By Faith Jepthah


Suppose you have had a hard day. You come home and walk in the door, what brightens your day? Who greets you at the door when you get home?

I always knew that dogs greet me at the door. I walk in the door and the dog will always greet me. I grew up with cats and I never once saw my cat greet me at the door. Maybe you have different experiences and maybe your cat greets you at the door, not me. For me, it is the dog that has always greeted me when I got home.

You come inside and you see your hunting dog greeting you at the door with the tail wagging and maybe that makes you feel better when you have had a stressful day. Maybe you walk in the door and you see your little lap dog greet you. Or, maybe for you cat people the cat comes and purrs next to you.

BUT now, for me I am greeted not by a pet, but by my children. Mercedes and Abigail run to the door and greet me. Abigail is saying, “daddyyyy, daddyyy.” Mercedes is saying, “Daddy’s home, daddy’s home.” That can brighten my day. That can brighten any day.

So, there is an account in the Old Testament book of Judges where one of the Judges comes home and his daughter greets him by coming out the door with a tambourine and dancing. In this case, it was not a good thing at all. This judge was named Jephthah and he had made a bad deal with God. He was going out to fight a battle and he said if God gave him a victory he would sacrifice whatever came out the door first. It just so happened that his only daughter came out the door first. Yet, Jephthah was listed some thousand years later in Hebrews 11. Let’s read Hebrews 11 ad the Hall of Faith listing of Jephthah.

Hebrews 11:32:

 And what more shall I say? I do not have time to tell about Gideon, Barak, Samson and Jephthah, about David and Samuel and the prophets…

Let’s read Judges 11:29-40:

Then the Spirit of the Lord came on Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”

32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.

34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of timbrels! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”

36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request,” she said. “Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry.”

38 “You may go,” he said. And he let her go for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father, and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.

From this comes the Israelite tradition 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

I could take this text and talk about thinking before we speak. I could tell you why we all have two ears and one mouth and listening is more important than talking.

I could talk about this passage and how it is important to not swear an oath, and I might go that route a little bit. But that is not my main focus.

I want to talk about God’s greatness. We don’t control God.  You see out in the church world there is a belief that some call the Prosperity Gospel. These views control God by saying that He wants everyone to be rich and heal everyone… Some call these beliefs “name it— claim it.” It is as if we can say something and if we just have enough faith God will provide it. That is partially the case here. Jephthah is trying to control God with a deal.

So my theme:

Jephthah trusted the Lord, but not enough. His vow tried to control God and was destructive.



Trust the Lord, but not that simply. Don’t bargain with God.

Let me break that down. I think it is natural for us to try to think, “God I did this for you, why aren’t you helping me?” It is natural to think, “If I serve the Lord He will reciprocate and provide me with…” This is not the case. We have no bargaining chips with God. We are here to glorify God. Our life is about God. Don’t control God. These views are belittling to God. This thinking puts God in a box.

  1. So let’s break down the passage by talking about Jephthah.
    1. Verses 1: he was a mighty warrior
    2. He was the son of a prostitute
    3. His father was Gilead
    4. Verse2: Gidead’s siblings drove him away because he was the son of another woman. Gilead was married.
    5. Verse 3: He went to the land of Tob and “worthless fellows” followed him.
    6. Judges 11:4-11:
    7. Verse 4 the Amorites made war with the Israelites
    8. Verse 5: The elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah.
    9. Verse 6: is when they invite him to be their leader. One must wonder why they ask him.
    10. Verse 6: God did not raise him up as a leader. The people came to him without God
    11. Verses 7ff there is an exchange in which Jephthah responds how they hated him before.
    12. Verse 9: Jephthah says “If the Lord give them [the Amorites] over to me…” At this point he recognizes the Lord
    13. Judges 11:12-28 has history which is recorded in Numbers 20:14-21:
    14. The ESV Study Bible has a good summary: The negotiations between Jephthah and the Ammonites consisted largely of an impressive speech by Jephthah, answering the Ammonite charge ( 13) that Israel had unlawfully seized the territory currently disputed. Jephthah asserted that “theLord, the God of Israel,” himself was the one who dispossessed these peoples from before Israel (vv. 21, 23, 24) and that Israel was not an aggressor (v. 15) but merely a recipient of the Lord’s generosity. The Ammonites had brought this upon themselves by hindering Israel, thus prompting God’s help in dispossessing them (Israel was not to take Ammonite land, since God had expressly forbidden it; Deut. 2:19). However, Sihon, king of the Amorites, had taken some of what was Moabite/Ammonite territory, and then Israel had taken this and other territory of Sihon (see Num. 21:25–26). The Ammonites, if they had indeed been involved at all, deserved what they had coming. Furthermore, the Ammonites never really had true claim to the land to begin with; rather, it was the land of the Amorites (Judg. 11:19–22). Finally, it was a little late to be challenging Israel’s claim to the land in any case, since 300 years had passed since the events in question (v. 26). Jephthah ended his speech with an appeal to God to judge between the two disputants.
    15. Now, towards the end of that section Jephthah appeals that the Lord will be the judge. But let’s see how it pans out.
  2. So, let’s look at the battle and the vow in verses 29-33.
    1. Notice the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah. This does not mean his vow was condoned by God. God empowered him to win that battle.
    2. He passed through Gilead, Manasseh, Mizpah of Gilead to the Ammonites. In these cities he is recruiting an army.
    3. Verses 30-31: the vow: If You give the Ammonites into my hand then whatever comes out of my doors of my house to meet me when I return shall be a burnt offering.
    4. We must take note : It seems that Lev. 27:1-8 tells how he could have gotten out of this vow.
    5. His daughter comes out to meet him with tambourines and dances
    6. She must have gotten word about the victory
    7. His only child
    8. Repeated no sons or daughters other than her.
    9. Verse 35: he is in grief and cannot take back his vow.
    10. Verse 36: She agrees, follow the vow
    11. Verse 37: this may be indicative that this had to do with a life of celibacy: she wants to go for a few months and weep for her virginity with her companions.
    12. Verse 38: he told her to go
    13. Verse 39: she came back after two months and he followed through with the vow
    14. àThe vow is not listed at this point. It does not say that he killed her or anything.
    15. It became a custom in Israel
    16. Verse 40:
    17. The custom was that the daughters of Israel would lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gildeadite four days in the year
  • What does the vow mean?
    1. If you look at the Moody Bible Commentary, which is a good source, it favors that the vow was a vow of celibacy.
    2. If you look back at the vow, notice first person pronouns: my house, my land, me, I.
      1. This vow was not about God it was all about Jephthah.
      2. One reason for the belief that he never intended to sacrifice his daughter is that we see in the vow masculine verb forms and suffixes, but he only has a daughter.
  • It was common to have animals come through the door.
  1. However, M. Bal (Death and Dissymmetry: The Politics of Coherence in the Book of Judges [Chicago: University Press, 1988], 45) is correct in reminding us that in the ancient world animals did not go out to meet returning conquerors.[1]
  2. However, on another view, Recently S. Landers (“Did Jephthah Kill His Daughter?” BR 7/4 [1991]: 27–31, 42) has revived the rabbinic view that because Jephthah’s child was female she would have been unacceptable as a sacrifice (cf. Lev 1:3–10) and that לְתַנּוֹת in v. 40 should be translated “to console” rather than “to lament.” Accordingly Jephthah must have modified his vow and “consigned her to an isolated life as a virgin” (p. 42).[2]
  3. There were other vows in the pagan culture and it seems that Jephthah was very pagan.
  • Indeed his motives and the form of his vow bear a striking resemblance to many vows inscribed in funerary monuments in Carthage by Punic descendants of the Canaanites/Phoenicians in northern Africa. The following votive inscription is typical:
    1. To our lady, to Tanit, the face of Baʿal and to our lord, to Baʿal Hammon that which was vowed (by) PN son of PN, son of PN because he [the deity] heard his [the dedicant’s] voice and blessed him.96[3]
    2. For these people vows to sacrifice children were not rash or impulsive but deadly serious expressions of devotion.97 Jephthah was so determined to achieve victory over the Ammonites that he was willing to sacrifice his own child to gain a divine guarantee. The clause “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me” envisages the exuberant welcome by children of a father who has been away on a military campaign. For the moment the reader does not know that Jephthah has only one child, that in putting her at risk he also jeopardizes himself, and that, ironically, in securing his own victory he sentences his lineage to death.[4]
    3. Accordingly Jacob vowed to be God’s devotee if God would be with him (Gen 28:20–22); the Israelites promised to return to Yahweh the Canaanite cities if he would deliver them into their hands (Num 21:2); Hannah vowed that if God would give her a male child she would return him by consecrating him to God (1 Sam 1:11); Absalom vowed to worship Yahweh if he would bring him back to Jerusalem from exile in Geshur (2 Sam 15:7–8). For a discussion see Marcus, Jephthah and His Vow, 19.[5]
  1. So, did Jephthah sacrifice his daughter to God? I don’t know. There are so many different views.
  2. Until the Middle Ages that was the predominant view. I do find it interesting that the Moody Bible Commentary takes the belief that he committed her to celibacy and work in the Temple. The Moody Bible Commentary had Dr. Michael Rydelnik as one of the general editors and he is a professor of Jewish studies and Jewish himself. So, given his Jewish roots that is a good source.
  3. But, now you know what happened, so now let’s focus on the application. Don’t try to control God with a vow to begin with.
  1. Applications:
    1. Trust the Lord, but not that simply. Don’t bargain with God.
    2. Let me break that down. I think it is natural for us to try to think, “God I did this for you, why aren’t you helping me?” It is natural to think, “If I serve the Lord He will reciprocate and provide me with…” This is not the case. We have no bargaining chips with God. We are here to glorify God. Our life is about God. Don’t control God. These views are belittling to God. This thinking puts God in a box.
  2. Jephthah made a vow when he shouldn’t have. He should have continued trusting the Lord. we must trust the Lord.
  3. To truly apply this we will not make a vow with God. We will not tell God, if He does something then we will do something.
  4. We must trust the Lord whether He does what we want or not.
  5. Everyone say, “It is not about me.” It is not about us, it is about trusting the Lord.
  6. Get rid of certain views. Just because you follow Christ does not mean you won’t face trouble.
  7. I must not expect God to give me good health for being a Christian.
  8. I must not expect God to give me lots of money for being a Christian.



I believe it is natural to bargain with God. It is natural to think that this life is about us, when it is not. We pray and we seek God, that is what we are to do. I do believe God takes care of us. I know that God hears our prayers.

James 5:16:

The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective.

(from New International Version)

We pray in God’s will. We pray for His Kingdom.

Let’s pray the Lord’s prayer:

Our Father, which art in heaven,

hallowed be thy name;

thy kingdom come;

thy will be done,

in earth as it is in heaven.

Give us this day our daily bread.

And forgive us our trespasses,

as we forgive them that trespass against us.

And lead us not into temptation;

but deliver us from evil.

For thine is the kingdom,

the power, and the glory,

for ever and ever.


God created us to be with him. (Genesis 1-2)

Our sin separated us from God. (Genesis 3)

Sins cannot be removed by good deeds (Gen 4-Mal 4)

Paying the price for sin, Jesus died and rose again. (Matthew – Luke)

Everyone who trusts in him alone has eternal life. (John – Jude)

Life that’s eternal means we will be with Jesus forever. (Revelation 22:5)


[1] Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999).

BR Biblical Research

[2] Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999).

PN Personal Name

PN Personal Name

PN Personal Name

96 See the popular presentation of the archaeological evidence from Carthage by L. E. Stager and S. R. Wolff, “Child Sacrifice at Carthage—Religious Rite or Population Control,” BARev 10/ 1 (1984): 30–51. This quotation is cited from p. 45.

[3] Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 367–368.

97 Cf. 2 Kgs 3:27. For a comparison of Ug. and Israelite vows see S. B. Parker, UF 11 (1979): 693–700.

[4] Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999), 368.

[5] Daniel Isaac Block, Judges, Ruth, vol. 6, The New American Commentary (Nashville: Broadman & Holman Publishers, 1999).

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