I've been composing a paper on the history and themes of the book of Judges, and spent quite some time researching one Judge in particular. Judges chapter 11-12 accounts the story of Jephthah. He was an illegetimate child, kicked out of his home. The story of his childhood tells us only that "worthless fellows collected around" him (ESV). This was his upbringing and "formal" training.
Yet, Jephthah was a "mighty warrior," so when Israel was occupied by Ammon, his half-brothers invited him back, begging him to lead the rebellion. Jephthah humbly obliged even trying diplomacy first. He was ultimately victorious and liberated Israel from their captors.
However, what Jephthah is best known for was a vow he made in battle. He said that if he emerged victorious, that he would sacrifice the first thing or person to greet him when he returned home. Who should greet him first but his own daughter. They are both distraught, and the daughter asks for some time away to mourn. She returns and Jephthah "did with her according to his vow."
It's a tragic story in itself, but it becomes even more tragic when you consider some other elements. First, the whole book of Judges is about how the Israelites gave up on God for idols, then God lets them be captured. They repent and call on him, and he raises up a new judge to deliver them. There is no Biblical law against human sacrifice in general. Instead, he Law that had been given to Israel by this time commanded the Israelites that they should not sacrifice their children to Molech. Who is Molech you ask?
Well the book of 1 Kings fill us in on that one. Molech is a god of....THE AMMONITES! Did you catch it? Jephthah repels the Ammonites, then celebrates by practicing one of their religious rituals to his own God! Even more, it seems he thinks he was actually pleasing God by that action. But, this is more shocking than sad.
The sad part: he didn't have to keep the vow! Yes, the Law commanded that people keep their vows to each other, but there is also a provision in the Law for people who make a "rash oath". They sacrifice a female sheep or goat, and the ordeal is done. That's it. Keep your kids.
So what's the point? First, Jephthah surrounded himself with "worthless fellows." This probably accounts for his lack of knowledge of the Law and for his tendency to mix religions. Secondly, his ignorance of the Law was his own fault, as it was certainly available to him. Thirdly, he forgot that the point of the battle was for the glory of the God who had communicated clearly how to praise him. Instead, he directly disobeyed the commands of God, thinking it would do some good.
We have to be careful to avoid the same mistakes. Who collects around us? Will we let our family situation hinder us from obeying God, or will we be like Boaz, son of a prostitute as well, who lived in nearly the same time as Jephthah? He obeyed God by marrying Ruth and became the great-grandfather of King David
Also, would you say that you're ignorant of what God wants from you? If that is true for us, then certainly it is our fault, as God has given us even more of his Word than Jephthah had (61 more books in fact).
Finally, have we gotten so excited about our successes that we've forgotten God's commands? Do we try to please him in our own "special way" and end up disobeying him in the process?