Today’s Reading: Judges 11-12
Today as we study Judges 11-12, we are focused on the Life of Jephthah. I know I’ve read this story before, but only because I read the whole Bible in 2016. When I read it again this week, I didn’t remember it. Perhaps because I’m still not sure how to pronounce Jephthah’s name. But more likely because it is an awful story.
According to Judges 11, Jephthah was the son of Gilead, a great warrior, and a prostitute. Jephthah’s half-brothers ran him off to keep him from getting any of his father’s inheritance. When the Ammonites were attacked the nation of Israel, they went to find Jephthah and recruited him to lead their army. We know from Jephthah’s response, he was faithful to God.
“If I come with you and if the Lord gives me victory over the Ammonites, will you really make me ruler overall the people” (Judges 11:9)?
Long story short, Jephthah became commander of the Israelite army and led them into battle with the Ammonites. His faith, however, didn’t keep him from making a rash, foolish promise to God.
“If you give me victory over the Ammonites, I will give to the Lord the first thing coming out of my house to greet me when I return in triumph. I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering (Judges 11:30-31).
When Jephthah returned from the battle, his daughter was the first person out to meet him to celebrate the victory. Verse 39 then tells us that Jephthah kept his vow. Ugh. Didn’t I say this story was awful? Is it true? Could Jephthah really have offered his daughter as a burnt offering to God? Was that what God really expected? To be honest, I’m not sure. After reading a few arguments why Jephthah’s follow through may have been literal and others why it likely was not, I settled on this – for our purposes today, I’m not sure it really matters. What I know for sure is God’s word is true, and God keeps his promises, without exception. In the same way, God expects us to be truthful, and God expects us to keep our word, without exception.
Whether or not Jephthah’s vow was literal or not, we know that keeping his word came with a hefty price (Judges 11:34-35 gives evidence of his heartache). We also know that God honored his faithfulness, as Hebrews 11:32 identifies Jephthah’s faith story along with those of Gideon, Barak, Samson, David, Samuel and all the prophets.
My challenge for us today is to think about the words we use, they matter. Not keeping our word and/or telling half-truths are just different forms of lying. All are displeasing to God and come with pretty serious consequences.
“But I tell you that everyone will have to give account on the Day of Judgment for every empty word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned” (Matthew 12:36-37).
But the cowardly, the unbelieving, the vile, the murderers, the sexually immoral, those who practice magic arts, the idolaters and all liars—they will be consigned to the fiery lake of burning sulfur. This is the second death” (Revelation 21:8).