Jephthah And His Daughter


“And what shall I more say? for the time would fail me to tell of Gedeon, and of Barak, and of Samson, and of Jephthae; of David also, and Samuel, and of the prophets:”

Hebrews 11:32


The History

  1. Jephthah was a bastard son of Gilead, who lived with the 2½ tribes east of the Jordan River (1-3).
    1. His mother was a harlot, or strange woman, so that he was a motherless bastard child of Gilead.
    2. Gilead’s legitimate sons threw Jephthah out of the family to keep him from a share of the estate.
    3. Similar to David, Jephthah gathered other outcasts around him by leadership ability (I Sam 22:2).
    4. Jephthah was a mighty man of valor, a courageous and strong leader in fighting and warfare.
  2. When the Ammonites initiated war against Israel, the elders of Gilead sought out Jephthah (4-11).
    1. They knew he was a mighty man of valor, and they had no better man to lead against Ammon.
    2. Jephthah correctly asked these elders about the great change of heart toward him and why.
    3. The elders realized their appeal was rather weak, so they offered him to be head of all of Gilead.
    4. Jephthah confirms their offer by clarifying the terms with the elders in the name of the LORD.
    5. Jephthah did not undertake the office or campaign without religious solemnity before the LORD.
  3. Jephthah shows great discretion and makes two conciliatory attempts to avoid actual war (12-28).
    1. He firsts asks as to the reason for the conflict, and Ammon accuses Israel of taking their land.
    2. Jephthah explained Israel took the land from Sihon and the Amorites, not from the Ammonites.
    3. He reasoned, Jehovah dispossessed the Amorites for us to have it; why do you want to take it?
    4. He suggested they be happy with what Chemosh gave them; they would keep Jehovah’s land.
    5. He told him that Balak and others for 300 years allowed the lands de facto to become Israel’s.
    6. He plainly told the king of Ammon that he was wrong to prosecute such a war before the LORD.
    7. The king of Ammon did not respond to this kind and patient effort to avoid outright conflict.
  4. The Spirit of God came upon Jephthah to prepare him even more for the conflict before him (29-31).
    1. The LORD gave him leadership, strength, courage, and wit to raise an army against Ammon.
    2. Jephthah vowed to the LORD, an act of worship, if the LORD would help him (Gen 28:20-22).
    3. He promised to give to the LORD by burnt offering whatever came to meet him on his return.
  5. Jephthah wins a great victory by the LORD’s blessing and subdued Ammon and 20 cities (32-33).
  6. Jephthah was horrified for his daughter to meet him upon his successful return from the war (34-40).
    1. She was an only child: she came out excitedly to celebrate her father’s victory over Ammon!
    2. Jephthah is crushed to see his daughter, for his noble conscience will not allow altering his vow.
    3. His daughter, with a pious display of humility, told him to keep his vow for such a great victory!
    4. She asked for two months to mourn her virginity with friends before he would fulfill the vow.
    5. She returned at the appointed time, when her father fulfilled the vow; and she died a virgin.
    6. It began a custom in Israel for a four-day memorial to remember the daughter of Jephthah.
  7. The wicked men of Ephraim complained against Jephthah for not being invited to the battle (12:1-7).
    1. These profane people threatened to burn Jephthah’s house down over him for missing the war.
    2. Jephthah prosecuted the battle without Ephraim, because they had not responded to his call.
    3. Now a civil war was fought, and Jephthah destroyed 42,000 of the wicked Ephraimites.
    4. When the Ephraimites tried to escape over Jordan, the Gileadites proved them by pronunciation.
  8. Jephthah’s judgeship expanded to all Israel for six years, but then he died and was buried in Gilead.

The Vow

  1. There are numerous reasons to indicate that Jephthah probably did not kill and burn his daughter.
    1. She asked for two months to lament her virginity, not her death by a knife and burning (37-38).
    2. She did not lament not giving children to her father or dying childless, but being a virgin (37-38).
    3. The Spirit’s explanation as to the fulfillment of the vow was not knowing a man, virginity (39).
    4. The Holy Spirit’s explanation is not that Jephthah died childless, but that she was a virgin (39).
    5. He likely dedicated her to virginity and perpetual service to the Lord at the tabernacle in Shiloh.
    6. Simply marrying a priest would not be enough, for her life would be no unusual sacrifice to God.
    7. Samuel is an example of being devoted to the Lord for the rest of his life (I Samuel 1:11,28).
    8. Anna is an example of a woman staying single in spiritual devotion to the Lord (Luke 2:36-38).
    9. Human sacrifice was a horrible abomination to Jehovah, and Jephthah knew the Law of Moses.
    10. His knowledge of the Law is seen by at least his perfect discourse with Ammon and his vow.
    11. The commandment “Thou shalt not kill” overshadows any precept about paying foolish vows.
    12. The Spirit does not add any condemning statement about any horrible thing done (Judges 19:30).
    13. If this man killed and burned his delightful daughter, why no word of rebuke from the Lord?
    14. Jephthah was not foolish and impulsive, as indicated by his peaceful talk to Ammon (12-28).
    15. The folly of a premeditated human sacrifice does not fit well with the character described.
    16. With two months, the nation would have rescued the girl, as they did Jonathan (I Sam 14:24-46).
    17. With two months time, priests or others could easily have shown Jephthah against burning her.
    18. A father’s authority in Israel could keep a daughter from marriage (Ex 22:16-17; I Cor 7:36-38).
    19. The vow itself can easily allow an elliptical sense of a burnt offering of things allowable (30-31).
    20. The presence of the Spirit of the Lord does not guarantee perfection, but He was there (29-31).
    21. He worded his vow in such a way as to certainly include a person coming forth to meet him.
    22. We reject the marginal readings of 31 and 40, which clearly provide for her perpetual virginity.
    23. It was not unusual for men to vow “singular vows” of great sacrifice of persons to God’s service.
    24. Jephthah could redeem a person from a singular, or special, vow like this for a fee (Lev 27:1-8).
    25. The high priest would not have performed such a sacrifice of killing and burning his daughter.
    26. Surely he did not intend to offer the family dog for a sacrifice, if one had come out to meet him.
    27. Jonadab held his sons for many generations to restrictions against wine and other things (Jer 35).
    28. Unstated, but understood, conditions are not rare in the Word of God (Isaiah 38:1; Jonah 3:4).
    29. If perpetual singleness is so hard, why the New Testament order (I Cor 7:39-40; I Tim 5:11-12).
    30. Paul taught that an unmarried woman cares for the Lord’s things more than a wife (I Cor 7:34).
    31. When Scripture wants to say a woman had no children, it knows how to say it (II Samuel 6:23).
  2. There are a few reasons to indicate that Jephthah might have killed and burned his daughter.
    1. The sound of the words in 31 and 39 definitely lean toward killing and burning her as a sacrifice.
    2. Due to the state of the nation and their neighbors, child sacrifice was not as foreign to them.
    3. Jephthah thought himself to have made a devoted vow that could not be changed (Lev 27:28-29).
    4. He might have thought God would intervene as in the case of Isaac with Abraham (Gen 22:13).
    5. He thought it better to kill his daughter than to break a vow, hoping for God’s mercy in the deed.
  3. Regardless of the position you take, the lessons from their lives are not altered in the least degree.
    1. It is possible the Holy Spirit left the story so vague as to confuse speculation about the vow.
    2. Whether perpetual virginity in devotion to God or a burnt sacrifice, Jephthah was committed.
    3. Whether perpetual virginity in devotion to God or a burnt sacrifice, the daughter was submissive.

The Lessons

  1. Regardless of the position you take on the vow, the valuable lessons of their lives are not altered.
  2. Jephthah had a horrible childhood, disadvantaged youth, and severe discrimination; but these things did not affect a faithful, God-fearing man. Discrimination is the common excuse of lazy men, who would rather blame someone else than work hard.
  3. He did not hold bitterness about the past, which only hurts the fool holding the bitter envy and strife.
  4. He was pious in doing everything publicly before the LORD in undertaking his office and campaign.
  5. He was a peacemaker, in spite of his upbringing, by trying to save Ammon and Ephraim from war.
  6. Her appealed to the LORD for military victory, rather than merely trusting in the arm of the flesh.
  7. Jephthah’s vow was similar to Jacob’s vow, even though God had promised him (Gen 28:20-22).
  8. He did not go back on his vow, though it meant great sacrifice for both himself and his daughter.
  9. He was a mighty man of valor, which affected his daughter in the courage and piety she showed.
  10. He had a wonderful relationship with his daughter as shown by the exchange and events at the end.
  11. We should consider vows carefully, lest we sin foolishly with our lips (Ec 5:2-6; Pr 20:25; Ps 15:4).
  12. His daughter was so cheerful for her father, who had won a great victory over the Ammonites.
  13. His daughter was so willing to be sacrificed to fulfill the vow, as Jonadab’s sons were also (Jer 35).
  14. She did not escape from him, surely a temptation, while being gone from him for two months.
  15. She honored her father in an exceeding costly way, no matter how you understand the sacrifice.
  16. She had good friends who lamented with her over her obedience in this costly matter (Pr 17:17).
  17. Israel’s daughters showed great compassion in remembering the sacrifice of Jephthah’s daughter.