My question has to do with Judges 11:30-39. Why would God allow Jephthah to sacrifice his daughter as a burnt sacrifice when child sacrifice was strictly forbidden by God? It was a stupid vow for Jephthah to make, and I guess I was hoping that because God must have known this would happen that He would just tell Jephthah of his stupidity instead of actually allowing it to happen. I have heard two responses to this. I have read that some think Jephthah ended up giving his daughter as a living sacrifice (but the Bible does not say this). I have also read that God allowed it to teach us not to make foolish deals with God because we are not to bargain with God. If God wants to bless us, He does not want there to be strings attached. It is to be a blessing not a bargain. I am very interested to hear your answer. I hope it will bring closure for me with this bothersome issue. Thank you!
There are at least two major views about the promise Jephthah made and what happened to his daughter later. Judges 11:29-40 tells us that Jephthah made a deal with God. People do this all the time. “Lord if you will do this for me, then I will do this for you.” So Jephthah asked God to give him victory over the Ammonites and he would give something to God. So the Lord gave him victory, and as he was coming home his daughter came out of the door. The Bible says something happened to her, but some people are confused. The confusion can be resolved by a careful translation and by not assuming things that are not said in the passage, as is commonly done.
Two Views About Jephthah’s Sacrifice
The first major view says that Jephthah sacrificed his daughter because of a commitment or a vow he made to God. The second major view is that Jephthah only promised an animal sacrifice. Here is his promise.
Jephthah made a vow to the Lord and said, “If You will indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the Lord’s, and I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” Judges 11:30-31 (NASB)
Translation of Judges 11:30-31
Our understanding of what he promised hinges on one Hebrew word, we, which can be translated as “or” as well as “and.” If we translate the word as “or” the passage reads as follows:
And Jephthah made a vow to the LORD and said, “If Thou wilt indeed give the sons of Ammon into my hand, then it shall be that whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me when I return in peace from the sons of Ammon, it shall be the LORD’S, or I will offer it up as a burnt offering.” Judges 11:30-31 (NASB)
The correct meaning could be “or.” This should be accepted as the proper translation for several reasons. First, if we assume “and” is correct then Jephthah knowingly committed himself to making a human sacrifice, since he said, “whatever comes out of the doors of my house to meet me . . . .” We must also realize that the Mosaic Law prohibited human sacrifice (Leviticus 18:21; Deuteronomy 12:31). Since Jephthah was filled with the Holy Spirit according to Judges 11:29, the Spirit would not have prompted him to make a vow to sin. Second, Judges never says that his daughter was killed or sacrificed. In fact, we are told that she goes into the mountains to weep for her virginity for two months.
And she said to her father, “Let this thing be done for me; let me alone two months, that I may go to the mountains and weep because of my virginity, I and my companions.” Then he said, “Go.” So he sent her away for two months; and she left with her companions, and wept on the mountains because of her virginity. Judges 11:37-38 (NASB)
She cried because she was going to be a virgin the rest of her life. Third, after she had cried for two months she returns to her father to complete the vow.
And it came about at the end of two months that she returned to her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made; and she had no relations with a man. Thus it became a custom in Israel, that the daughters of Israel went yearly to commemorate the daughter of Jephthah the Gileadite four days in the year. Judges 11:39 (NASB)
After the Holy Spirit tells us “. . . her father, who did to her according to the vow which he had made,” we are told “and she had no relations with a man.” The sacrifice was her perpetual virginity. If she was sacrificed, why not say so? The best way to understand this passage is that she was dedicated to the Lord. She would not marry a man nor would she have children. She would remain a virgin and devote her life to God’s service.
The Old Testament warns us to pay our vows rather than make vows we do not fulfill.
When you make a vow to God, do not be late in paying it, for He takes no delight in fools. Pay what you vow! It is better that you should not vow than that you should vow and not pay. Ecclesiastes 5:4-5 (NASB)
This is a truth we should all remember. If we promise to do something, God says do it! But this does not apply to sinful promises. Yet many good promises are not fulfilled because someone has changed “his or her mind” because it will be an inconvenience or ‘too troublesome.” God calls us to be men and women of integrity. God wants our yes to be yes and our no to be no (Matthew 5:37)!
1. Harris, R.L., Archer, G.L. and Waltke, B.K., Theological Wordbook of the Old Testament, Moody Press, Chicago, 1980, vol. 1, p. 229.