Pastoral Commentary for Judges 11
Author: Pastor Bob Nordlie
The account of Jephthah includes one of the more troubling passages in the Old Testament. Jephthah, the illegitimate son of Gilead, was driven out by his brothers. He fled and gathered a large group of adventurers around him. When the Ammonites gathered their forces to make war on Israel, the elders of the clan sought out Jephthah's aid and leadership. He reminded them of their rejection of him and asked if they would really let him lead them. They vowed to do so if he would fight the Ammonites. In the Spirit of the Lord he advanced against the Ammonites, however, still doubting the outcome he made a vow to the LORD. "If you will give the Ammonites into my hand, then whatever comes out from the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the Ammonites shall be the Lord's, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering." The outcome of this vow shows us the foolishness of making a vow rashly, or of trying to bargain with the LORD. Upon his victorious return, Japheth's daughter, an only child, came out to greet him. The rest of the account makes it sound as though Jephthah did in fact offer his daughter as a burnt offering. This was the interpretation of most of the early church fathers. If Jephthah did sacrifice he daughter, he did so without God's approval, for the Law clearly condemns human sacrifice. The fact that he is mentioned as a hero of the faith in Hebrews does not mean this act was being commended, any more than Rahab's prostitution or David's adultery. On the other hand, many prominent scholars believe that Jephthah consecrated his daughter in service to the Lord in a life of virginity. This would have been a great sacrifice both for her and for her father, whose line would have ended without an heir. The fact that Jephthah continued his judgeship after this event argues for this interpretation, since the Law of Moses imposed the death penalty on anyone who offered his child as a sacrifice. On the other hand, if his daughter was offered as a sacrifice, it must be noted that the Bible records many sinful acts of heroes of the faith without directly condemning those sins.