|In the Time of the Judges - Jephthah's Daughter|
by Kevin Rolly (Used by Permission)
“Tragic” is the word generally used for the story recounted in Judges 11:29-40. Like many other desperate people throughout history, Jephthah the Gileadite made a rash vow to the Lord. He hoped for military success against the Ammonites, and, at that moment, was willing to sacrifice anyone in his household for it. Maybe he thought that the first person to greet him would be a servant or a pet. At any rate, Jephthah made the vow, and God gave him victory. Jephthah went home knowing that he must do exactly what he agreed to do.
Today, in many homeschooling “patriarchal” circles, Numbers 30 is a popular passage, used to support the argument that an unmarried woman’s father has the role of her husband and deserves all of the respect, obedience, and submission that the New Testament writers require (cf. Eph. 5:22-24, 33; Col. 3:18; 1 Pt. 3:1-6). Unfortunately, this discussion tends to overshadow the entire point of the passage:
While women could be released from a rash vow by a male authority, men were stuck. Jephthah’s reaction to his daughter running out to greet him indicates just how serious the ancient Israelites took God’s command. There was no way out, perhaps because the practice of redeeming lives hadn’t yet been established (1 Sam. 14:24-46). Jephthah was bound to offer up his only daughter as a burnt offering, just as he promised (Judg. 11:31).
If a man vows a vow to the LORD, or swears an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he shall not break his word. He shall do according to all that proceeds out of his mouth. –Num. 30:2 (ESV)
It is at this point when the analogy with Christ becomes apparent. Jephthah’s daughter reacts rather unexpectedly. As Jesus was obedient even to death on the cross (Phil. 2:8), the girl tells her father to do as he promised (Judg. 11:36). Her words anticipate the words of Christ centuries later: “Not my will, but yours be done” (Lk. 22:42). She spends two months in the mountains with her friends preparing for her death (Jdg. 11:37-39), just as Jesus spent His last hours with His friends, those closest to Him (Mt. 26:17-56; Mk. 14:12-42; Lk. 22:7-46; Jn. 13:1-17:26; cf. Jn. 15:15). And as if to eliminate any doubt in the reader’s mind about her innocence, the narrator tells us that her was a virgin, worthy of honor (Judg. 11:37-40). This is not to say that she sinless, but that her father had no reason to condemn her to death. She had not engaged in prostitution, which under the Mosaic Law was deserving of death by stoning (cf. Deut. 22:13-21). Rather, she was like Christ, who being without sin didn’t deserve the punishment He was given.
Because of the human sacrifice, this story of Jephthah’s daughter, like that of Abraham sacrificing Isaac (Genesis 22), will always be controversial and leave a bad taste in the mouths of most readers. But we must remember that the shedding of innocent blood is central to Christianity’s message. The woman who was once considered worthy of an annual four-day lament does not deserve to have her story left in the back of the closet, regardless of how uncomfortable it might make us. I hope in the future readers will find a new appreciation for this female type of Christ.