Dr. David Allen
JEPHTHAH THE GILEAD – Judges 11
Quite frequently, both in literature and in the Scriptures, a great hero has what proves to be one fateful flaw or weakness in his character: Hamlet’s flaw was his procrastination; Othello is insanely jealous, and so murdered his beautiful wife; Macbeth is ruled by his over-ambitious wife. And so it is, at times, in the Bible. Samson’s weakness was the ladies! Jephthah is another case in point
Jephthah, who was born of a prostitute, and despite looking after his legitimate half- brothers, was rejected by them and sent away as having no part of their family or inheritance. In time he became the leader of a band of outlaws – a sort of Robin Hood figure in ancient Israel.
In process of time, the Ammonites attacked his kinsmen and tribe. The elders, cap-in-hand, approached Jephthah and asked him to help them against the enemy. He agreed on the condition that, if God were to give them the victory, he should be made their leader and commander-in-chief. The elders readily agreed. Jephthah’s fortunes were certainly in the ascendant. However, he made a vow: “Lord, if you give me the victory over Ammon, I will sacrifice to you the very first thing my eyes fall upon when I return from the fray.” Sadly, the victory won, the first thing he saw was his beautiful unmarried daughter! Forthwith she was sacrificed. His vow was rashly made, though there was no reason to do so, for God did not demand anything in return for His aid.
We may think that Jephthah’s action was extreme. But, in the period of the Judges, there was no central control and some very unruly and brutal behaviour. However, Jephthah, a man of integrity, heeded the biblical warning about keeping solemn vows – Ecclesiastes 5:2. But, one rash and imprudent vow, brought tragedy to a great commander and ruler and so cast a dark and long shadow over what should have been a time of celebration and merriment in the camp of Gilead. Do remember, poor sad Jephthah, and so beware of rashness like that!