Judges 11 introduces us to a Bible Character — Jephthah. I first heard about him as a man who made a vow to God, the vow went awry, but he went ahead to fulfil his vows. That is the story I was told in Sunday school as a child. I have not bothered about him until recently my pastor preached about him. Let me share with you what I learnt about him as I bothered to read more.
Verse 1: He is introduced as a mighty man of valour but with a big “BUT.” My mum told me that I should never be associated with “BUT” because it wipes out everything good thing that was said before. He s handsome BUT … I call it “The tyranny of the BUT”. The contrast that that 3-lettered word brings is humongous.
Jephthah is a warrior BUT with a terrible pedigree, for no fault of his. His fate in life was already decided before he was born. He was the son of a harlot. That pedigree will follow him all the days of his life. In fact, his father was generous enough to even claim him as his son. He could have chosen otherwise. As the son of a harlot, he was as good as illegitimate. Not a blue blood. Cannot inherit anything. Was at the mercy of the society.
The real story here is that Jephthah went on to be a warrior despite the facts. He did not whine about the fate the life had dealt him. He did not allow his past to drown him. He forged ahead.
Verse 2 states what happens to a social outcast like Jephthah; they are cast-out after a while of tolerance. If he was ordinary no one will bother but he chose to be different and his difference haunted him. I am sure his brothers have thought it wise to throw him out given his status before he even thinks of his father’s inheritance. Let the blue blood reign.
Verse 3 states the obvious. He fled. But something remarkable happened. Some men started congregating about him. The Message Bible called them “riffraff.” Another translation called them bandits. All in all, they were people you would not have anything to do with. The English man will call them “low lives.” The thing about low lives is that you can drag them to your level (that’s a lot of work) or they can drag you to their level. My gumption tells me that Jephthah was able to train these guys to be warriors like himself. For the fact they came to him shows the leadership traits of Jephthah. He’s got something to offer.
Verse 4, 5& 6 — Trouble in the land. Another nation fights Jephthah’s people and they desperately need a warrior leader. Someone reminds them of Jephthah and they go in search of him.
Verse 7 -11: The elders of Gilead come for Jephthah and he reminds them that they threw him out. They apologise and make him a promise; you will be our head upon conquering our enemies. Jephthah skilfully negotiates his “pay” for this mission. The man is not just a mere leader; he is a skilled negotiator. He was not talking about his father’s inheritance but what he will get from Gilead after he uses his skills and resources to deliver.
When you have THE solution, the world will beat a path to your doorstep despite the barriers that would have hitherto dissuaded them to even consider having a chat with you.
Verse 12 -27: Jephthah negotiates with the Ammonites. He gives a historical perspective of why things are the way they are. He tries, in many missions, to make the fellas in Ammon to see reasons. Series and rounds of negotiation ensue but to no avail. By Verse 28 we are told, “Howbeit the king of the children of Ammon hearkened not unto the words of Jephthah which he sent him.”
Verse 30–33: This is the verse that makes Jephthah popular and a folklore in the Bible. He makes a vow to God. He promises to give to God in sacrifice, if he wins the battle, whatsoever comes out first to greet him.
In my opinion, he did not need to make any promise. He would just have asked God for the victory. This is one thing that has plagued the Church of God of recent; we ask for things with conditions. It makes God laugh. I am just imagining my son asking me for stuff with conditions. “Hey lil’ bro, I am your Dad. It is my responsibility and pleasure to take care of thee”.
I think Jephthah was desperate and he needed this victory at all cost. Think about it. This victory will mean a lot to him. It would mean that his people will accept him back and it will not stop at that. He was going to be their new leader. This was going to be a defining moment.
All these were pale in comparison to the pyrrhic victory he later got.
As a new testament believer, you do not need to promise God anything using your algorithm of, “if A is B, then I will …” If thou lackest anything, ask the Lord. Ask in the name of Jesus. End of story. Your promises and vows don’t impress God.
The rest of the story will continue after his commercial.
Just play one in your head.
Alas, welcome back.
Verse 34–40. Jephthah’s only daughter is the first thing to greet him upon his return from battle. The man is sad because she has to be sacrificed. He tells her, and she says ok. She said, “if you have promised the Lord, so be it.” She takes out time to be with her friends for two months before being sacrificed.
The pertinent question that comes to my heart is, “How did they reconcile her sacrifice with the commandment of thou shall not kill?”.
Let me say a thing or two about Jephthah and his daughter. Me think he was a good Daddy. Yes, the son of a harlot is a good Daddy — holy paradox. He was the kind of Daddy that his daughter looked forward to seeing every day.
Did you notice she was a virgin? The Bible recorded that. It even recorded that while she went to be with her friends in the last days of her life, she remained holy. The son of a harlot raised a virgin — a mighty holy paradox.
Finally, she accepted her fate in obedience. This baffles me. How was she raised to honour her father in such a manner — even unto death? There was something about Jephthah.
Let me wrap up again what I learnt from Jephthah.
- Jephthah chose to forge ahead in life and succeeded despite the facts against him. He succeeds against all odds.
- Jephthah chose his battles. Even as a warrior he left his father’s house when he was thrown out. Choose your battles.
- He did not allow that to be his end. Rather, he kept at what he was good at. When you are skilled you can use your skills anywhere you find yourself. Even in a strange place, people will come for you.
- Jephthah did not descend to the levels of the bandit around him. Rather he groomed them to become a mighty army. Think of what happened in the movie, The Gladiator. That fella groomed the other gladiators.
- When the world came back to him for his services, Jephthah charged and negotiated his fees.
- Before proceeding to war, he negotiated for a long time with the enemy until war was inevitable. Though a warrior, he knew some battles can be eliminated by “jaw-jaw.”
- Jephthah vowed and kept his vow. He was a man of integrity. The son of a harlot is a man of integrity. Yes. He did not allow his past to define him. He also raised a great kid.
- Jephthah needed to ask God for what he wanted without making any unnecessary vows.
- Count the cost of your victories in life. Was it worth it?
- If you really really really need something bad enough, ASK in the name of Jesus. If Jesus cannot give it to you … biko … just leave it.