Did Jephthah kill his daughter? (Judges 11)
Did Jephthah kill his daughter on an altar as Judges 11:30-40 suggests?
Judges 11:31 “Then it shall be, that whatsoever cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the children of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’S, and I will offer it up for a burnt offering.”
Jephthah promised God that whatever first came out to meet him upon his return from a victorious battle, he would offer as a burnt offering.
Jdg 11:34 “And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house, and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him with timbrels and with dances: and she was his only child; beside her he had neither son nor daughter.
Jdg 11:35 And it came to pass, when he saw her, that he rent his clothes, and said, Alas, my daughter! thou hast brought me very low, and thou art one of them that trouble me: for I have opened my mouth unto the LORD, and I cannot go back.”
It was his only daughter that came first to greet him. What did she answer?
Jdg 11:36 “And she said unto him, My father, if thou hast opened thy mouth unto the LORD, do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; forasmuch as the LORD hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon.”
The chapter goes on to say
Jdg 11:39 “And it came to pass at the end of two months, that she returned unto her father, who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed”
Notice, however, what she said in verse 37;
Jdg 11:37 And she said unto her father, Let this thing be done for me: let me alone two months, that I may go up and down upon the mountains, and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows.”
She was not bewailing her death but her virginity.
I believe that what Jephthah did to fulfill his vow was similar to what Hannah did with Samuel (1 Samuel 1:27,28).
1Sa 1:27 For this child I prayed; and the LORD hath given me my petition which I asked of him:
1Sa 1:28 Therefore also I have lent him to the LORD; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the LORD. And he worshipped the LORD there.
Jephthah brought his daughter to the sanctuary and she was consecrated to the service of the Lord which meant she was to remain celibate.
There are also a couple of other biblical reasons why I believe Jephthah did not kill his daughter but consecrated her instead.
First, human sacrifices were an abomination to Jehovah
Leviticus 27:2 “Speak unto the children of Israel, and say unto them, When a man shall make a singular vow, the persons shall be for the LORD by thy estimation.”
What does this mean? If your firstborn was consecrated to the Lord you weren’t supposed to offer him as a sacrifice; you were to pay a price or offer an animal in his place.
Secondly, only a priest was allowed to make a burnt offering (Leviticus 17:1-9).
In 1 Samuel 13:6-14 Saul got into trouble when he tried to assume the role of a priest
I don’t think any priest would have been willing to offer Jephthah’s daughter, knowing this was an abomination to God.
Finally, the Bible says she bewailed her virginity, that she knew no man, and that the Israelite women went yearly to lament, or to comfort, her (Judges 11:38-40). Where did they go? They went to the temple because her life was consecrated to the Lord.
It is true that God asked Abraham to kill his son, but that was God’s command, not Abraham’s promise. Also remember that God stopped Abraham from doing it. Abraham did not kill Isaac, his son; God prevented him from carrying out His command. If Jephthah was led to victory by the Lord and willing to fulfill his vow, don’t you think God would have stopped him before he shed his only child’s blood?
I just want to give some brief remarks on the obligation incurred by making vows. Men are not at liberty to perform unlawful acts in consequence of having bound themselves by oaths or by vows. They are prohibited by the fact that they were under a prior obligation, which precludes the right of making unlawful vows, or taking such oath. The sin, therefore consists in making unlawful vows, and not in breaking them.
I believe it is clear what happened: Jephthah consecrated his daughter to the service of the sanctuary.