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Judges 11:29-40



Intro: Jephthah was the son of a man named Gilead and an unnamed prostitute, v. 1. His birth caused him problems with his half-brothers. After their father died, they refused to share the family inheritance with Jephthah and they forced him out of the family home, v. 2-3. Jephthah became the leader of a band of mercenaries who protected the people of Israel from their enemies.

      Sometime later, the Ammonites attacked the Israelites, v. 4. This promoted the leaders of Jephthah’s tribe to reach out to him, v. 5-6. Apparently, they were familiar with his prowess as a military leader. They ask Jephthah to come back and lead them to victory. If he will do that, they promise to make him the head of their tribe, v. 7-10. Jephthah answers their call and returns with them to address the Ammonite problem.

      In verses 12-28 Jephthah tries a series of diplomatic measures to cool tensions with the Ammonites and avoid all out war. In correspondence with the king of Ammon, Jephthah learns that they are attacking Israel because they want back some of the land that Israel took when it entered Canaan, v. 13. Displaying an amazing grasp of Hebrew history, Jephthah answers the Ammonites with several convincing arguments that prove they are wrong in attacking the people of Israel.

·      Verses 14-22 – The Israelites did not take the land from the Ammonites. They took it from the Ammorites who originally took it from the Moabites. The Ammonites had no stake in the land at all.

·      Verses 23-24 – The Lord had given the land to Israel. God was given all the glory and credit for giving them the land. Jephthah tells them to take what their god has given them and be satisfied.

·      Verses 25-26 – Israel had lived in the land for hundreds of years. The Ammonites had not tried to claim the land during the three hundred years Israel had possessed, why were they attempting to claim it now?

·      Verse 27 – The Ammonites are reminded that by attacking Israel, they are in fact attacking God! He will judge who is right and He will give the victory to whom He chooses!

      The Ammonites fail to listen to that arguments put forth by Jephthah because they are ignorant of the Word of God; they do not care about the will of God; and they have no regard for the Person of God or the people of God. They press their attack against Israel.

      When Jephthah attempted to negotiate with the Ammonites, he was not compromising. He stands firmly upon the Word of God and declares the facts of the situation. What he is doing is trying to prevent them from being annihilated in war. He knows that God will give Israel the victory and he is trying to save lives.

      Jephthah teaches us the truth that the best response is always a peaceful response. When you are attack, do not attack back. Instead, approach those who attack you with offers of peace. If they receive your overtures and reconcile, you have gained a friend. If they persist in their attacks, the Lord will take care of them in His Own way, and in His Own time, Rom. 12:17-21; Matt. 5:38-48.

      This brings us to our text verses. In these verses Jephthah has another valuable lesson to teach us. In these verses we witness a man who makes a rash vow that he lives to regret. Jephthah teaches us that we need to take heed to every word that comes out of our mouths, and nowhere is that more than when it comes to the words we speak to the Lord.

      Little children are sometimes taught a song that has a line that goes:

Oh, be careful little mouth,

what you say,

For the Father up above,

Is looking down in love,

So be careful little

mouth what you say.


      In these verses, we are going to learn the truth at what we say matters, especially when we say it to the Lord. This passage will teach us that He expects us to keep the vows we make to Him. So, let’s consider the truths that present themselves to us in these verses as I try to preach on the thought Be Careful Little Mouth What You Say.


  I.  v. 29-31  JEPHTHAH’S VOW

(Jephthah’s attempts at peace are rebuffed by the Ammonites. The stage is set for war. As Jephthah leads the armies of Gilead to battle, he makes a “vow” to the Lord. A “vow” is not something the Lord requires. To not make a vow is not a sin, but to make a vow and not keep it is a serious thing before the Lord. A “vow’ is “a binding promise that involves a gift or sacrifice.” Vows in the Bible are never made to men, but always to God. I will talk more about what the Bible teaches about making vows to the Lord in a moment. Let’s consider Jephthah’s vow.)

A.   v. 29-30a  The Context of His Vow – Jephthah made his vow to the Lord and he and his men were headed out to do battle with the Ammonites. Apparently, Jephthah wants to be certain of victory, so he tried to make a contract with the Lord. It’s one of those “if you will do this for me, then I will do something for you.

      Have you ever done that? Have you ever tried to bargain with the Lord? I think we all have at times, but I think we all fail to recognize the serious nature of the vows we make to the Lord. Again, I will say more about it in a few minutes, but God expects you to fulfill every vow you make to Him!

B.  v. 30b-31  The Content of His Vow – In this vow, Jephthah promises to offer up to God “whatsoever” comes out of his house first when he returns home in victory. Just a simple glance at this vow tells us how rash and foolish this vow rally is. This is a truth that Jephthah will learn the hard way when he returns home.

      That’s the problem with most of the promises we make to the Lord. We don’t take the time to think them through before we make them. Then, when things do not go exactly like we want them to, we will go back on our vows to Him. That is a dangerous state of affairs!

C.  The Character Of His Vow – Jephthah’s vow was totally unnecessary! In verse 29 we are told that “the Spirit of God was upon Jephthah”. God was going to give Jephthah and his army the victory just because he made the Lord a bunch of promises. Victory was assured anyway just because the Lord wanted to give it!

      When Jephthah made the vow, even though it was unnecessary, it was also binding. The Lord gave Israel some very specific instructions for the use of vows, Deut. 23:21-25; Lev. 27; Num. 30; Num. 30:2. While vows were absolutely voluntary, once a vow had been made to the Lord; God expected that vow to be paid in full, Eccl. 5:1-6.

      So, when you make a vow to the Lord, He will hold you to the keeping of that vow. It is far better not to promise the Lord something than to make a promise to Him and to fail to carry out that promise. Have you made any vows that you have failed to pay?


  I.  Jephthah’s Vow



(When the children of Israel faced the Ammonites on the field of battle, Israel carried the day. They defeated their enemy and won a great victory. A couple of thoughts regarding that victory are in order here.)

A.  v. 32  It Was A Divine Victory – The battle was waged and the victory was won. The children of Ammon were defeated because the Lord “delivered” them up to the Israelites. It was a divine victory and God was given all the glory.

B.  v. 33  It Was A Decisive Victory – The language of this verse tells us how complete this victory was. We are told that Jephthah “smote” the Ammonites. This word means “to strike, smite, hit, beat, slay, kill”. We are told that Jephthah “smote” them with “a great slaughter”. This phrase refers to “a great blow, wound, beating, or conquest.” It has the idea of being “overcome with a plague”. The children of Israel swept down on the Ammonites and cut them down like a plague. It was an astounding and complete victory.


(Note: Just as reminder let me say that our God can still give His people great and decisive victories in this life. He is still defeating enemies and overcoming all foes so that we can experience his power and deliverance in our lives. Regardless of what you might be facing today, the Lord can give you victory over it for His glory!

      I would encourage you to remember that any victories we might enjoy in this life are divine in origin. They come to us through God because of our relationship with His Son the Lord Jesus Christ, 1 Cor. 15:57.

      When there is victory over some sin, over some enemy, over some difficult period of life, we should always be quick to praise the Lord and thank Him for the victory. If victory came our way, it came to us through Him, and He deserves all the glory for it!  We should never take any credit for any of the victories in our lives. (Ill. Rom. 8:37; 2 Cor. 2:14)


  I.  Jephthah’s Vow

 II.  Jephthah’s Victory



(The battle is over and the victory is secured. Jephthah returns home as a conquering hero. I am sure the vow he made to the Lord was fresh in his mind. He fully intended to carry out his vow. Among other things, Jephthah was a man of his word and he would not fail to do all that he promised to the Lord. Let’s watch this man as he fulfills his promises to God.)

A.  v. 34-35a  Jephthah’s Pain When he arrives home, the first person who comes out to meet him is his daughter. She is his only child. She comes out to greet her father with songs of celebration because of the victory the Lord had given to His people. She is excited that her father has returned home safe, and that he is a hero. How appropriate that this young lady should be filled with pride and come out to greet her father.

      When Jephthah sees her, his heart is broken. He has promised to give up “whatsoever cometh forth of the doors” of his house “to meet” him when he returned home, v. 31. He sees his only child coming to meet him, his precious daughter, and it breaks his heart because he knows what he has to do to her, and he fully intends to do it.

      He tears his clothes in a sign of mourning and cries “Alas! My daughter…” the word “alas” is an expression of pain. It is the same as crying “Oh!” in the midst of a tragedy. Then he tells her that she has “brought” him “very low”. This phrase means “to bring one to his knees.  The thought of what he must do to his own daughter fills Jephthah with grief. The life is forced out of him. The thrill of his victory vanishes completely away and he is left with the searing pain of loss, and the overwhelming agony of loss. (Ill. Imagine what you would feel like if it were you and your only child!)

B.  v. 35b  Jephthah’s Problem – When Jephthah sees his daughter, he tells that he has made a vow concerning her. Jephthah knows that vow made to the Lord must be fulfilled. Apparently, Jephthah is a man of his word.

      Jephthah’s actions should speak to us today. We should also be a people of our word. When we tell someone we will do something, we should do it. When we tell someone we will be somewhere at a given time, we should be there. We should always do what we say we are going to do regardless of the personal cost or inconvenience.

      There was a time in our nation when a person’s word was their bond. Business deals were made, livestock was traded, and cops were sold all on a good word and a handshake. There was a time when people said what they meant, meant what they said and did what they promised. Those days are passed!

      No, you have to have a contract signed by both parties. That contract has to be notarized and filed with the courts. A person’s word is no longer taken at face value and people cover themselves so that they can sue when someone reneges on a deal.

      That should never be true of a child of God! When we give our word, we ought to be a people of our word. We ought to say what we mean, mean what we say and stand by our promises. This is especially true when the Person to Whom we have made our vow is the Lord.

      We are to be a people marked by truth! Eph 4:25 says, “Wherefore putting away lying, speak every man truth with his neighbour: for we are members one of another.Col 3:9 says, “Lie not one to another, seeing that ye have put off the old man with his deeds.

C.  v. 36-40  Jephthah’s Performance – Jephthah’s daughter encourages her father to do all that he has promised the Lord he would do. She only asks for some time to mourn her virginity. This girl was willing to make a huge sacrifice to help her father honor his vow to the Lord. She willingly gave up the joy of becoming a wife and mother. She sacrificed the dream of every Israelite girl that was the dream of giving birth to the Messiah. She sacrificed her dreams to help her father fulfill his vow to God.

      She goes away with her friends for two months and they “bewailed her virginity”. That is, they mourned with her that she would never be a wife or a mother. When she returned home, her father fulfilled his vow to the Lord and did with her the thing he promised to do. After that, v. 39 tells us that “she knew no man”. And her friends came every year for “four days” to “lament the daughter of Jephthah”, v. 40.

      Now, here is the question: did Jephthah really offer his daughter up as a burnt offering to the Lord? Or, is there some other explanation for these events? This has been a hotly debated issue among theologians for thousands of years. Many good men believe that Jephthah offered his daughter up as a burnt offering to the Lord. Of course, other equally great men teach that he fulfilled his vow by dedicating his daughter to serve in the Tabernacle for the rest of her life.

      Personally, I do not believe that Jephthah offered his daughter as a burnt offering. I lean toward the second interpretation. I believe that he dedicated her to serve the Lord at the Tabernacle. I believe that she remained there all her days. I believe that she remained a virgin all her life and gave herself to the will of the Lord.

      Here are the reasons why I believe this is the correct interpretation.

·      The language Jephthah uses in verse 31 is ambiguous. He says “Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” The word “whatsoever” suggests that he did not know who or what he would see first. So, it was a rash vow.

      Then, when he says, “…shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.” The word “and” can also be translated as “or”. This means that if it is a person he meets, he will dedicate that person to the Lord. If it is an animal that he sees first, he will offer that animal as a burnt offering.

·      God would never have approved of, or accepted, a burnt offering. Jephthah would have known about Abraham and Isaac, Gen. 22, and how the Lord intervened and prevented Abraham from actually offering up Isaac as a burnt offering. He would have known the various teachings in the Law that prevented human sacrifice, Lev. 18:21;  Lev. 20:1-5; Deut. 12:30-31; Deut. 18:9-12. God would not have honored a human sacrifice, and it would be doubtful that a man guilty of such a despicable crime would be listed among the “Heroes of the Faith” in Heb. 11:32.

·      While the days of the judges were a lawless time, I cannot conceive of how the men of Israel would allow Jephthah sacrifice his own daughter. When Saul made a rash vow and threatened to kill Jonathon his son, his own soldiers intervened and stopped him from killing Jonathan, 1 Sam. 14:24-46.

·      Where would he have offered the sacrifice? God only accepted sacrifices offered at the Tabernacle, Lev. 17:1-9. God only accepted sacrifices offered up by Levitical priests, Deut. 16:2, 6, 11, 16. No priest would have participated in such a wicked sacrifice. Even if he had taken his daughter to Shiloh to sacrifice her, any priest there would have told him that he could spare his daughter by redeeming her for a sum of money, Lev. 27:1-8.

·      I think it stands to reason that Jephthah gave his daughter to the Lord to serve in the Tabernacle with the other women who served there, Ex. 38:8; 1 Sam. 2:22. She remained a virgin for the rest of her life, v. 39. Every year, her friends came and spent four days with her helping her mourn for her unmarried, childless condition, v. 40. The word “lament” has the idea of “recounting, of telling again; of celebrating”. It is doubtful that they would gather to celebrate a sinful act, which it would have been had she been offered as a burnt offering by Jephthah. If she was going to die, why would she spend two months prolonging that the agony of knowing that her death was coming?

·      Jephthah’s daughter joins Isaac as a picture of the submissive, obedient child. She sacrificed family and motherhood to honor her father. By the way, Jephthah’s daughter proves that it is harder to live for the Lord than to die for Him, Rom. 12:1.

·      Jephthah sacrificed too. Jephthah saw his line come to an end. There would be no grandchildren because he gave his daughter to serve the Lord all her days.

·      Of course, there is the possibility that I could be wrong. He might have offered his daughter as a burnt offering! Here is Martin Luther’s blunt statement, “One would like to think that he did not sacrifice her, but the text clearly says that he did.[i]

Conc: The fact is, we will never settle the issue of what actually happened to Jephthah’s daughter until we arrive home in glory. So then, what can we take away from this passage? There are a few lessons here that we need to take to heart today.

·      We must be a people characterized by the truth. Let it never be said that any child of God every failed to keep his or her word.

·      Vows made to God are sacred. They must be kept. Be careful what you promise God. He will expect you to fulfill every promise to the letter, Deut. 23:21-23; Num. 30:2; Psalm 34:13; Eccl. 5:4-6. Be aware that you will pay every vow you make to God! Be very careful not to make rash promises to God. You will be called on to fulfill those vows.

·      It is always evil to fulfill an evil vow. While God expects us to do what we say, He does not expect us to violate His Law in the process. It is a sinful thing to make a vow that involves evil, and it would be even more evil to actually carry it out. If Jephthah had promised to sacrifice his daughter, God would not have accepted that vow, and he would have never expected him to fulfill it.

·      Never try to strike a bargain with God. Your plan will not change His plan. Regardless of what you offer Him it will not change His mind about what He plans to do. Our God is sovereign and He will not be coerced into anything that is not part of His perfect plan! We are to walk by faith and trust the Lord to do with us as He pleases. Don’t bargain, simply obey!


      If the Lord has spoken to you about your honesty and about the vows you have made to Him, you ought to come before Him and deal with that today. Remember that vow to love Him, serve Him and obey Him forever? How’s that going for you? Remember that vow to honor Him with your life and income? How’s that coming along? Listen to Him and do what He is telling you to do today.

[i] Jackman, D., & Ogilvie, L. J. (1991). Vol. 7: The Preacher's Commentary Series, Volume 7 : Judges, Ruth. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson Inc.


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