From yesterday, we learnt of the preparation of the children of Israel (through the tribe of Gilead) for war against the Ammonites, and their requirement for a leader. Today begins with an introduction to Jephtah, who was declared as a son of a harlot and hated by his brothers. Jephtah was actually sent off so as not to partake in their father’s inheritance.
Jephtah was however described as a man of valour. He was able to gather ‘vain men’, and was strong enough to be considered as a captain for the battle Gilead was to face. The same people that rejected him came back to make him their captain.
Jephtah first approached the situation trying to resolve the issue peacefully with the king of the Ammonites, providing historical evidence that the Israelites were rightful owners of the land the Ammonite king was fighting them over. However, the Ammonite king did not consider Jephtah’s letters and explanations and went to war with Gilead all the same.
The most interesting part of the story came when just before Jephtah went to war, he made a vow that when the Lord gives him victory, whatsoever comes out of his door first on his return would be offered unto the Lord as a burnt offering. Indeed Jephtah went to war and was victorious, however on returning the first person to meet him was his own daughter.
Here is the big question: Did Jephtah offer his daughter as a burnt offering? The passage told us he rented his clothes, and that was a sign of sadness. His daughter also asked for some time to go up the mountain and bewail her virginity with her friends for two months. After this she returned and her father fulfilled his vow. We later learnt that there was a yearly four day lament by the daughters of Israel for Jephtah’s daughter.
Where do all these leave us?
A lot of historian and very notable bible scholars believe that Jephtah did not burn his daughter, but offered her unto the Lord’s service as a virgin for the rest of her life. The argument was that the Lord was against human sacrifice as seen in his warning about the practices of the pagans of the land he gave Israel (Deut 12:31). It was also argued he did not allow Abraham to offer Isaac, and he allowed for the redemption of first-borns (Lev 27:4).
I will however argue that it is not easy to jump into conclusions on either premise i.e. that the daughter was offered as a burnt offering or just in service to the Lord. It would be difficult to insinuate more than exactly what was said in a scripture passage when we give it interpretation. The arguments look sound, but let us remember this was a period when Israel was strongly influenced by the people they lived with, and human sacrifice might have just been one of the possible influence. Also, God himself offered up his own Son, and countless disciples willingly offered to die for the gospel’s sake. In addition, nothing was mentioned of the life of Jephtah’s daughter as a ‘nun’ and neither was the word temple or service mentioned at all in the whole passage.
So, for me, at best, I would leave this argument as a hard subject in the book of Judges. Clearly there was an offering, there was a feeling of sadness, and something was given up to redeem Jephtah’s vow. His daughter’s life never remained the same again, whether she died or became a nun.