Judges 11 (focus text: 31-40)

No matter who we study, Old or New Testament, the people’s accounts recorded in Scripture all hearken to the reality of man’s depravity. 

In every sense, we are infected. We’re corrupted and diseased and disfigured by sin’s lingering nature until we one day experience the resurrection and a new glorious body.

Therefore, as we look at the lives of God’s people, we immediately relate to them, whether we choose to see it or not.

Such is the case with Jephthah the Gileadite. He was plagued by the world’s infection and influence. Jephthah was used of the Lord but because of a skewed perspective, placed himself in a most despicable position. One that could have been rectified by confession and prayer! By TRUST!

Jephthah, Son of a Harlot (1-3)

Jeph, the son of a harlot, made him a social outcast in Israel. His step brothers, now grown, disowned him because he was the son of a strange woman. 

Having no home with his father and family, he flees to the land of Tob. Could he have gone elsewhere? I don’t know. Could he have dedicated himself to the Lord’s service rather than flee into this land of strangers? Yes. 

There is no rejection of a broken and contrite heart! (Psalm 51:17) Jephthah could have given his life a living sacrifice (Romans 12:1) to God but instead he chose to move to Tob.

Verse 3 states that after he settled there, vain men or worthless fellows began to group with him. The world’s influence is ever ready to seep in and settle with us!

Jephthah Returns to Israel (4-28)

He returns with distrust. Being an outcast from his father’s family, I’m sure he was scarred. No doubt, rejection yields wounds of distrust. This promise by the elders of Gilead seemed empty.

They told him he’d be head but he wants to hear that for a second time in verse 9. 

I have a feeling in verse 11, after he is installed, refers to his words as to the Lord in prayer, meditating and thanking Him, seeking guidance, etc. 

Verses 12 through 28 give us a great account of his message sent out to the king of the children of Ammon.

Jephthah tries the peaceful approach simply by asking “What did we do that you would attack us?” And it brings to mind, Romans 12:18, “If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men.” But king of Ammon claims the land Israel is settled in used to belong to the Ammorites. So Jeph refutes this with a historical argument in verses 15-22, theological argument in 23-24 and a legal standpoint in 25-27.

Jephthah’s Tragic Vow of Distrust (29-40)

The king ignored Jephthah’s arguments, however, and God then empowered him to go into the land for battle. (v29) Before heading out, Jeph speaks a vow unto God. (v30, 31) So he goes, he wins because the Lord gives them into his hands, and he returns. Now, notice verse 34… the first one to come out to meet his return is his only daughter.

He realizes then what a foolish vow he’s made… “Set a watch, O LORD, before my mouth; keep the door of my lips” Psalm 141:3 says. But isn’t this how infectious the plague of paganism is even in our own lives? We think we must bargain with God to bring about His promises? It’s simply distrust. It’s unbelief. We don’t really grasp the truth that God cannot lie because we are so fickle and prone to do it ourselves. We don’t see pure grace. We see it mixed with us working to earn it!

Jephthah wasn’t talking about animal sacrifice…One, animals didn’t live inside the people’s houses at this point in history and secondly, if he had meant animal, then when she walked out, he wouldn’t have given any thought to her. He wouldn’t have considered it. But he rent his clothes and even blamed her for walking out– as if she’d known the foolish vow. (35) Jephthah HAD promised human sacrifice to the Lord before his victory. (39) Why?

Deuteronomy 12:31 says human sacrifice is detestable and the Lord hates it! He knew this too.

When he’d fled into the land of Tob and spent time with the worthless, vain men, he had become infected more and more with the world. Pagan human sacrifice was a big thing; they threw children into the fires of Molech, the Owl God for supposed blessing. But they also sacrificed people to honor and buy the God’s power. This kind of infiltration seeps into our lives too!

This is a works + righteousness, works + grace Gospel! This is us thinking we need to do something IN ORDER for God to stay true to His promises! Jep thought this would be a lavish gift to God but instead became a horrific tragedy – one you sort of wish wasn’t in the Bible. This was a child of God (Jeph.)

Why not repent, Jeph? He was too worldly. All God requires is Psalm 51:16, 17 and Romans 12:1…And look at Romans 12:2.

The Struggle in All of Us

The real problem is Jeph had no concept of God’s true grace. He doesn’t repent because he doesn’t trust God. He seems to believe some Scripture and not others. He believes he MUST keep this vow. This, being the same works + righteousness view that led him to this vow in the first place.

If only he’d have kept his mouth shut and sought the Lord wholeheartedly. God had already promised to deliver Israel. (Judges 10:16)

It reminds us that we are VERY affected by our culture around us and gives us a clear picture of a struggle to truly believe in a God of pure grace. Don’t let the world settle with you, don’t run with vain men of Tob – don’t trap yourself with mistrust of God. How much differently would you live today, now, this week if you really believed God was committed to His promises, to you, and that He works accordingly? How much of a radical difference that would make in worship, in life, in prayer!