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Year 1, Week 27, Day 4

I have a brief observation for today’s reading of Judges 11-13.

Today’s reading continues the pattern of the LORD raising up Judges to deliver Israel. The previous day’s reading ends with an inquiry: "And the people, the leaders of Gilead, said one to another, “Who is the man who will begin to fight against the Ammonites? He shall be head over all the inhabitants of Gilead” (Judges 10:18). Judges 11-2 describes Jephtath, who is the LORD’s provision: “Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah” (Judges 11:1). Judges 12 also adds a brief mention of three of Israel’s minor Judges: Ibzan, Elon, and Abdon. Judges 13 introduces us to Samson, the last major Judge during the period of the Judges. Judges 13 will be considered with the next day’s reading as it pertains to Samson as well.

One of the things that struck me from today’s reading was the LORD’s description of a rash, foolish act as  not only a moral lesson, but an illustration of the people He often uses to accomplish His purposes. Women commonly come out to greet the men after a great victory: “the singers in front, the musicians last, between them virgins playing tambourines” (Psalm 68:25). Like Miriam did after the victory at the Red Sea: “Then Miriam the prophetess, the sister of Aaron, took a tambourine in her hand, and all the women went out after her with tambourines and dancing” (Exodus 15:20). Jephtath apparently did not consider the possibility that the first person whom he would see was his daughter.

One the eve of battle Jephtath makes a vow: “And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “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 11:30-31). No vow was required to secure the outcome of the battle. Jephtath was properly equipped for battle: “Then the Spirit of the LORD was upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh and passed on to Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he passed on to the Ammonites” (Judges 11:29). The Holy Spirit empowering Jephtath for battle did not necessarily endow him with wisdom in all matters. Jephtath’s vow did not need to be kept for the Law made provision to reverse rash, foolish vows: “if anyone utters with his lips a rash oath to do evil or to do good, any sort of rash oath that people swear, and it is hidden from him, when he comes to know it, and he realizes his guilt in any of these; when he realizes his guilt in any of these and confesses the sin he has committed, he shall bring to the LORD as his compensation for the sin that he has committed, a female from the flock, a lamb or a goat, for a sin offering” (Leviticus 5:4-6).

Jephtath’s vow and the implementation of his vow violated God’s will and reflected the ideas of false worshippers: “You shall not worship the LORD your God in that way, for every abominable thing that the LORD hates they have done for their gods, for they even burn their sons and their daughters in the fire to their gods” (Deuteronomy 12:31). Jephtath believed that he was to keep his word: “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 11:35). The struggle is not if he should be a man who kept his word, but why he made the vow in the first place, and why he was not cognizant of the provision that the LORD made for undoing foolish vows. It seems that Jephtath’s vow was carried out and the tragedy was commemorated. 

But the LORD did use Jephtath: “So Jephthah crossed over to the Ammonites to fight against them, and the LORD gave them into his hand. And he struck them from Aroer to the neighborhood of Minnith, twenty cities, and as far as Abel-keramim, with a great blow. So the Ammonites were subdued before the people of Israel” (Judges 11:32). Jephtath even makes it into the faith hall of fame (see Hebrews 11:32). God used a man who did a really foolish and morally wrong thing. I would suggest that the LORD continued to work in his life and as a result, Jephtath himself was brought to see the wrongness of his actions.

It almost goes without saying, and this was certainly not a excuse, but the extent of Israel’s moral deterioration during the time of the Judges was tragic. Things continue spiraling downward. Even the final assessment of Jephtath’s work as a Judge, leaves out an important statement: “Jephthah judged Israel six years. Then Jephthah the Gileadite died and was buried in his city in Gilead” (Judges 12:7). Unlike the concluding remarks for most of the other major Judges, what was absent from the closing reflection of Jephtah’s work was any reference to the land experiencing rest. I would suggest that the absence of this kind of reference, reflects the further deterioration of the moral state of Israel. Israel continues turning in on itself as exemplified by the conflict between Jephtath and the Ephraimites. 

What struck you in today’s reading? What questions were prompted from today’s reading?

Pastor Joe