She made a simple decision, a response really, that would alter her future forever. She did nothing wrong, she was just doing what anyone else would have done in the same circumstances, but she was unaware that someone else had set something in motion that could not be undone. The entire exchange has been the center of many discussions by pastors for many, many years with differing opinions. We never learn her name, only that she is the daughter of Jephthah, the man who made a vow to the Lord.
While she is first mentioned in Judges 11:34, her story begins with her father in the beginning of the chapter. His introduction is found in verse one:
Now Jephthah the Gileadite was a mighty man of valour, and he was the son of an harlot: and Gilead begat Jephthah.
This tells us two things about him, he was a mighty man of valour meaning he was a man’s man, he was no wimp, he possessed a great amount of courage. This verse also says that he was the son of a harlot, this means he was not accepted by anyone, it seems that his father might have accepted him, but when his half brothers grew up they wanted nothing to do with him and forced him to leave. So Jephthah made his own way in the world, he lived in the land of Tob and managed to gather a small band of men. But like many classic stories, those who turned their backs on him, ignoring his very existence, came face to face with some serious trouble that they could not handle so they go running to the one person who has the courage they lack and experience they need, the one they cast aside was the one they now looked to as a military leader. As you might have guessed, Jephthah did bring up the past, making a point to mention that these “brethren” of his had wanted nothing to do with him, in fact he says that they hated him but now they wanted him to be their captain as if they were all the best of friends. After the treatment he has received in the past, it's understandable that he is a bit hesitant to believe them but after they affirm their statement before the Lord, Jephthah agrees to help them.
This need for a guaranteed reward is interesting, and makes you wonder if this was the main driving force behind Jephthah, a man driven from his people, forced to forge his own way without the support of family. Maybe he didn’t want to be used so he bartered for a position of leadership, or maybe he was desperate to be recognized as someone important, to make his family acknowledge him. We can’t know for sure but this could be what played a part in the tragedy that was to shortly take place. As he prepares to do battle he makes a vow before the Lord.
30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,
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.
We read the words of a man who seems to be willing to do anything to guarantee a victory, he asked that the Lord without fail, deliver the children of Ammon into his hands. He is craving a victory, a need to win that may be fed by his desire to be accepted by those who cast him aside as nothing. Whatever the reason, Jephthah has made a vow that cannot be broken, one many say was done in haste. Did he think it through? Would it have been better to be specific in what he offered instead of whatever comes out. While many say that the animals may have moved freely in and out of people’s homes back then, there had to be at least the thought that a person may be the first thing to come out but as the old saying goes, act in haste, repent in leisure. It was a vow made in haste that would yield heartwrenching consequences.
Jephthah was granted the victory he desired, a without fail victory delivered to him by the hand of the Lord and it was a great victory, the children of Ammon were completely subdued. Now Jephthah makes his way home, feeling pretty good about his victory, but his triumph quickly turns to tragedy as his eyes watch the first thing that emerges from the doors of his house, his daughter, his only daughter, she had come to meet him, to celebrate his great victory with song and dance. The Bible emphasizes that this was his only child, he didn’t have any other sons or daughters, just her. We read his agony in verse 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.
He was devastated, his hasty words would now cost him everything, there was no undoing it or going back. For this, Jephthah must be commended, he was a man of honor, a man of his word and it seems that he had instilled this in his daughter as we read her response to her entire future in verse 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.
Of course the big question here is, what happens to her? Did her father sacrifice her as a burnt offering? I am going to say right here that I am not sure, I am only going to give a little of my own thoughts mixed with some of the things that I read. First let’s read the remaining verses in Judges 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.
38 And he said, Go. And he sent her away for two months: and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains.
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: and she knew no man. And it was a custom in Israel,
40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.
For myself, personally I don’t believe he killed her, the text never specifies it and God was against human sacrifice and God never contradicts Himself. When He told Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, the angel intervened before Abraham could fulfill it so I don’t think she was killed as a burnt offering. However, it seems that she was never to marry which was almost as hard as her life being lost. The continuing of the family was everything and while his family name would not have lived on when she married, his legacy would have, he would have had the chance to have grandchildren that carried a part of him. This was lost, a tragic loss for both father and daughter. She would never be a wife and mother. His daughter may have been dedicated to serving the Lord in the temple, perhaps like Samuel, or I also think of Anna in the New Testament, she served the Lord daily. It is worth pointing out that the text emphasizes her grief over her virginity. She asks her father to give her two months to bewail her virginity, her friends go with her and mourn and when she comes back to her father, he fulfills his vow with the added statement, she knew no man. Both of these statements lean to the fact that she would never marry instead offered as a human sacrifice. I want to share a few lessons that we can learn from this heartbreaking story.
First, be careful of the vows you make. In Deuteronomy 23 verses 21 through 23 we read what God thinks about vows.
21 When thou shalt vow a vow unto the Lord thy God, thou shalt not slack to pay it: for the Lord thy God will surely require it of thee; and it would be sin in thee.
22 But if thou shalt forbear to vow, it shall be no sin in thee.
23 That which is gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform; even a freewill offering, according as thou hast vowed unto the Lord thy God, which thou hast promised with thy mouth.
To make a vow is a serious thing, that’s why Jephthah said he could not go back on it, he understood the gravity of his words. Notice that God tells us it is not a sin not to vow, but when we do make one it is a sin not to keep it.
Second, be careful of the reason why you make a vow. A vow should never be flippantly made nor should it be to simply get what you want, like a barter. Jephthah made a vow to God for a victory, but was it because he wanted it for his people, did he believe he could manipulate God, was he willing to sacrifice anything to gain a victory in order to prove himself to his half brothers? Or was it a little of everything? I can’t help but wonder. Jephthah was an outcast, no one ever stood up for him. When his half brothers raised a fuss and threw him out there was no one who said it was wrong or that they should not have treated him that way. He was simply tossed aside, left to make out by himself. Maybe he felt that if he could guarantee a win, he would finally be accepted so he bargained with God. Remember how he phrased it to God? If thou shalt without fail, that is a specific request. God is not to be manipulated and we should never behave as if we can offer Him something in exchange for a specific service or deed.
Third, remember that your choices often affect others. Japhthah’s decisions to make a hasty and in many ways foolish vow cost not only him but his daughter. All her dreams of becoming a wife and mother, of having her father’s grandchildren, were gone in an instant. Whenever we make decisions, especially ones on a larger scale, we should weigh our options, count the cost, and seek wisdom.
The story of Japhthath and his daughter is not an easy one to read, it has no happy ending, in reality it ends in tragedy yet there are lessons still found within these verses. Decisions made in haste or even based on emotions rarely turn out well. We are told over and over again to be wise and to seek counsel, surround yourself with good friends, people you can trust, people you can go to when you have a question or pressing matters. Above all, seek the Lord, walk in His ways and ask for His wisdom. The best way is to spend time in the word of God daily. The more you do, the more He will reveal to you.
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I am just an ordinary girl who is loved by an extraordinary God and I seek to love others the same way. I love to bake, read, do puzzles, watch Hallmark movies, and go shopping with my mom! This blog was created as a place where I could share some thoughts that the Lord has shown me and to be an encouragement to others who desire to know Him in a deeper way. My prayer is to learn to sit still and trust God with my future.