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After the death of Jair, Israel again “did evil in the sight of the Lord” (Judges 10:6), by following the gods of the surrounding nations—including the gods of the Philistines and the Ammonites. So God “sold them into the hands of the Philistines and into the hands of the sons of Ammon” (Judges 10:7).
The Philistines assaulted Israel from the west, and the Ammonites from the east beyond the Jordan River. This captivity lasted eighteen years (Judges 10:8), and then Jephthah was raised up to deliver them.
When the Israelites complained to the Lord about their oppression, He told them in Judges 10:14,
14 Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress.
The people knew that the gods of Ammon and the Philistines would never deliver them. After all, the Ammonites and Philistines were the “chosen people” of those gods. If those gods had any power, would those gods work against the interests of their chosen ones?
The people knew, of course, that they would only be enslaved more rigorously if they increased their devotion to those false gods. So Judges 10:15 says,
15 And the sons of Israel said to the Lord, “We have sinned, do to us whatever seems good to Thee; only please deliver us this day.” 16 So they put away the foreign gods from among them, and served the Lord; and He could bear the misery of Israel no longer.
When word of Israel’s revolt reached the ears of the Ammonite king, he gathered an army and marched to Mizpah in Gilead to put down the revolt. The Israelites then had to decide who to choose as a general to lead them in battle (Judges 10:17, 18).
Like Jair in the previous generation, Jephthah was from Gilead. In fact, his father was named Gilead, no doubt a common name on account of their ancestor, the patriarch of that family. There was just one big problem—Jephthah’s social status. Judges 11:1 says,
1 Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a valiant warrior, but he was the son of a harlot. And Gilead was the father of Jephthah.
In other words, Jephthah’s father, Gilead, had a moral problem. We are not told the extent of Gilead’s lawlessness, but the underlying implication here is that he represented the lawless condition of his generation. In other words, his tribe, Manasseh, had forgotten the true God in favor of false gods who set forth their own laws and standards of morality (or immorality).
Because the nation of Ammon itself was founded by incest through Lot and his daughter, the tribe of Manasseh had put itself under that same curse by worshiping the gods of the Ammonites.
The main god of Ammon was Moloch, to whom men sacrificed infants to be eaten by their priests.
The family of Gilead were quite religious, nonetheless. The religious spirit inevitably follows the traditions of men, attempting to change impure hearts by the power of flesh. As we see in the New Testament, the traditions of men attempt to follow the law without truly understanding the spirit of the law—the intent of the Lawgiver. Such fleshly religion tries to enforce morality by law enforcement rather than having God change hearts from the inside by the power of the Holy Spirit. Failings and lapses in morality usually then bring judgment without mercy.
In the case of Jephthah, we read in Judges 11:2 and 3,
2 And Gilead’s wife bore him sons; and when his wife’s sons grew up, they drove Jephthah out and said to him, “You shall not have an inheritance in our father’s house, for you are the son of another woman.” 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob; and worthless fellows gathered themselves about Jephthah, and they went out with him.
It appears that Jephthah was the oldest son of Gilead. When he later begat legitimate children, they were fearful that their older illegitimate half-brother might claim the family inheritance on the grounds that he was the oldest son. So they drove him away, and he fled to Tob, “fruitful land,” east of Syria in the land of Haran, where Abraham’s relatives had settled.
Nothing is said about their treatment of Jephthah’s mother, the harlot, but we may assume that she was not treated well, nor did she live in Gilead’s house.
Jephthah, however, was also a “valiant warrior,” and when the Israelites needed a capable general to lead them in battle against the Ammonites, they realized that they needed his help. Jephthah’s half-brothers probably objected to this, but there was no better military leader than Jephthah. When they sent for Jephthah, he did not immediately accept their offer. Judges 11:7 says,
7 Then Jephthah said to the elders of Gilead, “Did you not hate me and drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?”
Jephthah then made a deal with the men of Gilead. If they would agree to make him their Judge (after winning their independence, of course), then he would lead them in battle. The Israelites agreed to this, and so Jephthah returned to Gilead—specifically to the army base at Mizpah (Judges 10:17).
Mizpah was the place where Jacob and his uncle Laban had made a covenant of peace (Gen. 31:48-53) while Jacob was returning to the land of Canaan. Recall that Jacob had to flee to Haran after being threatened by his brother Esau. This forms the backdrop of the story of Jephthah, who too had to flee to Haran after being threatened by his brothers. Likewise, Mizpah once again became the scene of a covenant or agreement, where the parties called upon God as their witness.
There seems to be a direct parallel also between God’s first response to the Israelites’ plea for divine help and Jephthah’s first response to their plea for military help. God had questioned their sincerity, saying, “Go and cry out to the gods which you have chosen; let them deliver you in the time of your distress” (Judges 10:14). Now Jephthah questioned them in the same manner, saying, “Did you not drive me from my father’s house? So why have you come to me now when you are in trouble?” (Judges 11:7).
The implication is that the Israelites had wronged Jephthah even as they had wronged God Himself. They had rejected both God and Jephthah, and yet now they wanted their help. First God made a deal with them, telling them in essence: I will help you if you make Me your Head. Then Jephthah made the same deal with them. In that manner, Jephthah was a type of Christ.
He then established his house in Mizpah and brought his wife and daughter to live there.
After negotiations broke down with the Ammonites, we read in Judges 11:29,
29 Now the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, so that he passed through Gilead and Manasseh; then he passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from Mizpah of Gilead he went on to the sons of Ammon.
There were many places called Mizpah, and the term Mizpah of Gilead appears to make it clear that it was not the same Mizpah where the Israelite army had gathered earlier. (In 1 Sam. 22:3 we read of Mizpah of Moab, which was still another Mizpah.)
Before the battle with the Ammonites, Jephthah made a rash vow, which later came back to haunt him. Judges 11:30, 31 says,
30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If Thou wilt indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, 31 then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”
The Lord did indeed give Jephthah victory over the Ammonites. Then Judges 11:34, 35 says,
34 When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, behold, his daughter was coming out to meet him with tambourines and with dancing. Now she was his one and only child; besides her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 And it came about when he saw her, that he tore his clothes and said, “Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are among those who trouble me; for I have given my word to the Lord, and I cannot take it back.”
Jephthah did not actually offer her up to God as a burnt offering but gave her to the tabernacle to serve God as a perpetual virgin. He gave her two months to return to her friends (in Tob) to mourn the fact that she would never be married, that is, to “weep because of my virginity.” Note that she did not weep for her life but for her virginity. Verses 39, 40 conclude, saying,
39 And it came about at the end of two months that she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, 40 that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year.
Nothing is said about her becoming a literal burnt offering. In fact, such an offering would have been unacceptable to God. Christ alone could fulfill the prophecy inherent in all of the sacrifices, including the burnt offerings. Even Christ Himself did not have to be a literal burnt offering to fulfill that prophetic type. He was crucified, not burnt. The fire in the law represented the judgment of the “fiery law” (Deut. 33:2, KJV), not “hell” that many envision.
The prophetic meaning of this rash vow, in fact, points to the Church itself and is a lesson to all of us to be careful what we vow. When the Church met in various Councils to vote on doctrinal disputes, their decisions essentially took the form of vows to enforce their creeds. This led ultimately to the Church burning people at the stake for “heresy,” turning them into burnt offerings which they thought were acceptable to the Lord.
They did not realize that such human sacrifice was always an abomination to God.
After the Ammonites were defeated, the men of Ephraim came with an army to Jephthah, for they were offended that they had not been invited to fight in the battle. They even threatened him, saying, “We will burn your house down on you” (Judges 12:1). Jephthah told them that he had called to them for help, but because of the Ammonite threat, they were forced to fight the battle before the Ephraimites could arrive.
The men of Ephraim were not appeased by his explanation, so a battle erupted, where 42,000 Ephraimites were killed (Judges 12:6).
The prophetic meaning of this appears to be an extension of the problem of Jephthah’s daughter, who was to be a “burnt offering” as well. I take it as a prophetic warning to the Church about their unjust doctrine of hell-fire and their practice of human sacrifice. Everyone was quick to consign people to a fiery judgment.
In this case, 42,000 Ephraimites were killed, which (to me) suggests the duration of the final age of judgment. The Great White Throne judgment comes at the end of 7,000 years of Adamic history, leaving another 42,000 years (or six “weeks”) until the Creation Jubilee after a total of 49,000 years.
Likewise, 42 is a number associated with tribulation, as we see in Rev. 13:5. This number is based upon “the time of Jacob’s distress” (Jer. 30:7), because Jacob himself experienced two times of distress, each lasting 21 years, for a total of 42 years.
See my book, Secrets of Time, chapter 14 for more details.
Jephthah had an illegitimate birth but was a Judge who delivered Israel. As such, he was unique and provides an interesting prophetic picture as set forth in the message of the Judges’ names. His name, Jephthah, means “He will open,” or “he opens.”
In the sequence of names, we find his name signifying the opening of the Ark.
“The voice of God united in His sons (in an orderly manner that is subject to God’s Word) will fell the enemy by the power of the blood of Christ and by the light of transfiguration and will open the Ark to show forth the light of the Sun.”
One had to be qualified to open the Ark, because anyone who touched it might be killed (by electrocution). A man named Uzzah made the mistake of touching the Ark and died as a result (2 Sam. 6:6, 7). Likewise, the men of Beth-shemesh opened the Ark when the Philistines sent it back to Israel (1 Sam. 6:19). We will have more to say about that story later for the Ark of the Covenant was the final Judge that delivered Israel in the sequence of the Judges.
In those days, the Ark was not to be approached except by authorized priests. In the tabernacle of Moses and later in the temple of Solomon, the high priest had access to the Ark only once a year, and it was doubtful if even he dared to touch the Ark.
The fact that the men of Beth-shemesh opened the Ark and were killed relates directly to the story of Jephthah. 1 Sam. 6:13 tells us that the Ark was returned at the time of wheat harvest (i.e., Pentecost). Hence, it is a Pentecostal story, and the men of Beth-shemesh played a prophetic role as Pentecostals. Pentecostals are not yet qualified to open the Ark, for Pentecost is only the training ground for imperfect people, and for this reason it was established as a leavened feast (Lev. 23:17). Only the overcomers who have experienced the fullness of the Spirit and the enlightenment through Tabernacles may open the Ark.
The parallel, then, is between Jephthah and the men of Beth-shemesh. Jephthah was illegitimate, the son of a harlot, and the men of Beth-shemesh were acting as illegitimate priests by opening the Ark. The lesson is that the full presence of the glory of God cannot be “touched” through the feast of Pentecost but only through the feast of Tabernacles. Anything less than Tabernacles is spiritually “illegitimate.”
In the broader prophecy in the Judges’ names, the procedure is given in the rest of the sequence showing how the Ark may indeed be opened. It starts with the blood of Jesus, which established the first work of Christ (Passover and Pentecost). When this work is completed in us, we will be transfigured and come into the light and glory of the feast of Tabernacles. Those who follow this sequence will indeed “open” the Ark and live to tell about it.