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Question: Did God honor Jephthah's sacrifice of his daughter? Hadn't God given a law against human sacrifice before this occurred?
Answer: There has been great debate concerning the rash vow that Jephthah made unto the Lord prior to his victory over the Ammonites (Judges 11 - 12:7). As one reads the account it certainly leaves us feeling as though Jephthah was bound to his vow. The Scripture is used to clarify the fact that one was bound to the vow made unto the Lord, and that it is a sin not to pay a vow (Leviticus 27; Deuteronomy 23:21; Numbers 30:2). Our heart hopes that there would be a way in which one could retract such a rash promise or break such an impulsive covenant. Surely mankind, in his fallen state, can be forgiven for such utter folly. On the other hand, we are sure that God requires strict adherence to His Law, and that we must follow through.
As I read this passage during my personal reading, I have had the same struggle in my mind concerning this particular predicament of Jephthah. There seems to be no room for an alternative as we read Judges 11:39, where Jephthah's daughter returns to him from the mountains, and he does "with her according to his vow which he had vowed."
As I studied this further, I discovered some things that gave me hope, and I want to look at your question in this light. Allow me first to say that with God all things are possible (Matthew 19:26). Consider the fact that though God required the life of Isaac at the hand of Abraham, God provided a substitute, and Isaac was spared (Genesis 22:13). The very name of Jephthah gives us hope. His name means "Whom God sets free." Jephthah was born to a man by the name of Gilead by a woman who was not his wife. Deuteronomy 23:2 says, "A bastard shall not enter into the Congregation of the Lord." Yet God had a special work for him to do and therefore lifted him above the Law of Deuteronomy 23:2 even from his childhood. That task was to be a Judge of Israel. We know this happened with God's approval because the Spirit of the Lord came upon him before he made the vow, and he was given victory over the Ammonites.
Now consider the following:
Jephthah could not offer his daughter as a burnt offering because she was the first-born of her father, and must be redeemed. Everything consecrated to God was the property of the Aaronic priesthood (Number 18:14,15).
Of course, we are aware of the command of God in Deuteronomy 18:10 which says that one must not offer a son or a daughter as a sacrifice in fire. To offer her as a burnt offering to redeem the vow would require that he pour out the blood upon the altar and eat her flesh (Deuteronomy 12:27). Furthermore, the burnt offering must be a male, cattle or sheep (Leviticus 1:3).
The Law made provision to redeem a female person under 20 years from a vow. They were required to pay 10 shekels to the priest (Leviticus 27:5). No doubt her father paid the 10 shekels to the priest and then brought a clean animal for a burnt offering, to satisfactorily meet the second part of the vow, in gratitude for his victory over Ammon.
Here is where the sad part comes. To simply pay for the release of a vow did not release her person because she had been consecrated to the Lord. She no longer belonged to her father or herself, but to the Lord under the Aaronic priesthood for life. She could therefore serve the Lord doing the work of a woman under the Levites. She could not be sold as a slave or hired out to an employer. She could not marry and have children, because she was a virgin, consecrated to the work of the Lord, and must remain a virgin. This would give reason for her requesting her father to give her two months, not to prepare for death, but to bewail the fact that she must always remain a virgin. She could not have a home, a husband, or children like many of her friends would surely have. It is entirely possible that she would have had an admirer or even one she had loved and intended to marry. If so, we may easily imagine her distress and desire to go to the mountains for a couple months of solitude.
In Judges 11:29 we read that "the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah" and there is no record of the Spirit ever leaving him. Had he really offered up his daughter, literally killed her and burned her body parts as a burnt offering, the Spirit of the Lord would have left him. He would not have enjoyed a wonderful victory over the Ephraimites afterwards.
Not one sin is charged against Jephthah during the time that the Spirit of the Lord came upon him. I am certain the will of the Lord was accomplished in his life.
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This page was last updated December 19, 2008.
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