“Be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.”—HEB. 6:12.
1, 2. What challenge did Jephthah and his daughter face?
THE anxious wait is over. Relieved to see her father returning safely from battle, the young woman races to greet him and rejoices over his astounding victory. Instead of joining her in song and dance, he rips apart his battle-stained garments and cries out: “Oh no, my daughter! You have broken my heart.” Then he utters the words that change her life forever, shattering her dreams and hopes of a normal life. Yet, without hesitation, she makes a beautiful reply, encouraging her father to follow through on what he promised Jehovah. Her words reveal her great faith. She trusts that whatever Jehovah asks is best for her. (Judg. 11:34-37) Her father’s heart swells with pride because he knows that his daughter’s willingness to support his decision brings Jehovah’s smile of approval.
2 Jephthah and his God-fearing daughter put their trust and confidence in Jehovah’s way of doing things, even when it was hard to do so. They were convinced that gaining God’s approval was worth any sacrifice.
3. Why can the example of Jephthah and his daughter be helpful for us today?
3 We know that it is not always easy to stay faithful to Jehovah. The reality is that we need to “put up a hard fight for the faith.” (Jude 3) To help us do so, let us consider the challenges that Jephthah and his daughter successfully coped with. How did they remain faithful to Jehovah?
STAYING FAITHFUL DESPITE WORLDLY INFLUENCES
4, 5. (a) What command did Jehovah give the Israelites when they entered the Promised Land? (b) According to Psalm 106, what happened to the Israelites because of their disobedience?
4 Every day, Jephthah and his daughter would have been reminded of the disastrous consequences of unfaithfulness to Jehovah. Nearly 300 years earlier, their forefathers had been commanded to exterminate all the pagan inhabitants in the Promised Land. (Deut. 7:1-4) The Israelites’ failure to obey led many of them to adopt the sinful ways of the Canaanites, causing them to become ensnared by false gods and degenerate, immoral practices.—Read Psalm 106:34-39.
5 That rebellion, in turn, brought Jehovah’s disapproval; he no longer granted them his protective care. (Judg. 2:1-3, 11-15; Ps. 106:40-43) What a challenge it must have been for God-fearing families to remain loyal to Jehovah during those hard years! Nevertheless, the Bible reveals that there were faithful ones, such as Jephthah and his daughter as well as Elkanah, Hannah, and Samuel, who were determined to gain God’s approval.—1 Sam. 1:20-28; 2:26.
6. What worldly influences exist today, and what must we do?
6 We live in a world where people think and act in ways that are similar to those in ancient Canaan—they glorify sex and violence and promote materialism. Jehovah has given us clear warnings—just as he did the Israelites—to safeguard us from such influences. Will we learn from the mistakes of the Israelites? (1 Cor. 10:6-11) We must strive to remove any trace of Canaanitelike thinking from our lives. (Rom. 12:2) Have we been faithful in making an effort to do so?
REMAINING FAITHFUL DESPITE DISAPPOINTMENTS
7. (a) What did Jephthah’s own people do to him? (b) How did Jephthah react?
7 In Jephthah’s day, the disobedience of the Israelites resulted in their becoming enslaved to the Philistines and the Ammonites. (Judg. 10:7, 8) However, Jephthah’s challenges came not only from the enemy nations but also from his own brothers and the leaders of Israel. Jealousy and hatred moved his half brothers to drive him away, illegally depriving him of his rightful inheritance as firstborn. (Judg. 11:1-3) Jephthah refused to allow their cruel behavior to control his attitude. Instead of spitefully ignoring a plea for help from the elders of the nation, he came to their aid. (Judg. 11:4-11) What may have motivated Jephthah to react as a spiritual man?
8, 9. (a) What principles in the Mosaic Law may have helped Jephthah? (b) What was of greatest importance to Jephthah?
8 Not only was Jephthah a mighty warrior but he was a student of God’s dealings with His people. Jephthah’s thorough grasp of Israel’s history gave him a clear picture of what was right and what was wrong in Jehovah’s eyes. (Judg. 11:12-27) Godly principles that were embedded in the Mosaic Law molded Jephthah’s thinking as well as his heart. He knew that Jehovah disapproved of holding grudges; rather, God required that His people love one another. The Law also taught that a person must not ignore the needs of others, even of someone who “hates” him.—Read Exodus 23:5; Leviticus 19:17, 18.
9 Examples of faithful ones like Joseph, who showed mercy to his brothers—even though “they began to hate him”—may also have influenced Jephthah’s response. (Gen. 37:4; 45:4, 5) Meditating on such examples would have helped Jephthah to choose a course of action that was pleasing to Jehovah. The conduct of his brothers no doubt hurt him deeply, but he would not hold back from serving Jehovah and His people. (Judg. 11:9) The fight to defend Jehovah’s name was more important to Jephthah than any personal conflicts. He was determined to be faithful to Jehovah, resulting in good for himself and for others.—Heb. 11:32, 33.
10. How can we allow divine principles to help us act as Christians today?
10 Will we allow Jephthah’s example to touch our hearts? Perhaps we have experienced disappointment or ill-treatment from certain Christian brothers. If so, we should not allow such challenges to hold us back from attending Christian meetings or serving Jehovah and being with the congregation to the full. In imitation of Jephthah, we too can allow divine standards to help us overcome negative circumstances and continue to be a force for good.—Rom. 12:20, 21; Col. 3:13.
WILLING SACRIFICES REVEAL OUR FAITH
11, 12. What vow did Jephthah make, and what did this involve?
11 Jephthah realized that he would need God’s help to free Israel from the Ammonites. He promised Jehovah that if He gave him the victory, he would offer to Jehovah, as “a burnt offering,” the first one who came out of his house when he returned home from the battle. (Judg. 11:30, 31) What did that offering involve?
12 The sacrificing of humans is something detestable to Jehovah. Thus, it is clear that Jephthah did not intend to sacrifice anyone literally. (Deut. 18:9, 10) Under the Mosaic Law, a burnt offering was given entirely to Jehovah, so Jephthah evidently meant that he would devote the person to the exclusive service of God. This promise implied permanent service at the tabernacle. Jehovah accepted Jephthah’s terms and blessed him with a resounding victory, striking and subduing the enemy. (Judg. 11:32, 33) But who would be the person given as “a burnt offering” to God?
13, 14. What do Jephthah’s words recorded at Judges 11:35 reveal about his faith?
13 Recall the scene described at the beginning of this article. When Jephthah returns from battle, who goes out to meet him but his beloved daughter, his only child! Now comes the test. Will he keep his word and give over his daughter so that she could serve at the tabernacle for the rest of her life?
14 Again, divine principles must have guided Jephthah to make the right choice. Perhaps he recalled the words of Exodus 23:19, which instructed God’s people to be willing to give their best to Jehovah. The Law also indicated that once a man made a vow, fulfillment was compulsory. It states: “If a man makes a vow to Jehovah . . . , he must not violate his word. He should do everything he vowed he would do.” (Num. 30:2) Like faithful Hannah, who was probably a contemporary of his, Jephthah would be called on to live up to his vow, knowing what it meant for his own future and that of his daughter. He had no other child; his daughter was his only hope for a descendant, someone to carry on his name and his inheritance in Israel. (Judg. 11:34) Nevertheless, Judges 11:35 concludes with Jephthah saying: “I have opened my mouth to Jehovah, and I am unable to turn back.” His faithfulness even at great personal cost brought him God’s approval and blessing. Would you have made the same choice?
15. What vow have many of us made, and how can we prove faithful?
15 When we dedicated our lives to Jehovah, we vowed that we would do his will unreservedly. We knew that living up to that promise would require self-sacrifice. However, our willingness is especially put to the test when we are asked to do things that are not initially to our liking. When we make such sacrifices and serve God in a way that takes us out of our comfort zone, we prove ourselves faithful. The resulting blessings are always far greater than any sacrifices we may make, painful as they may be. (Mal. 3:10) But what about Jephthah’s daughter?
16. How did Jephthah’s daughter react to her father’s promise? (See opening picture.)
16 It could not have been easy for Jephthah’s daughter to accept the consequences of her father’s vow. This was different from Hannah’s vow, by which she dedicated her son Samuel to serve at the tabernacle as a Nazirite. (1 Sam. 1:11) A Nazirite was able to marry and have a family. But Jephthah’s daughter was to be a whole “burnt offering”; she would have to forgo such joys. (Judg. 11:37-40) As the daughter of the victorious chief and leader in Israel, she might have been given in marriage to the best man in the land. But now she was to become a humble servant at the tabernacle. How did the young woman respond? She showed that she put Jehovah’s service first by saying: “My father, if you have opened your mouth to Jehovah, do to me as you have promised.” (Judg. 11:36) She sacrificed her natural desires for a husband and children in order to promote true worship. How might we imitate her self-sacrificing attitude?
17. (a) How can we imitate the faith of Jephthah and his daughter? (b) How do the words at Hebrews 6:10-12 encourage you to be self-sacrificing?
17 Thousands of young Christian men and women are willingly sacrificing marriage or are not having children—at least for now—in order to serve Jehovah to the full. Older ones too may be sacrificing the time they could otherwise spend with their children and grandchildren in order to work on theocratic construction projects or to attend the School for Kingdom Evangelizers and to serve in areas where the need for Kingdom publishers is greater. Others set aside personal matters to share in service campaigns during the Memorial season. Such wholehearted service brings deep joy to Jehovah, who will never forget their work and the love shown for him. (Read Hebrews 6:10-12.) Would it be possible for you to make additional sacrifices to serve Jehovah more fully?
18, 19. What have we learned from the Bible account about Jephthah and his daughter, and how can we imitate them?
18 Although Jephthah’s life was full of challenges, he allowed Jehovah’s thinking to guide his choices in life. He rejected the influences of the world around him. Bitter disappointments caused by others failed to weaken his determination to remain faithful. His willing sacrifices and those of his daughter led to blessings, as Jehovah used both of them to promote pure worship. At a time when others abandoned divine standards, Jephthah and his daughter clung to them.
19 The Bible urges us to “be imitators of those who through faith and patience inherit the promises.” (Heb. 6:12) May we be like Jephthah and his daughter by living in harmony with a fundamental truth that their lives highlight: Faithfulness leads to God’s approval.