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Jephthah was a Judge of Israel, who led the Tribe of Gilead's military forces against the Ammon when they threatened Israelite territory. He was used by God to deliver the Israelites from the hands of the Ammonites. Jephthah is known for having made a vow concerning his daughter and being remembered by both the prophet Samuel and the author of Hebrews.

Biography

Early Life

Jephthah was given the Hebrew name, meaning "open". The name may have been given on the eighth day when Jephthah was circumcised or later on to mark how God used him to release Israel from the foreign oppression of Ammon.

Jephthah was born of the union of his father Gilead and a prostitute, which caused him to be shunned throughout his life.[1] Despite his father's illicit union, his father had several sons with a wife of his own.[2] He lived in the sub-tribe of Gilead (part of Manasseh), alongside all of his family.

A Warrior in Exile

Apparently, Jephthah grew up in or near the rest of his household and his step-brothers. After the age of twenty,[3] Jephthah was a warrior in the Israelite army so renowned he earned the famous title of "mighty warrior". Jephthah's warrior skills were so great, the tribal leaders of Gilead recognized him as the greatest warrior in the land.

Despite Jephthah's status as a great warrior, his birth from a harlot's womb led him to be shunned by his family and community. Once Jephthah's step-brothers were grown up, they refused to share any of their father's inheritance. Therefore, Jephthah was ostracized by both his brothers and the leaders of Gilead[4]. Jephthah fled his home of Gilead and exiled himself to the region of Tob. Here he lived among men of scornful reputation and he lived as a leader of some sort of militia-band[5].During this time he had a daughter of his own.

Gilead's Hero

The New Leader

An unknown time later, the nation of Ammon mobilized its army and encamped on the border of Gilead. This move by the Ammonites instilled great fear in the Israelites.The Gileadites became so desperate, they announced in an assembly at Mizpah that whoever would lead the fight against Ammon would rule over the region of Gilead[6]. Once the Ammonites began to attack Israel, the leaders of Gilead went to Tob to seek out Jephthah.

Jephthah received Gilead's offer of leadership in return for military service with hesitation, because they had driven him out of their land and in their time of need they had begged him to return[7]. Jephthah eventually accepted the offer after Gilead's elders sealed the vow by invoking God as their witness.[8] So Jephthah went to Mizpah with the elders of Gilead and swore an oath before God and was designated leader over the group of Gilead. He was given a home in Mizpah, the capital of Gilead and de facto of Israel (their place of assembly).

His first action as Gilead's new leader was to open lines of diplomacy with the Ammonites. Jephthah sent heralds to the King of Ammon to try to craft a peaceful solution to Ammon's hostility. The King of Ammon refused Israel's advances of peace, claiming Israel had taken part of Ammon's territory during the Exodus from Egypt. [9]

Warrior in Action

Afterwards, God's spirit was placed on Jephthah. Under the stirring and might of the Holy Spirit, Jephthah mobilized the army of the Gileadites, perhaps with the entire tribal force of Manasseh. He did not invite the army of Ephraim to join him in battle[10], an action that would create great animosity with the Ephraimites. With faith in God[11] he swore a vow that if he were to be victorious, he would give the first thing that came out of his house as an offering[12]. Through his faith and God's giving, he destroyed twenty cities and Ammon was given into Israel's hands. Therefore, Jephthah was used as God's instrument for Israel's deliverance[13].

Dedicated Daughter

After the crusade, Jephthah returned to his homestead in Mizpah. Jephthah's daughter came to the house, dancing and beating a tambourine in celebration of her hero's return. The culmination of Jephthah's vow to God hit him and he realized he had to dedicated his daughter. He ripped his clothes and told his daughter of the despair she had caused him, because of his oath to Yahweh. By her request, Jephthah permitted his daughter to mourn her virginity with her friends. After her two month sojourn in the mountains, Jephthah dedicated his daughter. Most likely this was service in the Tabernacle or some other dedication that prevented her from being married. Regardless of how she was dedicated, her entire life given to some religious obligation to God (though it is unlikely she was killed as an offering).[14]

Civil War with Ephraim

Sometime after the conflict with Ammon had ended, the army of Ephraim cross the Jordan and approached Jephthah. They falsely accused him of not inviting their army to fight alongside him during the campaign against Ammon and threatened to destroy his house. Jephthah replied with the truth that while he had invited them to fight, they did not rescue him from danger so he fought without them.[15]

In response to the violent threats of the Ephraimites, Jephthah rallied the Gileadites into battle. The Gileadites captured the Jordan River's fords from the Ephraimites. When the Ephraimites tried to return home to their territory after their defeat, they were required to correctly pronounce the Hebrew word Shibboleth. If the pronounced the word "Sibboleth", due to an Ephraimite dialect they were killed on the Jordan River's ford.[16]

In total during the war between Gilead and Ephraim, Jephthah led to the deaths of forty-two-thousand Ephraimites.

Death

Jephthah lead Israel for six years, before he died. After he died he was buried in a city in Gilead.[17]

Legacy

Judge of Israel

Jephthah is forever remembered in the Book of Judges as one of God's deliverers. Jephthah is recorded in the book to fit with the pattern fitting the entire book, Israel disobeys, then God rises up a deliverer[18]. It appears that after Jephthah's tenure, Israel had a period of obedience under Ibzan, Elon and Abdon[19]. All of Jephthah's correspondence with the King of Ammon is recorded showing how we strived for peace when possible[20]. He is greatly remembered for his vow which "offered" his daughter's life to God. Most of all, Jephthah was remembered for driving out the Ammonites in war and the slaughter of forty-two thousand rebellious Ephraimites[16].

Deliverer

Jephthah was one of the few Judges who actually partook in war to free Israel from a foreign enemy. In Samuel's retirement speech, he mentions Jephthah alongside Gideon, "Bedan" and himself[21] as a deliver of Israel. Samuel used Jephthah and the others as examples of God's faithfulness in providing a rescuer from Israel's enemies; also a contrast to show Israel that appointing a King was disobedient to God.

Man of Faith

Jephthah is included as one of the examples of those who lived by faith in the Epistle to the Hebrews. The author did not have time to write about Jephthah's story[11]. Regardless, a brief description of Jephthah and the actions of others are provided (Barak, Samson, David, Samuel and the rest of the prophets). One specific reference to Jephthah could be the description of mighty warriors and router of foreign armies.

This passage gives specific insight not directly provided (though could be inferred) as to how Jephthah defeated foreign enemies- by faith. Jephthah is also included in the group who did "not receive the promise" of Jesus Christ, the Messiah[22].

Verses

  1. Judges 11:1 (Link)
  2. Judges 11:2 (Link)
  3. Numbers 1:45 (Link)
  4. Judg 11:2,7 (Link)
  5. Judg 11:3 (Link)
  6. Judg 10:17-18 (Link)
  7. Judg 11:6-8 (Link)
  8. Judges 11:5-10 (Link)
  9. Judges 11:12-28 (Link)
  10. Judg 12:1 (Link)
  11. 11.0 11.1 Heb 11:32-34
  12. Judg 11:30-31 (Link)
  13. 1 Sam 12:11 (Link)
  14. Judg 11:34-39 (Link)
  15. Judges 12:1-3 (Link)
  16. 16.0 16.1 Judges 12:1-6
  17. Judg 12:7 (Link)
  18. Judg 2:11-20 (Link)
  19. Judg 12:8-13 (Link)
  20. Judg 11:12-17 (Link)
  21. 1 Sam 12:11 (Link)
  22. Heb 11:39 (Link)