judges 11 a mystery because it definitely qualifies for that status. Judges 11, is probably one of the most debated portions of Scripture in the Bible. There are two opinions on Jephthah’s vow:

1) The first one is that he did not sacrifice his daughter as a burnt offering because God would not accept it, instead she had to remain a perpetual virgin for her entire life.

2) The second is that he did carry through on his vow to the Lord.

VOWS
(Num 30:2 KJV) If a man vow a vow unto the LORD, or swear an oath to bind his soul with a bond; he shall not break his word, he shall do according to all that proceedeth out of his mouth.

(Deu 23:21 KJV) 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.

(Eccl 5:4-5 KJV) When thou vowest a vow unto God, defer not to pay it; for he hath no pleasure in fools: pay that which thou hast vowed. {5} Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

As we look at the above three verses, we read that making a vow unto the Lord was a serious matter in the Old Testament. The hard truth is that if you made a vow unto the Lord, you were expected to carry though and fulfill your end of the vow. In fact if you did not follow through and pay your vow, according to Deuteronomy 23:21, the Lord will require it of you and it will be considered sin. God will demand that you fulfill your vow.

God tells us in the Ecclesiastes verse that it is better not to vow than to vow and not pay. Vows in Israel were not mandatory and were made completely by one’s own desire to do so. So Jephthah was under no obligation to make a vow.

(Prov 6:2 KJV) Thou art snared with the words of thy mouth, thou art taken with the words of thy mouth.

(Prov 13:3 KJV) He that keepeth his mouth keepeth his life: but he that openeth wide his lips shall have destruction.

(Prov 21:23 KJV) Whoso keepeth his mouth and his tongue keepeth his soul from troubles.

These three verses that we read are a warning to those who like to shoot their mouth off. If someone makes a vow and fails to pay it, they will cause much trouble in their souls. Lying to God is a very serious offense. This is why vows were not something that was mandatory nor was it part of the law yet it was a regulated by the law if one chose to vow.

 

PAUL’s VOW
(Acts 21:23 KJV) Do therefore this that we say to thee: We have four men which have a vow on them; (Acts 21:26 KJV) Then Paul took the men, and the next day purifying himself with them entered into the temple, to signify the accomplishment of the days of purification, until that an offering should be offered for every one of them.
 
They then suggested to Paul that there is four men which have a vow upon them. The way the verse is worded, these four men may have been from the Jerusalem church but we are not sure. It was probably a Nazarite vow which showed a person’s dedication to God and His will. They were not to shave their head, nor drink wine or grape juice, nor touch a dead body and by these things they showed that their love for God was higher than love for humanity. At the end of the time of the vow, an expensive sacrifice was offered and then they would shave their heads.
 
Acts 21:24 (KJB)
Them take, and purify thyself with them, and be at charges with them, that they may shave their heads: and all may know that those things, whereof they were informed concerning thee, are nothing; but that thou thyself also walkest orderly, and keepest the law.
 
This was being done to prevent riots from starting and to show that Paul was not the enemy of the Jew’s religion. Paul did not have to take the vow himself, but was asked by the Jerusalem church leaders to go through the ceremony of purifying himself with the four men. This may also appease those believing Jews that Paul was purifying himself because he stayed with Gentiles and ate food which was not under the dietary laws of the Mosaic law, namely kosher. He also paid the expenses of the four men he was with which would show the whole assembly that Paul did not teach anyone to go against the customs of the fathers. The expenses would have been associated with the sacrifice at the end of the vow. These things would show the people in Jerusalem that Paul did not teach against Moses and that he was not an enemy of the law.

 

MARRIAGE VOWS
Probably one of the most abused vows of today is the marriage vows. A couple stands before the Lord and says they will take each other for life. Then in six months they call it quits and get a divorce. They have abrogated the vows they took before God. If more people would realize that the vows they made to God in marriage are serious and to be kept, maybe more would try hard to keep their marriage alive. It is a sad note when Christians act like heathens and just set aside their vows and do what they want. This is because the majority of Christians do not have a true view of God and treat Him like an understanding Grandfather who will overlook their sins. When couples go for pre-marital counseling, there should be an entire session devoted to vows, so they know the serious nature of entering into a vow with each other and God. They would then be able to consider their actions a little more seriously. Many enter marriage with the idea of free sex for life and then when that does not happen, they begin to start looking at each other differently and eventually a rift will occur and then it will lead to divorce. If the couple knew of the seriousness of a vow before the Lord, they would include that in their lives and their marriage would have a different meaning than just free sex. When a married couple lives unto the Lord right from the beginning of their union, all the other benefits of marriage will fall into place. The problem is that many pastors do not probe the couples beyond the surface because many of them just want to build their church with numbers AKA children. Remember marriage built on human love will waver but marriage that is built on the love of God, which is a stabilizing tent of salvation, will survive.

 

JEPHTHAH’s VOW
(Judg 11:30-31 KJV) And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, {31} 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.

Now as we begin to look at the vow that Jephthah made, we need to take his story right back to the beginning, which is always a good place to start.

(Judg 11:2-3 KJV) And 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. {3} Then Jephthah fled from his brethren, and dwelt in the land of Tob: and there were gathered vain men to Jephthah, and went out with him.

First we need to look at his upbringing. Jephthah was condemned because he was the son of a strange woman and was cast out of his house and he fled to the land of Tob. Tob was an area east of Manasseh, north of Ammon and on the border of Syria. Now being in this area, outside the borders of Israel, Jephthah would not have had the biblical upbringing that any male would have had within the borders of the twelve tribes. With Tob being that close to both Ammon and Syria, the Bible tells us that he gathered himself with “vain” men. The word “vain” carries with it the meaning of “worthless.” A good commentary on this kind of man is found in Proverbs:

(Prov 12:11 KJV) He that tilleth his land shall be satisfied with bread: but he that followeth vain persons is void of understanding.

(Prov 28:19 KJV) He that tilleth his land shall have plenty of bread: but he that followeth after vain persons shall have poverty enough.

The same word for vain is used in the Proverbs verses as well as the Judges verse. We see then that Jephthah had become head of a group of men who were probably thieves and criminals of all sorts.

When we look at the area in which he lived, between Ammon and Syria, he would no doubt have had much contact with the false religions of that area. The chief deity of the Ammonites was Milcom. (1 Ki 11:5 KJV) For Solomon went after Ashtoreth the goddess of the Zidonians, and after Milcom the abomination of the Ammonites. The Syrians had been worshippers of Tammuz which was the god of pasture and flocks. He was the husband and brother of Ishtar. He was supposed to have died every autumn and then in the Spring he was revived by Ishtar and then when he returned to life, then Spring time and new life came upon the land.

Then the Ammonites also worshipped Molech in which sacrifices of children were made unto this false deity. They revered Molech as a protecting father. Solomon built an altar to Molech at Tophet in the valley of Hinnom and wicked King Manasseh also honored this deity.

Now when we look at the types of deities which were prevalent in that area, it would be easy to presume that Jephthah had much contact with these false deities and their forms of worship. These worthless men that he rode with were probably all or most came out of these false religious cultures. It would also be safe to presume that Jephthah, being an outcast from Israel, would not have had the knowledge of God and His requirements as did someone who grew up in the land of Israel at that time. If Jephthah was surrounded by the false religion of these false deities, then he would have grown up and lived within that culture and would have known their barbaric customs. He may even have participated in them but that we cannot be sure of.

So now the elders of Gilead were in trouble and they prayed to the Lord to be delivered from the Ammonites which were camped in Gilead ready to march and conquer Israel. Now the nation of Israel had sunk so low, they now had to resort to a man who headed up a rebel army. (Judg 10:6 KJV) And the children of Israel did evil again in the sight of the LORD, and served Baalim, and Ashtaroth, and the gods of Syria, and the gods of Zidon, and the gods of Moab, and the gods of the children of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines, and forsook the LORD, and served not him. There was not a godly man in Israel who was able to lead them in battle against such a hardened enemy. So to fight a pagan army, God places them under the command of a pagan outcast. Israel had become so corrupt with their worship of false religions, that God raised up an outcast to defend them. So now Jephthah was approached by the elders of Israel and he agrees to become their head. Let us now jump ahead to the vow.

(Judg 11:29-32 KJV) Then the spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. {30} And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, {31} 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. {32} So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.

Now in these four verses we have the vow and the reason for it. Jephthah made a vow to the Lord that he will offer a burnt offering of the very first thing that would come out of his house. Now that was a very foolish vow to make, for how could he possibly have known what or who would come out of his house. It was like a compromise that if the Lord would do something, then he would offer something to the Lord.

It is also interesting to note that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. I have done research into this subject and when the Spirit of the Lord came upon someone in the Old Testament, it was for an empowerment to do a specific task. Here the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah to fight against the Ammonites. My study which contains that study is called, “How Were the Old Testament Saints Saved?” and is available on this site. So at this point we are not looking at a man who was saved that would be indwelled with the Holy Spirit. Instead he was being empowered to gain victory over the Ammonites for Israel. Well Jephthah gained the victory and he returned home and that is where we will pick up the rest of the story.

(Judg 11:34 KJV) And 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.

Jephthah now returned home and obviously the victory that he won over the Ammonites preceded his homecoming. When his daughter heard him coming, she came out and danced the dance of joy and victory. This was his only child as the Scriptures teach.

(Judg 11:35 KJV) 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 was so filled with anguish that when he saw his daughter emerge from the house, he was filled with so much remorse that he rent his clothes which was a sign of grief and contrition. He had made a vow to the Lord concerning a burnt offering and believed he could not go back on that vow.

(Judg 11:36 KJV) 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.

Obviously he had told her what the vow was and since he made the vow to God by requesting that he have victory over the Ammonites and God delivered the Ammonites into his hands, his daughter believed that he must keep the vow.

(Judg 11:37 KJV) And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.

Before her father was to perform his vow, she had requested that she be allowed to bewail her virginity. The idea that she will not leave any children for her family was a very reprehensible thing to the Israelite women. This is especially true since the promise of a Messiah was given in Genesis and each Israelite woman believed that they could be the chosen vessel to bring forth the Messiah. For a woman not to have a baby was thought to be almost like a curse. Remember how Hannah prayed for a child to be born to her and how Sarah wanted to give Abraham the promised child. She would leave no progeny for her father’s house.

(Judg 11:38 KJV) 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.

So Jephthah gave his daughter her request and went and mourned for her virginity for two months along with her friends.

(Judg 11:39 KJV) 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. And it was a custom in Israel,

This shows the foolishness of a sudden vow without thinking. Now with the history of Jephthah going back to all the paganism with their rituals of human sacrifice, he would have had no problem following through with what he said, albeit in severe sadness. Now many say that instead of him sacrificing his daughter in a burnt offering, he prevented her from bearing children. Many believe this idea simply because they cannot believe that God would not accept a burnt human sacrifice.

That is absolutely correct since the Bible states that God called those false religions and their practices abominable. But let us look at it from a different point of view. Just because man does something, does that mean God accepts it? The answer is no! Look how many people are steeped in false religions and doing good works thinking they are pleasing God. The bottom line is that just because we do something, does not mean God accepts it. In the case of a human sacrifice, God would never accept it because the only sacrifice he sees is the sacrifice of his Son.

These passages of Scripture shows how bad Israel had become in following false religions. Jephthah, because of being outcast from Israel, did not have the spiritual training others had. He was called on to do a job and that was it. In his world of having contact with false religions, burnt offerings were a common occurrence and that is probably why he shot off his mouth so quick without thinking. Basically what Jephthah did was engage in foxhole religion. If God gets me out of this then I will dedicate my life to God! Foxhole religion lasts as along as the battle does. He made a compromise with God and it cost him his daughter’s life.

(Judg 11:40 KJV) That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

Now here is an interesting custom that once every year for four days the daughters of Israel would lament the daughter of Jephthah. If she was just to remain a virgin for the rest of her life, then why would there be lamenting by the daughters of Israel. One other thing, if she was still alive, why didn’t the daughter of Jephthah go with them? Simply because she was not there! She was dead and that is why the daughters lamented her. If she would have been alive, the Bible could have said, that the daughters of Israel went with her to lament.

 

Summary
I realize there are opposing views to this portion of Scripture and I don’t claim to have the final word. However, the pieces of the puzzle come together when we see the type of people that Jephthah befriended. He headed up a rebel army which no doubt contained many men from the surrounding regions which were steeped in the false abominable religions that God denounced. The Bible is clear that Jephthah said he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house and he did it. God condemns cannibalism yet in Deuteronomy he tells Israel that things were going to get so bad that they were going to eat their own children, which they did. This was not acceptable to the Lord but we must remember that human beings who are unsaved will act out of the flesh. Now Jephthah is listed in faith’s Hall of Fame in Hebrews 11 and maybe he did become saved at a later date but I don’t know. The bottom line is all the historical evidence in Jephthah’s life points toward the fulfilling of his vow to God by sacrificing his daughter. God does not accept human sacrifice but that does not mean it didn’t happen. Look how fast Abraham was going to sacrifice Isaac to the Lord. Abraham came out of a very pagan area namely the fertile crescent, so those who dwelled in that area would be familiar with human sacrifice and that is why I believe Jephthah carried through and killed her. Let us look at this story and remember it, so we will prevent ourselves from making a rash vow. With Jephthah’s foolish vow, we can understand the this verse a little better. (Judg 21:25 KJV) In those days there was no king in Israel: every man did that which was right in his own eyes.

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