This is incredibly troubling because it seems his only child - a daughter - would suffer for his selfishness!
Why would he even make such a vow?
One author I read said Middle Easterners often kept animals on the lower levels of their houses. This area was like a stable of sorts to shelter them from outside elements such as bad weather or wild animals or thieves. So Jephthah naturally assumed a goat or sheep would hear him and greet him first.
This makes better sense than thinking a man would actually chance a wife or child being sacrificed.
And truly from his sorrow I can imagine he never thought a loved one would be the first to greet his return.
So I always thought growing up that God was serious about vows. He didn't require them, but if you made one, you had to keep it. This made me take vows seriously.
I was reading A Survey of Old Testament Introduction by Gleason L. Archer, Jr. the other day and he mentions this story. I was pleasantly surprised at his interpretation of it...which he actually got from Keil and Delitzsch's work. It was like a relief for me to not have to take this story literally. Now he may be wrong, but this interpretation was at least worth sharing. Read it and then tell me if you think it has any merit.
The term for "burnt offering" is 'olah, which everywhere else signifies a blood sacrifice wholly consumed by the fire upon the altar. But, as Keil and Delitzsch show, this interpretation as a literal human sacrifice cannot stand in the light of the context.
1. Human sacrifice was always understood, from the days of Abraham (for whose son, Isaac, a ram was substituted by God) to be an offense and an abomination to Jehovah, being expressly denounced and forbidden in Leviticus 18:21; 20:2-5; Deuteronomy 12:31; 18:10. There is no evidence that any Israelite ever offered human sacrifice prior to the days of Ahaz (743-728 B.C.). It is inconceivable that God-fearing Jephthah could have supposed he would please the Lord by perpetuating such a crime and abomination.
2. His daughter was allowed two months of mourning, not to bewail her approaching loss of life, but only to bewail her virginity (betulim) (Judges 11:37-38).
3. It is stated in verse 39 that after Jephthah had performed his vow and offered her as a "burnt offering," "she knew not a man." This would be a very pointless and inane remark if she had been put to death. But it has perfect relevance if she was devoted to the service of Jehovah at the door of the tabernacle the rest of her life. (For references to the devoted women who performed service in connection with the national cultus, cf. Ex. 38:8 and I Sa. 2:22; also Anna in the days of Jesus -- Lk 2:36-37.) The pathos of the situation in this instance did not lie in Jephthah's daughter devoting herself to divine service, but rather in the sure extinction of Jephthah's line, since she was his only child. Hence, both he and she bewailed her virginity. There was no human sacrifice here.
What do you think?