It’s Unwise to make vows when you’re in Trouble

Judges 11


Jerry A Collins



v     Can God use us in spite of our unfortunate backgrounds?

v     How should we handle threats and accusations?

v     Is it a wise thing to make a vow to God?

Whether you verbalize it or not, you might believe that your background or personality or upbringing or family ties or physique or connections or talent or level of intelligence or age may be a handicap that holds you back from being used by God. Nothing could be further from the truth. You may have some unfortunate situations you had nothing to do with that you believe hold back so that God cannot use you or He may not be inclined to involve you in any substantial way for the work of the Kingdom. I want you to know that that is not true. If God is sovereign then He is also sovereign over our situations and instead of believing they hold you back, understand that they are designed to allow you to uniquely contribute to God’s work. A man like Jephthah could have believe the same about himself, but in spite of his background, in spite of the decisions of others designed to hold him back, he actually had an opportunity to make a difference for the work of God in Israel.


Jeph’s Background: The writer wants us to be clear on Jeph’s background. (1) He is from Gilead. That is the territory NE of the Jordan River. This is significant because the Ammonites in 10:8 had been crushing this territory for 18 yrs making life miserable for it’s inhabitants. (2) He is a valiant warrior and this is what apparently makes him attractive to the inhabitants of Gilead. (3) He was half-Canaanite and illegitimate son, which made life hard for him, as we will see. (4) His father was Gilead (Num 26:28) probably in line of the namesake of the territory of Gilead so associated with prominent clan. (5) His brothers ran him out of the house and family and he fled with no inheritance but with his life as an outcast. (6) Worthless adventurers gathered around him possibly with his reputation as a mighty warrior. (7) They went out with him most likely on exploits of some kind up in the area of Tob where he resided. Interesting to compare him to Abemilech. Abemilech was Gideon’s son of a concubine so also illegitimate 8:31. He hired worthless men to serve him 9:4. He killed his brothers—70 of them. He forced the people to make him king while Jeph was asked. God sent an evil spirit to him while the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jeph. Abim’s background was used for revenge & personal acclaim. Jeph’s background did not disqualify him from use by God.

Jeph’s Opportunity:The Ammonintes

were thrashing the Gileadites for years (10:8). The elders of Gilead wanted to make Jeph general of an army vs 6. His answer in interesting in vs 7—actually his brothers did that but apparently the elders were involved somehow. Either they did nothing to help him or an appeal to these elders was rejected agreeing instead with his brothers, which was the cause of his flight to Tob. They ignore his question vs 8 and up the ante from general to civil leader of the people. So Jeph says Now let me get this right—you’re saying vs 9. The elders agreed even making God a witness with a solemn oath vs 10. Then a formal ceremony followed vs 11 and all was done before the Lord. No coup. No murders. No money. Your history can be used to get your way or accepted for what it is and then be used in service to the Lord as opportunity comes. You choose. 


So what should we do when we face threats and accusations? The Ammonites message was that Israel give back land they had taken from Ammon years ago and there would be peace. Jeph as the leader attempts diplomacy as a response to threat and accusations. His excellent argument is this:

(1) Israel took the land of the Amorites not the Ammonites. Israel would not have taken Ammonite land because God via Moses forbid them to do that. This was because they were descendents of Lot (Deut 2:19) vs 12-18. (2) What right do you have to this land? It was never yours in the first place. It belonged to the Amorites who we defeated after attacking us. Israel had even stopped short of taking land from the Ammonites during this time (Num 21:23-24) vs 22. You have land—stick with that vs 19-24. (3) Surrounding nations have never questioned Israel’s right to the Amorite land including the king of Moab your neighbor vs 25. (4) Israel lived in this territory 300 years and you have never disputed this right before vs 26. (5) Conclusion: 1. He denied any wrongdoing. 2. He made clear they were in the wrong. 3. The Lord will make judgment about this vs 27. Naturally, the Ammonites rejected this reasoning without  any kind of a reasonable answer to it. It is the way people respond when they want to do what they are doing even if it does not make logical sense. It’s like negotiating with a Muslim extremist terrorist. It may be the right thing to do but that does not mean it will work or reasoning with someone who is having an extra marital affair.


A vow is made: We have the only direct statement of God’s intervention in this whole campaign in vs 29. He makes a vow vs 30-31 and he did it after the Spirit of God came upon him. OT leaders received HS for purpose of accomplishing service for God—not specifically for holy living as indwelling today. So presence of the Spirit not related to the vow or its fulfillment. He says if God gives him victory whatever comes out of his door at house or tent in Mizpah, he will give to God.

Battle Ensues: With negotiations broken down, armed conflict ensued 32-34. Jeph crossed into Ammonite territory destroying 20 cities with a tremendous defeat humiliating them. Returning home, his only daughter came out jubilant and celebrating his victory vs 34. The writer wants us to know that she was his only child. He was devastated but committed to keeping his vow to God vs 35. She was willing to fulfill this vow and had no relations with a man—meaning he had no posterity—no descendents. Why make such a stupid vow if you only have one child who is likely to come out of that door? He had pagan background as half-Canaanite and they practiced child-sacrifice so is possible. However;

(1) Mosaic Law prohibits human sacrifice (Lev 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut 12:31; 18:10). (2) Sacrifices had to be carried out at tabernacle by Levite Priest who because of the Law could not do this. (3) Human sacrifice unheard of in Israel until reign of Ahab (2 Kgs 16 & 21). (4) Seems this would be out of step with Jeph’s dedication to God. (5) Vs 37 & 39 sound like her sacrifice was to remain a virgin and this is what she was mourning not death. Burnt offering figure for sacrifice to God in this case daughters virginity.

1. Jesus says do not make vows to God. It is evil to do so Mt 5:33-37.

2. Vows are evil because you cannot control future circumstances making them subject to chance and the unknown and your unable to keep it.

3. Vows can be an indication of spiritual weakness where you are unwilling to accept a situation with faith in God.

4. Living our lives in a fallen and cursed world makes it unwise to live from vow to vow instead of trust in God who works thru our situations.