And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands, 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. — Judges 11:30-31
It is always touching when a brother in our congregation tells of the time when he made a promise to God. He had been raised in a Christian home and went to church every Sunday, but when he became a man, he got away from this Christian environment. One cold winter’s day he was driving a pickup truck over the ice on Ten Mile Pond. Suddenly, his truck broke through the ice and slowly began sinking. He was alone and trapped inside. As the chilly waters slowly raised, his body began submerging and the perspiration ran down his face, he cried out to God to send someone to rescue him. He promised that if God would spare his life, he would go back to church and give his heart and life to Him. God heard that prayer and sent men to rescue him. The brother kept his word. Close to fifty years have gone by since his rescue, but he is still serving the Lord and excited about God’s mercy and his privilege to be in church every Sunday.
Sometimes extreme circumstances cause people to make promises or vows to God. We need to be careful, even in stressful situations, that we do not make rash or foolish vows. Jephthah is an example of this. Chosen by the Israelites to lead them against the Ammonites, he knew that victory would require a power greater than his own. When he saw that war was inevitable, he made a vow unto the Lord. He had been called to a place of responsibility and wanted to see success at any cost.
God accepted Jephthah’s vow and gave him the victory, and then the real test came. That is often the case with us: the consecration and sometimes vows are made, the victory is won, and then God lays His finger upon our lives. He says, “You promised this. Did you mean it?”
Jephthah said, “I have opened my mouth unto the Lord, and I cannot go back.” It is not just upon the field of battle that men display their valour. Sometimes the true test comes during prosperity and honour. Whatever our situation, we are required to pay our vows to God, so we need to consider carefully before we “open our mouths” to Him.
Israel had again turned from God and fallen under the rule of foreign invaders. They called out to God, but found their pleas unheeded. God began to act only after Israel showed true repentance.
Jephthah, the Gileadite, was a mighty man of valour, but he was the son of a harlot. Insisting upon the rigour of the law, his father’s legitimate children had thrust him out from having any inheritance with them. He had been driven from Gilead, east of the Jordan River, and dwelt in the land of Tob, which was located northeast of the Yarmuk River. In his exile, he headed a group of “vain men” Here vain means “restless” or “empty,” so perhaps these men were without employment.
With the Ammonites encamped in Gilead, Israel needed a leader, and the elders of Gilead went out and fetched Jephthah. He was invited to be their captain, which he accepted on one condition. If the Lord delivered them from the oppression of the Ammonites, they must give him the position of head or judge over them. They immediately agreed to this.
The King of Ammon charged the Israelites with taking their land when they came out of Egypt, and Jephthah endeavoured to negotiate. He referenced historical facts: that God had given them the land, and that they had been there for three hundred years. The Ammonites would not heed, and war was imminent. Jephthah had reason to be confident of success, for he knew the Spirit of the Lord had come upon him. Yet, still, he vowed rashly.
Bible commentators are divided on the exact meaning of Jephthah’s vow and how he fulfilled it. Some claim that he literally sacrificed his daughter. Others maintain that the original language could mean he vowed to offer whatever (indicating an animal) or to dedicate whoever (indicating a person) to God, and that Jephthah’s daughter was dedicated for service at the tabernacle and therefore never married. They note that her virginity was bewailed, not her death, and that the Bible never says directly that she was killed.
Whatever its meaning and its fulfilment, the Bible is clear that Jephthah paid his vow, and the consequences were serious and caused him grief. This daughter was his only child, so there was no one to perpetuate Jephthah’s inheritance in Israel. He could have been overcome with remorse from the rash vow made to God, but he did not renege, and his daughter supported him in going through with it.
Jephthah is numbered among the worthies of the Old Testament, who by faith did great exploits (Hebrews 11:32). The events of his life are an object lesson showing that God expects people to pay their vows to Him, and the importance of guarding against rash or foolish statements to God.
(Hannah’s Bible Outlines - Used by permission per WORDsearch)
II. Conditions during the period of the judges
C. Parenthesis: the tyranny of Abimelech
d. Israel’s deliverance
(1) The preparations for battle
(b) The leader secured (11:1-11)
 His background (11:1-3)
 His covenant (11:4-11)
(c) The messages to Ammon (11:12-28)
(2) The vow and victory in battle (11:29-40)
(a) The vow made (11:29-31)
(b) The victory secured (11:32-33)
(c) The vow observed (11:34-40)
Today’s lesson: be cautious! What we have solemnly vowed to God, we must conscientiously go through with, even though it may be ever so difficult and grievous to us.