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The Intriguing Story of Jephthah

Nestled in the middle of the book of Judges is an intriguing story of an intriguing man – Jephthah. Though not specifically called a “judge” he certainly bears all the marks of the others. He rose up to lead Israel to freedom from oppression when it was desperately needed. But his story offers some interesting twists and turns.

A Picture of Christ, Our Captain

First of all, Jephthah was born to an harlot. His Mom was a prostitute, so his half brothers rejected him and kicked him out of the family. When they get in trouble with the Ammonites, they run in fear to Jephthah begging for help…

And they said unto Jephthah, “Come, and be our captain, that we may fight with the children of Ammon.”
~ Judges 11:6

What a picture of Jesus! The innocent half brother of sinful humanity, rejected and thrust out and even hung on the cross. Someday, however, “every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of the Father” when He comes to bring ultimate deliverance to all who choose to be identified with Him as eternal brethren.

What a picture of us – rejecting God and putting His Son from among us, then seeing our need and swearing allegiance to Him by faith.

A Hasty Vow

In the second part of his life, he demonstrates how different he is from Jesus, making a rather hasty vow. He swears that if Ammon falls before the Israelites in battle, he’ll sacrifice the first thing that comes out of his house to meet him when he gets home. Culturally, this isn’t so strange – animals would have been roaming around the property, even in and out of the gated yard around his house all the time. But to his surprise, it was his only daughter.

Here is where scholars begin to diverge in their opinions of the text. He tells her of the vow and his intention to keep it, to which she agrees, but first roams the earth for two months to mourn her virginity. He then fulfills the vow and the King James version says the daughters of Israel “went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah.”

Did Jephthah literally sacrifice his daughter’s life? Some scholars say yes, I say no, and here are a few reasons why…

  • She mourned her virginity, which I interpret as meaning that she realized she would never know a man.
  • Bible says he fulfilled his vow, but doesn’t say he killed her but that she “knew no man.”
  • Human sacrifice was strongly forbidden to the Israelites, yet there is no word of condemnation of the act here.
  • Nothing negative is said about Jephthah after this.
  • The word “lament” (KJV) is normally translated as praise in the Old Testament.

I think what Jephthah did to fulfill his vow was to “sacrifice” her to perpetual celibacy. Even if I’m right, the passage still teaches us to take very seriously the words we say because God certainly does. We should never speak rashly and should never make a vow we don’t intend to keep.

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  1. This is the worst piece of apologetic nonsense I have ever read. Why not just accept this story for what it is? A barbaric tail in which a distinctly non-Christ like man decided it was more important to honour his prmise to God than honour the life of his own daughter.

    Your conclusion that the sacrifice did not happen has no basis in the text nor in common sense and to me seems no more than a pathetic attempt to grant redemption where non is warranted.

    Read the text with an open mind rather than the assumption that it is ‘devine’ or ‘inspired’ and you will see it for what it is!

    • Simon, I gladly print disagreements, but rarely print mean-spirited comments, agreeable or otherwise. I’m printing yours only to clarify a couple of things.

      One is that I see no need to grant redemption to Jephthah. If he were a worldly Gileadite who had honored his sacrificial promise to the death, I would see no reason to argue simply to “clear” the Bible of any accusation.

      Two is that the text is ambiguous. It doesn’t give us a perfectly clear answer and my arguments are not “nonsense” but perfectly plausible interpretations of the text. I’ve evaluated the evidence and have decided that the intended meaning is as I’ve stated. If I’m wrong, the same text still applies in the same ways. In other words, your conclusion that the sacrifice did happen has no solid basis in the text either, so when weighing out the variety of factors at hand, I think I’m right (or would state otherwise).

      Thanks for weighing in, but please understand my own need to sustain a spirit of respectful debate. Disagree with me anytime, but please choose your words in a way that stimulates discussion without insulting anyone’s intelligence.

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