Print This Page Print This Page

THE FAITH OF JEPHTHAH – Hebrews 11:32c

Posted by Pastor Greg Allen on August 10, 2016 under PM Bible Study |

PM Home Bible Study Group; August 10, 2016

Hebrews 11:32c

Theme: Jephthah’s story of faith shows us that when we trust His promises, God can use us—even when those closest to us reject us.

We have been studying together from the lives of the great ‘heroes of faith’ in Hebrews 11 that are only mentioned by name. They are heroes who heard the promises of God, who believed that He would keep His word, and who rose up by faith and acted accordingly. They illustrate the great principles taught to us in this amazing chapter; that (1) “faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen” (Hebrews 11:1); and that “without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (v. 6).

The people to whom the writer of Hebrews penned this letter were Jewish in background and training; and so, his original readers would have known—and would have immediately called to mind—the full stories of faith that stood behind those briefly-mentioned names. We, however, need to go back and review those stories in more detail. And in doing so, we will find ourselves—and our own steadfastness of faith—edified in the process.

* * * * * * * * * *

The name we come to in our present study is Jephthah—one of the judges of Israel in the Book of Judges. We only hear of this man in a few places in Scripture. He is, of course, given honorable mention in the ‘hall of faith’ passage of Hebrews 11. But he was also given honorable mention by the man who was the last of the Old Testament judges of Israel before God established the rule of a king for His people—and that is Samuel. The people of Israel were demanding that God give them a king; and Samuel reminded them of the times when they had disobeyed God in the past, and how they had to cry out to God to rescue them from the dire straights their disobedience up them into. He told them, “And the Lord sent Jerubbaal [that is, Gideon], Bedan [another name for Barak], Jephthah, and Samuel, and delivered you out of the hand of your enemies on every side; and you dwelt in safety” (1 Samuel 12:11). The only other mention of Jephthah is found in the full story that is given to us about him in Judges 10-12.

Jephthah was a truly tragic man. He was born under dishonorable circumstances; and he suffered rejection from his family and his people. He roamed about as a loner—along with a band of rowdies that made him almost seem like the leader of a motorcycle gang on the prowl. He had no family connection, and no son; and had only one daughter to carry on his name. And in the end—after God had changed his heard, put him into service, and mightily delivered Israel—he was still tragically rejected. And yet, he proves to be a man of faith who believed the promise of God.

His story teaches us that when we trust in God to keep His promises, He can use us even when everyone else rejects us. He illustrates to us how powerfully our sovereign God can use the ‘rejects’ of life.

* * * * * * * * * *

We begin the story of Jephthah by considering the trying times in which he lived; and specifically …

I. ISRAEL’S NEED (Judges 10:6-18).

A. Israel was in trouble again. By this point in her history, God had raised up eight deliverers—eight God-appointed judges—for her. Some of them were truly great men like Barak and Gideon; and they helped to bring spiritual revival and renewal to God’s people. But once again, the people of Israel had forgotten about God and began to do evil in His sight. They turned to the false gods of the people around them “and served the Baals and the Ashtoreths, the gods of Syria, the gods of Sidon, the gods of Moab, the gods of the people of Ammon, and the gods of the Philistines; and they forsook the Lord and did not serve Him” (Judges 10:6). As a result, God sold them, once again, into the hands of their enemies—the Philistines and the Ammonites. They suffered under the oppression and successive attacks from their enemies for 18 long years; and as a result, they were “severely distressed” (v. 9).

B. In time, they cried out to God, saying, “We have sinned against You, because we have both forsaken our God and served the Baals!” (v. 10). But God told them,

Did I not deliver you from the Egyptians and from the Amorites and from the people of Ammon and from the Philistines? Also the Sidonians and Amalekites and Maonites oppressed you; and you cried out to Me, and I delivered you from their hand. Yet you have forsaken Me and served other gods. Therefore I will deliver you no more. Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in your time of distress” (vv. 11-14).

God would have been just in abandoning His people who had so often abandoned Him. But they cried out to Him even more; and even repented, and put away their foreign gods from themselves, and recommitted themselves to serve the Lord. And as verse 16 puts it; “And His soul could no longer endure the misery of Israel.” His heart of love and devotion to His chosen people moved Him to act in mercy toward them—even once again. Isn’t that the way He is to us? As He said in Psalm 50:15 (and He is always true to this promise); “Call upon Me in the day of trouble, I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me.”

C. We’re told that the people of Ammon gathered and encamped in Gilead—which is on the west side of the Jordan River, between the Dead Sea and the Sea of Galilee. Many centuries before, this had been the land in which the Amorite people had lived; and the people of Ammon were demanding that land. But it must be that, behind the scenes in this time of crisis, the people of Israel had experienced a renewed sense of God’s mercy. They gathered together an encamped in Mizpah—on the other side of the Jordan from Gilead. The displaced leaders of Gilead were also there; and they said to one another; “Who is the man who will begin the fight against the people of Ammon? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” (v. 18). And that’s how we are introduced to the story of Jephthah—a man who was himself a Gileadite; and born the man who was the patriarch of his own people. It’s amazing how God uses the trials of our live to break our hearts toward Him, move us to repentance, and then provide His gracious deliverance! How we should learn to trust Him!

* * * * * * * * * * *

It’s into this sad and desperate scene that the story of God’s chosen deliverer begins. And as we see, it’s truly …


A. The Book of Judges tells us the sad background to this tragic hero;

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah. Gilead’s wife bore sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, “You shall have no inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him (11:1-3).

It’s a sad story—and it didn’t make Jephthah the kind of man that anyone would naturally look to as God’s deliverer of His people. And yet, it must be that the hardships of his life were used by God to sharpen Jephthah into the kind of leader for the times. After all, God wastes nothing in the lives of His servants—not even their most bitterest experiences. And so, when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to Tob, found Jephthah, and said, “Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon” (v. 6).

B. That must have been a hard request for Jephthah to receive. Perhaps with a bit of bitterness in his tone, he asked,“Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” (v. 7). It’s very interesting that they said in response, “That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead” (v. 8). “That’s why …”? What did they mean by that? Was it because they had once cruelly rejected him that they were now coming to him? It may be that, in their renewed devotion to God, they felt a call to active repentance. And it may even be that Jephthah felt the call of repentance too; because he told them, “If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the Lord delivers them to me, shall I be your head?” (v. 9). Note that in responding to their requests, he looks to the hope of deliverance from the Lord. They look to the Lord too; saying, “The Lord will be a witness between us, if we do not do according to your words” (v. 10). That settled it. The only thing left was to make it a true commitment together before God. We’re told, “Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord in Mizpah” (v. 11). The elders of Gilead were now committed to him; and he was now committed to them; and they were all now recommitted to the God that they had previously fallen away from. It was a true renewal all the way around.

C. We should learn from this, by the way, not to judge one another on the basis of the past. God certainly doesn’t. His call is never based on what someone once was, but rather on what He calls us to be—and on what He, by His grace—is able to make us to be. As Paul once testified of Himself;

And I thank Christ Jesus our Lord who has enabled me, because He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry, although I was formerly a blasphemer, a persecutor, and an insolent man; but I obtained mercy because I did it ignorantly in unbelief. And the grace of our Lord was exceedingly abundant, with faith and love which are in Christ Jesus (1 Timothy 1:12-14).

No matter who we are, and no matter what we may have done in the past, our gracious God of ‘second chances’ is always able to wash us clean and make us into His instruments—and all to the glory of His grace!

* * * * * * * * * *

Now; having made peace with his kinsmen—and along with them, having made peace with God—it was time to take action. Trusting in God’s call, and all having presented themselves to God, Jephthah rose to be the judge and deliverer of his people. And it’s then that we read of …


A. It’s inspiring to read of the holy boldness that Jephthah displayed with respect to the oppressors of his people. There was no timidity about it whatsoever. This formerly ‘wild raider’ was now the man for the times. He sent messengers to the king of the Ammorites and demanded:“What do you have against me, that you have come to fight against me in my land?” (11:12). And the answer the king gave was interesting. He said, “Because Israel took away my land when they came up out of Egypt, from the Arnon as far as the Jabbok, and to the Jordan. Now therefore, restore those lands peaceably” (v. 13). Jephthah gave a wise response that—no doubt—he was led to give by God’s work in him. He displayed the skill of a brilliant defense attorney; and gave a response that can be broken up into four key lines of argument:

1. First, he argued on the basis of history. He sent a response to the king of Ammon that pointed back to the truth of the matter—as is told to us in Numbers 12:21-32;

So Jephthah again sent messengers to the king of the people of Ammon, and said to him, “Thus says Jephthah: ‘Israel did not take away the land of Moab, nor the land of the people of Ammon; for when Israel came up from Egypt, they walked through the wilderness as far as the Red Sea and came to Kadesh. Then Israel sent messengers to the king of Edom, saying, “Please let me pass through your land.” But the king of Edom would not heed. And in like manner they sent to the king of Moab, but he would not consent. So Israel remained in Kadesh. And they went along through the wilderness and bypassed the land of Edom and the land of Moab, came to the east side of the land of Moab, and encamped on the other side of the Arnon. But they did not enter the border of Moab, for the Arnon was the border of Moab. Then Israel sent messengers to Sihon king of the Amorites, king of Heshbon; and Israel said to him, “Please let us pass through your land into our place.” But Sihon did not trust Israel to pass through his territory. So Sihon gathered all his people together, encamped in Jahaz, and fought against Israel. And the Lord God of Israel delivered Sihon and all his people into the hand of Israel, and they defeated them. Thus Israel gained possession of all the land of the Amorites, who inhabited that country. They took possession of all the territory of the Amorites, from the Arnon to the Jabbok and from the wilderness to the Jordan” (vv. 14-22).

He argued that Israel took nothing from the Ammonites whatsoever. What the people of Israel had gained, they gained because they were attacked—and because God gave it to them. And take special notice that what they gained wasn’t even from the Ammonites. It was from the Amorites! Historically, the Ammonites had no claim to the land at all. Our faith in Jesus—and our rich inheritance in Him—is based on facts; and must not be allowed to be taken away by false revisions of history.

Then Jephthah argued from theology. He said,

And now the Lord God of Israel has dispossessed the Amorites from before His people Israel; should you then possess it? Will you not possess whatever Chemosh your god gives you to possess? So whatever the Lord our God takes possession of before us, we will possess’” (vv. 23-24).

Jephthah is not here saying that Chemosh was a real god. He was simply arguing, rhetorically we might say, that what the Amorites would naturally think with respect to their false god is what the people of Israel had every right to believe with respect to what God gives them. Perhaps his words were also intended to emphasize that the people of Ammon lost what they had, because they dared to war against the one true God—and that their false god couldn’t do them any good.

3. Jephthah then argues on the basis of precedent. He pointed back to that strange story of King Balak of the Moabites and the false prophet Balam that we find in Numbers 23-24 and said, “And now, are you any better than Balak the son of Zippor, king of Moab? Did he ever strive against Israel? Did he ever fight against them?’” (v. 25). Balak hired the false prophet Balaam to curse the people of Israel, and he did seek later to deceive them; but he did not dare attack them by warfare—as the Amorites had attempted to do. Was the king of Ammon now thinking himself better than the king of Moab?—daring to lay a hand on God’s chosen people? Precedent was against him in this.

4. Finally, Jephthah points to what we might call ‘a statute of limitations’ on Ammon’s claim. Although they had no legitimate case to make; Jephthah asks the Ammonite king, “’While Israel dwelt in Heshbon and its villages, in Aroer and its villages, and in all the cities along the banks of the Arnon, for three hundred years, why did you not recover them within that time?’” (vv. 26). Even if they could, three-hundred-years’ of inaction was more than sufficient time to have forfeited any claim they might have had to the land. This, however, was only a rhetorical argument; because what God gives to His people, no amount of time can overturn. And this, by the way, was probably the greatest basis of Jepthah’s faith. He believed, with absolute confidence, that the land had been given to his people by God. The proof of it was all there—in history, in theology, in precedent, and in the acquiescence to the fact on the part of Ammon for three-hundred-years

B. These are powerful arguments! Jephthah concludes, “Therefore I have not sinned against you, but you wronged me by fighting against me. May the Lord, the Judge, render judgment this day between the children of Israel and the people of Ammon” (v. 27). Ammon, however would not accept these arguments; and it would not turn away from its attacks.

* * * * * * * * * *

When the arguments failed—and the Ammonites refused to turn back—there was nothing left but the taking up of the sword. And this leads us to the strange and much-debated story of …

IV. THE VICTOR’S VOW (11:29-40).

A. As if to give us further proof of God’s hand on this man Jepthah, we’re told that “the Spirit of the Lord came upon” him and led him and his army on to the people of Ammon. And it was then that Jephthah performed the act that he is most known for in sacred history. He made a seemingly-rash and ill-advised vow to the Lord and said,

If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (11:30-31).

The Lord did indeed give him a great victory. He defeated a total of twenty cities worth of Ammonites. They were defeated “with a very great slaughter” (v. 33)–and remember; they had held dominion over the people of Israel and had severely oppressed them for 18 years! As a result, the people of Ammon were completely subdued before the children of Israel. It was a stunning victory—one brought about by God through His servant Jephthah. There certainly didn’t seem to be any need to have made this vow.

B. But it was nevertheless made. And then comes one of the greatest tragedies of this man’s already-tragic life. When he made this vow, he must have thought that what would have come out to meet him would have been an animal fit for an offering. Instead—and to his horror—it was his only daughter. We should remember that he had been rejected by his own people; and having no son, and no one else to pass on his name, she represented the only hope he had for the future. She came out to celebrate with timbrels and dancing; but when he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried out; “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low! You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot go back on it” (v. 35).

C. There has been much written about how this vow was kept.

1. Some say—among them being noted Jewish historians and even the ancient historian Josephus—that she was literally offered as a burnt offering to God. Many who hold this view would point back to the story of Abraham’s offering of Isaac in Genesis 22 as an example. But it’s important to remember that Abraham’s act was commanded by God—not as a result of a vow, but as a test from God; and also that God stopped Abraham before Isaac could be slain. Surely Jephthah would have known that no such offering would ever be accepted by the God of Israel. Human sacrifice was an idea that was abominable to the people of Israel under the law of God.

2. Instead, it seems more in keeping with the holy nature of God to see this “burnt offering” as a figurative one. It would have been an offering of full dedication, as a burnt offering would ordinarily be; but it would have been observed without the literal ‘full consumption’ of the fire upon the altar. It was a symbolic ‘burnt offering’ in that it was a full dedication of Jephthah’s daughter to God as a living sacrifice—which would mean the full loss of Jephthah’s future, and of any hope for a family line to carry on his name. His daughter was in complete and faithful submission to becoming this ‘offering’—and she did so with an attitude of reverence toward God. “So she said to him, ‘My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon’” (v. 36). Thus she would be the sacrifice Jephthah had vowed to make—with her own future as a wife and a mother and a bearer of Jephthah’s offspring serving as as the figurative ‘burnt offering’ to be made.

B. That this was only a figurative offering of Jephthah’s own future—and not a literal ‘human sacrifice’—seems further supported by the humble request of his daughter:

Then she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.’ So he said, ‘Go.’ And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains” (vv. 37-38).

To “bewail her virginity” meant that she and her companions spent two months of mourning over the fact that she would never experience the joy of being a wife or a mother. She would be devoted—life-long—to the Lord in celibacy and childlessness. This would, of course, be a great loss to her. But it would feel like an even greater loss to her broken-hearted father.

C. We’re told, “And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man. And it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite” (vv. 39-40). What an act of faithfulness this was on the part of Jephthah! As it says in Psalm 15:4, God honors the man who so fears and reverences Him that he “swears to his own hurt and does not change”.

* * * * * * * * * *

We might wish at this point that, after such tragedy, Jephthah’s story could have a happy ending. But alas—his story ends with …


A. We’re told that the people of the tribe of Ephriam had a severe bone to pick with Judge Jephthah after his great victory. They gathered together against him and said, “Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!” (12:1). So much for gratitude! The history of the people of Israel suggests that the tribe of Eprhiam had grown to—at times—think of themselves as a particularly special tribe that was worthy of honor above the others. They felt that they were treated wrongly in not being consulted in this campaign against Ammon.

B. This must have added great pain to Jephthah already broken heart. He told the leaders of Ephriam, “My people and I were in a great struggle with the people of Ammon; and when I called you, you did not deliver me out of their hands. So when I saw that you would not deliver me, I took my life in my hands and crossed over against the people of Ammon; and the Lord delivered them into my hand. Why then have you come up to me this day to fight against me?” (vv. 2-3). Apparently, the Ephriamites weren’t consoled by this. They added further insult to Jephthah’s people; and this resulted in the Gileadites going to war with their own brethren tribe. It’s here that we read of the strange story of the now-proverbial password “Shibboleth”;

The Gileadites seized the fords of the Jordan before the Ephraimites arrived. And when any Ephraimite who escaped said, “Let me cross over,” the men of Gilead would say to him, “Are you an Ephraimite?” If he said, “No,” then they would say to him, “Then say, ‘Shibboleth’!” And he would say, “Sibboleth,” for he could not pronounce it right. Then they would take him and kill him at the fords of the Jordan. There fell at that time forty-two thousand Ephraimites (vv. 5-6).

* * * * * * * * * *

Though this is not a happy ending, we do nevertheless read at the close of the story, “And Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in among the cities of Gilead” (v. 7). In the end, he was buried and honored among the people who had rejected him.

His story proves a great spiritual principle to us that many of us need to remember: that when we trust in God’s promises in His word, our sovereign God can still use us even when those closest to us reject us. Praise Him that this is so!

  • Share/Bookmark
Site based on the Ministry Theme by eGrace Creative.