Years ago it was published that Jephthah, one of
the judges of Israel, killed his daughter in a ceremonial human sacrifice.
It was published in the Sunday School's quarterly of one of the most important
Christian denominations. The article was published in pages 76-82
of the quarterly named "Bible Book Study for Adults" in its issue
of January, February and March 1990.
At that time I felt very sad because of the carelessness displayed by the directors of the publishing department of that denomination. This publication influenced millions of Christians, that were led to error by the author of that Sunday School lesson.
The author of that article was talking about Judges 11: 29-31
the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over
Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh
of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon. 30 And Jephthah vowed
a vow unto the LORD, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of
Ammon into mine hands, 31 then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the
doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon,
shall surely be the LORD'S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering."
( Judges 11: 29-31 )
Jephthah's vow was not a promise to kill the
first one of his household who met him after his victorious return.
He did not promise to burn that person in the fire of a pagan altar.
vow was to dedicate entirely to God anyone who met him first
after his victory over the sons of Ammon. He promised to dedicate
that person entirely to God, as it was done with a lamb in a burnt offering.
The priests took their share from almost all sacrifices, except from burnt
because it was entirely for God. In this vow, the
person was going to be dedicated entirely to God, as a lamb in a burnt
sacrifice. Jephthah's daughter became sort of a cloistered nun, with the
exception that she was not in seclusion; she could have normal social relations,
In the case of his daughter, who happened to be the one who met him first, the promise was to dedicate her entirely to God. He consecrated her to God in such a way that she would not even marry, because a married woman has to dedicate herself mostly to her husband and children. In that sense she was going to be dedicated to God as a burnt offering. Remember, burnt offerings were burned completely. In other types of offerings, the priests could eat some of its meat, but in the burnt offerings they could not take anything, because it was all offered to God.
We can see a similar dedication in the case of Samuel. His mother Hannah offered him to the Lord forever without reserving anything of her child for her.
vowed a vow, and said, O LORD of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look
on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine
handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him
unto the LORD all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his
head." ( I Sam 1: 11 )
this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked
of him. Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be
lent to the LORD." ( I Sam 1: 27-28 )
In dedicating his daughter completely to God, Jephthah was depriving his only child from marriage. In doing this he was giving up his only possibility of having descendants. This was the reason for his great anguish expressed in Judges 11: 35, when he realized that his daughter was the one that met him first.
"34 And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house,
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. 35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that
he rent his clothes, and said: Alas, my daughter! Thou hast brought me very low,
and thou art one of them that trouble me; for I have opened my mouth unto the
LORD, and I cannot go back." ( Jdg 11: 34-35 )
There are several passages that tell us plainly that Jephthah's vow had nothing to do with killing anyone. Let us mull over those passages, to get the correct idea. If we read Jdg 11: 36-39 we see that the worry was not about the young lady's life or death, but about her virginity and the forgoing of her marriage.
she said unto him: My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the
LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth;
forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even
of the children of Ammon. 37 And she said unto her father: Let this thing be done
for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains,
and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows. 38 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. 39 And it came to pass at the end of two months,
that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which
he had vowed: and she knew no man." ( Jdg 11: 36-39 )
As we can see in verse 36, Jephthah's daughter asked
her father to do to her according to what he vowed. Therefore,
her petition, must follow what he vowed. And what was that followed?
In verse 37, we see that this young lady just asked to bewail her virginity.
Evidently, her life was not at stake, because it would be very silly to bewail for her virginity if she was going to be killed. Should she be in peril of loosing her life, she was going to bewail for her life and not for her virginity. Virginity was a very secondary matter at the face of death. It was idle and exceedingly foolish to bewail for something ( virginity ) that after death was good for nothing, and not bewailing for her life without which everything else was useless. Why lament that she was never to have a marriage, if she was going to die and have nothing? All this tells us that the only thing she knew she was going to loose was marriage.
In verse 39 we see that as a consequence drawn from everything previously narrated, it says: "…she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed: and she knew no man." Thus, after her return, her father did according to his vow, and as a consequence of doing according to his vow, "…she knew no man". It is perfectly clear that Jephthah's vow was not to kill and burn anyone, but to dedicate to God the first one who met him after his victory.
If this virgin was going to be killed after her two months lamentation period, it would be exceedingly idle for the writer of this chapter to later underscore that she never had sexual relations with a man. Of course, if she was killed it was not necessary to say that she knew no man; dead people have no sexual relations. So, it is obvious that they are referring to a young lady that was kept alive, but would not have sexual relations for the rest of her life.
Let us now use logic. Would God reward with victory a person who is capable of sacrificing human beings? God granted victory to Jephthah after his vow. If his vow was a human sacrifice, which was strictly forbidden and punished with death by the law of God; would God grant him victory?
In verse 29 it says that the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. Would the Holy Spirit be upon such a horribly confused religious murderer? He wouldn't be, of course. If Jephthah promised to kill and burn a human being the Holy Spirit was not going to be upon him.
Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead,
and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he
passed over unto the children of Ammon." ( Jdg 11: 29 )
This same reasoning can be made after reading Heb 11: 32. There, Paul commended Jephthah among several other biblical heroes. I don't think that if Jephthah killed and burned his daughter in a pagan altar, Paul was going to use him as a good example to be imitated by Christians.
what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gideon, and
of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthah; of David also, and Samuel, and of the
prophets" ( Heb 11: 32 )
If Jephthah was such a religious ignorant person
that did not know that human sacrifices were forbidden by God, he was not
a good model that Paul could flag as a guide for Christians' behavior.
Paul was not going to commend an idolatrous pagan daughter murderer.
Therefore it shows that Jephthah was not such a religious ignorant leader as he is depicted in the quarterly I mentioned before. As we read Jdg 11: 14 - 28, we can learn how Jephthah recited the history of Israel in great detail to the king of Ammon. If he knew everything so well concerning Israel's history, are we going to believe, as the quarterly says, that he did not know that God forbade human sacrifices?
It is very clear that Jephthah never promised to kill the one who met him first. It is clear that the young lady bewailed for her virginity, not for her life. It is clear that the Holy Spirit was not going to be upon Jephthah if he was an idolatrous murderer. It is clear that Paul was not going to commend Jephthah if he had killed and burned his daughter in a pagan altar.
Therefore, it is obvious that what Jephthah promised was to dedicate his daughter entirely to God, just as a burnt offering was dedicated entirely to God without letting the priests eat any part of the sacrifice.
It is my desire that those who are in high quarters be more watchful, to avoid the sheep under their care be misled by writers that do not exercise good judgment of biblical interpretation.