When one were to read the book of Judges, they will notice that from time to time God raises judges to help protect the people of Israel from dangers. The book of Judges records the endless cycle of Faith renewal,  Peace, Faith degeneration, chastisement from God and the judges raised.

Yet among these judges, there is one known as Jephthah, he is not commonly mentioned in sermon, but he is commonly quoted by people who are not so pro-Christian as an example of God endorsed barbarity.

There are many who find his actions controversial and many people tend to skip his stories to avoid people asking questions about Jephthah and his controversial actions.

So I decided to just share what I have read so far about Jephthah.

Jephthah  is one of the judges of Israel, his story is found from Judges 11-12. But before we look into his stories, I feel that some background information will be helpful.

Understanding The World Of The Judges

The period of the judges started from the time after the death of Joshua to the time of Prophet Samuel, during that period, the Israelites are very disunited, and we no longer see an army comprising of all 12 tribes of Israel. If one were to read the stories in judges, one will notice that usually its 1-2 tribes verses the Canaanites.  In some stories, (IE: Gideon , Jephthah) you will even notice some tribes not joining the fight.

This phrase often appear on the book. 

“In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.” (Judges 21:25)

It tells the readers that although there are the laws of God, but everyone does what they feel is right. This means not everyone follows entirely the Law of God.

So there was moral decay all over the Israelites, this is demonstrated in the latter part of the book, we see Gideon making Ephod as an idol (Judges 8), Micah building an idol  (Judges 17) , the Levite and his concubine. (Judges 19)

Yet in the midst of those decay, we have people like Boaz (in the book of Ruth) who still faithfully kept the law of God.

As the judges come into the picture, one would notice that the spiritual quality of the judges are decreasing as well. The latter judges are full of character flaws. Gideon is doubtful at times, Jephthah seems to be someone who hang around rogues, Samson is known for his disobedience to the commands of God.

Despite their weaknesses, God still make use of them and the Author of Hebrews gave acknowledge their faith besides their weakness

“And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to fight the armies of the aliens.” – Author of Hebrews (Heb 11:32-34)

The Background Of Jephthah  (Judg 11:1-3)

Jephthah is from the tribe of Manasseh (Judg 11:1), he was a illegitimate child, he is born when his father Gilead had relationship with a harlot. Later on, Gilead’s wife had children, and these children drove Jephthah so that he will not be able to share inheritance with them. Judg 11:2). Jephthah fled and dwell in the land of Tob, and became a bandit with a group of rogues. (Judg 11:3)

The Elders Of Gilead Requesting Jephthah help (Judges 11:4-11)

Then there was war between Ammon and Israel and the elders of Gilead approached Jephthah for help, they wanted him to be commander of Israel. Initially Jephthah was skeptical about their promise, and he was worried that after the war, the elders of Gilead would kill him.

But the elders made an oath, saying they will not hurt Jephthah but instead they would make him leader over the city of Gilead.

So Jephthah joined in the battle, he started by sending messengers to Ammon.

Jephthah Dialog With the Kings Of Ammon (Judges 11:12-28)

So Jephthah started his work first through diplomacy, when the Ammonites accused Israel of stealing their land, Jephthah gave a very detailed account of how Israel took the land from Sihon the king of the Amorites when he gathered troops to fight against Israel.

Jephthah said that it was God of Israel who defeated Sihon and gave that land of the Amorites to Israel.

Jephthah advise the Ammonites not to strive against Israel and they have dwelt in the cities for 300 years. He gave examples of how people who strive against Israel never succeeded, he quote examples of Balak the son of Zippor (a Moabite king, Moabites are the relatives of the Ammonites)

However, the king of Ammon did not listen. So war between Israel and Ammon continues. 

Jephthah Rash Oath And Victory (Judges 11:28-40)

So the spirit of God came onto Jephthah and he mustered his man from Gilead and Manasseh and advanced toward the people of Ammon.

That was when he made a rash oath to God and promise that if God will bring victory, he would offer whatever that comes out from the doors to the Lord in an burnt offering.

God defeated the people of Ammon using Jephthah, but when he return from the battle, little did Jephthah expect that the first thing that comes out of the doors to meet him was his only daughter.

So Jephthah mood to celebrate victor turn out to be sadness, as now he needs to fulfill is vow to the Lord. So his daughter requested for 2 months so that she could moan and be sad over the fact that she will have to remain a virgin forever.

The bible concluded the story saying

“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.” (Judges 11:39)

And from then on, the daughters of Israel have a custom to lament regarding the daughter of Jephthah every year.

Jephthah War Against Ephraim  (Judges 12:1-7)

Soon after the war, the men from Ephraim came over and threatened Jephthah, they accused him of not calling them to go with him to battle, and they wanted to burn his house down with fire.

Jephthah claimed that he went to battle because Ephraim was silent and refused to help Gilead in their time of need, so he decided to gather his soldiers and attacked the people Ammon first. And now since God had already saved them why are they finding trouble with him?

So Jephthah gathered together his troops this time against Ephraim, they won the battle, and the people of Gilead sizes the Fords of Jordan before the Ephraimites arrive.

Jephthah fought this war in a pretty cruel manner, because when he saw soldiers fleeing back , he would ask “Are you an Ephraimite?” and if they said no, he would make them say a specific word called “Shibboleth” for the people from Ephraim would not be able to say it correctly, and he used that as a gauge to identify his enemies.

Jephthah was a judge for 6 years, and he was buried in Gilead.

The Controversial Jephthah

The story of the Jephthah brings many difficultly in the bible, the main criticism to the judge Jephthah are as follows

1. Most people will interpret that God helped Jephthah and gave him victory is a sign that God wanted his daughter as a child sacrifice.

2. The bible seems to suggest that Jephthah indeed sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offerings. Most people would term this as a contradiction for God does not allow his people to offer human sacrifices.

3. Often claimed that God did not condemn the human sacrifice done by Jephthah, but yet the new testament listed him as an example of faith.

Among the response written by Christians apologetics, I feel that the ones written in Answer In Genesis seems to be fair, and I have learnt a lot from their response. I would be sharing my view over the matter, but for now, perhaps you would be interested to read the following points from answers in genesis.

Was Child Sacrifice Condoned in the OT?

Contradictions: Unacceptable Offering?

Feedback: Jephthah’s Vow

Some of my viewpoints are form from the answers, but personally I feel that Jephthah did not burn his daughter to God by fire, she is most likely dedicated to God and have to remain unmarried.

But I certainly do not think Jephthah has an exemplary character, but rather in many aspect, he is just like us, with weakness and perhaps even a bad temper.  As I have shared earlier, the Godliness and Spiritual Qualities of the judges did fall over time and the latter judges have more weakness compared to the earlier ones.