Judges 11

Judges 11
by Pastor Mark Hudson

Now on to Jephthah in Judges 11.  Most take Jephthah as a rash person who made a myriad of mistakes.  Maybe that is true but there might be another way to look at this man.  This interpretation if from Prof. David Murray of the Protestant Reformed Seminary.  I listened to his podcast and sermon on Jephthah and found is convincing.  We will see if you do.  This is one of these areas of the Bible that I would invite you to question and reflect, not merely agree, and accept.  First, Jephthah occupies a large section of this book.  He is mentioned in Hebrews 11 positively.  And yet, most people call his vow tragic or rash.  Yet, if you begin to say that Jephthah is one big mistake, how does that compare to Hebrews 11:32?  Does your evaluation of him line up with the author of Hebrews?  Of course, you may see the vow as tragic but not view Jephthah as a poor example.

Murray preached a sermon on Judges 11 called How to perfectly keep a perfect vow.  That grabs your attention.  Most commentators understand Jephthah as sacrificing his daughter which I think is contrary to Judges 11.  So, let me review Murray’s argument which is a positive appraisal of his life and ministry.  See the chart below which is a summary of a comparison with Christ and Jephthah.

Jephthah is not rash.  When asked to fight the Ammonites, he negotiates with his stepbrothers and elders.  When about to fight about Ammon, he either writes a letter or sends a messenger who speaks to the Ammonite king.  He tries to do this twice.  This is not a man who is rash or acts impulsively.

No Judge speaks about God as much as Jephthah does.  Jephthah is a godly man.  His s response to the Ammonite king is profound.  He says that the King of the Ammonites is wrong on his history and theology.  He knows the story of the exodus well.  He is a good theologian as well.  It took him time to compose this letter.  In vs. 11, he prays to God after the agreement with the elders of Gilead.  He is cautious, godly, and shows wise leadership.

Yes, he surrounds himself with empty or no-name friends, but he was kicked out of his family and town.  King David did the same.  Jephthah is almost forced to find whomever he can since his brothers kicked him out of the house and town.

If this is such a terrible vow, how do you make sense of v. 29?  In v. 29, “the Spirit of the Lord was upon Jephthah” and the next verse he makes a vow.  Vows are not a bad thing to do.  Other Biblical characters make vows (Gen 28:20; Lev. 22:21; I Sam 1:11: Acts 18:18).  Before we say it is rash, we must consider another viewpoint.

If you can allow the ‘and’ to be ‘or’ in v. 31, the verse will read, “whatever comes out from the doors of my house . . shall be the Lords, or I will offer it up for a burnt offering.  Jepthah had one vow that was fashioned for either a human or an animal.  While he did regret that his daughter came out, there was no indication after his vow that he wanted to rescind it.  And the Old Testament had provisions for a rash vow (Lev. 5:4ff) that Jephthah never utilized.

He does show raw emotion by tearing his clothes and almost blaming his daughter for his vow.  But while she asks for some time to prepare, she does not try to get out of the vow.  I have heard ministers say she should be listed in Hebrews 11.  But she isn’t.  Jephthah, according to Hebrews 11, is a man of faith (not a person who acted like a Canaanite and offered his daughter as a burnt offering).  Verses 31 and 35ff led many to believe he sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering.  See below where Murray lists 10 reasons why this is not a burnt offering.  The main reason is the following verses.  The following verses mentions virginity.  Verse 37, “weep for my virginity”; 38, “wept for her virginity”; v. 39, “She had never known a man.”  Clearly, the author is stressing what the vow meant.  There is no indication that Jephthah killed his daughter.  There is every indication that she never married and remained a virgin.

Jephthah’s vows was not to his daughter’s death but to her perpetual virginity.  Why?

  1. Previous godly character. Not rash – dealings with King of Ammon and his brother
  2. He knew the Bible – knew human sacrifices were wrong
  3. Filled with the Spirit in the verse prior. Could he be so out of step with God so quickly?
  4. Two possible translations of v. 31. If there is an or instead of and (as the NASB has a footnote) this makes sense.
  5. This is a normal practice to make a vow.
  6. Emphasis and consequences regarding the vows are to not bear a child or have a husband (v. 37, 39). Not lifeless but childless
  7. Lament or commemorate? This word  translated as “lament” in Hebrew in v. 40 is never ‘lament’ in anywhere else in Bible (Judges 5:11).
  8. Rash vows can be repented of with money
  9. Jephthah is not punished – he reigns for 6 years after this. And he is listed in Hebrews 11 after child sacrifice?
  10. I Sam 12:11; Heb 11:32. Jephthah is commended in the Bible.


Below see the comparison that Prof Murray makes with Jephthah and Jesus.

Idea                    Jepththah                            Jesus

Context                       oppression – hands of enemies            bruised, groaning sitting in darkness

Conception                 son of harlot, Canaanite mother            questioned even by Joseph, yet pure and holy

Casting out                  brothers cast him out,                         cast out of his own country, rejected of man

Courage                      man of valor like Gideon                    always fighting against increased hostility a

Companions                empty, unimportant, nobodies             disciples were regular people

Character                    No other judge uses God’s name as             God-centered and always speaking of God


Compassion                listened to their request for help            came to His own, yet Jesus begins gospel in Jerusalem

Caution                       He questioned his brothers,                     questions, and challenges our sincerity, count the cost

Communion                v. 11 – before Lord.                                   Constantly praying

Conciliatory                he is conciliatory toward Gilead,            Lord comes as a lamb offering repentance first, then He will come as

King of Ammon         an avenging God of wrath

Attitude                       brothers and Ammonites  (2)              Sends prophets

Counsel                       History and theology in vs. 15ff            Jesus counsels all who come to Him – He corrects

Consecration               v. 29 Holy Spirit fills Him,                  Jesus was consecrated to God every moment of His life

vows to God prior to battle

Conquest                     Conquerors Ammon                           Jesus conquered sin, devil, and death

Godly Children           Daughter submitted                            beautiful sons and daughters all over the world

Dear heavenly Father, we are constantly studying and reading Your Word.  We find ourselves confused by many of the characters in the Bible.  We struggle to put all the pieces together.  We need Your Spirit as we read the whole Bible and see Christ in both Old and New Testaments.  Keep us seeking, probing, questioning as we prayerfully read Your Word.  Thank you that You use broken, sinful people that also love You.  These are the only people You have to work with.  Thank You for our perfect Savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.