[management by God] jephthah: the son of a harlot

Written by Dan King

Christ-follower. husband. father. author of the unlikely missionary: from pew-warmer to poverty-fighter. co-author of activist faith: from him and for him. director of family ministry at st. edward's episcopal church. president of fistbump media, llc.

December 10, 2010

If you’ve ever felt like you don’t ‘belong’ then you need to read this. In fact, even if you’ve never felt that way, then you should still read this to understand an important principle.

Sometimes people can be very unfair. We put labels on others that they really don’t deserve. And these labels can ultimately define one’s future.

The next leader in the Book of Judges is Jephthah, and right off the bat I see he was labeled in two different ways.

The first thing mentioned is that he was “a mighty man of valor” (Judges 1:1, NKJV); a title I assume he worked hard to earn. This is the same label used to describe Gideon, who accomplished some pretty amazing feats to earn.

However, it’s the other label used that gets my attention, and that’s the label “the son of a harlot” (Judges 1:1, NKJV). This one apparently was a label that Jephthah had to overcome. Take a look at the text, and think about what this young man had to go through as “the son of a harlot”…

Now Jephthah of Gilead was a great warrior. He was the son of Gilead, but his mother was a prostitute. 2 Gilead’s wife also had several sons, and when these half brothers grew up, they chased Jephthah off the land. “You will not get any of our father’s inheritance,” they said, “for you are the son of a prostitute.” 3 So Jephthah fled from his brothers and lived in the land of Tob. Soon he had a band of worthless rebels following him.

4 At about this time, the Ammonites began their war against Israel. 5 When the Ammonites attacked, the elders of Gilead sent for Jephthah in the land of Tob. The elders said, 6 “Come and be our commander! Help us fight the Ammonites!”

7 But Jephthah said to them, “Aren’t you the ones who hated me and drove me from my father’s house? Why do you come to me now when you’re in trouble?”

8 “Because we need you,” the elders replied. “If you lead us in battle against the Ammonites, we will make you ruler over all the people of Gilead.”

9 Jephthah said to the elders, “Let me get this straight. If I come with you and if the Lord gives me victory over the Ammonites, will you really make me ruler over all the people?”

10 “The Lord is our witness,” the elders replied. “We promise to do whatever you say.”

11 So Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him their ruler and commander of the army. At Mizpah, in the presence of the Lord, Jephthah repeated what he had said to the elders.

— Judges 1:1-11 (NLT)

Here are a few things I’ve learned through studying this portion of Jephthah’s story…

1.   Don’t label people
What bugs me most about the label “son of a harlot” is that Jephthah had nothing to do with that. It was his father who ran off and slept with a prostitute, but now Jephthah had to live with it. In fact it’s for this very reason that Jephthah was driven out of town. Labeling people (especially in a negative way) is wrong. We should strive to have a positive impact on the people around us.

2.   Don’t be discouraged by labels
We know that because of his future success that Jephthah was much more than “the son of a harlot.” Unfortunately, it also seems that Jephthah let the labels get to him. After leaving town because of the pressure from other people, he ended up hanging out with a “band of worthless rebels.” Because of the labels that were put on him, he only identified himself with other “worthless” people, probably because he saw himself as worthless as well. Don’t let yourself be a victim to these labels.

3.   Find your identity in Christ
This isn’t something I get directly out of this text, but I do see that regardless of where Jephthah found his identity he still realized that God was the source of his strength (v9). In order to overcome the labels people put on us, we must stay true to the idea that ultimately God is the one who matters when it comes to understanding who we are.

4.   Create your own self-labels
Eventually Jephthah would be known as a “mighty man of valor.” If we want to shake off negative ideas of what people think about us, then we’re responsible for creating these images ourselves. Building on the idea of finding our identity in Christ, we should also focus on personal branding. Stand strong in the Lord, and create an image that helps people to see Christ at work in your life. You can have a strong, positive impact on the culture around you, but it’s up to you to make it happen.

See more from the management by God series!


  1. Deidra

    I love that you mentioned Gideon in this post. I love his story, and it’s so good that you referenced it, especially in light of number three – Find Your Identity in Christ. Because Gideon was in a cave, hiding and fearful, timid and hopeless, just wishing he would make it to tomorrow with enough grain to eat. That’s when God showed up and called him a Mighty Warrior. God sees what we don’t see in ourselves.

    • @bibledude

      I really love the contrast in this narrative between ‘the son of a prostitute’ and ‘the mighty man of valor’. That’s some pretty high praise (mighty man of valor that is). I wrote earlier in this series on what it meant in Gideon’s case, and you are right that God sees in us what we don’t see.

      Love it! Thanks Deidra! You rock! #fistbump


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[management by God] jephthah: the son of a harlot

by Dan King time to read: 4 min