Jephthah is one of my favorite Judges for the rich lessons gleaned from his story in Judges 11:1-40 including both the highlights and the low points of his life. As we look at these passages, we see Jephthah is ‘a mighty man of valor’ (vs 1), who, as the son of a harlot, is rejected by his brothers and driven from his home (vs 1-2). Jephthah’s military skill is forged with ‘worthless men’ (vs 3) in preparation for the day he will be used to deliver the Gileadites from the Ammonites.
The richest lesson I’ve gleaned from the story of Jephthah is: The Importance of Knowing God’s Heart.
While diplomatically confronting the Ammonites regarding a territorial dispute (vs 12-27), Jephthah demonstrates a thorough understanding of Israel’s history. He summarizes Numbers 20:14-21:31 where 300 years previously, Israel conquered the disputed territory from the Amorites, not the mistaken Ammonites.
Despite this, negotiations fail, the Spirit of the LORD comes upon Jephthah, and he vows “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me … shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” (vs 31)
As Jephthah returns home after defeating the Ammonites, his daughter is the first to come out to greet him. In sorrow, Jephthah exclaims, “You are among those who trouble me! For I have given my word to the LORD, and I cannot go back on it.” (vs 35) Two months later “he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed” (vs 39) and sacrificed his daughter to the LORD.
Jephthah’s knowledge of Israel’s historical heritage is impressive. At the same time, he exhibits a great deal of ignorance when it comes to knowing Israel’s spiritual heritage, and by extension, God’s heart. Child sacrifice was forbidden, labelled “an abomination to the LORD which He hates” (Deuteronomy 12:31). In addition, the LORD gave the valuation for which Jephthah’s daughter could have been redeemed (Leviticus 27:1-8). Knowing simple tradition, without knowing God’s heart, cost Jephthah his daughter’s life and damaged his witness for the Lord.
This is a serious issue in God’s eyes, so much so that Jesus rebuked the religious elite of His day for not knowing God’s heart. He said, “You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me.” (John 5:39)
The point of searching Scripture is to get to know God’s heart for us personally as well as His heart for all humanity. We are invited to intimately know the Author of our life and salvation (Psalm 139:13, Hebrews 12:2).
Please join us in our One Year Bible Reading Plan as we seek to know God’s heart together and then to represent Him well to the world around us. You can simply start at today’s date, and continue with us as we daily journey through the Scriptures. May you enjoy new or renewed fellowship with our Lord as He reveals His heart to you through His Word (Revelation 3:20).
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Written by Pastor Dan Llewellyn