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Lessons for Life From the Old Testament: Jephtah

Updated on August 16, 2020
Johan Smulders profile image

Johan Smulders has a . B.A, B.ED and M.A in Education, Theology and Counselling. Works as an evangelist and counsellor.

Lessons for Life from the Old Testament: Jephthah.

The book of Judges covers the period of time between the entry and settlement of Israel in Palestine, under the leadership of Joshua, and the appointment by Samuel of King Saul. This was a chaotic time in Israel’s history and was marked by times of relative peace followed by war and disaster. While the various leaders led the people to listen to God’s voice and obey it, a time of prosperity followed. Then as the people turned away from God they suffered the consequences of such foolish behavior.

Some of the Judges are well known, while other are simply mentioned in passing. The better known Judges are Deborah, Samson and Gideon. Some of the lesser known ones include Abimelech, Abdon and Tola. In the life of another of the lesser known Judges, Jephthah, we find some interesting lessons even for today. It is interesting to take a look at the quality of life of people and even countries and notice that while God rules in the hearts and minds of the people, good things usually happens. When God is rejected a time of hardship and despair results. The book of Judges and world history, and even a closer look at today’s world proves this point

Jephthah’s story is recorded in the 11th chapter of Judges and it is full of drama and human tragedy, suitable for a Hollywood epic. He is also mentioned in the book of Hebrews as one of the people of faith. The Bible records that Jephthah was from the tribe of Gilead and a man of valour. Even in today’s world we need people to stand up for what is right, and in the recent Black Lives Matter movement we have seen many examples of ordinary citizens taking a stand for what is right and just.

Because Jephthah was the son of a harlot, he was driven out of the family by his half brothers. It is interesting to see that of all the Judges, few were what we would call natural leaders with impeccable lives. At the same time when called to lead God’s people, they accepted the challenge using the talents that God gave them. So here we find a person with a rather dubious character, with a band of adventurers living a dangerous life. The elders of Gilead, however, saw potential in this man, and so called him to lead the nation into battle. God sees potential in people and we are often surprised as to whom He can use, even ourselves!

Before going to war against the Ammonites, Jephthah seeks a peaceful path as he negotiated with them. But when this approach was rejected he resorted to the action common of his time. He took to the sword. It is interesting to note that in the discussions with the Ammonites, Jephthah had a good knowledge of the history of his people and of events of the past. As negotiations broke down, Jephthah turned to God for help and the Bible says: “the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah” (11:29 NKJV), a phrase used several times in the book of Judges. Then in a moment of rash commitment, Jephthah made a vow to God that if the victory was given he would sacrifice “the first thing that came out of his house to meet him” (11:31). What was the man thinking when he made that vow? It leads to one of the saddest passages in the Bible

After the victory had been won and he returned to his house, his daughter, his only child, came out to meet him “with timbrels and dancing” (11:34). The agony of a rash vow must have haunted him until his dying day. It begs the question as to why he did not rather sacrifice himself in her place, as God gave His son on the cross in our place.

Both Jephthah and his daughter show great fortitude when they realise the price that must be paid if this vow is to be honoured. The chapter ends with heartbreak that must surely bring tears to the eyes of any parent, even today. The un-named only daughter spends two months in the mountains mourning the fact that she will die as a virgin (11:38). She then returns to comply with her father’s rash vow; “and he carried out his vow with her that he had made”. The recorder of Judges ends the chapter with the words: “That the daughters of Israel went four days to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gilead”, and “That it became a custom in Israel” (11:39, 40).

Some important lessons can be learned from the life of this Judge:

  1. Don’t let the past haunt you. Not many people are dealt a perfect hand. Move forward with your life and what you have and make the best of it.
  2. Always prefer negotiations to conflict, but in the end be able to stand up for what is right.
  3. Don’t make rash promises that may come back to haunt you. If you make a promise, make certain it is one you aim to keep.


NKJV Scripture taken from the New King James Version. Copyright 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc. Used by permission. All rights reserved.


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