The meaning of the story of Jephthah’s daughter

You know, we are told that all Scripture was written for our learning (Romans 15:4), and we are also told that reading of Scripture is profitable, and even necessary, for the people of God to grow to maturity in Christ (2 Timothy 3:15-16).

As natural men you and I can know nothing about the character of God, unless He reveals Himself to us.  He has chosen to reveal himself primarily through the Scriptures.  He does not reveal Himself through dreams and visions during the Church-age, although He could if He chose to.  Even if He did, however, He would not contradict anything in the written Word!

What if I said I believed everything the bible says about God, with the exception of one story?  If that were the case, then on that one story, my God is not the God of the bible, but actually an idol! On that one story I have chosen to be my own God, because I don’t like what the bible reveals about the true God!

If I have rejected what the bible says about God on even one point I have actually rejected the God of the bible!

Christianity today is full of idolators; people who refuse to accept everything the bible says about God.

One story that is seldom spoken of in Christian sermons is that of the Israelite Judge Jephthah, and his daughter.

This would be understandable if it were not for the fact that Jephthah is included in the “Hit parade of Faith” found in Hebrews 11. You see, Jephthah sacrificed his daughter to the Lord, so how on earth are we to understand his inclusion in a list of “heros of the faith”?  How are we to reconcile this “child sacrifice” with the God of the bible?  We can and we must!

Before we go on you need to see this;

31 By faith the harlot Rahab perished not with them that believed not, when she had received the spies with peace.

32 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:

33 Who through faith subdued kingdoms, wrought righteousness, obtained promises, stopped the mouths of lions,

34 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 11:31-34

You see lots of kings and judges of Israel defeated Israel’s enemies by faith. Some of them. like Saul, began to think that the victories were the result of their own work, but Jephthah knew better.  He knew that it was God who had given him the victory.  He is not included in the “hit parade of faith” for his victory in battle, but for his relationship with his daughter, and with the Lord!

Before the battle Jephthah told the Lord that if He gave him victory in battle, he would sacrifice the first thing that came out of his house upon his return. I imagine that he was probably thinking “I would gladly sacrifice my favorite dog to the Lord, if He were to give me victory in this battle” but he didn’t say this! God is not really interested in sacrifices of dogs, or even sheep, goats and cattle. What He really wants is people! And, God isn’t really interested in death, so much as people who trust Him with their life, even to the point of death!

So this story is not only about Jephthah, but to an equal extent it is about his daughter, and the type of person she was. In all the people of the bible, the only persons who were willing to lay down their life, because of a promise their father had made, were Jesus Christ, and Jephthah’s daughter;

29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah, and he passed over Gilead, and Manasseh, and passed over Mizpeh of Gilead, and from Mizpeh of Gilead he passed over unto the children of Ammon.

30 And Jephthah vowed a vow unto the Lord, and said, If thou shalt without fail deliver the children of Ammon into mine hands,

31 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.

32 So Jephthah passed over unto the children of Ammon to fight against them; and the Lord delivered them into his hands.

33 And he smote them from Aroer, even till thou come to Minnith, even twenty cities, and unto the plain of the vineyards, with a very great slaughter. Thus the children of Ammon were subdued before the children of Israel.

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.

I have heard pastors go through this story and come to the conclusion that the lesson of the story is “don’t make foolish promises” or “don’t make open-ended promises”!

To be sure this is a corollary of the story, but it is a minor point!

There are several major points to this story;

  1. Jephthah won the battle by relying on the Lord to lead him to victory. While he was smart and an experiened man of valour, he relied on the Lord’s leading in the battle.
  2. It appears that it was the Lord who led Jephthah to make his vow to the Lord, since verse 29 tells us “Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah” and then the next two verses describe the vow. Jephthah was thinking that it would be something else that would come out of his house when he returned from the battle, but he didn’t say so. Sometimes the things we don’t say are as important as the things we do say!
  3. Unlike the sacrifices the pagans made to their gods, like Moloch, this one was done with the assent of the victim. In fact Jephthah actually gave her the opportunity to escape. She requested “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 (friends).” So she went camping for two months, with her friends, to take time to reflect on what she was about to do.I imagine that Jephthah might have hoped that she would escape to a neighboring country, to live out her life normally. Who wouldn’t have hoped such a thing? His daughter, however, was a woman of her word, and it is very clear that she loved her father more than life itself! She returned because she knew it is a serious thing to lie to the Lord! In her judgment it is more serious to lie to the Lord than to lose her own life! She could have escaped to Edom, or Lebanon, or Saudi Arabia, and lived out her life as a fugitive, but that would have been a life without honor!
  4. To most people throughout the history of the world, having children is important, because it is your legacy. Leaving someone behind when we die is important because they carry on the family name, and often the family business. They will remember us if no one else does!Jephthah’s daughter was an only child. Her mother is not in the story, so she may have already been dead. She might have died in child-birth having his daughter, or she might have left, but she is not in the picture at all.So, when Jephthah sacrificed his daughter he was actually sacrificing his whole family! All his descendants would have come from this daughter! So he lived the rest of his life without children or family, and with no hopes that there would be some!
  5. I am sure that Jephthah would have preferred to die himself, but then he would have died as a man who had broken his promise to the Lord! Committing suicide would have been an act of cowardice! He had painted himself into a corner, and there was no honourable way out!To the unsaved a promise to the Lord can be broken whenever it is inconvenient to keep it. To a believer, however, the Lord God is more important than anything in this life! It is “faith” to believe that God heard your promise, and it was faith for Jephthah to believe that God had chosen his daughter for the sacrifice.Indeed, I believe that it was God who had chosen Jephthah’s daughter for this sacrifice. He had a purpose in this particular sacrifice!
  6. Jephthah’s daughter became a type of Christ by willingly laying down her life, because of a promise her father had made. God the Father promised Salvation to humanity, and it could only be accomplished by His Son dying on a cross, willingly, for you and for me!Certainly one of the purposes in this sacrifice was to show you and me the depth of love that existed between Jephthah and his daughter, the same as between God the Father and God the Son. It was also to show us the sense of loss the Father had when His Son died for someone else’s sin!Jephthah gave his daughter the opportunity to escape, in the same way that Jesus could have walked away from the cross. Had she done so her father would have been known as a man who broke his promises, in the same way that if Jesus had walked away from the cross, then God would not have been a God of honour! In both cases it was the father’s honour that was at stake, and it was the child who had the power to honour or to dishonour their father!
  7. Jephthah shows us the importance of keeping one’s promises, even if there is a personal cost to us! So, when Jesus says33 “Again, ye have heard that it hath been said by them of old time, Thou shalt not forswear thyself, but shalt perform unto the Lord thine oaths:34 But I say unto you, Swear not at all; neither by heaven; for it is God’s throne:35 Nor by the earth; for it is his footstool: neither by Jerusalem; for it is the city of the great King.36 Neither shalt thou swear by thy head, because thou canst not make one hair white or black.37 But let your communication be, Yea, yea; Nay, nay: for whatsoever is more than these cometh of evil.

We had better believe that He is serious. God wants us to learn to be people of honour! It might seem like a little thing at the time, but a broken promise can have implications that reverberate throughout time, long past our own lifetime!

If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.
And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:26-27

How many Christians have had a Leftist, or a Muslim, hold their child with a knife to the throat and say “Deny Jesus or your child will die!”  It happens every day, folks! Maybe not in Canada or the USA, but there are places in the world where this actually does happen every day!  The day is coming when it will happen in the west!  In that situation God wants you to be like Jephthah, and his daughter!

So likewise, whosoever he be of you that forsaketh not all that he hath, he cannot be my disciple. Luke 14:33

 Jephthah forsook all that he had to keep his promise to God!  His only daughter forsook all that she had to honour her father!  Yes, God wants us to be like Jephthah AND his daughter!

Since the cross until now, many millions of Christians have had to face the same choice Jephthah’s daughter had to face. Many millions took the cowardly way out, and dishonoured their Saviour. History has forgotten those who joined with the murderers, but the martyrs are remembered as jewels in the Messiah’s crown! They still shine today!

In the Muslim world today, every day, Christians are persecuted and martyred. Some of them are from denominations I would tend to disagree with on some major points, but these people are not dying for Orthodoxy or for Catholicism; They are given the choice “Jesus or Muhammad” Those who choose Muhammad are set free as cowards, and those who say “Jesus” die for Him!

He knows those who are His, and He will honour them before His Father’s throne!

He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. John 12:25

Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven. Matthew 10:32-33

Yes indeed, God wants us to be like Jephthah, and his daughter!  He does not ask every believer to actually give up all of their possessions, or even their life, but He truly wants every one of His children to be willing to do so, should He ask it of them!

Do you love God that much?

Oh yes, there was a minor point wasn’t there? “Don’t make open-ended promises”!  It is a valid point of the passage, but it pales in comparison to the character shown by Jephthah and his daughter!

God is all about character!

About dknezacek

An average, ordinary guy. Author, husband, father, pilot, aircraft builder, test pilot, machinist, artist, just ordinary stuff that lots of people do. Don't forget bible student. Dan's passion is bible study, especially including the End Times prophecies.
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