Question of the Week: What happened in the account of Jephthah’s Daughter?
When asking what happened in any section of scripture, it’s important to read it first. Anyone can summarize a passage and tell you what it means. It takes someone with a conscious desire to know the truth to examine what the passage actually says for themselves before coming to conclusions. Like any other event recorded in history, we need to come to conclusions from what is said before we start making new conclusions with what wasn’t said. And even then, good historians don’t make assumptions unless they find evidence for those assumptions elsewhere. Jephthah’s account during the time of Israel’s Judges tell us very gristly details about his life. However, those who jump the gun and make it out to be worse than it says aren’t doing history any favors.
What do we know about Jepthah?
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valor, but he was the son of a harlot; and Gilead begot Jephthah.
Judges 11:1 (NKJV)
Then Jephthah fled from his brothers and dwelt in the land of Tob; and worthless men banded together with Jephthah and went out raiding with him.
Judges 11:3 (NKJV)
Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the Lord in Mizpah.
Judges 11:11 (NKJV)
Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon. And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord, and said, “If You will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”
Judges 11:29-31 (NKJV)
And what more shall I say? For the time would fail me to tell of Gideon and Barak and Samson and Jephthah, also of David and Samuel and the prophets: who through faith subdued kingdoms, worked righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, became valiant in battle, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.
Hebrews 11:32-34 (NKJV)
From the Old and New Testament, Jephthah is made out to be a man who trusted and was used by God. The accounts of embarrassment make the history out to be more reliable by mentioning that Jephthah was an illegitimate child and exiled by his own family. He sent his early days using his skills as a warrior among bandits (worthless men). And the most significant, he promised to make a burnt offering to the Lord if He gave him victory over the Ammonites oppressing Israel. And of all the things that the New Testament takes away from his life, it was his faith that enables him to turn to flight the armies of aliens (foreign invaders). There is no mention of his daughter as something he did right or that should be modeled. That is the first key in this conversation.
What do we know about Jephthah’s Daughter?
When Jephthah came to his house at Mizpah, there was his daughter, coming out to meet him with timbrels and dancing; and she was his only child. Besides her he had neither son nor daughter.
Judges 11:34 (NKJV)
So she said to him, “My father, if you have given your word to the Lord, do to me according to what has gone out of your mouth, because the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the people of Ammon.” Then she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me: let me alone for two months, that I may go and wander on the mountains and bewail my virginity, my friends and I.” So he said, “Go.” And he sent her away for two months; and she went with her friends, and bewailed her virginity on the mountains. And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.
Judges 11:36-39 (NKJV)
This is the beginning and end of it. She was Jephthah’s only child. She went through the door her father swore he would offer to the Lord as a burnt offering. She spent two months mourning her virginity. And she never was married. There is no mention of her being thrown on a pyre or even dying. And given the fact that details about her father’s history with criminals or being the child of a prostitute are mentioned, the absence of this information is telling.
What do we know about the time Jephthah was living in?
In those days there was no king in Israel; everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
Judges 21:25 (NKJV)
If there was ever a time in Israel’s history where we told up front that what took place during this time was wrong until we’re told otherwise, it was the time of the Judges. Those who would argue that Jephthah actually committed human sacrifice would not be able to conclude that it was a good thing biblically. The only thing commended about Jephthah’s life was him delivering Israel from the Ammonites. And we aren’t given a single positive example of human sacrifice being something God is honored by. This goes all the way back to Genesis 22 where Abraham is stopped from offering Isaac and from that establishes a prohibition on that form of sacrifice in Israel.
What happened to Jephthah’s Daughter?
And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.
Judges 11:39 (NKJV)
This is the only thing we’re told at the end of the matter. She never had a child. That was the form the “sacrifice” took. Those who would argue that this involved more than abstinence and a commitment to singleness need to focus entirely on Judges 11:31. In any context, it is inappropriate to form conclusions on how something happened before you finish reading what happened. Because the account itself says nothing more, we shouldn’t read into the matter anything more than what we’re told. Those that argue that this was an example of human sacrifice do have their reasons, but not in a way that would set a godly example for anyone going forward due to the setting and later mentions of the passage itself.
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