Jephthah: A Foolish Father

WHAT’S IT ALL ABOUT? The downward progression of Israel is illustrated in the weakening character of each successive deliverer. The theological ignorance and adulterated worship of Israel are displayed in Jephthah’s life. His rise from obscurity, military and political skill, and role as a deliverer are rightly overshadowed by his foolish vow, the alleged sacrifice of his daughter, and slaughter of fellow Israelites. Sadly, Jephthah appears to know very little about the ways of the LORD or the history of Israel. Furthermore, he participates in a civil war and slaughtered thousands of his own people. Jephthah died in disgrace without a descendant.

Jephthah’s life illustrates an aspect of Israel’s attitude that may be overlooked. Having overcome countless obstacles to become a prominent military leader, Jephthah appears to be consumed by victory at all costs. He was willing to sacrifice anything or anyone to satisfy his desire for success. Likewise, the people wanted a deliverer in order to win military victories, and, therefore, they were willing to follow and exalt anyone who could accomplish this goal. They were not concerned with theological accuracy, God-centered worship, or serving a righteous King. Instead, they just wanted temporal deliverance and military success, regardless of who provided it.

SO WHAT? At this point in the narrative of Judges, the reader must recognize that every aspect of society has broken down. The priesthood is silent and therefore inconsequential, the family unit has broken down, and leaders are selected because of physical might and not spiritual maturity. Jephthah is a product of a theologically-bankrupt culture. Yet, in these dark days, when godly men could not be found, God was still working, albeit through unlikely people, to propel history to its grand event: the incarnation of the Son and His propitiation for sin. Likewise, God is still propelling history to a perfect end: the gathering of His people to Himself in glory.


1. An empty confession.

2. An unqualified man.

3. The LORD is the Judge of the nations.

4. A foolish father.

5. When everyone does what is right in his own eyes, the situation only gets worse.

6. The LORD is sovereign over human history.

Now what? After rebuking the people’s empty confession, the LORD is silent. It appears that He has left them to their own resources. While it is true that the LORD empowered Jephthah to win the military victory over the Ammonites, He remains silent when Jephthah speaks directly to Him. The LORD provides no explanation or rebuke of the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter or the slaughter of Ephraimites. The narrator may be communicating through the silence. The people need godly leaders, but they are blinded to this need and, thus, face the consequences of unqualified leadership. God desires genuine worship, not lip service.

Our confession of sin, repentance, and faith will be rejected if they are based on selfish or sinful desires. Like the people of Israel, we may be tempted to just give lip service to repentance and expect God to be moved by our request. We must come to the LORD in humility with a desire to be transformed by His grace.

Study Questions (Judges 10:6-12:7)

1. Why does God tell the people that He will no longer save them (10:10-16)?

2. What does the people’s empty confession reveal about the state of affairs in Israel (10:1-16)?

3. Describe Jephthah’s background (11:1-3). How would the original audience have likely viewed him as a person and a leader?

4. What does the selection of Jephthah reveal about the spiritual condition of Israel?

5. Did Jephthah sacrifice (murder) his daughter (11:30-40)? If so, why?

6. How does the civil war illustrate the failures of Jephthah and the disunity of Israel (12:1-7)?

Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty warrior, but he was the son of a prostitute. Gilead was the father of Jephthah. 2And Gilead’s wife also bore him sons. And when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” 3Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob, and worthless fellows collected around Jephthah and went out with him. 4After a time the Ammonites made war against Israel. 5And when the Ammonites made war against Israel, the elders of Gilead went to bring Jephthah from the land of Tob. 6And they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our leader, that we may fight against the Ammonites” (Judges 11:1-6)

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