The story of Jephthah - from a broken home yet became Gods commander

Judges 11 & 12 - Jephthah


"Jephthah" translated "Yiphtach" is from the root pathach, to open wide, break forth, draw out, meaning, "He will open".

The text to these chapters can be found here, which includes some observational notes: Judges 11 and 12 - observations on Jephthah



Jephthah was an illegitimate son of a prostitute (harlot & strange women, KJV; harlot and "another women" NKJV; prostitute and "another women", NIV) while his father who is so un-important is unnamed, and merely referred to as the Gileadite. Jephthah was thrown out of his father's house by his half brothers, whence he gathered together a group of thugs and went around beating people up - that is, raiding people, as the NKJ puts it!

Note here the NIV says "adventurers" - this is an adventurer in the loosest possible terms - it actually means he banded together a group of thugs - "worthless men" (NJV) or "vain" men.

Learning Point

The birth place and childho

The story explores the faithfulness of God which can always be counted upon, and the fact that God will always answer faith.

What else does Scripture say about Jephthah


His names appears in the "hall of faith" (Hebrews 11), the list of name above all names, because they each had evidence of having righteousness imputed to them, both men and women. The writer of this passage concludes he has chosen but a few examples to explain the meaning of faithfulness and the imputation of righteousness, he then lists six names, and in one breath includes Jephthah with David, Samuel, Gideon, Barak and Samson - all being worthy contenders for the hall of faith, but time prevented him enlarging on these.

Hence we have an illegitimate son of a prostitute who banded together a gang of thugs being mentioned in Hebrews 11 (32) as being faithful.

Learning Point

Faithfulness, however weak, is rewarded, in this case in the "hall of fame", for it is faithfulness that draws us nigh to God. To abide in Him, we are required to be faithful.

The key players in chapters 11 and 12

His mother


A prostitute - "a strange women", which either means a prostitute, but more likely has the connotation that she was a gentile. The Jews state he was an Ishmaelite - from the tribe of Ishmael - enemies of the Jews.

Learning Point

Sexual immorality can lead to suffering well beyond the persons involved. In this case the off-spring of that liaison. Spiritually, it is allowing our lives to meld with the world: cases of indulging in wicked and worldly activities that can have consequences far beyond our selves. Here the mother misses out on being the mother to her son.

His father


Jephthah father clearly lacked any moral fibre, and certainly was not loyal to his own household, talking prostitutes for sexual gratification, having a son by one of them. He does take the child into his own house, more likely because it was a boy - if it were a girl, abandonment may have occurred. Further, he does not run a household that has any resemblance of peace allowing his own son to be turned out due to domestic violence.

Learning Points

Scripture is very clear as to the responsibilities of the father - any father.

  • He is the head of the wife (Ephesians 5:20)
  • He is to love his wife, as Christ loved the Church (Ephesians 5:25) - i.e. he must be willing to go as far as to die for her.
  • Fathers are to instruct their children (Proverbs 1:8), use the rod (else he hates his children) (Proverbs 13:34), teach the Scripture (2 Timothy 3:16)

4Fathers, do not exasperate your children; instead, bring them up in the training and instruction of the Lord. Ephesians 6:4 (NIV)

  • His life is to be impeccable, because the glory of the children are their father (Proverbs 17:6)
  • A father who is a fool brings no joy to his children (Proverbs 17:21)
  • The sin of the father will be felt by his children (Exodus 34:7)
  • The sin of the children will be felt by the father (Proverbs 19:13 - ruin his father)
  • He is an elder of a house hold

Now the overseer must be above reproach, the husband of but one wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, 3not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. 4He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect. 1 Timothy 3:1 - 4 (NIV)

His Daughter


As is custom (see 2 Sam 6:14) the women come out to greet the victor of battle, including the daughter or Jephthah.

His daughter accepts her fate in light of the salvation of Israel, although in feeble way, reproduces some of the perfection of Christ. She has simple faith which shines very brightly, and submits to the will of God, that is her father. She consents to be offered, and confirms the victory Israel has over her enemies. She "bewails her virginity" because being the firstborn and only child, will have no descendants.

There is controversy as to whether the action was a burn offering or a dedication to the temple. The law is laid out in Leviticus chapter 27. Jephthah is universally condemned most notably by Josephus, the great Jewish historian, who believes she was offered up as a burnt offering. His offering was "dark" and without any warrant. It was usual for the women to come out of the houses and dance on the streets as the men returned from battle victory. We read of King David doing just that. Jephthah clearly vowed a person not an object as it was "who comes from my house to meet me". Furthermore, there was no need to vow - trust in God does not require a vow, it requires faith - because Jephthah essentially was saying, "if you Jehovah do not deliver us from our enemies I will not offer sacrifices to you". This is clearly untenable. The vows of Leviticus 27 had the character of glorifying God. This one clearly could not. It was based on distrust.

The Holy Bible, New King James Version

Do not be rash with your mouth,
And let not your heart utter anything hastily before God.
For God is in heaven, and you on earth;
Therefore let your words be few. Ecclesiastes 5:2 (NKJV)

11Vow and pay unto Jehovah your God Psalm 76:11 (DNT)

Learning Points

  • Knowing ones destination after death is paramount in knowing joy.
  • Accepting consequences in light of the sovereignly of God prevents misery.
  • Being put to death by some one else's foolishness should be no more overwhelming than dying in old age. Our joy is complete in Jesus, because, where He is, so shall we be.

Therefore we are always confident and know that as long as we are at home in the body we are away from the Lord. 7We live by faith, not by sight. 8We are confident, I say, and would prefer to be away from the body and at home with the Lord. 2 Corinthians 5:6 - 8 (NIV)

  • Making rash vows has serious consequences. Vows are long lasting and irrevocable.
  • Control of the tongue has the markings of a persons with wisdom. This goes for marriage vows.

The Gileadite clan (Jud 11:1)

Gilead was a grandson of Manasseh, the firstborn of Joseph, and formed six of the seven clans in the tribe: and hence the majority of the Gileadites were of the tribe of Manasseh. They occupied land both east and west of the Jordan.

The Ammonites (verse 4 onward)


The usual name of the descendants of Ammon, the son of Lot (Ge 19:38). From the very beginning (De 2:16-20) of their history till they are lost sight of (Jud 5:2) this tribe is closely associated with the Moabites (Jud 10:11 2Ch 20:1 Zep 2:8 - see also Ruth). Both of these tribes hired Balaam to curse Israel (De 23:4). The Ammonites were probably more of a predatory tribe, moving from place to place, while the Moabites were more settled. They inhabited the country east of the Jordan and north of Moab and the Dead (Eastons Bible Dictionary).

Learning Point

Israel was not allowed to attack this tribe (Deut 2:19), demonstrating the effect of a very remote link to the people of God (This applied to Moab as well as Edom).

Amorites (11:19)


Highlanders, or hillmen, the name given to the descendants of one of the sons of Canaan (Ge 14:7) called Amurra or Amurri in the Assyrian and Egyptian inscriptions. On the early Babylonian monuments all Syria, including Palestine, is known as "the land of the Amorites." The southern slopes of the mountains of Judea are called the "mount of the Amorites" (De 1:7,19,20) They seem to have originally occupied the land stretching from the heights west of the Dead Sea (Ge 14:7) to Hebron (Ge 14:13).

The Amorites (Sihon the King) refused passage through their land by the children of Israel, hence the wrath of God was exercised, and Israel soundly routed the people taking possession of the east side of the Jordan.

Learning Point

It is the Lord that fights our battles. (Deut 1:30). Even as a Christian we are called upon to wear the whole armour of God, but to stand firm - it is the Holy Spirit that deals with the principalities and powers that are not of flesh and blood.

Sihon (11:21)


King of the Amorites refused passage of Israel and was destroyed in the ensuing battle. They had taken much of the land owned by Moab.

Learning Point

Rejection of Jesus Christ leads to everlasting misery.

Chemosh (11:24)


The idol god of the Moabites, who was also the deity the Amorites adored.

Learning Point

No idol can save you.

Balak (11:25)


King of the Moabites at the time Israel passaged to Canaan. He along with Midian hired Balaam to curse Israel, which was soundly defeated by a donkey. Balak is a spoiler, a dupe and an instrument of Balaam, mentioned in The Revelation.

Learning Point

God often finds that humans are best defeated by dumb animals!

Key Actions



  • Takes a prostitute, who bears him a son
  • Allows his children to turn his son out of the house, probably because he was the first born, hence could have had some claim in the property.

Learning Point

  • Sexual immorality cannot be limited only to the perpetrators of the evil, but can affect many - the sins of the fathers being visited on the children.
  • The father, who does not rule his household in the Lord, will lose, and lose it all.



  • Becomes a leader of a band of worthless men - here he clearly learns leadership, binding together a group of un-bindable. The group evidently is successful at what it did.
  • Is convinced that he is able to be a leader of a clan.
  • Jephthah, ever mindful of the seriousness of war, approaches the problem with a dialogue first, then in the power of the Lord makes battle.
  • Jephthah makes a rash vow.
  • Jephthah executes the vow
  • Takes on the Ephraimites then rules Israel for six years.

Learning Points

  • The consequences of ones up-bringing can be severe and traumatic, but cannot not mitigate the fact that it is impossible to please God without faith. Nothing can mollify this one fact. Life is in the Lord, by faith. Death otherwise occurs. It is you and you alone that need to plead before the great high judge - and no excuse will be accepted that you did not accept Christ as you atonement.
  • Being with the case-offs and no hopers may look poor on a curriculum vitae but may be exactly the place God wants you to be to learn. Jephthah clearly learnt leadership amongst those whose wiliness to be lead probably was met with indifference and perhaps opposition. But it clearly was a great learning field for Jephthah. Our status in our current life should have no bearing on our relationship with God. Pride is a barrier to our communion with the Father.
  • Dealing with problems needs to be done in light of the history of the problem. Jephthah approached the problem of the Ammonites from knowledge of the situation. Too often we jump into trying to solve a seemingly insolvable problem head first without bothering to even look around. We must first come to an understanding of the problem. Married men and women - you must first talk through any problem and understand what put each side into their current position. The usefulness of a third party can be brought to bear here.
  • Slowly and quietly wins a race. Dialog is always the best place to start. Note the Jephthah does not blame anyone, but lays out the facts exactly as they are. He knows the history, knows the people he is dealing with, and logically outlines the reason why the current situation exists. This is done rationally and clearly with a cool head. Courting to ten is a lesson we all need to learn before speaking.
  • The final solution to the problem is en-powered by the Holy Spirit. This is where a Christian gets his or her resilience from, his or her wisdom, the ability to hold one's tongue, the ability to carry on in troubling experiences. The fighting of one's battles can only be truly won on one's knees - prayer is the method.

He alone is my rock and my salvation; he is my fortress, I will never be shaken. Psalm 62:2 (NIV)

  • Vows cannot be used to black-mail God. He will not act based on our sacrifices, because there is no sacrifice possible that will strip clean the sin torn and ravished soul. Only the blood of Christ can wash us clean.

Therefore, when He came into the world, He [God] said: "Sacrifice and offering You did not desire, But a body You have prepared for Me, In burnt offerings and sacrifices for sin You had no pleasure.. Hebrews 10:5 -6(NKJV)

Notes on Judges

The character of the book of Judges (See 2 Tim ~ Church)

Whereas Joshua is a book that displays the power of Christ, typified by Joshua, himself, who subdues the land and leads the children of Israel to dwell in peace, Judges is a book that displays the manifestation of a people of God in a declension away from God - that is the manifestation of idolatry.

The book epitomises the church today, and in particular the Western Church, (or Laodicean church) whose spectacular declension due to moral decay, sexual immorality, covetousness which is idolatry (Col 3:5) has made her total impotent.

Jehovah had blessed the people and confided to the responsibility of the people but Israel enjoys the blessings, whilst in the land flowing with milk and honey, but is totally unfaithful to Jehovah who conferred these blessings to them. Judges is full of repeated instances of Jehovah's deliverances of His chosen people after successive acts of disobedience to His precepts and departure from His worship. Hence, it typifies the apostasy and the spiritual apathy of the church today, with the faithful able to count on God to raise up some Gideon or Barak and give a season of reviving, although even this has been nigh to impossible these days.

The time of the Judges, possession of the land of Canaan was had, but not fully due to Israel's slackness in carrying out the instructions of God. But Israel persistently disobeyed God as laid out in the commandments, most notably the first commandment: idolatry.


David L Simon (CCC January 2005 and elsewhere) - Edited November 2008
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