Judges – Lesson 15


Judges Chapter 11:30-40 





In first half of chapter 11, we saw Jephthah being raised up by God to be the ninth judge of Israel.    He was the man chosen to deliver Israel from the oppression of the Ammonites.  We closed last weeks lesson with Jephthah preparing for battle, and mentioned how he made a vow to God that appeared to be not well thought out.   We begin this week’s lesson discussing that vow.


I.                   Jephthah Prepares for Battle



 Judg 11:29  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.


After all the talking, Jephthah prepares the men for battle.  We are told that the spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah.  This was the third judge where this was mentioned.  It showed God’s favor and approval upon what Jephthah was doing.  After this, Jephthah makes a tour through the eastern half of Manasseh and Gilead in search of additional troops.  We are not told if more troops were added, but we can be sure that his army was outmanned by the opposition.   But as a youth, David proved that one man with God is a majority when we go against the enemies of God.  And Gideon’s record of winning with 300 over 100,000 men proved it again.



II.                 Jephthah’s Vow



Judg 11:30  And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,


Before he went out, Jephthah made a serious vow to the Lord.


Judg 11:31  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.


The reason for this was to assure him the blessing of God on his military endeavor.  God help us to have men who seek God’s help and guidance in making choices for our country.


Prov 29:2  When the righteous are in authority, the people rejoice: but when the wicked beareth rule, the people mourn.


All of us need to be careful when it comes to making vows.


Eccl 5:4  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.

Eccl 5:5  Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay.

Eccl 5:6  Suffer not thy mouth to cause thy flesh to sin; neither say thou before the angel, that it was an error: wherefore should God be angry at thy voice, and destroy the work of thine hands?

Eccl 5:7  For in the multitude of dreams and many words there are also divers vanities: but fear thou God.


The teaching in Ecclesiastes makes it clear that we should never make a vow and then fail to pay that vow.   Does that mean we should never make a vow unto God?   Absolutely not.   We make promises to bankers that we will pay back a car loan or a house loan, and we have to stand by our word or they come and take back that car or that home.   Making a vow to God is a good thing, but we sure need to make certain that our brain is in gear before we start talking and promising God something that we may not want to do.   Jephthah was excited about serving the Lord, and he wanted God’s blessings on his military endeavor.   But God will bless and help us even when we don’t make a vow.   Make vows soberly and after much thought and prayer.   And then after you vow, do what you promised.


Judg 11:32  So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the LORD delivered them into his hands.


After making the vow, they move into battle and take Ammon.   God had promised to be with him in the battle, and He was.   When God is on your side, you are on the winning side.  On his triumphant return, the first one to meet Jephthah was his daughter, an only child.


Judg 11:33  And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

Judg 11:34  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.


Remember what Jephthah had promised?    That whoever came out of his house first when he returned from battle, he would sacrifice them unto the Lord. 


Judg 11:31  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.


This brought great distress to him.  Can you imagine only having one child, and this is the person that you’ve promised to offer as a burnt offering.   He had made a serious vow to the Lord about making a sacrifice of whatever came first out of his house on his return from the battle.  Perhaps God was teaching him the seriousness of making vows.  This daughter no doubt was perhaps the most important person in the world to Jephthah, and here he has to either put her to death or back out of his vow. 


Judg 11:35  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 is heart broken, and tells his daughter that he had made a promise to God and that he could not go back on his word.    I can’t over emphasize the importance of thinking out major decisions and asking God to help us in those decisions.   This vow was most likely totally unneeded, and we know God never commanded a human sacrifice from His people.    God did allow Christ to be our sacrifice for sin on Mount Calvary, but that was a pact that God the father, and God the Son made in eternity past.   Christ willingly came and offered himself for our sins.    The closest thing ever recorded where it appeared God requested a human sacrifice was with Abraham and Isaac.    This was a test of Abraham’s faith, but when it came time for him to slay Isaac, the angel of the Lord stayed Abraham’s hand and provided a substitute.


Gen 22:1  And it came to pass after these things, that God did tempt Abraham, and said unto him, Abraham: and he said, Behold, here I am.

Gen 22:2  And he said, Take now thy son, thine only son Isaac, whom thou lovest, and get thee into the land of Moriah; and offer him there for a burnt offering upon one of the mountains which I will tell thee of.


Gen 22:3  And Abraham rose up early in the morning, and saddled his ass, and took two of his young men with him, and Isaac his son, and clave the wood for the burnt offering, and rose up, and went unto the place of which God had told him.

Gen 22:4  Then on the third day Abraham lifted up his eyes, and saw the place afar off.

Gen 22:5  And Abraham said unto his young men, Abide ye here with the ass; and I and the lad will go yonder and worship, and come again to you.

Gen 22:6  And Abraham took the wood of the burnt offering, and laid it upon Isaac his son; and he took the fire in his hand, and a knife; and they went both of them together.

Gen 22:7  And Isaac spake unto Abraham his father, and said, My father: and he said, Here am I, my son. And he said, Behold the fire and the wood: but where is the lamb for a burnt offering?

Gen 22:8  And Abraham said, My son, God will provide himself a lamb for a burnt offering: so they went both of them together.

Gen 22:9  And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood.

Gen 22:10  And Abraham stretched forth his hand, and took the knife to slay his son.

Gen 22:11  And the angel of the LORD called unto him out of heaven, and said, Abraham, Abraham: and he said, Here am I.

Gen 22:12  And he said, Lay not thine hand upon the lad, neither do thou any thing unto him: for now I know that thou fearest God, seeing thou hast not withheld thy son, thine only son from me.

Gen 22:13  And Abraham lifted up his eyes, and looked, and behold behind him a ram caught in a thicket by his horns: and Abraham went and took the ram, and offered him up for a burnt offering in the stead of his son.


What a wonderful story, and such great typification of the love God had for us when He did slay His only begotten Son, Jesus Christ, for our sins.   Abraham showed both faith and fear of the Lord in obeying the command.   I believe he trusted God so much that he believed even if he put Isaac to death, that God would raise him from the dead.   A great nation was to come from Isaac, and Abraham believed God.


Jephthah was perhaps foolish to have made his vow, but vows once uttered can’t be taken back.   Jephthah stands by his word, and decides to slay the girl.  It is important to note that this is the only human sacrifice we have record of in the bible, and it was not commanded of the Lord.  It was a decision on this father, thinking it was pleasing to God.   Making the vow and standing by his word no doubt pleased God, but the sacrifice of a child did not seem appropriate at all.


Judg 11:36  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.


This daughter, like Isaac on Mt. Moriah, shows great faith herself and commitment to God.  She agrees with her father on this.


Judg 11:37  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.

Judg 11:38  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.


All the daughter asks is to be granted two months to go up and down the mountains to bewail her virginity.  Jephthah’s honors her request.  This must have been a hard two months on this father, knowing that when his daughter returned he would put her to death.


Judg 11:39  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,

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


Due to this action, a custom came to be followed in Israel where the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.   There was some difference of opinion on how he sacrificed his daughter.  Some believe he actually made her a “burnt offering.”  Others say he simply devoted her to the Tabernacle for continual service.  Two verses do show that women did serve at the Tabernacle.  (Exo 38:8 and I Sam 2:22) 


Exo 38:8  And he made the laver of brass, and the foot of it of brass, of the lookingglasses of the women assembling, which assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.


1 Sam 2:22  Now Eli was very old, and heard all that his sons did unto all Israel; and how they lay with the women that assembled at the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.


For him to offer his daughter as a human sacrifice would have been contrary to the Mosaic Law.  (Lev 18:21, 20:2-5) 


Lev 18:21  And thou shalt not let any of thy seed pass through the fire to Molech, neither shalt thou profane the name of thy God: I am the LORD.


Lev 20:2  Again, thou shalt say to the children of Israel, Whosoever he be of the children of Israel, or of the strangers that sojourn in Israel, that giveth any of his seed unto Molech; he shall surely be put to death: the people of the land shall stone him with stones.

Lev 20:3  And I will set my face against that man, and will cut him off from among his people; because he hath given of his seed unto Molech, to defile my sanctuary, and to profane my holy name.

Lev 20:4  And if the people of the land do any ways hide their eyes from the man, when he giveth of his seed unto Molech, and kill him not:

Lev 20:5  Then I will set my face against that man, and against his family, and will cut him off, and all that go a whoring after him, to commit whoredom with Molech, from among their people.


Deu 12:31  Thou shalt not do so unto the LORD thy God: for every abomination to the LORD, which he hateth, have they done unto their gods; for even their sons and their daughters they have burnt in the fire to their gods.

Deu 12:32  What thing soever I command you, observe to do it: thou shalt not add thereto, nor diminish from it.


Deu 18:10  There shall not be found among you any one that maketh his son or his daughter to pass through the fire, or that useth divination, or an observer of times, or an enchanter, or a witch,

Deu 18:11  Or a charmer, or a consulter with familiar spirits, or a wizard, or a necromancer.

Deu 18:12  For all that do these things are an abomination unto the LORD: and because of these abominations the LORD thy God doth drive them out from before thee.


We do know that Jephthah was mentioned by Samuel in a context of divine approval and he is included in the list of heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.   Whatever the case, God did use this man to judge the nation for 6 years, and he led the people in battle over the Ammonites.


Heb 11:32  And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:

Heb 11:33  Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

Heb 11:34  Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.


It is a bit of quandary as to whether Jephthah actually offered the daughter as a sacrifice.   We know for sure that he stood by his vows unto God.   J. Vernon McGee believes that he did not offer her as an offering, but she became a dedicated virgin unto the Lord and never married.


Judg 11:39  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,

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


This passage tells us that Jephthah’s daughter did not get married. Instead she dedicated her life to the Lord. The word lament in verse 40 means “to celebrate.” Every year for four days Jephthah’s daughter was remembered in a special way. She was totally dedicated to the Lord and His service. There is no indication that she was made a human sacrifice. People have argued about this story for years. I am asked that question as much as any other question: “Did Jephthah offer up his daughter in sacrifice?” No, he did not, but that is not the point. God would not have permitted him to offer his daughter in a burnt sacrifice. The significant factor is that Jephthah kept his vow. His vow was something sacred. He did not trifle with it. It was a rash statement, to be sure, but it was not an idle boast. It was not a hollow promise. The Word of God has some severe and sharp things to say relative to making a vow. Notice what the Book of Ecclesiastes has to say about vows. “Be not rash with thy mouth, and let not thine heart be hasty to utter any thing before God: for God is in heaven, and thou upon earth: therefore let thy words be few. 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. Better is it that thou shouldest not vow, than that thou shouldest vow and not pay” (Eccl. 5:2, 4–5). My friend, you will do well to promise God only what you think you can execute. I am afraid that there are many Christians who go through a little ceremony. Perhaps they go down to an altar after a service, and by lighting a candle they dedicate themselves to God. Some folk dedicate and dedicate themselves until it actually smells to high heaven! God says, “Don’t be rash with your mouth.” He says that you are a fool if you make a vow to Him carelessly. You might think that over, Christian friend, in the next dedication service you attend. Don’t rush down to the altar and offer God everything if you don’t mean what you are saying. Jephthah was an illegitimate child. His mother was a harlot. He had a sweet, lovely daughter, and he wanted her to marry and have children. He unwittingly dedicated her to the Lord, but he kept his vow.

Christians today are notorious at making vows and breaking them. I noted this when I first began to move in Christian circles. As a young Christian, I went to a young people’s conference and watched eighteen young people go forward and dedicate themselves to the Lord for full-time Christian service. I wouldn’t go forward because I did not know whether I could make good my promise. May I say that out of all those who dedicated themselves to the Lord’s service that night, not one of them entered full-time service! Have you made a vow to God? If you have, He wants you to keep it. “It is a faithful saying: For if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him: If we suffer, we shall also reign with him: if we deny him, he also will deny us: If we believe not, yet he abideth faithful: he cannot deny himself” (2 Tim 2:11–13). Oh, He keeps His Word. Let us keep our word. “But the Lord is faithful, who shall stablish you, and keep you from evil” (2 Thess. 3:3). My, how wonderful He is, and how foolish we are today! Jephthah should be a lesson to us today.  [1]


Is J. Vernon McGee right or wrong?   I don’t know, but I know God stayed Abraham’s hand before he offered a human sacrifice.


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[1]J. Vernon McGee, Thru the Bible commentary [computer file], electronic ed., Logos Library System, (Nashville: Thomas Nelson) 1997, c1981 by J. Vernon McGee.