The Son of a Harlot Becomes a Hero, and a Trophy of Grace (Judges 11-12)

Scripture reading – Judges 11-12

Our ongoing chronological study of the Book of Judges brings us to Judges 11-12. Judges 10 concluded with Israel turning to the LORD in a time of repentance. The people put away their idols, and committed themselves to serve the LORD (10:15-18).

With the Ammonites gathering against Israel, and in the absence of a judge, the people who lived in Gilead (the land on the east side of Jordan), asked one another, “What man is he that will begin to fight against the children of Ammon? he shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead” (10:18).

Judges 11 – The Rule of Jephthah the Gileadite

There was a man living in Gilead named Jephthah. He was known among his people as “a mighty man of valour,” and was the son of a man named Gilead; however, his mother was a harlot (11:1). Gilead also had sons of his lawful wife, and when they were grown, they rejected Jephthah as an illegitimate son. They thrust him out of their household, thus giving him no claim to an inheritance (11:2). Jephthah then retreated to the desert, and was joined by “vain,” lawless men (11:3).

When the Ammonites began to “war against Israel,” the leaders of Gilead sought for a leader among themselves (11:4-5), and sent a message to Jephthah, saying, “Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon” (11:6). Jephthah did not immediately accept the leadership role over the men of Gilead (the tribes of Reuben, Gad, and the half-tribe of Manasseh). It is possible some of his own brothers, the ones who had cast him out as an illegitimate son, were among the elders that requested his leadership (11:7-10). The elders vowed an oath to the LORD that Jephthah would be their head if he was victorious (11:10), and he acknowledged God’s providence, and assumed the leadership of his people (11:11). Thus, Jephthah became the eighth judge of Israel.

After assuming his role as captain of Gilead’s army, Jephthah endeavored to negotiate a treaty of peace with the king of Ammon (11:12-24). He rejected the Ammonite king’s claim to the land (11:25), noting that Israel had possessed the land for three hundred years. He asserted; the LORD had given the children of Israel the land for their inheritance (11:26-27). With the assurance that the “Spirit of the LORD” was with him, Jephthah vowed, if the LORD would “deliver the children of Ammon into [his] hands…whatsoever [came] forth of the doors of [his]house to meet [him]…[he would] offer it up for a burnt offering” (11:30-31).

The LORD gave Jephthah, and Israel a great victory (11:32-33). When he returned from the battle he was met by his daughter, and remembering his vow to the LORD, was overcome with sorrow (11:34-35). He accepted his sacrifice to the LORD would be his own daughter (11:35). Loving, and humble, Jephthah’s daughter accepted the consequences of her father’s vow, and requested two months to mourn that she would never bear children (11:36).

In his zeal, Jephthah had made a rash vow to give as a burnt offering, the first one who came out of his house to meet him (11:31). While human sacrifice was the way of the heathen, it was contrary to God’s nature. I believe the sacrifice of Jephthah, was that his daughter would live a celibate life, never know a man, and therefore never bear a son or daughter to be her father’s heir (11:39-40).

Judges 12 – The Tribe of Ephraim, a Fool Twice Over

You may remember that the tribe of Ephraim had confronted Gideon when he returned victorious from battle. They had complained, they had been slighted, and not been invited to go to war against the Midianites (Judges 8:1). We find the same disingenuous protest in Judges 12, when Jephthah returned victorious from his battle with the Ammonites!

Grieving his daughter’s celibacy, Jephthah was confronted by the men of Ephraim who, staying true to their nature, complained they had been slighted. Ephraim gathered to war against Jephthah, and threatened to burn down his house for not having chosen them to go to war (12:1). Jephthah’s answer revealed the men of Ephraim had been summoned to war, but refused (12:2-3). Calling his army to arms, he warred against Ephraim, and forty-two thousand men of that tribe died (12:4-7).

What an unlikely hero! Jephthah, the son of a harlot, and rejected by his brothers, with the Spirit of the LORD, became a hero in Israel. What an amazing story of God’s grace, and power! Like Joseph, he had suffered the rejection of his brethren, but when God called him, he rose to the challenge, and God used him mightily!

What is keeping you from serving the LORD?

Copyright 2021 – Travis D. Smith