The book of Judges shows the tendency of God’s people to adopt the ways of the world about them rather than live holy lives. As the book opens, the tribe of Judah conquers Adoni-Bezek, a pagan king, cutting off his fingers as toes just as he had done to those he conquered. Though Gideon refuses to supplant God by becoming Israel’s king, he doesn’t mind making himself rich at Israel’s expense and erecting what becomes an idol to celebrate his God-given victories. He gathered many wives to himself — an act forbidden to Israel’s leaders, and if that weren’t enough, took concubines as well. One of those sons also became a judge and murdered his brothers. Jair had thirty sons, all of whom served as minor kings in their cities. Jephthah, the ninth judge was the child of a prostitute and offers his daughter in sacrifice to God in return for His victory over his Ammonite enemies. By the end of his rule, the Israelites not only have suffered under the oppression of foreign enemies, but under the oppression of one another too.
In the case of Jephthah, we might well ask whether he found himself in a catch-22 situation. After all, he had promised to sacrifice whatever came from his home to welcome him if God granted the victory. Since his daughter was the one who came, didn’t he have to sacrifice her?
Jephtha should never have made such a rash vow, but had he known the law of God, he would have known that he could have redeemed her by simply paying thirty shekels (Leviticus 37:4). Daniel Bock observes: “Here was a man who overcame the abuses of his own past to become the foremost military general in his time and the ruler of the Transjordanian tribes. With the eventual support of his countryfolk and empowered by the spirit of God, he possessed tremendous potential for greatness. Tragically and ironically the man whose basic gift was facility with words falls prey to his own foolish utterance.” James was right: The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole person, sets the whole course of his life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell” (James 3:6).