Puzzling passages

Jephthah’s vow

Jephthah’s vow
Alan Hill
Alan Hill Pastor of Lausanne Free Church, Switzerland.
11 July, 2023 10 min read

Most of the history in the Bible is crystal clear. There is little doubt as to what happened. But occasionally there are events that leave us perplexed – so perplexed that Bible-believing Christians come to radically different conclusions as to what happened.

One of these is the vow made by the judge Jephthah in Judges 11:30-31: ‘And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD, and said, “If you will indeed deliver the people of Ammon into my hands, then it will be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me, when I return in peace from the people of Ammon, shall surely be the LORD’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.”’

There can be no doubt that Jephthah is thinking about offering a person to the Lord and not an animal. Hebrew nouns have a masculine or a feminine form. When an animal is meant, the feminine form is used, and when a person is meant, the masculine form is used. The word ‘whatever’ in this verse is masculine.

When Jephthah does return from victory, the first person who comes out of his house is his only child – his daughter!

We read in verse 39 that he carries out the vow: ‘And it was so at the end of two months that she returned to her father, and he carried out his vow with her which he had vowed. She knew no man.’

Christians are divided as to what actually happened. Some think that Jephthah put his daughter to death. Others think that she was wholly dedicated to the Lord, which involved lifelong virginity. The great Bible commentators are almost equally divided as to what happened.

How are we to rightly understand this passage when there is such division? We should all take a humble approach. We must look closely and ask, ‘What do the Scriptures actually say?’

Let me state my position. I do not believe that Jephthah carried out a human sacrifice. I have seven reasons from the Scriptures which support this view.

1 - Remember who Jephthah was

Jephthah was a great man of faith. He is listed in Hebrews 11:30 alongside Samuel and David. In Judges 11 we see the noble and spiritual qualities that he displayed: he was dependant on the Lord; he was willing to serve God; he was peace-loving (he first tried to reason with the Ammonites to prevent bloodshed).

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