The Period Of The Judges

 Chapter 55 
Fulfillment of Jephthah’s Vow [Judges 11.34-11.40]

 

Scripture: Judges 11.34-11.40(KJV)

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.
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.
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.
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.

 

Introduction

Jephthah's vow is gloomy, and bizarre. When he was leaving his own house to undertake this hazardous mission, he prays secretly to God asking for His presence to be with him and he makes a secret but solemn vow or religious promise to God, that, if God would graciously bring him back a conqueror, whosoever or whatsoever should come out of his house first to meet him would be devoted to God, and offered up for a burnt-offering. When he returned, news of his victory had already arrived at his home, and his only daughter meets him with heartfelt expressions of joy. This puts him into a state great confusion; but there was no remedy for the awful state of affairs he has placed her in: after she had taken some time to grieve over her own tragedy, she cheerfully submitted to the fulfillment of his vow.


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.—Judges 11:34(KJV)
34 When Jephthah returned home to Mizpah, his daughter came out to meet him, playing on a tambourine and dancing for joy. She was his one and only child; he had no other sons or daughters.—Judges 11:34(NLT)

And Jephthah came to Mizpeh unto his house…
It was his home and the place where he had voiced his vow before the Lord, with the elders of Gilead as witnesses, and it was from here that he set out to fight the children of Ammon, and it was here where he returned [1](Judges 11:11, 29) after he had got the victory over them; he returned to his home where his family dwelt. It was a new home for this family that had lived in the land of Tob. When he was fetched from the land of Tob, he brought what family he had with him, and settled them at Mizpeh, while he went on the expedition against the children of Ammon.

and, behold, his daughter came out to meet him, with timbrels, and with
dances;
His daughter emerged from the house accompanied with young women that had timbrels in their hands, and they played them, and danced as they came along. This was how they expressed their joy over the victory, and congratulated him on the victory he had obtained over the children of Ammon.

The vow was, no doubt, on his mind, and it is evident that it had not communicated it to anyone, otherwise precautions would have been taken to place another object at his door.

From this instance we find it was an ancient custom for women to go out to meet returning conquerors with musical instruments, songs, and dances; and that it was continued afterwards is evident from the instance given in [2]1 Samuel 18:6, where David was met, on his return from the defeat of Goliath and the Philistines, by women from all the cities of Israel, with singing and dancing, and various instruments of music.

his daughter
His daughter came out to meet him
—The precise phrase of his vow: “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.” (Judges 11:31; KJV)
 
and she [was his] only child:
She was so dear unto him, because all his hopes and expectations for descendants depended on her.  She was his "only child," a term of special endearment: “Oh, my people, dress yourselves in burlap and sit among the ashes. Mourn and weep bitterly, as for the loss of an only son. For suddenly the destroying armies will be upon you!” (Jer 6:26; NLT). The same word is used of Isaac: “Then He said, "Take now your son, your only son Isaac, whom you love, and go to the land of Moriah, and offer him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains of which I shall tell you." (Gen 22:2;NKJV).

besides her he had neither son nor daughter:
Some read it, "of her"; that is, she had neither son nor daughter; and so by this vow, it is understood by those who claim that Jephthah would actually sacrifice his only child, that, if fulfilled, she must surely die; though the phrase “besides her” in the Hebrew text is, "of himself".  He did not have any children other than this girl, though his wife might have sons and daughters by another husband she had before him, and so these were brought up in Jephthah's house as his children; yet they were not begotten by him, they were not of his body, not his own children; he only had this daughter, which made the trial the more grievous to him; her name, according to Philo, was Seila.

I am very aware of the inflexible assertions of many commentators that Jephthah offered his daughter as a burnt-offering, but I simply cannot accept such assertions as truth. I shall not bother to comment in depth on what I believe is untrue. Those who prefer that interpretation are welcome to seek out those comments for themselves. We shall be content with stating our reasons for the conviction that Jephthah's fulfillment of this vow was not that of offering her up as a burnt-offering, but a dedication of her to the service of God in the tabernacle located in those days at Shiloh. At this point, I will give just four reasons for why I believe she was not sacrificed, and I will expand upon it later.

(1) Jephthah was a man who had the Spirit of God, and that alone would never have allowed him to offer his daughter as a burnt-offering.
(2) Jephthah was thoroughly familiar with the Book of the Law of Moses and the laws governing sacrifices. In that Law, the first-born, who were required to be "offered" to Jehovah, were never offered as a burnt-offering, but they were "redeemed" by the offering of a lamb instead. This applied even to the first-born of a donkey! It is simply inconceivable that Jephthah would have been ignorant of this principle, or that he would have failed to take advantage of it on behalf of his daughter.
(3) {"It shall be Jehovah's"} (Judges 11:31). "This should be understood in terms of what Hannah meant when she said of her unborn child, "I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life (1 Samuel 1:11)." Hannah gave up Samuel for temple services under Eli the High Priest.
(4) "The Hebrew word for burnt-offering does not carry with it the idea of death, but of something offered completely unto God. Of course, this was carried out in animal sacrifice, but the word would also accurately describe a young woman giving herself completely to the Lord as a temple servant."

 

   

 

 

 
Illustration 23: Map of Mizpah and surrounding region (Not available)


  _________________________________verse 34 notes______________________
[1](Judges 11:11, 29) “Then Jephthah went with the elders of Gilead, and the people made him head and commander over them; and Jephthah spoke all his words before the LORD in Mizpah… Then the Spirit of the LORD came upon Jephthah, and he passed through Gilead and Manasseh, and passed through Mizpah of Gilead; and from Mizpah of Gilead he advanced toward the people of Ammon.”
[2](1 Samuel 18:6; BBE) “Now on their way, when David came back after the destruction of the Philistine, the women came out of all the towns of Israel, with songs and dances, meeting David with melody and joy and instruments of music.”  The women came out of all cities of Israel—in the homeward march from the pursuit of the Philistines. This is a characteristic trait of Oriental manners. On the return of friends long absent, and particularly on the return of a victorious army, bands of women and children issue from the towns and villages, to form a triumphal procession, to celebrate the victory, and, as they go along, to gratify the soldiers with dancing, instrumental music, and extempore songs, in honor of the generals who have earned the highest distinction by feats of gallantry. The Hebrew women, therefore, were merely paying the customary congratulations to David as the deliverer of their country, but they committed a great indiscretion by praising a subject at the expense of their sovereign.—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary

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.—Judges 11:35(KJV)
35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes in anguish. “Oh, my daughter!” he cried out. “You have completely destroyed me! You’ve brought disaster on me! For I have made a vow to the LORD, and I cannot take it back.”—Judges 11.35 (NLT)

And it came to pass, when he saw her…
She was the first person that he saw, since she was at the head of the virgins that greeted him with their timbrels and dances.

that he rent his clothes;
A person tearing his clothes was the custom, when anything devastating and distressing happened: “Then Jacob tore his clothes, put sackcloth on his waist, and mourned for his son many days.” (Gen 37:34; NKJV)

and said, alas, my daughter, thou hast brought me very low;
His spirits were high after the victory over the Ammonites, but now they were damped and he sunk very low, so that he was ready to drop to the ground. He was returning in triumph, amidst the praise of the people, in the height of his glory, and extolled to the skies, and perhaps elated in his own mind; and all of a sudden, at the sight of his daughter, he became so depressed, that he could not cope; but was ready to sink to the ground and die, and all his honors might as well been laid in the dust because now they meant nothing to him.

He was greatly distressed to think that his daughter, who was his only child, would be prevented from continuing his family in Israel, as a consequence of his foolish vow, because it is evident that he didn’t have any other children, besides her; according to Judges 11:34, he had neither son nor daughter. He, therefore, might be grieved that his family was to become extinct in Israel.

When he made the vow, he was overcome with blind zeal, and did not consider whether the vow was lawful or not. It was a difficult vow to fulfill; either he hadn't thought about it or he was willing to let God choose any sacrifice that he saw fit.

and thou art one of them that trouble me:
She was among his troublers, and the greatest he ever met; he had been in trouble from his brethren, when they drove him from his father's house, and he had had trouble with the children of Ammon when he subdued them; but this was the greatest trouble of all, that his daughter happened to be the first to meet him. According to his vow, he was to be deprived of all his future comforts, hopes, and expectations that had their origin in her; and therefore he ranks her among, and at the head of, his troublers.

for I have opened my mouth unto the Lord;
He made a vow; not only had he envisioned it in his heart, but had expressed it with his lips.

and I cannot go back;
Jephthah cannot retract his vow, since he is looking upon himself as if he is under an indispensable obligation to perform it; but it seems that he has mistaken notions and apprehensions, because if his vow was to sacrifice her, as some think, he was not obliged to do it, since it was contrary to the law of God, and abominable in his sight; and besides, what was vowed to be the Lord's, or devoted to him, might be redeemed according to the law, a female for thirty pieces of silver, [3](Leviticus 27:2-4) and if the vow was to separate his daughter from contact with men, and require her never to marry, such a power as this had not been given to parents over their children, according to the laws of God or of men, in the Jewish nation; and therefore, what he had to do was to repent of this rash vow, and humble himself before God for making it, and not add sin to sin by performing it. Josephus well characterizes the sacrifice as "neither sanctioned by the Mosaic law, nor acceptable to God."

Jephthah was right in not being deterred from keeping his vow, just as Abraham was right in not withholding his son, his only son, from God, when commanded to offer him up as a burnt-offering. But Jephthah was wholly wrong in that conception of the character of God which led to his making the rash vow. And he would have done right not to slay his child, though the guilt of making and of breaking such a vow would have remained.

We dare not continue this discussion without taking special note of this magnificent line: "I have opened my mouth unto Jehovah, and I cannot go back." The nobility of Jephthah is enshrined in this attitude. What a pity it is that countless alleged "Christians" today entertain no such thoughts of loyalty to promises made to God.

When one is baptized into Christ, that sacred ceremony is, in fact, a pledge of fidelity and loyalty to God, not for a few days, but for a lifetime, not merely for times of prosperity, but for times of suffering and hardship as well.

All of those who forsake their Christian duty, who deny the claims of holy religion, or backslide into the ways of carnal man are spiritual pigmies when contrasted with Jephthah, one of the giants of faith.

_______________________verse 35 notes__________________________

[3](Leviticus 27:2-4; NKJV) “Speak to the children of Israel, and say to them: 'When a man consecrates by a vow certain persons to the LORD, according to your valuation, if your valuation is of a male from twenty years old up to sixty years old, then your valuation shall be fifty shekels of silver, according to the shekel of the sanctuary. If it is a female, then your valuation shall be thirty shekels;”

Leviticus 27:2: When a man shall make a singular vow—The verse is short and obscure, and may be translated thus: A man who shall have separated a vow, according to thy estimation, of souls unto the Lord; which may be paraphrased thus: He who shall have vowed or consecrated a soul, i. e., a living creature, whether man or beast, if he wish to redeem what he has thus vowed or consecrated, he shall ransom or redeem it according to the priest's estimation; for the priest shall judge of the properties, qualifications, and age of the person or beast, and the circumstances of the person who has vowed it, and shall regulate the value accordingly; and the money shall be put into his hands for the service of the sanctuary. A vow (says Mr. Ainsworth) is a religious promise made unto the Lord, and for the most part with prayer, and paid with thanksgiving, Numbers 21:2, 3; Psalm 66:12, 14. Vows were either of abstinence, such as are spoken of in Numbers 30, and the vow of the Nazarite, Numbers 6; or they were to give something to the Lord, as sacrifices, Leviticus 7:16, or the value of persons, beasts, houses, or lands, concerning which the law is here given. A man might vow or devote himself, his children, (verses 5, 6), his domestics, his cattle, his goods, etc. And in this chapter rules are laid down for the redemption of all these things. But if, after consecrating these things, he refused to redeem them, then they became the Lord's property for ever. The persons continued all their lives devoted to the service of the sanctuary; the goods were sold for the profit of the temple or the priests; the animals, if clean, were offered in sacrifice; if not proper for sacrifice, were sold, and the price devoted to sacred uses. This is a general view of the different laws relative to vows, mentioned in this chapter.
Leviticus 27:3 From twenty years old even unto sixty-fifty shekels—A man from twenty to sixty years of age, if consecrated to the Lord by a vow, might be redeemed for fifty shekels, which, at 3s. each, amounted to 7£. 10s. sterling.
Leviticus 27:4 And if it be a female—The woman, at the same age, vowed unto the Lord, might be redeemed for thirty shekels, 4£. 10s. sterling, a little more than one half of the value of the man; for this obvious reason, that a woman, if employed, could not be of so much use in the service of the sanctuary as the man, and was therefore of much less value.—Adam Clarke's Commentary


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.—Judges 11:36 (KJV)
36 And she said, “Father, if you have made a vow to the LORD, you must do to me what you have vowed, for the LORD has given you a great victory over your enemies, the Ammonites.—Judges 11:36 (NLT)

And she said unto him, my father, [if] thou hast opened thy mouth unto the Lord…
The conditional word "if" may be left out, since it is not in the original text. It seems that her father had told her that he had opened his mouth, or made a vow to the Lord, and had no doubt explained what it was to her, though it is not expressed within the passage; she knew it concerned her, and that is why her father was so upset, and she was alarmed, which is apparent from a request she made to him later on.

do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth;
This is a remarkable instance of the respect that will result in subjection and obedience to a parent, and which perhaps was strengthened by a mistaken notion like that of her father’s concerning the vow, that it could not be disposed of; and therefore she was moved under a sense of religion, as well as a sense of duty, to express herself in this manner, as well as by what follows.

Do to me—do not make thyself a transgressor for my sake; I freely give my consent to thy vow; that is, do to me what thou hast vowed, since Jehovah has brought vengeance upon thine enemies the Ammonites. Keep in mind: “She was immediately obedient, pious, and patriotic. For a woman to have no offspring was considered degrading among the Hebrews; but she is willing to put herself in that position, considering her father is safe, and her country has been delivered.”

forasmuch as the Lord hath taken vengeance for thee of thine enemies, even of the children of Ammon:
This girl has such a wonderful spirit for God and country and a beautiful love for her father. What a grateful sense she had of the divine goodness which brought victory over Israel's enemies. She did not care what was done to her; she desired that what was vowed would be performed.

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.—Judges 11:37(KJV)
37 But first let me do this one thing: Let me go up and roam in the hills and weep with my friends for two months, because I will die a virgin.”—Judges 11:37(NLT)

And she said unto her father, let this thing be done for me
(equivalent to, Let this only be granted me).
She had only one favor to ask of him, which she thought might be granted, without any breach of the vow.

let me alone two months
She desired that she be allowed two months time before the vow took place; and I believe she expected that her request would be granted, since no time was allotted by the vow for the accomplishment of it, and since the time she asked for was not very long, and the motivation behind it was not unreasonable.

that I may go up and down upon the mountains;
Jephthah’s house in Mizpeh was perhaps higher than the nearby mountains; or there might be, as Kimchi and Ben Melech note, a valley between Mizpeh and the mountains; therefore, she descended them first in order to go up to the mountains; see [4](Judges 9:25). There she chose to make her abode, and take her walks, during the time she asked for. She may have been familiar with this area and thought of it as place fit for retreat and solitude; where she might spend time in meditation and prayer, and in conversation with her fellow virgins (see [5]Leviticus 21:13), that she would take with her. Her attitude is exceptional for the degree of resignation and submission to her father's will, and to the will of God in it.

“Let me alone for two months ... that I may bewail my virginity". This cannot mean, "Let me bewail my untimely death." It was her dedication to the tabernacle as a life-long servant, during which she would not be permitted to marry. She will die childless, which was regarded both a curse and a disgrace for the Israelites, because such were excluded from that great privilege of increasing the holy seed, and contributing to the birth of the Messiah. That is what she bewailed, not her death. Those who want to insist that she was offered as a burnt-offering will have to find it somewhere else; it is not in the text.

and bewail my virginity, I and my fellows;
Her companions were also virgins; this, she proposed to Jephthah, would be the subject that she and her associates would dwell upon, during this time of solitude. This, I suspect, was the thing contained in the vow, that since she was a virgin, so she would continue to be one. That means she would not be the happy instrument of increasing the number of the children of Israel, nor of being the foremother of the Messiah; which was reckoned in those times to be very grievous and reproachful to live and die without children, and so it was a matter of lamentation and weeping.

Whether she meant by “I and my fellows” the young women she knew personally or those who had been consecrated to God in the same way she had been, though for different reasons, is not quite clear; but it is likely she means her own companions.  And her going up and down upon the mountains may signify no more than her paying each of them a visit at their own houses, prior to her being shut up in the tabernacle; and visiting of each at their own home might require the space of two months. I am inclined to think this is the meaning of this difficult clause.

_______________________verse 37 notes________________________

[4](Judges 9:25; NKJV) “And the men of Shechem set men in ambush against him on the tops of the mountains, and they robbed all who passed by them along that way; and it was told Abimelech.” It pleased God to punish this bad man by the very persons who had contributed to his iniquitous elevation. So God often makes the instruments of men's sins the means of their punishment. It is likely that although Abimelech had his chief residence at Shechem, yet he frequently went to Ophrah, the city of his father; his claim to which there was none to oppose, as he had slain all his brethren. It was probably in his passage between those two places that the Shechemites had posted cut-throats, in order to assassinate him; as such men had no moral principle, they robbed and plundered all who came that way.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[5]Leviticus 21:13; BBE) “And let him take as his wife one who has not had relations with a man” Now days some people can’t tell you what a virgin is. It is a woman that has never had sexual relations with a man.

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.—Judges 11:38(KJV)
38 “You may go,” Jephthah said. And he sent her away for two months. She and her friends went into the hills and wept because she would never have children..—Judges 11:38(NLT)

And he said, go…
He granted her request at once.

and he sent her away for two months;
as she desired.

and she went with her companions, and bewailed her virginity upon the mountains;
The Jewish commentators make mention of a symbolic explanation of a writer of theirs, who by mountains understands the Sanhedrim, to whom she planned to go, who perhaps might find a way to cancel the vow; but there is the question of whether there was such a court in Israel at that time; and had there been one, and either she or her father had made application to it, in this case the priests would have pointed out what was to be done, and especially if the vow had any regard to the sacrifice of his daughter; and even to her virginity, which he had no power to force her to commit to; but the literal sense is no doubt to be followed.

 

 

 

 

 

 
Illustration 24: His daughter - In concert with other virgins.
(not available)

 

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,—Judges 11:39(KJV)
39 When she returned home, her father kept the vow he had made, and she died a virgin. So it has become a custom in Israel.—Judges 11:39(NLT)

And it came to pass at the end of two months she returned to her father…
The request she made was not a false display of devotion to her father, meant to free her from his control, so that she could make her escape out of his hands; but having done what she aimed to do, and she had been gone for the prescribed time, she returned to her father's house, and delivered herself to him.

who did with her according to his vow which he had vowed:
But what he did is a question which is not easily resolved; some think he really sacrificed her, through a mistaken sense of duty and loyalty to God [6](Leviticus 27:29), and that his action can be accounted for through his living a military life in a distant part of the country, and at a time when idolatry had become prevalent in Israel to such a degree that had not been seen before, and the branch of it that was the most horrible was sacrificing children to Molech. Jephthah might think that though it was sinful, such a sacrifice might be acceptable to the Lord; and especially since he thought his vow bound him to it; and how far the example of Abraham offering up his son Isaac might encourage him to do it, cannot be said. Many good interpreters are in agreement that Jephthah did sacrifice his daughter: Josephus was of this mind, Jonathan Ben Uzziah the Targumist, and some other Jewish writers hold fast to this belief; and many of the ancient Christian fathers, and many modern Christian authors hold the same opinion. There is a case similar to this one that involves Idomeneus, a king of the Cretians, who upon his return after the destruction of Troy, and being in a rage, vowed, that if he should be saved, that he would sacrifice to the gods the first one he met. The first one he met was his son and because of his vow, he sacrificed him; or, as others say, he would have done it, except he was prevented from doing it by the citizens, and because he would have done it, they drove him from his kingdom. But others, myself included, are of the opinion that what Jephthah did to fulfill his vow was to restrain his daughter, and separate her from contact with men, and require her to live unmarried as long as she lived, and therefore she is said to bewail her virginity. Kimchi and Ben Melech say, he built a house for her outside of the city, where she lived alone, and remained a virgin; but her father did support her. Abarbinel thinks, that the Roman Catholics took from this case in point the concept of building cloisters to put their nuns in. Ben Gersom and many other Christian interpreters are in agreement that she was separated from men, and devoted to the service of God. Now, Jephthah had no such power over his daughter, since he could not force her into perpetual virginity, nor did his vow bind him to it.  Persons devoted to the Lord were not obliged to abstain from marriage, and there are no known instances of a monastic life in those times or among the Jews at any time.

Now, there is sufficient evidence that Jephthah did not sacrifice his daughter, but instead he consecrated her to the service of God in the tabernacle:
1. Human sacrifices were always an abomination to Jehovah, of which Jephthah could not be ignorant; and consequently he would neither have made such a vow, nor carried it out.
2. We are expressly told [1](ver. 29) that Jephthah was under the influence of the Spirit of God, which would effectually prevent him from immersing his hands in the blood of his own child.
3. He had it in his power to redeem his daughter, [3](Le 27:4); and surely his only child must have been of more value than thirty shekles.
4. Besides, who was to perform the horrid rite? Not Jephthah himself, who was no priest, and in whom it would have been most unnatural and inhuman; and the priests would certainly have dissuaded him from doing it.
5. The sacred historian informs us, that she bewailed her virginity, that she knew no man, and that the Israelitish women went yearly to comfort or lament with her. She was living in perpetual virginity and that is the reason they lamented year after year, so she must have lived. The next clause states that she knew no man, which is not in harmony with the assumption of a sacrificial death. This clause would add nothing to the description in that case, since it was already known that she was a virgin. The words only gain their proper sense if we connect them with the previous clause, he "did with her according to the vow which he had vowed," and understand them as describing what the daughter did in fulfillment of the vow. The father fulfilled his vow upon her, and she knew no man; i.e., he fulfilled the vow through the fact that she knew no man, but dedicated her life to the Lord, as a spiritual burnt-offering, in lifelong chastity. It was this willingness of the daughter to sacrifice herself whom the daughters of Israel went every year to celebrate—namely, upon the mountains whither her friends had gone with her to lament her virginity, and which they commemorated there four days in the year. And the idea of a spiritual sacrifice is supported not only by the words, but also most decisively by the fact that the historian describes the fulfillment of the vow in the words "he did to her according to his vow," in such a manner as to lead to the conclusion that he regarded the act itself as commendable and good. But a prophetic historian could never have approved of a human sacrifice; and it is evident that the author of the book of Judges does not conceal what was reprehensible even in the judges themselves, from his remarks concerning the conduct of Gideon [7](Judges 8:27), which was only a very small offence in comparison with the abomination of a human sacrifice. To this we have to add the difficulties connected with such an act. The words "he did to her according to his vow" takes for granted that Jephthah offered his daughter as a burnt-offering to Jehovah. But burnt-offerings, that is to say bleeding burnt-offerings, in which the victim was slaughtered and burnt upon the altar, could only be offered upon the lawful altar at the tabernacle, or before the ark, through the medium of the Levitical priests, unless the sacrifice itself had been brought about by some extraordinary manifestation of God; and that we cannot for a moment think of here. But is it not plausible that a priest or the priesthood should have consented to offer a sacrifice upon the altar of Jehovah which was denounced in the law as the greatest abomination of the heathen? This difficulty cannot be set aside by assuming that Jephthah put his daughter to death, and burned her upon some secret altar, without the assistance and mediation of a priest; for such an act would not have been described by the prophetic historian as a fulfillment of the vow that he would offer a burnt-offering to the Lord, simply because it would not have been a sacrifice offered to Jehovah at all, but a sacrifice slaughtered to Moloch

and she knew no man;
She was never married, but lived and died a virgin: "and it was a custom in Israel." The Targum adds, “that a man might not offer his son or his daughter for a burnt offering, as Jephthah the Gileadite did, and did not consult Phinehas the priest; for had he consulted Phinehas the priest, he would have redeemed her with a price;'' so Jarchi, according to [3](Leviticus 27:4) believes each stood upon their honor, as the Jews say; Jephthah being a king would not go to Phinehas, and Phinehas being an high priest; and the son of an high priest, would not go to a plebeian; and so, between them both, the maiden was lost: but the custom refers to what follows.

And it was a custom in Israel,
or, ordinance.
_________________________verse 39 notes_______________________

[6](Leviticus 27:28, 29; NKJV) “Nevertheless no devoted offering that a man may devote to the LORD of all that he has, both man and beast, or the field of his possession, shall be sold or redeemed; every devoted offering is most holy to the LORD…“No person under the ban, who may become doomed to destruction among men, shall be redeemed, but shall surely be put to death.” Every man who is devoted shall surely be put to death; or, as some understand it, be the Lord's property, or be employed in his service, till death. The law mentioned in these two verses has been appealed to by the enemies of Divine revelation as a proof, that under the Mosaic dispensation human sacrifices were offered to God; but this can never be conceded. Had there been such a law, it certainly would have been more explicitly revealed, and not left in the compass of a few words only, where the meaning is very difficult to be ascertained; and the words themselves differently translated by most interpreters. That there were persons, devoted to destruction under the Mosaic dispensation, is sufficiently evident, for the whole Canaanitish nations were thus devoted by the Supreme Being himself, because the cup of their iniquity was full; but that they were not sacrificed to God, the whole history sufficiently declares. Houbigant understands the passage as speaking of these alone; and says, Non alios licebat anathemate voveri, quam Chananaeos, quos jusserat Deus ad internecionem deleri. "It was not lawful to devote any persons to death but the Canaanites, whom God had commanded to be entirely extirpated." This is perfectly correct; but he might have added that it was because they were the most impure idolaters, and because the cup of their iniquity was full. These God commanded to be put to death; and who can doubt his right to do so, who is the Maker of man, and the Fountain of justice? But what has this to do with human sacrifices? Just nothing. No more than the execution of an ordinary criminal, or a traitor, in the common course of justice, has to do with a sacrifice to God. In the destruction of such idolaters, no religious formality whatever was observed; nor any thing that could give the transaction even the most distant semblance of a sacrifice. In this way Jericho was commanded to be destroyed, Joshua 6:17, and the Amalekites, Deuteronomy 25:19; 1 Samuel 15:3: but in all these cases the people commanded to be destroyed were such sinners as God's justice did not think proper to spare longer. And has not every system of law the same power? And do we not concede such power to the civil magistrate, for the welfare of the state? God, who is the sovereign arbiter of life and death, acts here in his juridical and legislative capacity; but these are victims to justice, not religious sacrifices. It may be necessary just farther to note that two kinds of vows are mentioned in this chapter:—
1.  The ‏נדר‎  neder, (see on Leviticus 7 (note))., which comprehends all those things which, when once devoted, might be redeemed at a certain price, according to the valuation of the priest.
2.  The ‏חרם‎  cherem, those things vowed to God of which there remained no power of redemption; they were most holy, i. e., so absolutely devoted to God that they could neither be changed, alienated, nor redeemed: probably because no mental reservation had been made, as in the above case may be supposed. On this ground the word was afterward applied to the most solemn and awful kind of excommunication, meaning a person so entirely devoted to the stroke of vindictive justice, as never to be capable of receiving pardon; and hence the word may be well applied in this sense to the Canaanites, the cup of whose iniquity was full, and who were consigned, without reprieve, to final extermination.
—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[7](Judges 8:27; NKJV) “Then Gideon made it into an ephod and set it up in his city, Ophrah. And all Israel played the harlot with it there. It became a snare to Gideon and to his house.”

40 That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.—Judges 11:40(KJV)
40 for young Israelite women to go away for four days each year to lament the fate of Jephthah’s daughter.—Judges 11:40(NLT)

That the daughters of Israel went yearly to lament the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in a year.

The daughters of Israel lamented either her death, as some will say, or her virginity, as others would state; though the word used here that has been translated lamented may signify to talk and chat with her, to hold a discussion with her, and comfort her, as Kimchi and Ben Melech interpret it; to bring her some news, and tell her some amusing stories, to cheer her up and take her mind off her solitude. De Dieu observes, that the word in the Arabic language signifies to "praise", or speak in commendation of a person or thing; and this is the sense it seems to be used in this book, [8](Judges 5:11), "they shall rehearse", that is, they shall speak with praise and thanksgiving about "the righteous acts of the Lord"; and so the daughters of Israel went every year to the place where the daughter of Jephthah was, to praise of her for her heroism, in so cheerfully submitting to her father's vow, and, at the same time expressing  gratitude and joy for victory over the enemies of Israel. They did this in her presence and while she lived, to keep up her spirits; and it may be, they did it in some public place, even after her death, and in memory of her, and to celebrate her life with praise. Epiphanius says that in his time, at Sebaste, formerly called Samaria, they deified the daughter of Jephthah, and kept a feast for her every year. The meeting of the daughters of Israel lasted for four days, each year, for as long as the custom lasted, which perhaps was only during the life of Jephthah's daughter; but whether they were four consecutive days, or one day each quarter of a year, is not certain; the latter seems most probable.

Where did those daughters of Israel go? To the tabernacle, of course. Why? That is where Jephthah's daughter was. If she had become a burnt-offering, the yearly celebration would not have involved any "going" at all.

In the previous verse we noted that there is sufficient evidence that Jephthah did not sacrifice his daughter, but instead he consecrated her to the service of God in the tabernacle, and we gave four statements to serve as that evidence. Now, I will reinforce those statements and add additional evidence:
1. We have already noted that Jephthah's name is listed in the roster of the heroes of faith in Heb. 11, along with David and Samuel, and due to the fact that human sacrifice has always been an abomination to the Lord, it is impossible to believe that Jephthah would have been so favorably mentioned in the N.T. if indeed he had offered up a human sacrifice in the person of his daughter. Such a thing simply cannot fit what is written.
2. Let it be supposed, for a moment, that Jephthah would have attempted to offer his daughter as a burnt-offering. No priest would have allowed it; the people of Israel would simply not have tolerated it.
3. There is not a word in this narrative that declares any "burnt-offering" to have been offered. Furthermore, if Jephthah had actually intended to offer up a human being as a burnt-offering, as a number of commentators affirm, can we believe that God would have allowed Jephthah’s victory to go to a man that is in open rebellion against what is everywhere revealed in the Bible as God's will?
4. The sacrifice of children to Molech was an abomination to the Lord, of which in numerous passages he expresses his loathing, and it was prohibited by a specific law, under the penalty of death. It is treated as if it were a defilement of God's sanctuary, and a profanation of his holy name, [9]Leviticus 20:2,3. Such a sacrifice, therefore, unto the Lord himself, must be a still higher abomination, and there is no precedent of any such under the law in the OLD TESTAMENT.
5. The case of Isaac before the law is irrelevant, for Isaac was not sacrificed, and it was only proposed for a trial of Abraham's faith.
6. No father, merely by his own authority, could put an offending, much less an innocent, child to death upon any account, without the sentence of the magistrate and the consent of the people, as in Jonathan's case.
7. The Mischna, or traditional law of the Jews is pointedly against it; ver. 212. 'If a Jew should devote his son or daughter, his man or maid servant, who are Hebrews, the devotement would be void, because no man can devote what is not his own, or whose life he has not the absolute disposal of.' These arguments appear to be decisive against the sacrifice; and that Jephthah could not have devoted his daughter to celibacy against her will is evident from the history, and from the high estimation in which she was always held by the daughters of Israel for her filial duty and her hapless fate, which they celebrated by a regular anniversary commemoration four days in the year." -New Analysis of Chronology, vol. iii., p. 319.
This writer is fully convinced that Jephthah's loving daughter was dedicated to a life of service in the tabernacle and that that action was indeed the complete fulfillment of his vow.
The grief of Jephthah was not because his daughter would become a burnt-offering, but because ... as she was his only child, it was the end of his posterity upon the earth. In the thinking of the people of his day, this was more than enough to break his heart.

It is really astonishing, that the general stream of commentators, should take it for granted, that Jephthah murdered his daughter! But, I do not find any law, or custom, in all the Old Testament, which does in the least intimate, that the taking of a single life was any branch or article of religion. And we do not find any law, or custom there, which does in the least intimate that cutting the throat of an only child, was any branch or article of religion? If only a dog had met Jephthah, would he have offered up that for a burnt-offering? No: because God had expressly forbidden this. And had he not expressly forbidden murder?

Finally, there are several good lessons to be learned from this story:
1. That there may be the residue of distrust and doubting even in the hearts of true and great believers. Jephthah had reason enough to be confident of success, especially when he found the Spirit of the Lord come upon him, and yet, now that it comes to the mission, he seems to hesitate; If thou wilt without fail deliver them into my hand (Judges 11:30), then I will do so and so. And perhaps the snare into which his vow brought him was designed to correct the weakness of his faith, and a conceit which he had so that he could not promise himself a victory unless he offered something considerable to God.
2. That it is very good, when we are in the pursuit or expectation of any mercy from our Heavenly Father, to make vows to God of some acceptable service to him, not in order to purchase the favor we desire, but as an expression of our gratitude and love to him and the deep sense we have of our obligations to render our service according to the benefit done to us. The matter of such a singular vow (Leviticus 27:2) must be something that has a plain and direct tendency either to the advancement of God's glory, and the interests of his kingdom among men, or to the furtherance of ourselves in his service, which is our duty.
3. That we have a great need to be very cautious in making such vows, for fear that, by indulging a present emotion even of pious zeal, we ensnare our own consciences, involve ourselves in confusion, and are forced at last to say: “Be not unwise with your mouth, and let not your heart be quick to say anything before God, because God is in heaven and you are on the earth--so let not the number of your words be great. As a dream comes from much business, so the voice of a foolish man comes with words in great number. When you take an oath before God, put it quickly into effect, because he has no pleasure in the foolish; keep the oath you have taken. It is better not to take an oath than to take an oath and not keep it. Let not your mouth make your flesh do evil. And say not before the angel, It was an error. So that God may not be angry with your words and put an end to the work of your hands” (Ecclesiastes 5:2-6; BBE).
4. That what we have solemnly vowed to God we must conscientiously perform, if it is possible and lawful, though it is very difficult and dreadful to us. Jephthah's sense of the powerful obligation of his vow must always be ours (Judges 11:35): "I have opened my mouth unto the Lord in a solemn vow, and I cannot go back." The thing was my own, and in my own power [10](Acts 5:4), but now it is not. Vow and pay, [11]Psalms 76:11. We deceive ourselves if we think we can mock God. If we apply this to the consent we have solemnly given, in our sacramental vows, to the covenant of grace made with poor sinners in Christ, what a powerful argument it will be against the sins we have by those vows bound ourselves out from, what a strong inducement to the duties we have hereby bound ourselves to do, and what a ready answer to every temptation! "I have opened my mouth to the Lord, and I cannot go back; I must therefore go forward. I have sworn, and I must, I will, perform it. Let me not dare to play fast and loose with God."
5. Children that obediently and cheerfully submit to their parents in the Lord ought to be complemented, and particularly those that comply with their pious rules that are intended to honor God and maintain strong religion in their families; though they may be harsh and severe, as it is with the Rechabites, who for many generations religiously observed the commands of Jonadab their father by abstaining from wine, and here Jephthah's daughter, who, in order to satisfy her father's conscience, and to honor God and her country, yielded herself like one devoted (Judges 11:36): "Do to me according to that which hath proceeded out of thy mouth; I know I am dear to thee, but am well content that God should be dearer." The father might forbid any vow made by the daughter [12](Numbers 30:5), but the daughter could not refuse or cancel a vow made by the father. This magnifies the law of the fifth commandment.
6. That our friends' grievances should be our heartache. When she went to bewail her cruel fate, the virgins, her companions, joined her in her expression of grief, Judges 11:38. They may have expected to dance at her wedding, but were heavily disappointed when they were called to go to the mountains with her and share in her grief. Those are unworthy to be called friends that will only rejoice with us, and not weep with us.
7. That heroic zeal for the honor of God and Israel is worthy to be held in perpetual remembrance. It well became the daughters of Israel to annually preserve the honorable memory of Jephthah's daughter, who made light even of her own life like a noble heroine, when God had taken vengeance on Israel's enemies, Judges 11:36. Such a rare instance of one that placed the public interest before life itself was never to be forgotten. Her sex prevented her from going to war, and so, rather than exposing her life in battle, she put it at risk even more (and perhaps she knew of her father’s vow, and planned her response accordingly; for he tells her, Judges 11:35, Thou hast brought me very low). She was so elated with the victory that she was willing to offer herself as a thank-offering for it, and would think her life was well spent when laid down on so great an occasion. She thinks it is an honor to die, not as a sacrifice of atonement for the people's sins (that honor was reserved for Christ only), but as a sacrifice of acknowledgment for the people's mercies.
8. From Jephthah's concern on this occasion, we must learn not to think it strange if on the day of our triumphs in this world, we experience some misfortune that causes us grief, and therefore we must always rejoice with trembling; we hope for a day of triumph, which will have nothing to undermine our joy.

________________________verse 40 notes__________________________

[8](Judges 5:11; NLT) “Listen to the village musicians gathered at the watering holes. They recount the righteous victories of the LORD and the victories of his villagers in Israel. Then the people of the LORD marched down to the city gates.” Deborah intimates that they may sit down at the place of drawing water, and there rehearse the righteous acts of the Lord; the land being now everywhere in peace, order and good government being restored.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[9](Leviticus 20:2, 3; NKJV) “Again, you shall say to the children of Israel: 'Whoever of the children of Israel, or of the strangers who dwell in Israel, who gives any of his descendants to Molech, he shall surely be put to death. The people of the land shall stone him with stones. I will set My face against that man, and will cut him off from his people, because he has given some of his descendants to Molech, to defile My sanctuary and profane My holy name.”
[10](Acts 5:4; KJV) “Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.” Verse 4. While it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power?—from which we see how purely voluntary were all these sacrifices for the support of the infant community.
not lied to men but God -- to men so entirely the instruments of the directing Spirit that the lie was rather told to Him: language clearly implying both the distinct personality and the proper divinity of the Holy Ghost.
—Jamieson-Fausset-Brown Bible Commentary
[11](Psalms 76:11; KJV) “Vow, and pay unto the LORD your God: let all that be round about him bring presents unto him that ought to be feared.” Vow, and pay unto the Lord—Bind yourselves to him, and forget not your obligations.—Adam Clarke's Commentary
[12](Numbers 30:5; NLT) “But if her father refuses to let her fulfill the vow or pledge on the day he hears of it, then all her vows and pledges will become invalid. The LORD will forgive her because her father would not let her fulfill them.”

 

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