The land of Gilead was described as being a land suitable for livestock, located east of the Jordan River and settled by the tribes of Reuben and Gad. (Numbers 32:1-5) This land abutted the land of Ammon. The leaders of the land of Gilead, the people from Jephthah’s old home town, needed his help. Yes, the very same people who scoffed at him and kicked him out from among them.
We see two things here. They are the principles of:
- Forgive others their trespasses. Matthew 6:14-15
- Treat others the same way you want them to treat you. Luke 6:31
Notice that Jephthah did not say, “forget you”. “It’s your problem, not mine.” No. We see here the practice of forgiveness and helped them, because he would want help. He did not allow emotions to cloud his judgment here. God led the way through him. After some dialog and negotiation, Jephthah agreed to help them and the people of Gilead agreed to make him their chief and judge. (Judges 11:7-11)
Jephthah had been wronged and treated poorly. Yet the scriptures nor Josephus ever mention him as having any animosity or hatred for his people. This transaction boiled down to the people of the land of Gilead had a problem and Jephthah was the solution. Again, he did not let his emotions make his decisions for him. It was his deep seeded sense of decency and loyalty to God and country that propelled him forward. He did the right thing in spite of what happened in the past.
What Jephthah is most remembered for is an oath he made to God. In retrospect, it was a foolish vow, but there it was. He said, “If you will let me defeat the Ammonites, I will give you the first thing that comes out of my house when I come back from the victory. I will give it to the Lord as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:30-31) What was he thinking? He wasn’t. What usually came out of his tent? People.
Jephthah was an honorable man, but his vow was a zealous and rash. He did not think through the consequences of what he was proposing. Eventually, he went ahead with the sacrifice that cost him his only child. Do you think God wanted Jephthah to honor such a vow? I will offer an answer, no. If God did not want Isaac as a sacrifice from Abraham, why would he want Jephthah’s daughter as a sacrifice? God deplored human sacrifice. (Leviticus 12:31) It can be said that Jephthah did not have to follow through with it, but out of his own convictions he went ahead with it.
All in all Jephthah was a good man and he lived a good life. He ruled as the ninth judge of Israel for six years and gained the respect of the people who formerly thought little of him.
Pretty good for an outside child isn’t it?