Dear Pastor Andy, what Happened to Jephthah’s daughter? In the 12th Chapter of Judges, Jephthah made a vow to God to present as a “burnt offering” the first thing that comes out of his house to greet him, if God will let him defeat the Ammonites. As anyone whose read the story knows, his daughter rushes out to greet him, and gamely submits to the terms of her father’s vow. Now I see this story as one of the Bible’s many brilliant allegories rather than as an actual historical account–Jephthah was probably a real person, and he probably had a daughter, but the story implying his sacrifice of his daughter in fulfillment of a vow is probably meant to make some larger point rather than being an account of something that really happened. On the other hand, if the story is historical, the question of her fate is left to the imagination. What’s your interpretation of this story?
My Reply: One thing that’s interesting, and this part of the story reminds us of it, is that not every judge was an Israelite, and not every judge who listened to God really knew Him that well. (God will use anybody He wills for His purpose).
One of the main issues in the time of Jephthah (tough name to pronounce) was that nobody knew the Lord, nobody knew the Law, and there was no king. so everybody did as they felt fit. Another issue was that Israel was well-influenced by their surrounding nations, which may explain why Jephthah thought that such a vow would even please God. But in God’s eyes, instead of it being pleasing, it was murder (notice, God wouldn’t even allow Abraham to go through with sacrificing Isaac).
Though Jephthah’s life was one to reflect on, I agree that there are a lot of views we could take on this, even some discussion questions, like:
- God insists that all vows to Him be carried out. But knowing how God detests such practices as human sacrifices, do you think God insisted on the fulfillment of this vow?
- What do you think was behind Jephthah’s need to suggest such a vow in the first place? Was it a righteous vow? Do you think he said it as a means of glorifying God, or himself?
- It seems too perfect that his daughter walked out after he said this. Do you suppose it was God that had her walk through at that time? Why or why not? (If you suggested from the previous question that he made the vow as a way of glorifying himself, do you suppose this was why God “allowed” her to walk through?)
- Also, one of the themes seems to be that even though the vow was obviously a bad idea, both Jephthah and his daughter remained faithful to God. Now, it may have been more of a superstition or personal commitment to carry out a promise for something that God is obviously against, but either way, he carried it out. And this could go on into further discussion, too.
But at the end of Judges 11, it tells us that after his daughter lamented for 2 months, she returned and he did just what he said he would do. And the story ends by explaining that it’s the reason for one of Israel’s annual custom of Israel’s daughters going out to lament her for 4 days.
So is it true? Did it really happen? I agree that it does sound a lot like one of those Greek mythology/legends. However, I believe that if we are to believe the scriptures as Absolute Truth, then we have to believe everything in it, regardless of how crazy it sounds. Otherwise, if we begin picking what we’re going to believe, then what constitutes absolute truth?
Also, keep in mind that the Hebrew text is not a history book about God’s creation, but a book about how God interacts with His creation, in history, the present, and future. So when we read about Jephthah, it’s not only to tell us what happened to his daughter, but to help us wrestle with our understandings of God, and get to know Him through His interaction with His people.