Refreshment in Refuge
by Gina Burgess
This mighty warrior, man of valor, judge is one of the most interesting men in the Bible to me. When one reads the text closely, we find some extraordinary things about him.
He was the son of a harlot… but his father owned him, and raised him. This means he probably didn’t have much love growing up. Yet, he got a good education in the history of Israel, and because Israel’s history is so intricately entwined with the law in the Torah, he had a good understanding of the Law.
His brothers hated him, so when his father died they threw him out without one bit of his rightful inheritance. No parental affection and no brotherly love, but he still grew up into a mighty man of valor.
After the Ammonites made war against Israel and got so terrifying with their raiding and pillaging, his brothers went to Jephthah (hat in hand, if not on their knees) begging him to come fight the Ammonites and save all of Israel. Then Jephthah reminded them what they had done to him. Even Joseph reminded brothers what they had done. He made sure that the people (read that brothers) wanted a leader, after all, what good is a general if soldiers don’t do what he tells them to do? He took one step further when he told them, “If you bring me home again to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gives them over to me, I will be your head.”
The text makes it very clear that Jephthah was a valiant man of God. He put his whole faith and trust in the real King of Israel. When the Lord is for us, who can be against us?
Jephthah did not see this battle as primarily between two armies, but between the God of Israel and the false god of Ammon. Jephthah showed true wisdom in seeing this as a spiritual battle first.
He was a man that did not see value in needless bloodshed. He tried to negotiate with the king of Ammon to no avail, but this part of the story gives us great insight into what kind of man Jephthah was, and how great his knowledge was of Israel’s history. So much so that it stymied the king of Ammon.
In verse 29 the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and thus great courage and wisdom. He advanced on the Ammonites just as the Holy Spirit helps us to go forward and progress in our spiritual growth and confront the enemies of God.
He does make a vow… Whoever comes out of my house will be consecrated to the Lord, or I will offer it up as a burnt offering.
There are several different ways to interpret this vow. I wrestled with it and read many different scholars’ commentaries on it.
Here’s what I think…
Since Jephthah knew the law, and since he left it up to God to declare what was acceptable to Himself as a holy sacrifice, I do not believe that this was a rash or impetuous vow. I believe that Jephthah leaned so heavily on God, and was so thankful that God would hand over the Ammonites to him to save Israel that he was devout enough to give God in thanksgiving whatever God required of him.
Jephthah did not have a human sacrifice in mind. This is indicated by the ancient Hebrew grammar: “The masculine gender could be translated ‘whatever comes out’ or ‘whoever comes out’ and ‘I will sacrifice it.’ “(Wolf)
Jephthah left it up to God to choose whomever came out of the house first.
Commentator Adam Clarke agreed that according to the most accurate Hebrew scholars, the best translation is I will consecrate it to the LORD, or I will offer it for a burnt-offering. As he wrote, “If it be a thing fit for a burnt-offering, it shall be made one; if fit for the service of God, it shall be consecrated to him.”
Deuteronomy 12:30 take care that you be not ensnared to follow them, after they have been destroyed before you, and that you do not inquire about their gods, saying, 'How did these nations serve their gods?—that I also may do the same.'
Deuteronomy 12:31 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.
Human sacrifice was strictly forbidden. In fact, it was abhorrent and an abomination to God.
Another reason that I know Jephthah did not intend to offer human sacrifice in his thank/vow offering is found in Leviticus 7:16.
Leviticus 7:16 But if the sacrifice of his offering is a vow offering or a freewill offering, it shall be eaten on the day that he offers his sacrifice, and on the next day what remains of it shall be eaten. Leviticus 7:16
Cannibalism was so abhorrent, the foreign nations did not practice it. This was probably something that was never even thought of in that ancient culture.
"Speak to the people of Israel and say to them, If anyone makes a special vow to the LORD involving the valuation of persons… Lev_27:2
Consecrating persons to the LORD meant dedicating one’s self, or someone from one’s family such as son, daughter, or a servant to service to the Lord. Only Levites could marry Levites, so when a person was dedicated to the Lord, they were put into service to the Levites, the sons of Aaron, but not for marriage because the priests could only marry within their own tribe.
Those dedicated to the Lord could not be redeemed. Chapter 27 talks about redeeming the first born who belonged to the Lord already. The priests could not take care of all the first born of Israel, so God made a way for fathers to redeem their first born. That gave the priests the wherewithal to take care of the Tabernacle and feed themselves, and fathers did not have to give up their first born sons and daughters.
When Jephthah’s daughter heard what her father had vowed, she told him, “Of course it must be as you said.” To not follow through with a vow made to God was a sin.
She asked for two months to lament her virginity… not her life. She knew no man. She was forever a virgin. She could never give Jephthah any grandchildren, and Jephthah’s lineage died out after her. No wonder he grieved, and she grieved.
What a beautiful testimony that Jephthah had raised a daughter as devoutly devoted to obeying God as her father was. How beautifully God turned around Jephthah's legacy from being born of a harlot to having a daughter that was consecrated holy into the service of God Almighty.
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She is the author of several books including: When Christians Hurt Christians, The Crowns of the Believers and others available in online bookstores. She authors several columns, using her God-given talent to shine a light in a dark world. You can browse her blog at Refreshment In Refuge.
If you'd like to take a look at some Christian fiction and Christian non-fiction book reviews before the books hit the book store shelves, check out Gina's book reviews at Upon Reflection
Gina is a partner and COO of Common Sense Marketing Strategies, LLC that owns Authors Community and eBookChristian.com
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