Jephthah was the son of Gilead, born to a harlot. He was mighty man of valour, but had mean friends and used to go for wars. His father’s other sons with the help of the elders of the province, chased him out of their province lest he demand any share of their father’s property. Jephthah went to the land of Tob and dwelt. When the Ammonites came for a war, the elders of Gilead Province had no other person to save them except Jephthah the mighty. They went to the land of Tob and requested Jephthah to help them. Jephthah refused and blamed them for chasing him out of his dwelling place. The elders pleaded with him and promised to make him their chief of Gilead Province. It pleased him and he confirmed their offer on the name the Lord God of Israel.
Then Jephthah the mighty went to Mizpeh, where the sanctuary was, and told all these things to the Lord, God of Israel. Jephthah the mighty was married one wife, and he had only one daughter of the age around 16-20 years and he was around 50 – 60 years. He loved his only daughter as any other loving father do. God accepted his telling and the Spirit of God came upon him, and he received wisdom from God. He sent messengers to the Ammonite king and asked for the reason of war. The king replied that he must get back the land which the Israelite occupied when they came from Egypt. Jephthah replied that the land occupied by Israel was not of Ammon or Moab but of the Amorites. The Spirit of God gave Jephthah a sound knowledge of the past period of 300 years, though he was not educated but an ordinary person. As the king of Ammon did not heed to the righteous reasons, Jephthah the mighty prepared for the war.
Then Jephthah the mighty went to Mizpeh again and made a vow to the Lord, God of Israel, “If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” (Judges 13: 30-32) God accepted his vow and gave him a great victory over the Ammonites. With great Joy they were returning from the war. But a great tragedy waits for Jephthah at his house. And behold, his daughter came out to meet him with tambourines and with dances. She was his only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. And as soon as he saw her, he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you have become the cause of great trouble to me. For I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot take back my vow.” (Judges 11:34, 35) Through the wisdom of God, given to him, he understood plainly that he has lost his only daughter, and a great sorrow fell on him from which he never recovered! He was convicted of the Law of Moses.
“But no devoted thing that a man devotes to the Lord, of anything that he has, whether man or beast, or of his inherited field, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted thing is most holy to the Lord. No one devoted, who is to be devoted for destruction from mankind, shall be ransomed; he shall surely be put to death. (Lev. 27:28, 29) His daughter requested him to spare two months’ period to lament over her virginity with her friends and he granted it to her.
Now Jephthah became the chief of Gilead and Judge over Israel.
On completion of two months she came to her father, and with heavy heart and with great zeal and loyalty to his God, he fulfilled his vow and offered her as a burnt offering. In memory of this even today the virgins of Israel lament over Jephthah’s daughter.
“The daughters of Israel went year by year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year” (Judges 11:40)
Because Jephthah fulfilled his vow though it was a great loss and a difficult task, he became a hero of faith. (Heb. 11: 32)
Jephthah was a son of a harlot, he became a judge of Israel and he had access to the sanctuary of God of Israel, though the Law of Moses prohibits it. “No one born of a forbidden union (Bastard) may enter the assembly of the Lord. Even to the tenth generation, none of his descendants may enter the assembly of the Lord. (Duet.23:2)
Jephthah the mighty could not live longer because of heaviness of his heart due to the loss of his only daughter, and he lived as a judge only for 6 years and died, otherwise he could have lived a longer life.
He was honoured by God because he honoured his vow though it was a loss to him. “Who swears to his own hurt and does not change;” (Psa.15:4)
Jephthah the mighty teaches a moral that “him that honoureth God, God will honour”. (I Sam. 2:30)