Israel had a couple of judges and some time of uneventful peace in their lands after the death of Abimelech, but like clockwork they fell back into idolatry. As if that weren’t bad enough, the Baals that they worshiped were Canaanite gods who almost always were worshipped through cultic prostitution and child sacrifice. So in worshiping these Canaanite gods they were managing to violate three of the principles that were given some of the sternest warnings and harshest punishments under the old covenant.
This time God gives them over and allows them to be oppressed by their enemies and won’t answer their prayer for deliverance, because sometimes that’s the kind of tough love that is needed to bring someone to actually repent and turn from their sins.
The story turns to a man named Jephthah from Gilead. He was the son of a prominent man, but his mother was a harlot, so when he got older he was thrown out and dispossessed by his family and the town he lived in. He went off into the wilderness and became a raider, who must’ve gained a bit of notoriety for his fighting abilities, because when push came to shove the people of Gilead come to him for his help. The beg him to return and fight for them, and they’ll make him the leader of all of the area east of the Jordan.
He had a little bit of resentment to them, but this was his ticket in from out in the cold and he took it. When he got there he immediately sent a messenger to the king of the Ammonites asking why he was preparing for war against Israel. And when the king replied it was over stolen lands, Jephthah gives him a history lesson on how they tried to pass through peaceably but were attacked and so the God of Abraham dispossessed the Ammonites and gave the land to Israel, and also it’s been three hundred years so the statute of limitations was well past.
The battle is set, and on his way out he makes a very rash promise to God, that he would sacrifice whoever came out to greet him when he returned home after his victory. Human sacrifice was never condoned by God, and was one of the most grave offenses possible. So this shows the pagan influence on Jephthah from years living in the land of Tob, and the idolatry that permeated Israel and caused this mess in the first place. He may have been a monotheistic worshipper of YHWH, but the promise of human sacrifice was misguided at best and a sign of his polytheism at worst.
He is eventually victorious and when he returns home the first person to greet him is his daughter, and she’s his only child. This turn of events is meant to show that we shouldn’t make promises like this, and think things over before committing to them. There’s a split in opinions over the fate of his daughter. Some think he went through with the sacrifice and burned his daughter. I find this very unlikely because there’s no note from the writer saying how evil this was, and no indication from God that his sacrifice was rejected like the sacrifice of Cain.
There’s also the opinion that she was dedicated as a virgin in some sort of consecrated role. Either in the tabernacle or just at home, but that her prospects for marriage were sacrificed. This option makes more sense to me because of the mention of virginity and the lack of condemnation for her death.
This chapter opens with the Jerusalem religious leaders questioning Jesus and asking by who’s authority was he teaching and preaching. But because of who he is, Jesus owes them no explanation, just like Job knew that God didn’t owe him an explanation for what was happening to him. Jesus flips it around on them and traps them in a rhetorical device much like they often tried to use on him, and when they failed to answer he refused to answer them too.
Jesus then tells the crowd the parable of the wicked tenants. The vineyard is Israel in general and the city of Jerusalem specifically, the tenants are the people of the old covenant in general and the priestly class in specific. They are tending the old covenant on behalf of God who is the owner of the vineyard, but when he sent prophets to tell them the way they were often abused and sometimes killed, all the way up to the final prophet of the Old Testament, John the Baptist. And now the heir is being rejected, and will be killed outside the vineyard, just as Jesus will be killed outside the walls of the city, and so the owner will destroy the vineyard and kill the tenants. This is the coming destruction of the city because of their rejection of the messiah, and it’s the reason why Jesus wept over the city in the previous chapter.