"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Peculiar Bible Story: Jephthah's vow and how it affected his daughter

Judges 11 has the peculiar story of a man named Jephthah the Gileadite. Since his mother was a prostitute, his half-siblings didn't want him to inherit anything so he left their region and settled with a bunch of adventurers who followed him. His reputation must have been one of a great fighting machine for when the Gileadites were troubled, they - yes, they who had previously not wanted him to have part of their inheritance - came to ask him to help get rid of the enemy.

 7 Jephthah said to them, "Didn't you hate me and drive me from my father's house? Why do you come to me now, when you're in trouble?"

Good question!  You didn't want me before, but now that you are in trouble, you do.  Hmmmm.

 8 The elders of Gilead said to him, "Nevertheless, we are turning to you now; come with us to fight the Ammonites, and you will be our head over all who live in Gilead."

So Jephthah was not good enough to inherit from the family, but when everything was threatened by an enemy, what good would any inheritance do for the Gileadites? So they told Jeph if he would rid the enemies, he would be their leader!

Jeph agreed.

The next several verses tell about the diplomatic, letter writing approach Jeph took.  Why are you troubling Israel? and such things.  The exchange is recorded as well as the fact that no solution was reached this way.

Then Jephthah did something we may call crazy. Or maybe not.

30 And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD : "If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the LORD's, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering."

I know people often vow things to the Lord when they are in trouble, but would you make such an offer as this one?

What exactly does he mean? Did he think the family dog* would be the one to greet him?

The chapter concludes with Jephthah's great military success and his ride home.  And these potentially troubling verses. 

 32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the LORD gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
 34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, "Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the LORD that I cannot break."
 36 "My father," she replied, "you have given your word to the LORD. Do to me just as you promised, now that the LORD has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites. 37 But grant me this one request," she said. "Give me two months to roam the hills and weep with my friends, because I will never marry."
 38 "You may go," he said. And he let her go for two months. She and the girls went into the hills and wept because she would never marry. 39 After the two months, she returned to her father and he did to her as he had vowed. And she was a virgin.
      From this comes the Israelite custom 40 that each year the young women of Israel go out for four days to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite.

What do you think? Did he kill his daughter? Why would a man make such a vow as he did?  How do you reconcile this passage?  What were you taught about it? 

I have some answers, but I want to hear your thoughts first.

* In Jesus Through Middle Eastern Eyes the author said animals were often kept in the first floor of the house as a kind of shelter and Jephthah thought a sheep or goat would come out to greet him...not a human!  Certainly not his only child.

This post is related to something I read in A Survey of Old Testament Introduction by Gleason L. Archer, Jr., pg. 279.  For more information on this book, see this


Unknown said...

I haven't read it so I'm not sure, but I've been told there is something in the Midrash about this passage, that says Jephthah did not actually kill her.

Personally, I always took it as a warning. When Jephthah made that vow, he didn't know who or what would come out. It reminded me of Matthew 5:33-37, where Jesus tells people not to make oaths. "Let your yes be yes and your no be no." Jephthah wanted what he wanted and bargained with someone/something else's life to get it. Where does God tell us to kill others to get His favor? Making that oath was wrong, and sacrifice isn't something that should be done lightly. So when it came time to keep his oath, it was much more costly than he had expected, and the readers can learn not to make that type of bargain.

Wafa said...

why do people make so bad vows a lot. You know in Islam we are warned against vows and we are asked not to committ the vows that are considered sinful.
Beside, if i was that daughter why don't i runaway since i have these four days period !! i know i sound silly, lol, but come on who wants to be killed even in the name of religion , who wants to give up his life easily. That's why i can not believe that those susicide terrorist do it willingly, here i believe in brainwashing.
you know once a knife was raised on me and i was told i will be killed if something didn't work and i refused to try if that thing is going to be worked or not cuz i was afraid like no other of death.

Anyway, i guess i drifted from the same point but as i said before you have a spelling magick over me, lol. But no, seriously that's how i felt reading the post.
I never will and did understand sacrifice cuz i guess God's greatest gift to human is life itself so how He would agree giving it away this easily.

Amber said...

I tried to get something of this point across to the kinder when we were going over the Ten Commandments, and we covered 'Thou Shalt Not Take the Name of the Lord Thy God In Vain'. I told them that it's not just saying curses with God's name, but only making promises, or vows, to God. Like, 'I swear to God...' whatever. Because it's serious. If you swear to God, you should only do it if you really will follow through with it. Because God expects you to do what you swear in His name.

Jephthah is, I think, both a warning and an example. He swore an oath to God, without considering the consequences. But, even when it cost him his legacy, his bloodlines future, his only, and one must assume beloved, daughter, he followed through with it. And his daughter is also an example of obedience and faith in God, I suppose. She accepted what her fate was, because she knew how vital it was that her father not break his vow to God.

And yes, I do believe that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter as a burnt offering to God. So...more human sacrifice in the Judeo-Christian history. Interesting...

Susanne said...

Amber! *gasp* You are a literalist???

(sorry couldn't resist)


Will reply more soon to all. :)

Susanne said...

Sanil, I think I was taught how serious a vow was. People said God didn't require them of us, but IF we made one, we should keep it. That was the lesson of this story (as I was taught.) So for a child this was impressionable since Jeph's daughter was "required" to settle this vow.

Your comment was great. I love how you thought and applied it. So glad you shared!

Susanne said...

Wafa', I love when you get all chatty over here! :-D Thanks for letting me know about your Islamic teachings re: taking vows. I didn't know that.

LOL...ha, ha...yes, running away would be a good idea!

I don't understand human sacrifice either...barely animal sacrifice, but ONLY because I have come to realize what it represents a bit better. Still don't know why God desires a blood sacrifice, but I guess that's not something I have to know.

Really loved your comment! Thanks much!

Susanne said...

Amber, I loved **everything** you wrote! WOWOWOWOW! Great teacher!

BTW, what does blood sacrifice in the J-C history do to you? mean to you? make you feel?

Y'all stay tuned for the answer supplied in this book I'm reading. I was actually pleasantly surprised since this guy is a conservative scholar. I thought he'd take the story literally...stay tuned and let me know what y'all think.

Unknown said...

So for a child this was impressionable since Jeph's daughter was "required" to settle this vow.

Did you learn this story as a child!? If I understood that right and you did, wow. All I got as a kid was Adam & Eve and Noah's Ark. (Ok not quite but that level. We avoided the tougher stuff.) I love that your teachers apparently didn't, because I think kids can handle more than people sometimes give them credit for, and taking them more seriously I would think would make them take what they learn seriously.

I'm loving the discussion here. I think it's neat how everyone seems to be pretty much on the same page and get the same message even though we're coming from such a variety of traditions and views.

Susanne said...

Sanil, I'm glad you are enjoying the discussion. Me too! I'm always glad when you ladies take part. It helps me consider things I never thought of before...makes me stretch, learn, grow! I greatly appreciate everyone who comments.

Yeah, I went to a Christian school and we had Bible class nearly every day. We learned quite a few great stories from the OT as we made our way through the Bible. I don't remember things such as Lot's daughters incest, but other things, yes. They told them in age-appropriate ways, I thought. I don't recall being traumatized. Actually I enjoyed Bible class very much!

I put up part 2 now so y'all check it out and let me know what you think of this other view.

Amber said...


'Amber! *gasp* You are a literalist???'

But only when it suits me. ;)

'BTW, what does blood sacrifice in the J-C history do to you? mean to you? make you feel?'

This'll probably sound bad, or weird, but it doesn't really mean or do anything for me. It doesn't upset me, it doesn't...anything. I have no feelings about it one way or the other. *shrug*

Susanne said...

Amber, LOL @ "only when it suits me." Yeah, I live that way, too! :)

Thanks for letting me know how that makes you feel ...or not. I was just curious. :)