Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah. Gilead’s wife bore sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out, and said to him, “You shall have no inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him. It came to pass after a time that the people of Ammon made war against Israel. And so it was, when the people of Ammon made war against Israel, that the elders of Gilead went to get Jephthah from the land of Tob. Then they said to Jephthah, “Come and be our commander, that we may fight against the people of Ammon.” So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me, and expel me from my father’s house? Why have you come to me now when you are in distress?” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “That is why we have turned again to you now, that you may go with us and fight against the people of Ammon, and be our head over all the inhabitants of Gilead.” So Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “If you take me back home to fight against the people of Ammon, and the Lord delivers them to me, shall I be your head?” And the elders of Gilead said to Jephthah, “The Lord will be a witness between us, if we do not do according to your words.” Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord in Mizpah. (Judges 11:1-11)
Jephthah The Gileadite
One of the striking lessons of scripture is the manner God uses all types of men to serve His purpose. The book of Judges is filled with unusual people who for various reasons became the deliverers of the people when they followed after idols disobeying the law of the Lord. Judges is about the vicious cycle of the land of Israel going from times of blessing to times of judgment and the deliverance through the hand of the Lord of the people from oppression. Jephthah is one of the heroes of the book and is notably remembered because of his rash vow concerning his daughter. He was a mighty man of valor and when delivering the Israelites from the oppression of the Ammonites made a very great slaughter defeating twenty cities of the king of Ammon. What may not be known is that his life began in a very challenging manner. His father Gilead conceived Jephthah by a prostitute. When Gilead’s wife bore sons they drove Jephthah out of the house as an illegitimate child born of a harlot. This would have caused Jephthah to feel a great deal of anger and hatred for those who would treat him in such a manner. It may have been the cause of his strength and courage to be a great warrior. The son of a harlot became the deliverer for Israel.
The king of Ammon made war with Israel and there was no man to lead the people of God against the Ammonites. Knowing the only man that could lead them into battle was the son of harlot, the elders of the people went to Jephthah begging him to be their commander. He reminded them how they had treated him with hatred and expelling him from their land because of his tainted birth. Now they needed his help and he wanted assurances he would be their leader. Not having any choice and accepting what they perceived as a shameful birth the elders promised Jephthah he would be their leader. The son of a harlot delivered the people and judged Israel for six years. God used Jephthah to carry out His will. It would have been very difficult for a man stained with his birth to live in a world where he was an outcast. God saw something in his heart that no man could see. Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord in Mizpah and believed in the power of the Lord God of Israel to deliver the people from the Ammonites as He had delivered Sidon and all his people into the hand of Israel. He may have been born of a harlot but the heart of Jephthah fully trusted in the power of the Lord. God used the spirit of Gilead’s son to leave a mark on the face of holy scrip.
Jephthah was the victim of a world he had no control. His birth by a harlot was not his to choose but he made something of his life in spite of what others thought of him. He was a servant of the Lord. Using his strength of character, spirit and warrior courage he is listed in the eternal annals of one of the great judges of God’s people. His rule was short but his legacy remains. The fickle nature of man is seen in the elders who drove the son of a harlot from their midst with great prejudice until they needed the same man to deliver them from oppression. It must have been incredibly hard for the elders to realize their only hope came from the son driven from their midst. Jephthah did not allow the hatred of others to keep him from doing God’s will. He could have refused to lead the people letting them suffer the consequences of their prejudices. What he did was believe in the power of God to accomplish His will through him so that God would be glorified. The oath he made concerning his daughter he held in high esteem to the Lord and he said, “I cannot go back on it.” He was a man of honor born in a dishonorable manner. Jephthah served the Lord without regard to the opinions of men.