In our prior lesson, we read the entire context of both the uttering and implementation of Jephthah's vow (cf. Jud. 11:29-40). Although some believe this judge offered his daughter as a human sacrifice, I do not believe that to be the case for the following seven reasons:
- It is unlikely that the thought of offering a person as a burnt offering crossed his mind. Human sacrifice was always understood, from the days of Abraham, to be an offense and an abomination to God, being expressly denounced and forbidden (cf. Lev. 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10). There is no evidence that any Israelite ever offered human sacrifice prior to the days of Ahaz (734 B.C.). It is inconceivable that a man like Jephthah, who was God-fearing and knowledgeable of the law, could have supposed that he would have been pleasing the LORD by perpetrating such a crime.
- Although some might call his vow foolish, it does not appear to be impulsive. His vow is not made in the midst of the confusion of battle where we might expect him to speak without fully weighing his words. No, his vow is made before he sets out to fight the Ammonites.
- In 11:37, his daughter requests two months to bewail her virginity. This is significant. Note that she is not going to bewail her approaching loss of life. If she was going to die, why would she care about the fact that she was a virgin? However, if she is not going to be offered as a burnt offering but instead devoted to the LORD for His divine service, then it makes sense for her to bewail her virginity. Evidently she understands that under such circumstances she will not have the right to marry, and thus she will always remain a virgin.
- 11:39 states that "she knew no man." This fact is mentioned after Jephthah had already carried out the vow. This would be a very pointless remark if she had been put to death. But, it has perfect relevance if she was devoted to the service of God at the door of the tabernacle for the rest of her life (cf. Exo. 38:8; I Sam. 22:2; Luke 2:36,37).
- It is extremely unlikely that any priest in that day and time would be so corrupt as to assist Jephthah in offering a human as a burnt sacrifice. A priest would need to be involved since all burnt offerings made to the LORD had to be offered at the tabernacle by a priest.
- The Bible does not explicitly say that he gave his daughter as a burnt sacrifice. It simply states that Jephthah did with her according to his vow. How one interprets that vow determines whether or not one is forced into concluding that Jephthah offered his daughter as a literal burnt offering. If one interprets Jephthah's words in a spiritual or symbolic sense, then the difficulty vanishes. That is, perhaps Jephthah fulfilled his vow through the fact that his daughter knew no man and that her life was dedicated to God, as a "spiritual burnt offering," not a literal one.
- Jephthah is listed among the faithful in Hebrews 11:32. Admittedly, that doesn't prove that he did not do something heinous here and seek forgiveness later, but the position I'm arguing for here (i.e., a spiritual fulfillment of the vow) is consistent with Jephthah being named among great heroes of faith.
Regardless of whether Jephthah offered his daughter as a literal or symbolic burnt offering, we must admire the great faith of his daughter. She encouraged him to keep his word to God, even at great expense to herself! What an example of submission and faithful obedience she manifested! She was not forgotten by her contemporaries and we should not forget a young woman of this caliber either!