Jephthah’s Rash Vow

It is written:

Judges 11:30-31-Jephthah made a promise to the LORD. He said, “If you will let me defeat the Ammonites, 31  I will give you the first thing that comes out of my house when I come back from the victory. I will give it to the LORD as a burnt offering.”

The first thing that came out of Jephthah’s house after his victory was his daughter (Judges 11:34-35), and we are told that he did what he had promised (Judges 11:39). Skeptics of the Bible try and use this account as an attack on the God of Scripture.

How could God approve of Jephthah offering his daughter as a burnt offering?

More to the point: what does it mean that Jephthah offered up his daughter as a burnt offering to God?

First: if Jephthah did sacrifice his daughter asa literal burnt offering, this would simply be an example of something which God’s Word recorded but did not necessarily approve of. There are countless examples of this in Scripture. God had made it know m to His people how He looked upon human sacrifice:

Leviticus 18:21-You must not give any of your children through the fire to Molech. If you do this, you will show that you don’t respect the name of your God. I am the LORD.

Deuteronomy 12:31-Don’t do that to the LORD your God! These people do all kinds of bad things that the LORD hates. They even burn their children as sacrifices to their gods!

Deuteronomy 18:10-Don’t sacrifice your sons or daughters in the fires on your altars. Don’t try to learn what will happen in the future by talking to a fortuneteller or by going to a magician, a witch, or a sorcerer.

Second: the language of the passage makes it clear that Jephthah was not talking of an animal being offered as a burnt offering. As the famous scholars Keil and Delitzsch point out:

“By the words אֲשֶׁר הַיֹּוצֵא, “he that goeth out,” even if Jephthah did not think “only of a man, or even more definitely still of some one of his household,” he certainly could not think in any case of a head of cattle, or one of his flock. “Going out of the doors of his house to meet him” is an expression that does not apply to a herd or flock driven out of the stall just at the moment of his return, or to any animal that might possibly run out to meet him. For the phrase לִקְרָאת יָצָא is only applied to men in the other passages in which it occurs.” (E-Sword Commentary On Judges 11:30).

This shows that Jephthah did not have an animal sacrifice in view, which means he had

something else altogether in mind for his “burnt offering.”

Third: what then does it mean that Jephthah offered his daughter as a burnt offering?

“What, then, actually did happen if Jephthah did not offer up his daughter on the altar? As Delitzsch points out, the whole record of the manner in which this vow was carried out points to her dedication to the service of the Lord as a lifelong ministrant at the national sanctuary. Judges 11: 37–38 states that she was allowed a mourning period of two months, not to bewail her approaching death, but rather to lament over her permanent virginity () and the resultant extinction of her father’s line, since she was his only child. As one set apart for tabernacle service (cf. Exod. 38: 8; 1 Sam. 2: 22 for other references to these consecrated virgins who performed service at the tabernacle), she would never become a mother; hence it is emphasized that “she knew no man” (Judg. 11: 39). This would have been a pointless and inane remark if in fact she were put to death. Jephthah acted as a man of honor in carrying out his promise and presenting his daughter as a living sacrifice, as all true Christians are bidden to present themselves (Rom. 12: 1). Had he committed a detested abomination like the slaughter of his own child, he never would have been listed with the heroes of faith in Hebrews 11.” (Gleason L. Archer, Jr., The New International Encyclopedia Of Bible Difficulties, 4285-4295 (Kindle Edition); Grand Rapids, Michigan; Zondervan)

As usual, the skeptics of the Bible have not done their homework. God (and His Word) are once again shown to be just.

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