Jephthah, Jephthae [Jĕph'thah,Jĕph'tha ē]—he doth open or set free. A Gileadite, illegitimate child expelled by his brother from the paternal abode. He became a Judge in Israel and delivered the people from the Ammonites. He judged Israel for six years (Judg. 11; Heb. 11:32).
While Jephthah is described as a “mighty man of valour” and one upon whom “the Spirit of the Lord” descended, he is conspicuous as a man who in all sincerity made a rash vow. He vowed a vow to be fulfilled if the Lord would deliver the Ammonites to him. As a thanksgiving to God, he said he would offer up whatever came out of his house at his return from battle. Jephthah defeated the Ammonites, and on his return, his daughter, an only child, came out to meet him. He told her of his vow and declared he could not go back upon his word. The daughter begged for two months'respite in order to go away and bewail her virginity. On her return, her father fulfilled the vow.
In those twilight, uncivilized times there was the practice of the sacrifice of human beings at times of special stress, but whether Jephthah offered up his daughter as a human sacrifice or surrendered her to perpetual virginity in fulfillment of his vow may be debatable. We do know that it was the custom for the daughters of Israel to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite for four days every year. And we can imagine how they would return softened, sobered and sanctified as the result of their act of remembrance.
For the preacher these aspects can be developed: Jephthah was an outcast (Judg. 11:1, 2); rose to leadership (Judg. 11:4-10); was moved by the Spirit (Judg. 11:29); made a rash vow (Judg. 11:30, 31); saved Israel from his foes (Judg. 11:33); kept his vow (Judg. 11:39).