Lessons from Jephthah
"At that time the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he went throughout the land of Gilead and Manasseh, including Mizpah in Gilead, and from there he led an army against the Ammonites." -Judges 11:29
(Be encouraged to read all of the story of Jephthah for the full context. Here is a link to it. https://www.biblegateway.com/passage/?search=judges+11&version=NLT)
I believe that there are some important things to be learned from the story of Jephthah in Judges 11. First, a little background. At this time in Israel's history (somewhere between 1000 and 1300 BC), Israel was ruled by judges, rather than kings. Whenever Israel started following idols and other false gods, God would allow enemy nations to take over Israelite land. When the Israelites repented, God would appoint a judge to rescue Israel from their enemies and rule Israel temporarily. Jephthah was one of those Judges.
What is interesting about Jephthah being a Judge, though, is that he was an outcast. His mother was a prostitute, so his half brothers kicked him out of the family in order to protect their inheritance. At this point, Jephthah actually left his home to live in Tob where a "band of worthless rebels" began to follow him around. Jephthah was an outcast, and a rebel, and he attracted "undesirables" to his side. However, in verse 29, we see that "the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah." This is the first thing we can learn from this story: Regardless of your upbringing, status, or place in life, God can still use you. The Holy Spirit is not discriminate. Even though Jephthah was an outcast, the Spirit of God descended on him and led him to rescue the nation of Israel.
Jephthah's story, however, does not end with victory. He vows to God, "If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering." (Judges 11:30-31) When he returns victorious, he is first greeted at his house by his only daughter. This puts him in quite the dilemma. He must choose either to break the vow he made to God, or he must offer his daughter as a sacrifice. The second thing we can learn from the story of Jephthah is that we must be careful of the promises we make. We can say some very rash things when we do not think about them or pray about them. Ecclesiastes 5:5 says, "It is better to say nothing than to make a promise and not keep it." Yes, be willing to make bold declarations in faith, but do not make rash vows that you cannot keep.
There is good news for Jephthah's daughter, though. There has been very extensive study by many biblical and Hebrew scholars on this passage of Scripture. The English translation of verse 31 is slightly unable to capture the Hebrew language. A more accurate translation of the verse might be, "Whatever comes out of my house to meet me when I return, I will devote it to the Lord and/or sacrifice it as a burnt offering." The Hebrew leaves room for either devoting it to the Lord and/or offering it to the Lord as a burnt offering - whichever is appropriate. So, Jephthah, very likely, did not burn his daughter, but rather did not allow her to marry so she could devote her whole life to the Lord. This was still a big deal in Hebrew culture, because women were typically not to remain virgins their whole lives, but were supposed to produce sons to carry on the family line. Regardless, the third thing we can learn from this story is that God is both just and merciful. God did not allow Jephthah to take back his vow just because there were undesirable consequences (God's justice), but he also did not make Jephthah burn his daughter (God's mercy).
So to summarize, we can learn three things from this story in Judges 11. (1.) God's Holy Spirit does not pick and choose who to move; we are all capable of being used by God. (2.) We must be careful not to make rash commitments that we cannot keep. (3.) Even when we do make bad decisions, our God is both just and merciful.
So, brothers and sisters, allow yourself to be used by God, be careful what you say, and walk in faith knowing that your God is a just and merciful God!