Study 6 THE COMMITMENT OF FAITH – JEPHTHAH
MORE STUDIES IN HEBREWS 11
by Francis Dixon
Scripture References: Hebrews 11:32; Judges 11:1-40
Jephthah, mentioned next in Hebrews Eleven, and presented to us in Judges 11:1-40, is a strange character. His life was full of paradoxes, a mixture of vice and virtue, good and bad, triumph and disaster, the shedding of blood and the shedding of tears; but the principle of faith was at work in his life, and it is for this reason that he is mentioned in Hebrews Eleven. He was “a mighty warrior” (Judges 11:1), but he was an illegitimate child. This, of course, was not his fault, but in his case it proved to be a great handicap, for his family cast him out and disinherited him (verse 2). His was not the sin, but his was the shame. Here is a picture of social injustice, and it is still very prevalent today.
Branded as an outcast, there seemed only one thing for Jephthah to do – see verse 3; but unfortunately in taking this course he found himself associating with, and surrounded by, the wrong sort of ‘friends’, and he became a leader in vice – look up and compare Psalm 1:1 and Luke 15:13. What a testing time it is for young people when they leave home and go out into the world, and how essential it is that they go, not alone, but in the safe companionship of the Lord Jesus – look up Hebrews 13:5-6! Then, we are told, war threatened Israel and Jephthah (of all people) was sent for and commanded to lead the Israelites into battle – look up Judges 11:4-8. Jephthah agreed to be their captain (verses 8-11), and the closing phrase in verse 11 is the first indication we have of his faith in God. Please read on through the chapter, and particularly notice verses 30-31 and 34-40. The vow which Jephthah made was a definite act of commitment before the Lord, and it is about this that we are to think now.
1. Jephthah’s vow was a commitment of faith.
See what we read in verses 30 and 31 – “If you give…I will sacrifice…” It was certainly a very strange vow for a man to make, but surely in it we see an indication of Jephthah’s faith in God. It is as though he said, ‘Lord, I must have your help, and if you will help me and give victory over our enemies, then I promise you I will…’ Jephthah cast himself upon the providence of God. Maybe it was a rash vow that he made, but the point is he was willing to trust God, and it is this which was so precious to the Lord. The one thing that the Lord wants of His children is that they learn to trust Him, to “live by faith, not by sight” – look up 2 Corinthians 5:7.
2. Jephthah’s vow was solemn and binding.
It was made, as verse 30 tells us, “to the Lord”, and it is significant that in the previous verse we are told that “the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah” (verse 29). Did you ever realise that while we are not compelled to make vows, if we do so the Lord will hold us to our word? – look up Deuteronomy 23:21-23. We sometimes forget the vows we have made before the Lord, but God never forgets them, and it is for this reason that having made the vow we cannot go back! – see what verse 35 says.
3. Jephthah’s vow was made voluntarily.
There was no obligation for him to make the vow, for God had not demanded it. But having made it, it was now binding – look up Numbers 30:2. If we make a solemn promise before the Lord, unless our promise involves something which is altogether contrary to His will, we cannot go back. If we have committed ourselves to the Lord in some specific way, concerning some specific matter, we must seek grace to keep our word. Is the Holy Spirit reminding you of some vow you made to the Lord which still awaits fulfilment? There is a good bit of advice in John 2:5!
4. Jephthah’s vow was made at a time of crisis.
It was made on the eve of battle, as we learn from Judges 11:30-31. Most vows are made in a time when we are hard pressed and feel our desperate need of God’s help and deliverance. Look up the following references, and be sure to make the necessary spiritual application to your own life – Genesis 28:20-22; 1 Samuel 1:10-11; Psalm 66:13-14; Jonah 1:16 and 2:9. Did you make some vow when you were seriously ill, or when you were unemployed, or when you were in some other trouble? Have you fulfilled your vow?
5. Jephthah’s vow was shattering in its demands.
Read Judges 11:34-35 again and try to take in the whole situation. Surely this man must have been tempted to break his vow! We are not told that he was thus tempted, but could it have been otherwise? Do you think that Matthew 10:37-38 fits in rather appropriately just here? It may be that you have been tested along this line? If so, seek grace to honour the Lord, and He will surely honour you – look up 1 Samuel 2:30.
6. Jephthah’s vow involved another life.
Yes, and what a truly noble life it was! How wonderfully Jephthah’s daughter responded to this new and terrible situation, as we learn from verse 36! Another beautiful illustration of perfect submission is found in Luke 1:38, and yet another outstanding example is found in 1 Samuel 3:18!
7. Jephthah’s vow was fully performed.
We do not know whether his daughter was actually offered as a burnt offering or whether she was simply devoted to a life of perpetual virginity, which was a tragic fate, for every Jewish girl hoped she would be the mother of the Messiah. What we do know is that whatever Jephthah intended when he made the vow, he performed it to the very letter.
We cannot conclude this study in a better way than by joining Judges 11:35 with Luke 9:62
“I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break”; for, “No-one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”