Jephthah’s Daughter

In Study the Women of the Bible by revealadmin1 Comment

Are you a woman of your word? Are you recognized by those around you to be honoring, respectful, and disciplined in keeping your commitments or decisions? Would other’s describe you as dedicated and trustworthy or rash and unpredictable? One such man will be tested and tried with an impulsive prayer he made to the Lord. Would he honor his thoughtless prayer or would he repent, asking the Lord what He wanted?

Emotions can sometimes cloud our judgment. During trials or temptations, sickness or pain our desperation for a cure, healing, fear, surgery, or the unknown can expose weaknesses, bargaining, and rash decisions; character flaws. Do we bargain with God when we need healing? Do we “give” Him everything we have for “one more day”, do we pray, “if you make me well, I will…..”, or how many of us can look back and remember our struggles, but fail to honor our commitment?

Jephthah was a judge. A hardened man who was cast aside by his family, Jephthah is described as a mighty warrior born of a harlot. “Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men gathered around Jephthah and went on raids with him.” (Judges 11:3) Throughout the Bible, God has used “worthless” men to do His bidding.

“And God selected (deliberately chose) what in the world is low-born and insignificant and branded and treated with contempt, even the things that are nothing, that He might depose and bring to nothing the things that are, so that no mortal man should boast in the presence of God.” (1 Corinthians 1:28-29). Jesus, our Lord and Savior, deliberately chose “unlearned, unschooled” men as His disciples (Acts 4:13) God sees the heart, not the outside of a man/woman.

God chose Jephthah to fight, and fight he did. A valiant man with the Lord’s Spirit upon him, this judge attacks Israel’s enemy the Ammonites. If the Lord brings victory, Jephthah prays and dedicates “whatever or whomever comes forth from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it to him up as a burnt offering.” (Judges 11:29-31) God desires our faith and obedience. Jephthah has the obedience and strength to fight, but the faith and trust is where he lags and bargains.

When the Ammonites were subdued by God’s mighty hand through Jephthah, he is ready to give to God what is God’s. “Then Jephtah came to Mizpah to his home, and behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances! And she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter. And when he saw her, he rent his clothes, and said, ‘Alas, my daughter! You have brought me very low, and you are the cause of great trouble to me; for I have opened my mouth in vow to the Lord and I cannot take it back.’

And she said to him, ‘My father, if you have opened your mouth to the Lord, do to me according to what you have vowed, since the Lord has taken vengeance for you on your enemies, the Ammonites.’ And she said to her father, ‘Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go and wander upon the mountains and bewail my virginity, I and my companions.’

And he said, ‘Go.’ And he sent her away for two months, and she went with her companions and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains. At the end of two months she returned to her father, who did to her according to his vow which he vowed. She never mated with a man.” (Judges 11:34:39)

There are several stories in the Bible regarding women’s hearts that I have to take a breath and reread. Rizpah’s story may be the most heartbreaking for me or the concubine of Judges 19, but Jephthah’s daughter’s reverent awe and fear of the Lord is admirable. She adores her father, esteems his courage in battle, and knows God has given him a great victory. But, his careless vow made to the Lord has predestined the rest of her life!

This is not the first time a woman has offered herself to the Lord in honor. Hannah earnestly prayed to the Lord for a child. If God heard her prayer and she became pregnant, Hannah would give him back to the Lord in service. Samuel is considered Israel’s greatest Judge. A mother honored her vow to the Lord.

I do not want to believe Jephthah’s daughter was sacrificed as an offering on an altar, blood spilled out, and body burned to the Lord. Our God has never even thought of such depravity according to His own Word,

  • Deuteronomy 12:31: You must not worship the LORD your God in their way, because in worshiping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the LORD hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.
  • Deuteronomy 18:9-12: When you enter the land the LORD your God is giving you, do not learn to imitate the detestable ways of the nations there. Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire…Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you.
  • 2 Kings 16:3: He walked in the ways of the kings of Israel and even sacrificed his son in the fire, following the detestable ways of the nations the LORD had driven out before the Israelites.
  • Jeremiah 19:4-5: For they have forsaken me and made this a place of foreign gods; they have burned sacrifices in it to gods that neither they nor their fathers nor the kings of Judah ever knew, and they have filled this place with the blood of the innocent. They have built the high places of Baal to burn their sons in the fire as offerings to Baal – something I did not command or mention, nor did it enter my mind.

This is a difficult chapter to write from. Scholars differ on whether or not the judge sacrificed his only daughter or gave her to the Lord in service. The Amplified Bible’s commentary of differing scholars reads, ‘“This plain and restrained statement that he did with her according to his vow is best taken as implying her actual sacrifice. Although human sacrifice was strictly forbidden to Israelites, we need not be surprised at a man of Jephthah’s half-Canaanite antecedents following Canaanite usage in the matter.’ (F. Davidson, Ed., The New Bible Commentary). And, ‘although the lapse of two months might be suppose to have afforded time of reflection and a better sense of duty, there is but too much reason to conclude that he was impelled to the fulfillment by the dictates of a pious but unenlightened conscience’ (Robert Jamieson, A.R. Fausset and David Brown, A Commentary). J.P Lange articulates ‘At all events, it does not stand there in the text, as Martin Luther wrote, that she was offered in sacrifice. And the fact that the maidens mourned her virginity and not her death seems to prove that she did not die.’” [2]

Finally, I’ll quote 17th century minister, Matthew Henry, “He was an extraordinary person. The Spirit of the Lord came upon Him. Many circumstances might make this altogether extraordinary and justify it. Some learned men have made this sacrifice a figure of Christ the great sacrifice: He was unspotted purity and innocency, as she was a chaste virgin; he was devoted to death by His Father, and so made a curse for us. He submitted Himself, as she did, to His Father’s will. Most condemn Jephthah; he did ill to make so rash a vow, and worse to perform it. He could not be bound by his vow to that which God had forbidden by the letter of the sixth commandment, thou shall not kill. God had forbidden human sacrifices so that it was in effect a sacrifice to Moloch.” [1]

I do want to point out one more verse for us to contemplate this woman’s life. If Jephthah did sacrifice her instead of giving her into the service of the Lord, why would the author of Hebrews mention him in his letter? In Hebrews 11, the hall of faith chapter, Jephthah is listed as one of many who by faith subdued kingdoms, administered justice, obtained promised blessings, closed the mouths of lions, extinguished the power of raging fire, escaped the devouring’s of the sword, out of frailty and weaknesses won strength and became stalwart, even mighty and resistless in battle, routing alien hosts.”

I believe Jepthah’s daughter chose God. In the two months she and her companions mourned her virginity, the loss of marriage, children, or family, both Jephthah and his daughter committed to their decision. She was dedicated to the Lord. Sadly, we do not have a definitive answer as to whether or not she was sacrificed. Many scholars believe she may have been sacrificed due to Israel’s moral failures; their compass had fallen again into the pagan idolatries of the nations surrounding them. I do not believe that would have been our God’s desire, only man’s misguided interpretation of His laws.

Woman, do not make rash impulsive dedications or commitments to the Lord. We are to be self-controlled, filled with the Holy Spirit and His fruits; not impetuous and thoughtless. Proverbs 20:25 captures this well, “It is a snare to a man to utter a vow (of consecration) rashly and (not until) afterward inquire whether he can fulfill it.”

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