In the book of Ecclesiastes, the teacher wisely instructed his listeners,
“Do not be quick with your mouth, do not be hasty in your heart to utter anything before God. God is in heaven and you are on earth, so let your words be few” (Ecclesiastes 5:2).
Jephthah was a judge in Israel. Unfortunately for Jephthah and his daughter, the teacher didn’t write those words until long after this story in Judges. Jephthah lived during the time of Israel’s judges, an outcast among his own family because he was the son of a prostitute.
Still, he had the opportunity to make a name for himself when the leaders of Israel needed help fighting the Ammonites, who were oppressing them.
Jephthah agreed, but with the condition that he rule the people if he was victorious over the Ammonites. As he was preparing to battle the enemy—no doubt calculating the high stakes of the outcome—Jephthah made a rash vow to the Lord: He promised to sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house to greet him if he won.
Jephthah was indeed victorious over the Ammonites, but when he returned home, he was shocked to find his daughter, rather than some chicken or goat, running out to greet him first. So Jephthah offered his daughter as a sacrifice (Judges 11).
In another battle against some of his fellow Israelites, Jephthah and his men capitalized on a pronunciation difference between the Ephraimites and the Gileadites. Whenever a person wanted to cross one of Jephthah’s checkpoints, he would have to pronounce the word “Shibboleth.” An Ephraimite could be detected immediately, because he would be unable to pronounce the sh sound and would pronounce the word as “Sibboleth.”