“Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, …he advanced toward the people of Ammon. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, ‘If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.’” Was this vow necessary for the Lord to work on Israel’s behalf? No. I’m not sure what Jephthah was expecting to run out of that house when he returned home after the Lord gave him victory, but it was his daughter, his only child, who was playing music and dancing.
We read in Numbers 30:2 – “If a man vows a vow to the Lord… he shall not break his word.” Jephthah does not break his word – “he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.” Some commentators debate whether she was offered as a burnt offering since this would go against the Lord’s teaching in Leviticus 20:1-5 about not offering human sacrifices. They debate that she could have been sent to the tabernacle as a servant of the Lord for life since she went away two months with her friends to mourn her virginity and not her death. Regardless, this story teaches us the importance of not making hasty and foolish vows. The story of Jephthah’s vow becomes so popular with the Israelites that “it became a custom in Israel that the daughters of Israel went four days each year to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.”
After the victory over the people of Ammon, the prideful men of Ephraim confront Jephthah in the same way they confronted Gideon. Once again they are upset that they weren’t also asked to fight – “Why did you cross over to fight against the people of Ammon, and did not call us to go with you? We will burn your house down on you with fire!” This results in a battle between the men of Ephraim and the men of Gilead, with Gilead defeating Ephraim. Jephthah judges Israel for six years before he dies.
After several more sin cycles and judges, “again the children of Israel did evil in the sight of the Lord, and the Lord delivered them into the hand of the Philistines for forty years.” This is when we meet Samson. Israel was being oppressed by the Philistines, and the Lord appears to a barren woman, the wife of Manoah, and tells her she is going to have a child, and “the child shall be a Nazirite to God from the womb; and he shall begin to deliver Israel out of the hand of the Philistines.” Samson grows up into a sinful, fleshly driven man who does not have much regard for the Nazirite lifestyle. However, the Lord will send His spirit upon Samson and use him mightily to accomplish His purposes against the pagan Philistines.
When Samson goes to Timnah, he sees a Philistine woman that he desires to marry. However, his parents don’t want him marrying a Philistine as this would go against the Lord’s teaching. Samson’s parents are not aware of the fact that the Lord is working behind the scenes to use the union to make a move against the Philistines; and what a move He makes! The wedding festivities are wild! Samson ends up killing thirty men to honor a bet he made with some of the male wedding attendants. Then his wife is given to his companion to marry. Out of anger, Samson burns the Philistines fields with torches tied to fox tails. Then the Philistines burn Samson’s wife and her dad. “So he attacked them hip and thigh with a great slaughter; then he went down and dwelt in the cleft of the rock of Etam.”
The tribe of Judah takes three thousand men to the cave where Sampson is staying. They tie Samson securely with ropes and hand him over to the Philistines to avoid trouble. “Then the Spirit of the Lord came mightily upon him; and the ropes that were on his arms became like flax that is burned with fire, and his bonds broke loose from his hands. He found a fresh jawbone of a donkey, reached out his hand and took it, and killed a thousand men with it.”
The Lord is using Samson to carry out His judgment against the Philistines. However, there are always consequences to living a sinful and flesh driven life, as we will see with Samson. Tomorrow Samson falls for another pagan woman, which will lead to his downfall. Keep reading. (Judges 11:29-15:20)