We must view this vow of Jephthah as an incredibly sinful response to the Lord’s gracious working in Him and through Him. It tapped into his pride, and it was whilst drunk on success and his own pride and ego – as opposed to being filled with the Spirit – that Jephthah made the rash vow that led to the sacrifice of his daughter; a vow which completely contravened the law of God.
Recently, on a Facebook Christian theology group I am a member of, the following request for help was asked by one the other members. I thought it would be a good idea to turn the answer into a blog post with a bit of extra detail to my original answer as I had found that there was not a great deal of help to be found, either by commentaries or from internet articles. Here is the question:
“In the final section of Judges 11 Jephthah makes a rash vow that he will give whatever comes through his front door up for a burnt offering if he beats the ammonites. low and behold his daughter walks through and so he offers his daughter. So I’m trying to understand it said in a couple verses before he gave the vow that he was in the Spirit of The Lord but God ultimately knew that his daughter would be the one to come through the door.
I know God is good and isn’t the author of sin obviously so I’m just trying to understand this passage in light of this truth and need some help.”
This really is such a good question, due in part to the fact that I was unable to find the explanation that touched upon all the subject’s related aspects in one place! Here is my own humble attempt to do so:
In Judges 11, we find Jephthah, who was an Israelite from the region of Gilead. He had been exiled from his home by his own brothers for being an illegitimate child, the son of a prostitute. Presumably, Jephthah was deemed to be a source of familial shame by his pure-blooded siblings, who decided one day to drive him out of their midst.
During Jephthah’s time in exile, he became renowned as a skilled and courageous leader, leading a group of fellow outlaws who had joined together with him as a means of survival. The people of Ammon started to wage a war against Israel at some point during this time. As Israel set about assembling its strongest possible army, the elders of Gilead naturally turned to the Gileadean who had now established himself as a skilful and courageous leader, Jephthah, asking him to be a commander in the Israelite army.
Quite understandably, Jephthah was a little nonplussed by this sudden turnaround in treatment that he was receiving from his native people, and so bargained for the leadership of his hometown should he take up this role as commander in the army and successfully help the Israelites to victory. The elders of Gilead, out of desperation, agreed to the request.
(There are a couple of certain points that will prove helpful to note at this point as we consider the controversial vow of Jephthah. Jephthah, as a child, and despite his father’s indiscretion, would have certainly been taught about the Israelite religion, their laws and of Yahweh, their God. Perhaps even during that same time, but certainly after his ejection from Gilead, Jephthah would have also learnt about local pagan religions, some of which would have included human sacrifices.)
Jephthah became a key commander in the Israelite army and helped them bargain for an end to the conflict with the king of Ammon, albeit unsuccessfully. It is at this point we come to the part of the story that is of the most interest regarding our question:
v.29 “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.
v.30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands,
v.31 then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.’”
As we can see, in v.29, the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He then undertook a journey that led him right to the battlefront, and at this point Jephthah made what is often described as his rash vow.