And what more shall I say? For time will fail me if I tell of Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, of David and Samuel and the prophets, who by faith conquered kingdoms, performed acts of righteousness, obtained promises, shut the mouths of lions, quenched the power of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, from weakness were made strong, became mighty in war, put foreign armies to flight. Hebrews 11:32-34
Therefore, since we have so great a cloud of witnesses surrounding us, let us also lay aside every encumbrance and the sin which so easily entangles us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us. Hebrews 12:1
While described as a valiant warrior, Jephthah’s backstory was not sterling. As the son of a harlot, he was banished from Gilead by his brothers to live in Tob. He drew a band of worthless fellows to his side. Birds of a feather flock together.
So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him. Judges 11:3
But he was recruited back by Israel to fight against the sons of Ammon, which he did with a vengeance. In the lead up to war, the new judge was most impressive, though, in his command of Israel’s history. In Judges 11:12 to 27, Jephthah through messengers to Ammon justifies his pending actions against them based on the failure of nations to allow Israel free passage through their countries in the past. His conclusion was that Ammon was indeed squatting on some of Israel’s promised land.
Here’s the point from his ranging argument for war. Can you–can I–make a case for carrying out God’s will from scripture? Are we well versed enough to make a spiritual point? Can we vocalize a defense of the faith? Jephthah could, despite his colorful background.
Back to the story, in his exuberance to assure victory, Jephthah made a rash and senseless vow to God that had tragic consequences.
Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” Judges 11:30-31
His only daughter was first out the door to greet him and he was laid low because of the vow he had made. Many commentators believe he followed through on his vow and offered her up as a burnt offering. But others believe that the loss of her chance to bear children was what was sacrificed. I believe the latter. The law of Moses forbade human sacrifices and it’s hard to rationalize taking another’s life as a consequence for my sin. Judge for yourself by her response.
So she said to him, “My father, you have given your word to the Lord; do to me as you have said, since the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the sons of Ammon.” She said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.” Judges 11:36–37
It appears that she clearly understood that what was at stake was her virginity (a horror in that day) and it was in that state she remained, and for that sacrifice she was honored. I also find it hard to believe that Jephthah made the Hebrews 11 Hall of Faith list having such a horrific entry on his resume.
So what have we learned from Jephthah? We should know and account for our proclivities. We should ward against drifting into known pathways to sin. The Spirit’s empowerment of our lives allows us to live above these impediments with power derived from strong faith.
In the context of Hebrews 12:1, Jephthah’s encumbrance was that he was not of good stock. His entangling sin, his impetuousness and lack of forethought. I ask myself what’s my encumbrance? What’s my entangling sin? What is keeping me from running with endurance the “faith” race set before me? Think about it.