Did God permit Jephthah to commit Human sacrifice?
By Peter Salemi
Many critics claim, “how could God allow Jephthah to offer his daughter up for a sacrifice when the Bible plainly says that this is an abomination (Lev 18:21; 20:2-5; Deut. 12:31; 18:10); and then list Jephthah as one of the champions of faith (Hebrews 11:32). Does God contradict himself? Is Jephthah a hero of faith?
Many have taken this to mean that Jephthah offered his daughter’s life to the Lord, claiming the inviolable nature of an oath made to the Lord (cf. Eccl. 5:2-6). In addition, they note that a “burnt offering” involves a sacrifice of the life. They justify it on the grounds that a vow to God takes precedence over all else, even human life (cf. Gen 22). God is sovereign over life and takes it if He wishes (Deut. 32:39), as He does eventually (Heb. 9:27).
However, for several reasons, it is not necessary to assume that Jephthah ever offered a human sacrifice. First, Jephthah was aware of the law against human sacrifice, and if he had intended to offer a human sacrifice, he would have known this would have been a blatant rejection of God’s law. He said, “whatsoever [“Whosoever” BBE] cometh forth of the doors of my house to meet me…” (Judges 11:31). He was expecting a human being to come through the doors so human sacrifice was out of the question!
Secondly, nowhere in the text does it say he killed his daughter in a sacrificial offering. This is simply inferred by some from the fact that he promised that whoever came out of his house first “shall surely be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering” (Judges 11:31). As Paul indicated, human beings are to “present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” (Rom. 12:1); Human beings are “living sacrifices” in the Bible, NOT dead ones! Jephthah knew this! Isaiah wrote of the Messiah-Jesus that God “make his soul an offering for sin,” (Isa 53:10); Jesus’ life was a sacrifice as well as his death.
Jephthah would have offered his daughter to the Lord as a living sacrifice. For the remainder of her life, she would serve the Lord in the temple and remain a virgin. The scripture implies this clearly, “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…” (Judges 11:39)
Third, a living sacrifice of perpetual virginity was a tremendous sacrifice in the Israelite context of that day. As a perpetual virgin dedicated to the service of the Lord, she would not be able to bring up children to continue her father’s lineage. Jephthah acted as a man of honor and great faith in the Lord by not going back on the vow that he had made to the Lord his God.
Fourth, this view is also supported by the fact that when Jephthah’s daughter went out to weep for two months, she did not go out to mourn her impending death. Rather, she went out “and bewailed her virginity” (v. 38) .
Finally, if she was facing death at the end of the two month period, it would have been very simple for her to marry some young man and live with him for the two months prior to her death. There was no reason for Jephthah’s daughter to mourn her virginity unless she was facing a life of perpetual virginity. Being the only child of Jephthah, his daughter was not mourning her virginity because of any illicit sexual desire, but that she wasn’t able to continue her father’s lineage.
Was Jephthah a hero of faith? Yes he was! He and others, “Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions, Quenched the violence of fire, escaped the edge of the sword, out of weakness were made strong, waxed valiant in fight, turned to flight the armies of the aliens.” (Hebrews 11:33, 34).
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