What was Jephthah thinking?


If there was ever a story that people overlook when reading their Bible, this would be the story. It is safe to assume that Jephthah isn’t the sharpest tack in the box. Let’s enter the story and I will allow the you to decide whether he is dumb as a box of rocks or a brilliant mind.

Jephthah makes one brutal mistake, he bartered with God. If you have spent five minutes on this blog you’ve seen that God isn’t as great as people make him out to be and this is no different. The story goes like this: Jephthah is about to face the Ammonites in battle. now, Jephthah decides to make a deal with God. He says “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 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.” (Judges 11:30-31 NIV)

This sounds like the plea of a desperate man begging and pleading God to help him murder a complete group of people. So what did God do? I’m glad you asked. Well being that God’s specialty is killing, he decides to help Jephthah; Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. He devastated twenty towns.”
(Judges 11: 32-33 NIV) Once again, God proves just how good he is at killing and the all the people in twenty towns were brutally murdered. Wasn’t it nice of God to help murder all those people?

Now Jephthah is returning home a hero, a mighty warrior. He finally reached home and remember folks, he made a deal with God to offer whatever came out of his house first as a burnt offering, so who comes out the door first? His dog? Nope. His pet goat? Nope. None other than his only child, his daughter! His daughter rushes out to greet him playing timbrels and celebrating. Well, the celebration didn’t last very long because now Jephthah has to tell his daughter about the deal he made with God. It reads like this: When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh no, my daughter! You have brought me down and I am devastated. I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break. (Judges 11: 35 NIV)

So, being the righteous dude that his, Jephthah allowed his daughter to roam the hills for two months and weep. After the two months had passed his daughter returned home and he kept his promise to God. He killed his only child and offered her as a burnt offering. Now, I must ask, If you knew your dad was going to kill you would you return? Me neither! But I guess the daughter has to return for the story to be complete.

A pastor would tell you that this is a story of obedience on the part of Jephthah and will completely overlook the premeditated murder of his daughter. After all, Jephthah made a deal with God so it had to be paid, right? The pastor would also tell you that Jephthah didn’t really murder his daughter but gave her up to the ministry. Really? If he was going to offer her up to the ministry why would he rip his clothes and say he was devastated? The scripture says he offered her up as a BURNT offering. When did a burnt offering become the ministry? Why didn’t God say “never mind Jephthah, I can’t allow you to kill your only child?” Where is God’s compassion and love for Jephthah and his daughter?  I can answer that question, there isn’t any!

So to a non-pastor like me this is a story of a murder God had every opportunity to stop and refused to do so.

Now that you have learned the story of Jephthah and the senseless murder of his daughter, is Jephthah a brilliant mind or is he dumb as a box of rocks for making the deal?



One thought on “What was Jephthah thinking?

  1. Steve Sayles December 14, 2014 at 10:06 AM Reply

    You do pick some difficult passages. But I suppose if I was intent on attacking a non existing being and a book attributed to him I to would seek out such passages. But I would hope I would make better use of my time than chasing and shaking my fist at a non existing being.

    So let us examine the text you have in view

    There are at least two major views about the promise Jephthah made and what happened to his daughter later. Judges 11:29-40 tells us that Jephthah made a deal with God. People do this all the time. “Lord if you will do this for me, then I will do this for you.” So Jephthah asked God to give him victory over the Ammonites and he would give something to God. So the Lord gave him victory, and as he was coming home his daughter came out of the door. The Bible says something happened to her, but some people are confused.

    The confusion can be resolved by a careful translation and by not assuming things that are not said in the passage, as is commonly done.

    Views. The first major view says that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter because of a commitment or a vow he made to God. The second major view is that Jephthah only promised an animal sacrifice. Here is his promise.

    Translation. Unfortunately, our understanding of what he really promised hinges mainly on one letter in the Hebrew alphabet, , which can mean “or” as well as “and.” If we translate the letter as “or” the passage reads as follows:

    The correct meaning is “or.” This should be accepted as the proper translation for several reasons. First, if we assume “and” is correct then Jephthah knowingly committed himself to making a human sacrifice, since he said, “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me . . . .” We must also realize that the Mosaic Law prohibited human sacrifice (Lev. 18:21; Deut. 12:31). Since Jephthah was filled with the Holy Spirit according to Judges 11:29, the Spirit would not have prompted him to make a vow to sin. Second, Judges never says that his daughter was killed or sacrificed. In fact, we are told that she goes into the mountains to weep for her virginity for two months.

    Promising a sacrifice in exchange for divine deliverance was not wrong in and of itself. Hannah promised to dedicate her child to the Lord’s service in exchange for relief from Peninnah’s insults (1 Sam. 1:11).

    However, Jephthah’s vow was unnecessary under the circumstances. Jephthah did not need to bargain with the Lord prior to this battle, for his cause was just (vv. 12-28) and he was energized by the divine Spirit (v. 29).
    Human sacrifice was strictly forbidden by the Mosaic law (Lev 18:21; Dt 12:31); so Jephthah should have known that God’s favor could not be gained in this terrible way.
    Yet Israel’s neighbors — ironically, especially the Ammonites–sacrificed their children; and this custom might have influenced Jephthah.

    The most notable example was the slaughter of the crown prince at the hands of the king of Moab (2Ki3:27). In his desperation the king was willing to pay the ultimate price for victory.
    One of the few Jewish commentaries on Judges says that the reason they held the annual mourning for Jephthah’s daughter was “in order that none should make his son or daughter a burnt offering as Jephthah did and did not consult Phineas the priest. Had he done so, he would have redeemed her with money.”

    This phrase may be translated: “shall surely be the LORD’s (if a human being comes first), or I will offer it up for a burnt offering (if an animal appears first).”

    Sometimes the idea is presented that Jephthah gave her to the tabernacle where she spent the remainder of her life working as a priest’s servant, never marrying, for she would be devoted to the sacred duties of religion as a holy virgin (cf. Ex38:8; 1Sa2:22). However, there is no specific OT example for the concept of the celibate female temple servant, though there were women performing various religious functions. Historically, this interpretation apparently rose from the allegorical explanation posited by the Rabbis Kimchi in the 11th and 12th cen. This interpretation was subsequently adopted by many Christian expositors but has little biblical basis.

    Volumes have been written on what is generally termed “Jephthah’s rash vow”; the question is whether, in doing to his daughter according to his vow, he actually offered her as a sacrifice. That he really did so is a horrible conclusion but one that it seems impossible to avoid. The following may be taken as a summary of the arguments on both sides.
    In favor of actual sacrifice, the following arguments are urged: (1) The express terms of the narrative, “I will offer it up as a burnt offering,” and he “did to her according to the vow.” (2) The fact that Jephthah was half heathen and that the circumstances took place where the heathen dwelt in great numbers and where human sacrifices were not unknown. (3) That Jephthah’s excessive grief on seeing his daughter come forth to meet him can only be accounted for on the supposition that he considered her devoted to death. (4) That the mourning for Jephthah’s daughter for four days in the year can be reconciled only with the supposition that she was an actual sacrifice. (5) That there is nothing in the history to show that his conduct was sanctioned by God.

    Those who think that he slew his daughter see no divine approval of the act, but rather attribute it to his rash vow. Others do not believe that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter, but that he set her apart to perpetual virginity. The latter view emphasizes the unusual expression in [v31]: “will be the LORD’s,” and the stress upon virginity instead of death in [v37,39].

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